Here in the United States, canine massage law is regulated at the state level. In some states, there is very little regulation. Some states limit the practice of animal massage therapy to individuals holding a veterinary medicine license. In Illinois, where Beloved Canine calls home, animal owners are given latitude to access therapeutic massage for their pets as they see fit. There are currently no minimum requirements for training in Illinois. As of right now in Illinois, anyone can practice canine massage therapy whether they have completed only six hours of online training or have completed 400 hundred hours of hands-on training. (The International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork maintains a very handy document that tracks legislative activities related to animal massage.)
The purpose of this post is not to talk about the lack of regulation in Illinois. (I personally believe that this legal ambiguity can be a good thing. There are talented bodyworkers and healers that I have met in my life who might never have set foot in a traditional classroom setting. This is part of the magic of bodywork.) Rather, my intention here is to highlight a few key indicators of highly qualified canine massage therapists.
You can learn a lot about a canine massage therapist based on the training they have received. When you meet someone who offers canine massage therapy, don't hesitate to ask them about the training they received. Ask them how many hours of training they have completed, what school they attended and how much hands-on training time they completed. Ask them what they studied in their program. A qualified massage therapist should have training in canine anatomy and physiology as well as massage techniques. They should have learned about canine behavior and how to handle a dog in a respectful and safe way.
Another thing I would recommend is that you find a canine massage therapist who invests time in their own continuing education. Your dog's canine massage therapist doesn't have to be licensed to practice massage therapy on humans, but should definitely indicate a desire to broaden and strengthen their understanding of massage therapy techniques and/or other healing modalities.
One of the interesting things about the massage and bodywork field is that it brings together people from so many different professional backgrounds. It doesn't really matter too much, in my opinion, what your canine massage therapist did before they became a canine massage therapist, as long as they are excellent communicators with both you and your dog. A qualified canine massage therapist should be able to write notes for you to share with your veterinarian. You and your dog should feel comfortable working with your dog's massage therapist.
It can be very helpful to work with a canine massage therapist who has a background as a human massage therapist, physical therapist or veterinary technician, but there are many talented and qualified individuals practicing canine massage who do not possess these other credentials. The bottom line, I think, is that your dog's massage therapist present himself or herself professionally, communicate with you and your dog effectively, and have adequate training to guide the work they do with your dog.
The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage (NBCAAM) offers a certification exam for individuals that have completed a minimum of 200 hours training for animal massage or acupressure. NBCAAM certification is the current gold standard for canine massage therapists. I highly recommend that you work with a canine massage therapist who has sat for the NBCAAM exam and is a nationally certified canine massage therapist. This is currently the only way you can know for sure that your dog's canine massage therapist has completed at least 200 hours of training from a school with an adequate curriculum. NBCAAM maintains a growing registry of all nationally certified canine massage therapists in the United States.
Word of Mouth
Just as you likely invested time to find the right veterinarian for your dog, you will probably want to take some time to identify a canine massage therapist that you can trust. Reach out to a few canine massage therapists and ask them questions. Talk to schools in your area and ask to be put in contact with their most promising graduates. Carefully investigate websites of canine massage therapists to learn about their qualifications. Some veterinarians have relationships with canine massage therapists, so ask for a recommendation. Canine massage therapy is a relatively young field, so don't be surprised if your veterinarian does not have a massage therapist to recommend. In fact, if you know someone who is excellent, recommend them to your veterinarian!
Happily Ever After
Once you've found a massage therapist that you trust, maintain open lines of communication with him or her. Give them feedback about how your dog responds to the massage sessions. You and your dog's massage therapist need to be partners in your dog's health care, so don't ever hesitate to ask questions and share your thoughts and concerns. The partnership between you and your dog's many health care providers is vital to your dog's ongoing well-being.