My dog Reux and I are a team. We walk together, we snooze together, we hike together, we watch TV together, and we run together. Part of the reason I brought a high-energy border collie mix into my life was so I would have a running partner, someone who would always be up for an adventure and never play the "I'm too tired--do we have to run today?" card. I don't have that problem with Reux.

I recently started training for my first marathon. Because I'll be running in support of a local rescue I volunteer with, I thought it only fitting that Reux (a rescue) train with me. On any given week, we are running anywhere from 18 to 32 miles together. On our long run days, we run up to 20 miles in one afternoon. Reux is a champ about it--he never stops and is always way ahead of me. He's far more of an athlete than I am. 

Just like any runner needs to stretch and massage his or her muscles to avoid pain and injury, it's equally important for an athletic dog to do the same thing. I want to make sure that Reux stays happy and healthy so he can continue on as my fearless training partner. With this in mind, I attended a short class on canine medical massage, taught by Shelley Sheets, BA, CMT, CAMT, co-author of Canine Medical Massage: Techniques and Clinical Applications. New from AAHA Press in 2015, the book is the only full-length publication on canine medical massage for veterinary professionals. 

Shelley confirmed what I thought: Stretching and muscle massage is just as important for athletic dogs as it is for human athletes. While many people automatically think of massage as a good fit for a senior or geriatric dog with limited mobility and stiff muscles, it also has very real applications for highly active pups like Reux, and can benefit canine athletes both before and after exercise. Canine massage for athletic dogs can restore flexibility and range of motion, improve gait and balance, sooth sore muscles and joints, calm excitable dogs, prevent injury, and help with relaxation and mental focus. 

During Shelley's class, Reux patiently let me practice preperformance massage strokes designed to stimulate his circulation, nerves, and muscle activity. I learned that a preperformance massage is usually best applied about an hour before exercise and should target large muscles of the shoulder, hip, and limbs. 

Shelley also taught postperformance rehabilitative massage strokes that allow a canine athlete to resume daily life safely and efficiently. A postperformance massage is also key to relieving post-run tension and keeping Reux loose so he is ready for the next big exercise event. 

After learning why massage is so important for an athletic dog, I felt bad that I had never looked into it sooner. Even though Reux had never been injured during one of our long runs, or shown any signs of pain, my job as his teammate should be to prevent injury before it occurs and keep him limber and pain-free. My hope is that by learning about canine medical massage I can help prevent injuries before they occur. 

Keeping my teammate healthy is important to me, because our health is intertwined. If Reux doesn't have a healthy, active lifestyle, I know I won't either. So before I dig out that foam roller to soothe my own aching muscles, next time I'll lie my dog down on a blanket and give him a proper massage first. 

Order your copy of Canine Medical Massage: Techniques and Clinical Applications from AAHA Press.

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