by Sarah Fisher
As seen in the December 2003 issue of Animal Talk Sarah Fisher is a TTouch Practitioner based in the U.K. and is a regular contributor to many of the UK ’s top animal magazines. She travels widely in the UK giving presentations and teaching workshops to staff at the UK’s leading animal shelters including the Battersea Dogs Home, The Mayhew Animal Home and the National Canine Defence League She has appeared in a nine part documentary on TTouch in England for ITV1 and Celebrity Dog School for the BBC.
Tension Patterns can affect the way your dog thinks, feels and learns. As with humans, the mental and emotional well-being of an animal can be influenced by its posture. Tension Patterns can arise as a result of trauma, disease or stress – sometimes the dog is born with certain postural traits. Whatever the origin, with awareness and TTouch you can help your canine companion move into a more balanced physical state that will enhance your relationship with your dog and improve its overall health and well-being. Whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, the correlation between posture and behaviour has been observed over and over again – as posture improves, many common unwanted behaviours diminish without the need to use fear, dominance or force.
The mouth is closely associated with learning and emotions. It is one of the most important parts of the dog’s body, as dogs use their mouths to communicate with a variety of signals including licking their lips, barking, yawning, growling and mouthing.
As with people, dogs can carry a lot of tension around the muzzle and jaw. If a dog carries tension in the mouth area its ability to communicate may be limited. It may be slow to mature and difficult to train since the mouth is linked to the ability to process thoughts and actions.
Tension around the muzzle area will generally present in two different ways. In the fine-nosed dogs such as Sight Hounds, the muzzle will be narrow and may appear pinched. This pattern can be linked to sensitivity and shyness. These types of dog may have a tendency to go off their food when upset, and will often be reluctant to take food from people if unsure of the situation. They may lick their lips rapidly to express their concern, and their eyes may be glassy with a vacant appearance. If cornered or pushed too far they may have a tendency to nip out of nervousness without a warning growl, although they will have offered many signals first to express their concern. Consequently these dogs will be more likely to whine or howl rather than barking when trying to attract attention.
Over-exaggerated mouth movements are more typical in the broader-muzzled breeds such as the Retrievers or Bull breeds. They may be inclined to excessive barking, drinking, panting and mouthiness, and may show a particular interest or obsession with food, toys and other articles. Quick to arouse and hyperactive behaviour these dogs are often slow to mature mentally and emotionally. They may bite under pressure with a hard or multiple bite, and may appear overly dominant and pushy in their behaviour. When offered treats, this type of dog may snatch it from the hand as tension through the jaw limits their ability to be subtle in their movement. Tension in the muzzle area will often show around the nose and lines across the top of the upper jaw. Hormonal imbalance can result in tension around the mouth.
Observing the way the dog holds its muzzle and jaw can give you vital information about how the dog is coping with a situation. A still, tense mouth and jaw can be a signal that the dog has ‘shut down’ and gone into freeze.
The Eyes and Face
It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul, and this is true of dogs. Dogs that are easy to handle and stress-free generally have eyes that are soft and appealing with a richness and depth to the colour. Tension and stress will result in a hard, glassy eye that appears bulging, glazed or unblinking. Rolling an eye or showing any white can be a sign of concern. The area around the eye will be tight in dogs which are stressed, giving the appearance of a small pinched eye in certain breeds. The skin around the eye may be tight and wrinkled with stress lines under the eye.
Dogs use their eyes to communicate. Looking any dog directly in the eye can be unsettling for the dog and can trigger unwanted responses. If nervous and more prone to flight, the dog will look away and will avoid direct eye contact. If the dog is unable to remove itself from the situation, it may nip out of fear or start shaking. In dogs that will hold your stare, direct eye contact can trigger them to jump up or lunge forward. Breaking eye contact by looking away and keeping your eyes soft when observing or interacting with dogs will reduce their stress levels and allow them to process what you are teaching them.
Hard eyes are often linked to tension across the forehead. Dogs that are anxious and nervous are often tight across the brow, which can give the appearance of raised eyebrows. This can be linked to anxiety and a dislike and genuine fear of being left alone. There is a correlation between the forehead and stomach, and dogs that are tight across the brow can suffer digestive disturbances or go off their food when unsettled. Likewise, food intolerances or poor gut function can give rise to anxious behaviour, and dogs with tension across the forehead will often be whiney and clingy.
The Ears and Head
There are many acupressure points throughout the ear relating to the rest of the body. If there is pain or injury somewhere in the body, there may be a part of the ear that the dog does not like being touched.
The set of the ear will give you information about how your dog feels, and can be an early warning sign of mounting stress. Dogs that are noise sensitive and those which suffer from travel sickness often carry tension through the ears.
Cold ear tips can be an indicator of stress/anxiety levels and may be accompanied by cold feet. It can be linked to tension in the neck and a higher than average respiration and heart rate. Dogs that are in shock or dogs that have suffered some trauma will often have cold ear tips. Shock kills and TTouch ear work has saved the lives of many animals that have been injured or which are sick whilst waiting for appropriate veterinary attention.
High set ears are associated with very reactive behaviour. In certain breeds such as Collies and German Shepherds the ears may even appear to be joined together on the top of the head. Dogs with this pattern are often very excitable with little or no attention span. They can be difficult to train, as they are easily distracted by movement around them.
Ears that are folded can indicate shyness and nervousness. As with the high ear set, they can be linked to noise sensitivity and are often accompanied by tension around the hind quarters and tail.
Crooked ears or ears that appear to be set unevenly on the head can be an indicator of tension through the neck and/or jaw. The dog may be very reactive to contact around the head and neck, and may dislike having its collar handled.
Tension in the ears will affect the tension across the top of the head and vice versa. Dogs that are very reactive and those that dislike contact on or movement near the head are often very tight through the skin between the base of the ears. They may even have heat in this area, and are often quick to arousal.
The Neck and Back
Tension in the neck and back can give rise to a high head carriage. This posture is linked to the Flight/Fight response. The gait may be short and choppy and the dog may appear to be stiff through the shoulders and hindquarters. This posture is often linked to a high tail carriage. Dogs with this Tension Pattern find it hard to relax, and are constantly in a state of alert, often leaping to their feet at the slightest sound or movement. Tension through the neck can inhibit the movement of the front limbs, resulting in tripping or knocking jumps in agility.
When a dog is aroused, the skin on the back tightens and the hackles rise. Some dogs carry so much tension through their body that they are habitually in this physical state of arousal. The back may be so tight that the muscles spasm on contact. This tension impairs the circulation in the skin, so the coat in this area may look dull, lifeless and scurfy. The hair may be curly, wavy or raised, and the dog may be highly reactive to contact or having the collar handled. They can be difficult to train, as they find containment difficult and react to collars, harnesses or other training equipment.
Dogs which display a great deal of flexibility through the back may still carry tension in certain areas which may only be detected when running your hand over the back. This type of dog is generally very exuberant and slow to mature. It may find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time, and will be inclined to play the fool when under pressure. Tension through the mid-back and lumbar region can trigger sexual behaviour when the dog is patted or stroked in this area. This area can also be linked to digestive problems.
To learn more about how TTOUCH can help your dog contact:
Guild Certified TTouch Practitioner III for Companion Animals
Tel: 011-884-3156011-884-3156011-884-3156011-884-3156 Fax: 011-783 1515
PO Box 729 ,
Johannesburg , South Africa