how to massage your dog

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The Independent Online
A glazed look of contentment spread over Barney's face soon after Jane Buckle began massaging him for the umpteenth time that day. Then he started drooling with joy and leaving gobbets of saliva on the table beneath his face. As book launches go, this one was going well and fully justifying the bath Barney had taken that morning.

Barney is an eight-year-old mongrel from Battersea Dog's Home. Jane is the author of How to Massage Your Dog and the two of them were getting on very well indeed despite having met only a few hours before.

Barney was an easy subject. "I had a puppy last time," Ms Buckle explained. "He was hard going." When the book came out in the United States earlier this year she promoted it by massaging neurotic dogs on live television.

There are three basic massage techniques to master: palm strokes (firmly and with both hands), thumb strokes (slow and circular, by the sides of the spine) and fish strokes (kneading the dog's flesh with hands opening and shutting like fishes' mouths).

Having mastered those, you may progress to more advanced techniques, including massaging the tail, and massaging the tail of tailless dogs. "If the animal has no tail," says Ms Buckle, "it's important to massage where the tail would have been." You have to experiment to find the phantom tail, but you can tell when you're in the right place by the contented expression on the dog's face. After that you may graduate to specialist techniques for dogs' backs, legs, hands, face, chests and paws, for small dogs, large dogs, puppies, old dogs, pregnant dogs, hyperactive dogs, uninterested dogs, jealous dogs, city dogs indeed dogs of every size, shape, personality and social class.

A background in critical-care nursing taught Jane Buckle the importance of touch as a means of communication. She used to teach children how to massage a relative who was in a coma. "All health professionals should be taught how to touch," she says. "It's putting the hospitality back into hospitals." And dogs seem as good a place to start as any.

An invigorating massage, we learn from the book, may even cure your dog of watching TV all day while munching dog biscuits. Such a couch-potato dog may even be lured into progressing to the tango. "But make sure you lead," Ms Buckle warns.

Though she was not actually drooling herself while massaging Barney, the demonstration suggested that the experience may be as therapeutic to the massager as the massagee. Gentle, rhythmic, relaxing. Like kneading dough only with a sentient creature beneath one's fingertips. That view is confirmed by one of the items in the "Letters from Satisfied Owners" chapter (which may be found after the "Letters from Satisfied Dogs" section). Signed "a psychiatrist", it ends: "If only people would massage their dogs when they felt stressed, they wouldn't need to come and clutter up my waiting room." We are assured the letter is perfectly genuine.

To allay the doubts of anyone who felt that they needed a dog to benefit from her advice, Ms Buckle pointed out that she is bringing out How to Massage Your Cat next February. And what alterations would be necessary, I asked, if we substituted the word "husband" for "dog" throughout the book? Jane Buckle thought a little over that one, then said: "I'd probably have to make some changes in the section on No-Go areas." The book defines such areas as "those in which you would rather not be licked yourself, particularly by your dog".

WILLIAM HARTSTON

'How to Massage Your Dog', by Jane Buckle (Howell Book House) pounds 6.99, available from Harrod's, some branches of Waterstone's and WH Smith, and the City Lit Bookshop, Stukeley St, London WC2

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