Published in TTEAM Connections, Vol. 4, Issue 2, April-June 2002
USEFUL APPROACHES WITH CATS
By Barbara Janelle & Sue Becker, Recognized TTACT Practitioners
As TTACT Practitioners we often exchange ideas about our work with cats. We would like to share a couple of approaches that we have found effective with these sensitive and intelligent animals.
Norwegian Dog Trainer Turid Rugaas has identified about thirty different signals that dogs use to calm themselves and others. (1) Other animals and humans too, use many of these signals. Eye signals, blinking and looking away, are among the most commonly used.
SUE: I have used slow half-blinking with cats ever since I was a child. In observing my own cats now, I notice that when they are very content or when they are trying to slow me down, they blink and partially close their eyes. With these slightly masked soft eyes, they continue to look at me in a very non-threatening way. I respond to this by partially closing my own eyes and find that this deeply relaxes both my cats and myself.
I started using slow half-blinks in my work with feral cats at a local rescue center and found these animals very responsive to this calming signal. The feral cats were in individual cages and extremely frightened and tense. They cringed away and cowered as I approached. I was able to do a little wand work with them that started to remove the barriers.
When I did a slow half-blink with each cat, looking directly at it, the cat would return my blinking either immediately or within three or four of my blinks. Then, some of the cats were able to accept a tasty treat, which up to that point had been refused. The tension in all of the cats visibly reduced. One fellow noticeably relaxed his eyes, while another lay down and actually stretched out a front leg in relaxation. Another cat allowed me to touch him very gently with my fingertips after our exchange of half-blinks. The cats’ human guardian observing this shook her head in amazement.
Returning cats’ blinks acknowledges and accepts their efforts to connect. Often they will blink again, and so will I. This appears to allow a shift to happen and they can release some of their fear, start to build trust, and allow the next step to begin. With some cats, glancing away after the blink is useful.
The most important part of the slow half-blink is the feeling behind it. When I think about this, I realize that every time – in my entire life – that I have used this, it was supported by my feelings of honour, connection and love for the cat which I offered to him/her through the blink (even if I had never met the cat before). As a child walking down the street and seeing a cat in the window of a house watching me, I would offer a blink accompanied by these feelings, and would invariably get it back and the feelings too.
BARBARA: After hearing Sue’s experiences, I began exploring the effect of partially closing my eyes using slow half-blinks with my own cats. This seemed to deepened the trust between Magic Bailey and myself and he began presenting himself more frequently for TTouch sessions. Houdini just became happier, if that is possible!
As with Sue’s experience, I find that slow half-blinks and partially closing my eyes allows me to start TTouch on very shy client cats much faster. I tried it with several dogs at a clinic that I gave recently, and found they relaxed faster. Combining partially closing my eyes and slightly turning my head was an effective way of interrupting lock-on staring without abruptly losing connection with the dog too.
THE USE OF A TOWEL TO COVER
BARBARA: A towel used to wrap a cat so that it can be gently restrained and handled, has proven to be a valuable tool in Tellington TTouch. However, I find that when a cat’s head is exposed while the rest of the body is encased in the towel, the animal may be upset and try to get away. I remembered watching Linda Tellington-Jones work with a difficult cat in a carrier many years ago. She quietly removed the top of the carrier and at the same time, covered the cat with a towel. She used the towel not to confine but rather to simply cover the entire animal. Sue tells me that Robyn Hood uses a towel in this way too.
A towel as a cover gives remarkable results. Cats quiet very quickly under a towel. It seems that when they cannot see you, they feel safe and hidden.
The other day, a woman asked for help with one of her cats who was very timid when people came to the house. When I arrived Serena hid behind the washing machine. The owner got her out and brought her into the living room. When the cat saw me there it tried to get away. I quickly put a large bath towel over her as her owner held her. The struggling stopped immediately and within a minute I started cloud Leopard TTouches through the towel. Two or three minutes later, Serena shifted position under the towel to allow me to get to another part of her body with TTouch.
Shortly after that the owner did some TTouches for a few minutes and then I raised the towel a little and did some work on the hindquarters and front legs. Then the owner was able to reach Serena’s face and mouth under the towel. She gently moved the towel aside and did Raccoon TTouch on Serena’s lips and upper gums. Eventually, we removed the towel completely and Serena lay in her owner’s arms accepting TTouch from each of us, and then simply sat quietly while we talked. This event, remarkable to the owner’s eyes, occurred by simply using a towel as covering.
We encourage others to experiment with slow half-blinking and using a towel to cover a cat and let us know their results.
1. Turid Rugaas, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Legacy By Mail, Inc., Kula: HI: 1997