Bringing that relationship into a therapeutic session designed to heal can be highly effective. “The one thing that loves you unconditionally is on the table with you,” Goldstein continues, explaining how this eases the client into a deeper state of relaxation. “That parasympathetic response…that’s when the body heals. So if you’re coming in for pain or trauma, now you’re in a state where you’re more ready for that healing.”
Perhaps that explains the uptick in wellness services designed to include dogs, from LA’s YogaForce, which offers “doga,” to Portland, Oregon’s Hotel DeLuxe, which has created a proper English afternoon tea program just for guests and their dogs. And while spas and private practitioners offering treatments for humans alongside their pets like the one I did at Paws Up—which has been doing this for more than 13 years—are still niche, the trend appears to be gaining traction. Last year, Ubika Spa in Sydney, Australia ran a successful one-day event catered towards human-dog couples massages, while Hand2Paws, a housecall service in Orange County, has a “Canine & Companion Massage’” package as an addition to their menu of predominantly dog-focused massage services.
Dog massage—as in, just the dog receiving a treatment—has risen in popularity over the past few years, according to Dr. Greenstein. “Veterinary researchers are focusing more attention on its potential benefits: altering levels of key neurotransmitters (like dopamine and serotonin), improving blood flow to tissues, reducing muscle spasms, and increasing flexibility,” as just a few examples. She says performing a massage on your own dog can help your human-pet bond, with the physical contact “increasing trust, and decreasing anxiety and fearfulness.”
Had I known this before my couples massage with Sophie, maybe I would have been less surprised to see her instantly relax under the hands of our masseuse. My dog is very sweet and loving, but deeply loyal to me, typically taking a long time to move beyond ambivalence about other people, let alone seek their affection. But Goldstein wasn’t surprised to hear about Sophie’s shift in behavior. “If the client has a nervous or anxious demeanor, the bodywork I facilitate can have a huge impact on the client: you can see the pet settle down right along with their owner. So if the owner is calm and happy, that pet is calm and happy.”
And it was true: Sophie and I departed our massage session feeling relaxed. Her initial angst from being locked in a hot, strange room abated as soon as I settled in for my massage, allowing her to reap the full benefits of the experience when her turn came up. That night, she seemed more relaxed than she had in months. Is her relationship with her little dog-brother perfect? Not quite. But as time goes on, I can feel the tension start to melt.
Ali Wunderman is a freelance writer, wildlife photographer, and unabashed lover of all things canine. Originally from San Francisco, she has since traded in skyscrapers for the big skies of Montana, alongside her husband, Michael, and their two very cute dogs, Sophie and Vinny.
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