by Marnie Black
Listening Hands – The Value Of Tellington TTouch
(by Marnie Black, published in Seattle Purebred Rescue Magazine, May, 2006)
Hmm, too cold and rainy for a walk. And all you really want to do is light a fire, hang out with your dog, and listen to NPR. Then what? Sit and stare lovingly into his eyes?
Here’s an idea. How about giving your hands and heart to him with TTouch – “the touch that teaches.”
Named by it’s founder, Linda Tellington-Jones, TTouch is a gentle, respectful approach to bodywork. Best known for helping an animal recover from physical and behavioral problems, it can significantly deepen the bond between human and animal. Linda started experimenting with touch in the mid-70’s while she was studying Feldenkrais (moving a body in non-habitual ways develops new neural pathways in the brain. These fresh pathways give the body new proficiency in movement, coordination and muscular efficiency.) Linda saw a connection between touch and healing and started applying touches to horses who were not “comfortable” in their bodies – either physically or emotionally. Relying on her intuition, she moved her hands in slow circles all over the horse’s body. “Problem” animals exhibited immediate physical relief and marked improvement in behavior.
Linda’s intuition has been tested and retested in university settings for over 30 years. Distinct changes in the nervous system and at the cellular level of the animal have been discovered. She has taught TTouch to professionals, veterinarians and zoo personnel worldwide. Her training program has certified students to become TTouch practitioners for horses and small animals in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. She continues to develop and research her work, and currently offers 18 videos and 13 books in 12 languages on TTouch.. Today, she continues TTouch with animals and has extended her research to the effects of TTouch on humans.
How TTouch works: Central to TTouch are touches that reach just below the animal’s haircoat and gently move the skin. Unlike massage, which influences the muscle, moving the skin influences the nervous system. The result is an animal who calms, begins to breathe evenly, and starts to focus (center) himself in his body. Think of an exuberant puppy. You’d like him to settle down. Try running your hands quickly from his belly to his back in opposite directions, crossing them at his back. Not only will the puppy sense that his belly and back are connected, he will become absorbed by the sensation in his body. The puppy will relax and begin to breath evenly and deeply. His body “talks” to him saying “pay attention, something nice is happening here.” In addition to this type of general touch, certain other touches activate brain waves in the animal and help him learn – whatever he needs to learn –more quickly.
In animals, just as in humans, a quiet, centered state-of-mind can bring about a feeling of well being. The goal in touching the animal is also to bring him to a sense of equilibrium or balance in his body. This balance will enhance his proprioception – the ability to sense the position, location, and movement of his body and its parts. And much like athletes who use centering techniques to improve confidence during performance, this centering increases an animal’s self-confidence in a demanding situation. Imagine you have just escaped an automobile accident. Your breathing is shallow, your pulse rate is high, your emotions are all over the place, It’s hard to figure out just what happened. Then you said to yourself “take a deep breath and relax a bit,” and when you did, you were better able to evaluate your surroundings. You relaxed, placed confidence in your senses, and in your ability to better evaluate this event. This same process can be given to your animal.
Imagine he and you have run into an aggressive dog on the street. Your dog is upset and uncertain. You can’t tell him to take a breath and relax, but you can show him, through his body, with your hands, how to take a breath and relax. Then, he too, can better evaluate this upsetting, maybe dangerous situation, and react with more appropriate behaviors, such as calming signals or reduced aggression.
Though circular touches are the hallmark of TTouch, many other techniques are used to help the animal get to a better physical or behavioral place. Thoughtful observation of the animal’s physical and emotional state is the first and most important. Movement analysis, motivational techniques, and ground work are all used to assess and ultimately counter an animal’s fear, worry, or damaging habits. These techniques alone can sometimes solve an animal’s problems in one TTouch session. Among the non-circular TTouch techniques are exercises in confidence building, wraps that bring awareness to the animal’s body, and various types of balance-enhancing equipment. For instance, dogs who participate in agility quickly improve confidence, balance, and footing when they are worked within the principles of TTouch.
Thirty years of case studies have shown that TTouch can help animals with physical injuries, internal issues such as arthritis, digestion problems, and skin problems. TTouch has also helped animals with emotional/behavioral issues such as excessive barking, chewing, fear- based aggression, shyness, separation anxiety, extreme excitement, and leash pulling.
How TTouch Can Help Aging and Senior Dogs
Just as humans struggle with aging, so do our animals. It’s hard to watch our older dog struggle with getting up from the floor, or losing his balance. And it hurts not to know how to help him when he looks so obviously sad or confused. But most dog owners, lucky enough to have an animal live to an advanced age, will see some loss of physical vitality and behavior, or mental change in their animals. The good news is – there are many TTouch techniques that can help your animal cope with his aging body.
TTouch should never be used as a substitute for regular veterinary care. But the first step in both veterinary care and TTouch begins with your ability to observe your animal objectively. Objectively (not sentimentally! or in an attempt to diagnose) observe your animal’s movements and behaviors. Use your hands to “listen” to the cool and warm, tense and smooth, ruffled and soft parts of his body. Use the blink technique: look at your dog, close your eyes, then open them much like a camera shutter. Where does your eye first land? What piece of information does your “camera” first pick up? Is your dog’s left hip higher than his right? Is his head lowered? Is his fur ruffled just behind his right shoulder? These observations are important. Share them with your vet to clarify any medical issues with your animal, and then start using TTouch to improve his comfort level.
Here are some issues that elderly animals encounter. Learning to observe these types of issues will help you, your vet, and your animal:
- An unwillingness to move as much as usual. A vet might find arthritis or illness.
- Increased injuries. A vet might discover a vision or hearing impairment.
- Heightened agitation with unfamiliar circumstances or noises
- Increased separation anxiety when you are away.
- Listlessness. Is your animal socializing with other animals?
- Lack of appetite, possibly due to worry or sensitive stomach.
- Loss of bladder control, possibly because of fear or illness.
- Disorientation, possibly due to illness.
- Chronic pulled muscles from loss of muscle tone.
How TTouch Can Help Dogs with Disabilities
Animals with disabilities have two strikes against them. The disability, temporary or permanent, for which they must physically compensate. And the emotional aspects that go with a loss of vitality, balance, sight, hearing, or reduced socialization.
Following are some issues that disabled animals contend with. If you are the owner of a disabled dog, make objective observations of your dog’s physical and mental well-being a priority, and do not hesitate to ask your vet for his opinion:
- Loss of limb, possibly leading to back and neck strain, and pulled muscles in other parts of the body.
- Loss of eyesight or hearing, possibly leading to increased injury, confusion, undeserved punishment from the owner.
- Paralysis, leading to loss of confidence and loss of body awareness.
- Loss of balance, and resulting injury and confusion, from lack of body awareness.
- Serious behavioral problems such as increased confusion, disorientation, seeming depression following the trauma of the disabling situation.
- Falling, tripping and running into objects, which can lead to bruising, pulled muscles, and confusion.
- Chronic injury from lack of muscle tone and body awareness.
- Poor proprioception ( a sense of the body’s position) leading to lack of confidence.
Though the practice of TTouch for senior and disabled animals is much the same as it is for young animals, it can be more valuable to the senior and disabled. Why? The body of a young dog has quick-healing abilities, the muscles and tendons are smooth and uninjured, arthritis and autoimmune illnesses are relatively rare. The world is new to the young animal and his emotions, if nurtured by his owner, are relatively resilient. The elderly animal’s tendons and muscles have less elasticity, arthritis has moved into injured and stressed joints, and the animal experiences increased difficulty with obstacles and complicated environments. The older animal will benefit more from external sources of support such as TTouch, and particularly from the increased time in bonding with you.
TTouch provides many positive results to the elderly and disabled animal:
- It warms the body through the central nervous system;
- It teaches the body how to achieve a calm, centered state on it’s own;
- It changes habitual movement patterns enough to provide the body with new motions, thus relieving long-use muscles;
- TTouch improves body awareness so that walking in difficult places e.g. a staircase) can be easier.
- It increases brain wave activity so that learning new behaviors is easier.
How to do TTouch
Following are simple TTouches and techniques that you can use any time on your animal. All of these will help both the senior and the disabled animal. Twenty minutes at a sitting is the maximum amount of time to do TTouch on your dog. Beyond that time, the nervous system can be overtaxed, and the animal can become tired or restless. After a TTouch session animals often (but not always) drink more water and sleep deeply for an hour or two.
Excellent for excessive barking, nervousness, reducing stress, relaxation, wounds, bruising and swelling, and injuries.
Rest your hand lightly on your dog’s body, your fingers flattened slightly to allow a large area of warm contact with fingers and palm. Go below the haircoat and push the skin one and a quarter circle. Make your circle last to a count of 5 or longer. Let your middle finger lead. Feel the connection between your forefinger and thumb, which are held several inches apart. Keep your wrist straight yet flexible. Breathing in rhythm with the circles you are doing helps maintain a softness in your fingers, hand, arm and shoulder.
Assess your dog’s comfort level. If he seems uncomfortable, lighten the touch. Never press harder than you could tolerate on your own eyelid.
Excellent for arthritis, balancing, hip dysplasia, nervousness, gait improvement, improving physical and emotional balance, stiffness in back and shoulder.
Place your hand on the body or around a leg with just enough pressure to gently lift the skin and muscle. Lift to a count of four or a full breath in, hold for a count of 2, and slowly lower the skin to a count of four or a full breath out. Be sure you are balanced and breathing. If you lift with tension in your own body, the animal will tense or move away.
Excellent for arthritis, bloating, digestive problems, fear, fear of loud noises, sore back, shoulder or hips, stress and tension.
Fold a towel so that it is 4 to 6 inches wide. Starting just behind your dog’s front legs, gently lift to a count of 4 or a full breath in. Do not lift so hard that you lift your dog off his feet. Hold for about 15 seconds. Release slowly, to a count of 8, or twice as long as it took to lift up. The slow release is essential to achieving the desired effect. After each lift move toward the hindquarters and repeat the procedure. Continue until you are all the way to the hindquarters. Repeat 3 or 4 times if your animal tolerates it.
We are all used to petting our dogs, but petting becomes unremarkable and somewhat mindless after a while. Even our dogs become habituated to petting and won’t be aware of the health benefits of your touch. Varying your hand movements as well as using different textures to touch your dog, will have your dog snuggling closer to you:
- Use a chamois mitt from an auto store. Gently and slowly rub the mitt over your dog’s face, ears, back and paws. Always go in the same direction as his whiskers.
- Use a paint brush to outline the sworls and rivulets around your dog’s ears, chest and chin. Use a bigger paint brush for his stomach and back.
- Grasp a small handful of fur at the root. Gently move it in a circle and a quarter, and slowly let go while pulling over your index finger. Dogs especially love this on the top of their heads.
You will enjoy using TTouch as much as your dog does. TTouch affects you the same way it affects your animal. Many people use it while they are meditate or do their yoga exercises. Being mindful and enjoying the time you have with your animal is a gift you can give to both of you.
With Thanks to and Permission from:
Marnie Black graduated from American TTouch training in 2003. She is a private practitioner serving Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. See her website at www.marnieblack.com for much more on TTouch.