It took me a year and a half to touch my dog’s tail – respectfully. Hard to believe, some might say, but when you have a shy dog who’s sensitive to touch, they run past you when you reach out. Others might lunge toward you or snap their teeth, and then there are the one’s who lean on you or melt into you, but fall over if you move.
But have you ever stopped to watch your dog or cat’s response to how you touch them and where you touch them? Do they lower their head and blink their eyes when you reach for their head? Do they lick their lips or yawn when you touch other parts of their body? Do they run away unless you force them to stay with you? What parts do they offer to you and what parts do they make it difficult for you to reach? Animals are incredible teachers, and it’s up to us humans to decide whether or not we want to be in school with them.
The benefits of learning how to touch respectfully are that the bond you create is tighter than you could have ever imagined, and behavioral and emotional issues start to drop off. Touch can do all that? Well, Tellington TTouch® can!
First developed in the 1970s by Linda Tellington-Jones, Tellington TTouch began as a way to further the bond between people and horses through touch and positive training. The technique has evolved since then to become a valuable tool for dogs, cats and just about any creature on this planet – including us. Through the use of circular touches and lifts of varying pressure and degrees of contact (some touches use the whole hand and some use just finger tips), TTouch awakens the body on a cellular level, promoting heightened awareness, healing and a deep bond between toucher and touchee. The touches and lifts are mostly named after the animals on which Tellington-Jones developed them, (like the Clouded Leopard or Python Lift) or for the way the touch resembles an animal behavior (like the Lick of the Cow’s Tongue or Raccoon Touch).
TTouch also employs movement exercises, utilizing special leashes, obstacles, labyrinths and body wraps to train and challenge pets to become more aware and consider all of the options available to them. Through using Tellington TTouch with animals, they learn how to act instead of react and their habits begin to change. In short, you’re helping your animal relax enough so they can think and make better choices – better choices than the ones that drive you nuts.
The best thing about TTouch is that anyone can do it. You can attend a workshop with a practitioner, book a private session, read about it, or become certified yourself. Once you learn some basic touches, lifts and exercises, you can start helping your pets with everything from anxiety and aggressive behavior to thunderstorm phobias, aging issues and grooming difficulties. It’s all fairly easy to learn and with just a little practice, you too can do the Lying Leopard and Tarantula Pulling the Plow on your own. Once you start to learn some of the TTouches, you automatically improve your bond with your animal and your level of awareness and understanding skyrockets. After a while, you slap your own self on the forehead and say, "I can’t believe I never noticed that before!"
The greatest gift my dog, Java, taught me was that not all dogs like it when you reach for them. Java still feels uncomfortable when strangers reach for her, so I’ve had to train the humans. If you reach for yourself, you’ll see why. Take your hand and put it in front of your face really fast. It doesn’t feel very good, does it? It kind of makes you feel trapped, and you stop breathing. Now, try moving your hand to your chest. Ahhh. Exhale. It’s easier to breathe and feels less threatening! Even a simple change in how we introduce ourselves to a new animal can make them feel safe and respected or uneasy. Direct eye contact, leaning over, reaching out – those are all things that make animals feel uncomfortable, but because most animals tolerate it, we continue what feels normal to us humans. What I challenge you to do is to learn what feels respectful to animals.
Through Tellington TTouch® work, Java has learned how to cope with many of life’s stressors, and I’ve learned more about patience and awareness than I ever knew existed. She continues to settle into a calmer, more focused dog who’s much healthier and happier than the little ball of stress I brought home from the shelter a few years ago. In return for the lessons I’ve learned from working with my own dog, the animals I work with professionally thank me for taking the time to learn how to be respectful with them, as well.