Published in The Healing Paw, Newsletter for Therapy dog Handlers, summer 2003
TELLINGTON TTOUCH FOR THERAPY DOGS
By Barbara Janelle M.A., Recognized TTACT Practitioner
Tellington TTouch Animal Companion Training (TTACT) offers dog owners and trainers useful tools for helping animals. This is particularly true for Therapy Dogs whose work is so important and demanding. Tellington TTouch can help in every phase of Therapy Work from testing and in facility work to reducing stress and supporting the mental, emotional and physical health of the animal.
HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY
Linda Tellington-Jones developed the Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method for training horses in the early 1970’s. The approach combines understandings from Feldenkrais Body Awareness Technique for humans with classical approaches to horse training, and includes bodywork, ground exercises and riding exercises.
In the late 1980’s Linda started applying this approach to work with companion animals and animals in wildlife rehabilitation centers. Today Tellington TTouch offers positive, effective and gentle ways of building loving and honouring relationships between humans and animals.
Tellington TTouch focuses on building an animal’s confidence and intelligence (adaptability). An animal learns best when it is relaxed, and this is true for humans as well. An animal whose body is tense is more reactive; Tellington TTouch can release tension, increase balance and coordination. Combining bodywork and ground exercises with the principle of “chunking down” difficult situations teaches animals to stay relaxed and cope with the challenging situations that life presents. In addition, working with an animal in kind and honoring ways increases respect and deepens love between animal and human.
TENSION AND BEHAVIOR
When an animal is afraid it will hold its breath. The body stiffens as a result of this and the animal can quickly become instinctively reactive. Reactions can include freezing, fleeing, fooling around and even acting aggressively. Keeping the dog breathing is a primary goal in helping the animal deal with challenging situations.
Body tension and low self-confidence usually underlie a dog’s reactive behavior. For example, a dog that is afraid often shows this with a tight closed mouth, tucked tail and tentative movement. An animal will usually resist attempts to touch parts of its body, notably the mouth, tail, feet and hindquarters that are tense. This concern over being touched may be strongly displayed or it may be subtle as the animal presents another part of its body for touching in lieu of the tense area.
A simple test for tension and concern in the dog, is to stroke the animal all over Ð head, mouth ears, neck, chest, front legs and feet, back, belly, hindquarters, hindlegs, feet and tail. Note any places that the animal moves away from being touched. Also note the temperature of these areas; they will often be cooler then the rest of the body because tension reduces blood circulation.
Some common problems associated with tension in the body are:
- fear of loud or strange noises (including thunder)
- difficulties with nail clipping
- fear of wheelchairs, crutches, or canes
- concerns over meeting new people and other dogs
- fear of walking on unusual surfaces (street gratings, slippery floors), or getting on elevators
Tellington TTouch bodywork and ground exercises can release the tension, relax the body and lead to major increase in self-confidence and adaptability.
Tellington TTouch relaxes the animal, builds self-awareness and improves behavior. For example, TTouch work on the bottom of the feet increases the animal’s balance and sense of security and this translates very quickly into more confident, less reactive behavior.
There are many kinds of TTouches Ð circles, lifts, slides, etc. The basic Tellington TTouch is a single, clockwise circular movement of the skin done with the pads of the fingers. Try this exercise on your own hand:
- Wiggle your non-dominant hand and notice how it feels.
- Rest this hand on your thigh. Then using the pads of one or more fingers of your dominant hand, touch the resting hand and move the skin in one, tiny, clockwise circle. Move to another place and do another circle. Use a comfortable pressure. Repeat this working your way down all the fingers.
- Be sure that you are relaxed and breathing as you work.
- Then wiggle the hand again and notice how it feels.
Note that in working on small areas TTouch may be done with a single finger; for larger areas, the pads of all of the fingers can be used, and in some cases the entire hand can be used.
Note too, that in doing a circular TTouch, the finger(s) doing the work do not slide on the skin. Rather they move the skin in a single, clockwise circle.
You may notice that the hand that received the work feels softer and more flexible now. Many years ago, when my mother-in-law was still alive, I would work on her arthritic hands. When I was finished she would say, “My hands feel like silk!”
In working with a dog, start with an area that the animal feels comfortable having touched. If the coat is long or thick, bend your fingers so that they reach into the skin. In moving the skin clockwise, the circle may be small if the skin is tight (for example directly over bone) or the skin may move in a larger circle if it is looser. Start the circle on an uplift and end the circle on an uplift: for example, move the skin from 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock to 12 to 3 to 6 to 7 to 8 o’clock, pause and release.
As you explore the animal’s body using TTouch, notice the tone and tension of the skin. Notice the animal’s breathing too. If you are breathing and relaxed and working with a comfortable pressure, the dog will very quickly deepen its own breathing, relax and may even go to sleep. Gradually, you will be able to TTouch areas that the dog guarded originally. As you work, you will notice the skin becoming more relaxed and even warmer as blood circulation increases.
A TTouch session may be anywhere from a few minutes to 20 or 30 minutes in length. After the work is finished. Give the dog a chance to rest for a few minutes. When the animal stands and moves notice how it walks. The body is often more fluid and coordinated after a session.
In addition to releasing tension and affecting behavior, TTouch helps an animal accept veterinary examination and interactions with strangers. This work is also very helpful for a range of movement disorders from hip dysplasia, and recovery form cruchet ligament surgery to arthritis.
TELLINGTON TTouch EAR WORK
A very quick way to help an animal relax is to work on its ears. Each ear has almost 400 acupressure points and work on the ears relaxes the animal and supports its overall health.
- Firm but comfortable slip-slide movements on the ears, from the base to the tip. Note that the point at the tip is for shock. Working the ears and squeezing the point a little more firmly can bring an animal out of shock.
- Tiny TTouch circles in the hollows where the ear meets the head. These hollows are on the Triple Heater Meridian and affect respiration, digestion, circulation and reproduction.
- TTouch circles may be done on the earflap as well.
Many dog trainers now have owners work their animal’s ears for a few minutes at the start of class to relax them and enable them to respond to directions more easily. Done before visiting (or testing!) earwork can help a Therapy Dog be very relaxed and attentive. Earwork is also very helpful for relaxing dogs during thunderstorms. TTouch and earwork can help dogs after visits too, by relaxing them and helping them deal with the stress of this very mentally and emotionally demanding work.
TELLINGTON TTouch GROUND EXERCISES
Ground exercises are used along with TTouch to help increase balance and coordination, to build a dog’s confidence in dealing with unusual footing and strange objects, and to learn how to accept unknown people and animals in close proximity.
An example of the use Tellington TTouch Ground Exercises is for improving physical balance. Physical balance underlies mental and emotional balance. For example, a dog that is pulling on the leash is out of balance, not breathing well and tense through its body. To demonstrate this for yourself, take hold of one end of a leash and have a friend hold the other end. Now pull on the leash as your friend tries to stop you from moving forward. Notice what this does to your breathing and to body tension. An animal or a human that is out of balance will be more reactive than one who is physically well balanced.
A simple way to help a dog who is pulling on the leash is to loop the leash around the chest and then use take-release signals to bring the dog to balance over its feet as it walks. Do not pull steadily against the dog, and always release pressure when the dog is in balance. In most instances, a little work with this Balance Line will help a dog walk relaxed on a loose line.
To help a dog deal with potentially frightening things like wheelchairs, TTouch combines bodywork and ground exercises with gradual introduction to a wheelchair. This may be “chunked down” by presenting the situation in non-threatening and manageable pieces. For example:
- Working a dog through a course of ground poles near the wheelchair and gradually walking the animal around the chair.
- Followed by the chair being rolled by as the dog is walking through the ground poles or receiving TTouch
- Walking the dog past a moving wheelchair
- Working with both an empty wheelchair and one with a person in it
- Walking the dog along with the moving chair, and eventually having the person in the chair hold the leash.
- Adding more wheelchairs.
- Narrowing space that the dog and wheelchair move through.
There are many ways of chunking this down. The entire process described above can be accomplished in a single session.
A VERY GOOD REFERENCE
Try some of the simple things described here, attend a workshop and read about Tellington TTouch. Getting in TTouch With Your Dog by Linda Tellington-Jones (Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret, VT: 1999) is a superb book on Tellington TTouch Animal Companion Training. In addition, the TTouch Training Headquarters in Santa Fe, NM (1-800-854-TEAM) offers further information about the work, as well as other publications and a list of Recognized TTACT Practitioners.