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  • Writer's pictureMargo Ann Spak Hemedinger, PT/LMT

Therapy Dogs and Massage

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

It has been quite a while since I posted on my blog page and for this, I sincerely apologize. Although there are no good reasons for this, it was mostly due to lack of time, and partly due to finding a topic that impassioned me enough to write about it. But I have finally found one! And that topic is pet therapy, or more specifically, therapy dogs and how they relate to me, and my massage practice. So, here is where my story begins…

3 years ago, my husband and I lost our nearly 13 yr old golden retriever. Riley held, and still holds a special place in my heart, along with my first dog, Shelby…neither of which, will ever be forgotten. At the time Riley passed away, we decided that we would not try to replace her. I needed time to heal, and my husband and I wanted to travel some without the constraints of having a dog. We still had our cat, and with cats being much more self-sufficient, it allowed us weekend getaways and day trips that a dog, otherwise would not.

As my story continues…about a year and a half ago, my son moved to the west coast to pursue his medical career. Although at the time, I did not realize the void this left (as he had been out of our household for over 10 years), until then, he had always been only a few hours away and I was able to visit often. This is no longer the case. It dawned on me recently that around the time he left, I started feeling the void of not having a dog. An empty space in my heart – one that a cat just did not fill. In any case, after much discussion, my husband and I agreed that it was time, and my search for our new little pooch began.

Neither one of us wanted a young puppy, but we also did not want an older dog. So I launched a search looking for a 6-12 month old dog. What we ended up with was a beautiful, smart, and the most loving 9 week old puppy I have ever seen. She stole my heart with just her picture, and after meeting her, it was meant to be. Having raised 2 puppies on my own prior to this, I didn’t relish the fact that we would now have to train this delightful and energetic little girl at our age, but she has brought so much joy and happiness into our lives, I can’t even imagine how we managed without a dog for so long.

And what does all this have to do with therapy dogs and my massage practice, you ask? Well, as my story continues…of course, I took pictures of my Sophie daily, and being the proud “mama” to our new little fur baby, I showed her off to everyone, including my massage clients. Many of them started expressing an interested in me bringing my little girl in during their sessions, especially those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and those whom I treat who are sexual abuse survivors, as well as some of the families of my special needs clients. Although Sophie is now 11 months old and is very well behaved for her age, she is still very much a puppy and therefore, I have been very hesitant to bring her in to my office. But since the interest of my clients is so high, I decided if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. So, shortly after Sophie came into our lives, she and I began training to be certified as a therapy dog team!

Sophie is a labradoodle. Because of her breed, she has the disposition to be a wonderful therapy dog. In addition, she is an F1B generation meaning she is 75% poodle and 25% lab, therefore, she has a very low likelihood of shedding, and is most likely to be hypoallergenic. Research has proven that pet therapy is beneficial to health – both physical health and mental health. Some of the most common proven responses are listed below:


  • decreases blood pressure

  • improves cardiovascular health

  • releases endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect

  • diminishes overall physical pain

  • the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response

  • increases joint movement

  • improves recovery time

  • maintains or increases motor skills

  • provides motivation to move more, stretch farther, exercise longer


  • lifts spirits and lessens depression

  • decreases feelings of isolation and alienation

  • encourages communication

  • provides comfort

  • increases socialization and sense of community

  • can provide an escape or happy distraction

  • reduces boredom

  • decreases anxiety

  • helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders

  • reduces loneliness

  • helps one focus better

  • increases self-confidence

  • reduces self-consciousness

  • increases mental stimulation

  • assists in recall of memories and help sequence temporal events in patients with head injuries or chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Many children with autism feel a deep bond with animals and feel that they are able to relate to them better than to humans.

  • Children with autism were engaged in significantly greater use of language as well as social interaction in their therapy sessions that incorporated animals compared to standard therapy sessions without them.

Links to articles / research:

So, as you can see, research has proven that pet therapy is very beneficial for many individuals, although it is not for everyone. For those of my clients who are not interested in having a massage with a therapy dog present, rest assured that services will continue as per usual. There will be no change to those receiving my massage services, other than possibly a slight adjustment in scheduling for those already seen on a routine basis. My intention is to utilize my spare room for therapy dog sessions, therefore my current treatment room will remain as my main treatment area. The door will be kept closed when Sophie is present, and she will not be allowed in that room, so it will remain clean and “dog free”.

My plan is to start out with a half day put aside for those clients who would like Sophie present during their treatment. I would then schedule only those clients during this specific half day. Sophie will only be at my office during those hours set aside for therapy dog sessions. Sessions will be guided by the client. If they choose to spend a few minutes at the beginning of their session just petting or cuddling with her, they can. If they would like her to actually lie next to them during their session, she can. Or she can just be present in the room, if that is their choice. My goal is for Sophie to enhance massage sessions with the calming effect of having a therapy dog present. How she is utilized during that session, is entirely up to the client. As noted previously, the benefits are numerous!

As we cannot be evaluated as a therapy dog team until Sophie is 1 year old, we still have a little time to continue on with her training. I will keep you posted on our progress and let you know if all goes as planned, when Sophie and I are a Certified Dog Therapy Team and when therapy dog sessions can begin! In the meantime, please let me know if you are interested in possibly having a Therapy Dog Massage Session so I can estimate the amount of time I will need to put aside in my schedule for these visits. Please email me at or call me at (607) 761-9360. Have a great day!

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