On a recent Saturday, my dog Murray and I headed over to our local animal shelter for a dog massage class.
Murray and I go on regular adventures together. We once took a mommy/doggie fitness boot class, that was a lot of fun and a good workout. He and I have also spent the night in the Presidential suite of a luxury dog hotel, which was not so much fun, but probably anyone could have guessed that sleeping in a dog kennel—even a very, very nice one—wouldn’t make for a restful evening.
We are lucky enough to frequent a dog beach we live near in St. Petersburg, Florida. My nickname for this magical spot is The Happiest Place on Earth for Dogs. Murray would call it the same if he spoke English, I am sure.
The dog massage class is put on by the SPCA Tampa Bay, a nonprofit shelter which has an educational wing called Sniff University that I was eager to try out. (Murray, of course, had no say in the matter, nor any demonstrated interest in higher education.)
Sniff U offers classes like basic training and puppy preschool. There’s a class in which your dog learns to do tricks, and another that helps families prepare their dogs for the arrival of a new baby (this one’s adorably called “Dogs and Storks”).
The classes serve more than one noble purpose, SPCA Tampa Bay behavior and training manager Meagan Montmeny tells me.
For one, they help folks learn the skills that’ll make them responsible dog owners. More community involvement with the shelter is also a boon—a great way for the shelter to show off what a happy, joyful place it is, which will hopefully encourage more people to come in looking for a new furry (or feathered, or scaled) friend. This sort of engagement is seen as an important part of reducing shelter euthanasia and getting to no kill—one of the most enjoyable parts of no kill, in fact, some would say.
“We love helping families who have adopted from us, as well as members of the public, keep their family together. Offering classes and seminars through Sniff University to help with dog training or to address behavior issues allows us to do just that,” Meagan says.
Then, of course, there is another benefit—that benefit being that you can learn how to give your dog a massage.
Why learn to give a dog a massage, you might ask?
I personally do not like receiving massages. I tend to defeat the whole purpose, in fact, by becoming more tense as the massage proceeds. I did have a good foot massage one time in Kuala Lumpur, but it was about 3 in the morning and I’d been drinking—and anyway, this is a story about dogs.
Massage for dogs is supposed to be beneficial in many of the same ways as massage is for humans—it’s relaxing, and good for easing soreness in soft tissues, and (at least for an ordinary being) it just feels good.
“Massage will help a dog feel better, much as it helps a person,” explains our instructor Shonna Bender, who trained as a massage therapist for humans, and quickly began applying her craft to horses and dogs as well. (Shonna specializes in working with human and canine athletes! Alas, Murray’s favorite sport is couch surfing.)
And the reason to take a class, as opposed to simply hiring Shonna, is so that you can learn the right way to make your dog feel better. You don’t want to go poking around too hard or push the wrong muscle—you could hurt a pup that way!
The class took place in a large room, like one in which you might have had gym class if you went to public school before the budgets got cut for everything but standardized testing. It was cool, and pleasantly dark. There were probably 20 people, and perhaps a dozen dogs lounging on blankets around the room.
Some of the dogs were elderly; one had cancer. One was a rowdy pup who barked a lot and made me feel better that Murray seemed somewhat restless, as well.
The class was to last about two and a half hours. During it, Shonna, who had a toy Golden Retriever to demonstrate on, covered dog anatomy—I finally know where a dog’s knee is!—massage techniques, and how to give your dog “ear circles” that will make him roll his eyes back in bliss, especially when Shonna herself administers them.
One of the other attendees told me that her dog was “turning into a little puddle” during the class. That seemed pretty much par for the course in the crowd.
Murray, however, was quickly crying and pointing at the door, which was a little bit embarrassing, to tell you the truth. Then Shonna brought him up on her table, in the middle of the room, and he turned into a great big pile of mush as well.
Shonna, I think it’s fair to say, is very good at her job. While Murray, it’s also fair to say, is completely not loyal even one iota. Not one iota!
As we left the class, heading out of the peaceful room and into the bright summer day, I thought: If I’m not much of a massage person, I still really had a great time spending the afternoon with my dog, trying out something new. Even better to do it at our local animal shelter with a bunch of other people who are similarly dog-obsessed enough to spend time and money to learn how to pet their treasured canine companions in the most productive ways.
And I’m so pleased that this sort of thing is offered in my community; it sure makes a crazy dog lady like myself feel as if she’s living in the right place.
In short: When Sniff U offers its advanced dog massage class, Murray and I will be there.
Here’s the SPCA Tampa Bay’s Sniff University class schedule. Check your local shelter to see if and when they’re offering classes that you and your pup can attend!
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