Thursday, 07 June 2012

The ruff guide to dog massage

Yes, really. We Brits are often thought of as pet crazy, but now there is a whole new level of doggie devotion… massage for pooches

Written by Wendy Gomersall

Is your Fido feeling a bit frazzled, perhaps playing dead a little too realistically these days? Has your hound lost his happy howl? Does he need more than a pat and a dog choc to put the wow back into his woof? Then give him a massage.

No, it’s not such a barking idea. You can banish that hang-dog expression from your furry friend’s face by taking them along to a dog-massage class at one of Italy’s most glamorous (and pet-friendly) hotels, the Hotel Splendido in beautiful Portofino.

The new lessons and dog massages are given by Katia Delfino, a full-time spa therapist at the hotel. She studied in London to gain qualifications in holistic massage and sports massage, as well as aromatherapy, Ayurvedic treatments and reflexology, all for humans, of course.


‘A few years ago, I heard about pet massage and how good it was, especially for rehab purposes,’ she recalls. ‘Later, I learnt first-hand, too, after my little dog Beppe was attacked by a bigger dog. The vet showed me some mobilisation movements to improve the condition of my dog’s injured legs when he had recovered. I soon realised how important massage was for the healing process – and how much Beppe enjoyed it, as well.’

Last year, the Hotel Splendido started offering services for guests travelling with their dogs. These include a dog taxi to the poodle parlour, concierge recommendations for walkies and shopping expeditions, and a special dog room-service menu. ‘So I talked to our wellness and spa advisor here about dog massage,’ says Katia, ‘and they sent me to study for a canine massage qualification.’

Now, the hotel offers both dog massages for furry guests and lessons for owners travelling without their pets – though if you don’t take your doggy, it seems you’ll have to practise on yourself, as the hotel does not provide a ‘guinea pig’.

‘Guests usually learn just the basic techniques in a single class,’ Katia explains. ‘If you’d like to include some stretching and mobilisation techniques too, it’s better to have at least two lessons. The main aim is to teach the guest to approach the massage with confidence and base the massage on an individual dog’s temperament. You have to gain the dog’s trust, so the approach has to be gentle, with some play time to make him relax before you begin.’

It goes without saying that, should your animal exhibit signs that he does not wish to be massaged – growling, snarling, trying to run away – the best advice is to stop immediately and reach for the dog biscuits. ‘Just as with people, you cannot force him or her to enjoy it,’ warns Katia.


But the benefits are well worth the effort: ‘Regular massaging might prevent common doggy health problems, such as arthritis, helping an animal retain good mobility as they get older,’ she explains.

Can you massage moggies, too?

‘Cats are different,’ she replies, ‘but for sure, you can apply some of the gentler movements.’

So how have people reacted? Do they think she’s barking up the wrong tree?

‘Well, look at young Cesare here,’ Katia says, indicating a four-month-old bulldog, who is obviously thoroughly enjoying being a pampered pooch.

‘Cesare was booked in for a massage. He is a very curious little dog, but to perform a massage on him was great because as soon as I started doing some effleurage – light massage strokes to warm up the muscles before deeper tissue – he dropped himself down on the massage bed and enjoyed it all!

‘Dog lovers think the massage is great,’ she finis


hes. ‘Some guests are sceptical at the beginning, but they change their minds as soon as they see the relaxed attitude of their dogs. Performing dog massage is a way loving owners can show their pet the commitment they have to them, and that they’re more than just a walking companion.’

Dog massage at Hotel Splendido

Nightly rates at Hotel Splendido start from about £368 for a Garden View Room with breakfast. No extra charge for dogs, which are not allowed in public rooms. Dog massages and dog-massage classes cost from about £36 for 20 minutes. Contact Orient-Express for further details: 0845-077 2222,

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