The Dog Massage

May 10, 2011 | 3 4 min read

By most estimates, only a few of the nation’s pet dogs and cats — which the American Pet Products Association estimates at 78.2 million and 86.4 million, respectively — are fortunate enough to receive massages. But the numbers may be growing.
-The Times

I must admit, I was somewhat skeptical when They suggested the spa.  “Barney, you’re going to love it,” They said.  “It’ll be so relaxing.”  Right away, this struck me as odd, since I’ve never felt much anxiety.  Relaxing is what I do.  Sure, I get riled up by the mail, but I see nothing unusual in that.  The slot pops up, the letters drop through… what about that doesn’t make you want to jump on the couch and howl?  Outside of a hot dog dropped on the patio, there’s nothing quite so thrilling.

But I went along, because, really, it’s not like I was swamped.  I couldn’t say, “No spa today—I need to edit this PowerPoint.”  Nope—I was lolling on my bone-shaped pillow, belly full of kibble.  So I hoisted myself up, got in the back seat, and listened to Them talk about how wonderful it would be.  “This’ll really work the deep tissue, Barney,” He said, smiling in the rearview mirror.  She turned around and said, “It’ll also help with your digestion.  You’ll feel fantastic afterwards.”

I stuck my head out the window and, face-folds rippling in the wind, pondered what She had said.  I’d never had a problem with digestion; to the contrary, I considered it a skill.  Kibble went in, and a few hours later, He was bending over the sidewalk with a bag over His hand, cursing under His breath.  I was the very picture of canine regularity.  But maybe I could be better? I am an old dog, yes, but like to think that I’m open to new tricks.

As we passed the park, my tail began to wag, and She looked back at me again.  “Sorry, Barney.  Today is for the spa.”  Which was fine; I wasn’t going to get my leash in a tangle about it.  The more They talked about my imminent pampering, the more excited I became.  They said I’d be brought into a dim, candlelit room; new age music would play softly in the background.  I’d have my choice of exotic oils—I was leaning towards gingermint—and maybe even a robe.  Then I’d get up on the massage table and the bliss—that was His word—would begin.  It sounded great.  I’m always up for bliss.

We pulled into the parking lot and They walked me inside.  The waiting room was bright and spare, very tastefully furnished.  Not a clump of hair or chewed pig’s ear to be seen.  A bowl of cucumber water sat next to the front desk and I helped myself, finding it crisp and refreshing—much better than the toilet water I tended to favor at home.  “Hello,” He said to the receptionist as I lapped away.  “We have a three o’clock for Barney?”

An attendant gave me a robe and led me to a room that was just as They had described.  Peaceful, tranquil, serene.  If the warm, whole feeling you get after scarfing an unattended brisket could be transformed into a room, this would be it.  It was very mellow, very calming.  I wanted to bark my appreciation, but somehow this seemed gauche.  “Your therapist will be in shortly,” the attendant said and closed the door quietly behind her.

I shed my robe and clambered onto the padded table, my tail wagging lazily.  Sitar music floated down from speakers somewhere above.  Soon the masseuse came in, speaking in a soothing voice.  “Hello, Barney,” she whispered, gently stroking my head.  Her fingers were knowing and strong.  “Are there any specific areas you’d like me to focus on today?”  I stayed silent, as I couldn’t think of any.  “Okay, then,” she said, working warm oil into her hands.  “I’ll give you the Doggy Swedish.”  I closed my eyes and nestled my snout into the soft hole in the table.

I cannot begin to describe the pleasure she made me feel.  She made ordinary petting seem like a smack with a rolled-up paper.  Entire worlds bloomed and grew as she rubbed and kneaded and pulled.  Bags of kibble pinwheeled through interstellar meatscapes.  The mail went through the slot, again and again and again, an endless loop of joy.  The tennis ball was thrown and floated there like a sprite, glowing as it hung.  Behind my eyelids, abstract shapes flitted like Whippets after a chewtoy.  The sitar music now seemed very far away.  All that existed were her hands and my kaleidoscopic inner universe.  I groaned puppily.

She tended to it all—head, neck, back, legs; even the tip of my tail.  It was almost too good to bear.  Then, too soon—much too soon—she lifted my ear and whispered, “Okay, Barney.  Just take a few minutes to rest.  I’ll be outside with some water.”  The door opened and closed, and I was alone—as I so often was—in a puddle of my own thick drool.  I took my time, then got up woozily, and emitted a plaintive whine as I nosed my robe back on.  I had entered as a canine warrior, descendent of Canis Lupus—and I would leave as a coddled lump.  I couldn’t decide which was best.

I had to squint as I emerged into the waiting room.  They rose from a leather couch, grinning as They saw the contented set of my jowls.  A beagle, restrained by his owner, barked at me, but I couldn’t be bothered to respond.  He’d understand soon enough.  Oh, he’d understand.  “All ready, Barney?” She said, and we shuffled out to the car.  The sun seemed blinding, the traffic unbearably chaotic.  But as we got moving, my massage-fog lifted and I gave a thank-you bark.  I barked again when He said, “We made an appointment for you next week, Barney!”  My tail wagged uncontrollably.  “And after that, we’ll all go for mani-pedis,” She said, then turned and looked at my paws.  “Actually, I guess you’ll get a pedi-pedi, Barney.”  We all had a good, rich laugh at that.

is a staff writer for The Millions and an associate editor at MAD magazine. Find links to more of his work and follow him @Jacob_Lambert.


  1. I don’t bring my pal to a massage parlor, but I do massage him. He rests in front of me, I put my feet on him and massage…I watch a movie, he gets a massage. Pete is 14 years old; he derserves all the love I can give him.

  2. That’s Otis in the photo, right?

    I massage Omar quite often–he’s small, and he gets on his back to let me stretch his legs out. He likes it when I pull them back as far as they’ll go, to give him the fullest stretch possible. It’s a Thai massage, really.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.