Breakthrough:                                                            New Strategies for Working with Animals          

How many people have wished for a way to work with their animals that didn’t use methods that they feel uncomfortable with?  How many have hoped that somehow they could just find a way to communicate their wishes to their animal friends in a way that would allow the animals to understand and do what they wanted?  

If people are to believe some animal trainers, they need to use corrections if the animal makes mistakes, so the animal will know what they aren’t supposed to do.  What if people could just let them know what they DO want them to do?  Wouldn’t that be simpler?  Wouldn’t it be kinder?  Sure it would.  But is that possible?  

Breakthrough is defined as “a strikingly important advance or discovery”, and that’s just what Tellington TTouch is.  A breakthrough in the way people can work with animals, to help with behavioral, physical and emotional issues.  Only it’s not really new—in fact, it’s been around and used for almost thirty years, and it’s been successful all over the world.  

Tellington TTouch is a method of working with animals that uses gentle touch and guided exercises to make connections with animals and guide them to new behaviors and levels of awareness.  This groundbreaking work uses direction, instead of correction, to gently but firmly guide the behavior of animals in directions that owners want.  Often animals are not aware of all the behavioral options that are open to them, and they get stuck in unacceptable patterns of behavior, as do we humans on some occasions.  Humans have the unique ability, however, to discuss their options and choose new ways of behaving that are more rewarding to them, while their animal friends must depend on humans to point the way—somehow—to more acceptable ways to interact.  Many times we humans fail miserably in our mission, not deliberately, but out of a lack of a really effective means of communication.  

Because the animals that humans work with don’t have words to communicate and understand far fewer of their humans’ words than we’d like them to, humans are forced to rely on other supplemental means of communication.  For many people who work with dogs, for example, their means of communication focuses on the collar and leash—and their hands, which are used to push, pull, or otherwise compel the dog to comply with their wishes.  After many repetitions, dogs find out that certain actions cause pain or discomfort, and other actions relieve pain and discomfort.  Through these means, some dogs reach a minimal level of acceptable behavior.   Others rebel or withdraw or exhibit neurotic behavior  

Cats, however, present an entirely different challenge, as do other small animal companions.  It is very difficult to coerce a cat, as people owned by cats can testify.   Yet people are faced with issues that make coexistence with these animals less than optimum. 

How does TTouch allow us to communicate effectively with not only dogs, but the whole range of companion animals?  With TTouch, practitioners use their hands to communicate in an entirely different manner.  They use their hands, making gentle circles, slides, and lifts on the animal’s body to relieve or reduce stress, help animals to gain a better sense of balance, and to bring an awareness of its current state so that the practitioner can help the animal to make changes in behavior. 

Through reduction of stress, learning is facilitated in all species, even our own, as anyone who has taught children can tell you.  If physical balance is off, even to a small degree, it also affects mental and emotional ability to deal with life’s stressors.  Often, an animal is pushed into an unacceptable behavior that there is really no awareness of, because it is simply a reaction to a stressful stimulus. This can become an unconscious pattern of behavior.  There is wisdom in this saying, “If you know what you do, you can do what you want.”  Through TTouch, the animal can be brought to real awareness, and then changes can be made.  

Tellington TTouch practitioners also guide animals to a state of self confidence, self awareness, and self control through what is called the confidence course.  This is comprised of equipment designed to allow the person and animal to work together to complete exercises through a partnership built on success.  Combining the exercises with the stress-reducing physical touch both encourages the animal to try new things, and rewards success in a tangible way.  Through this, the animal begins to look to the human for guidance and reinforcement.  Trust is strengthened, both have fun, and each begins to look to the other for love and support.  Learning is activated and change is made possible.  

In traditional work with animals, the animal finds that it is safer to do nothing rather than make a mistake.  With TTouch work, the animal learns that it can be enjoyable and rewarding to try new things with his partner, and the animal/human bond strengthens, building rapport.   It becomes easy for the animal to pay mindful attention and to learn new things. 

How do people know this TTouch is not all smoke and mirrors?  Carefully recorded case studies point to success in many areas.  What kinds of things has TTouch been successful with?  Just a few are:  Adjusting to a new person, Fear of storms and loud noises, Shyness, Leash pulling, Car sickness, Separation anxiety, and Hyperactivity.  Examples of three of these issues follow.  

In the first case, the cat in question did not like strangers, running and hiding when anyone new arrived.  The owner brought the cat to a demonstration in a crate.  Working with the cat in the bottom half of the crate, TTouch was done through a towel to lower the anxiety level of the cat.  The cat received TTouch through the towel before the practitioner’s hands ever touched the cat.  Shortly the cat began to look out from under the towel and was able to accept TTouch directly on its body.  The towel was then removed and TTouch was done all over the body, starting with safe places that weren’t threatening (the shoulders and neck).   By the end of the session, the cat was lying relaxed on its side, and was allowing itself to be stroked, closing its eyes in comfort.  Subsequent reports indicated that the cat would stay in the room when strangers visited and even allowed petting when the owner did TTouch to relax the cat on her lap. 

A second case involved an English Mastiff who was panicked about thunderstorms.  She would cry and whine and pace the house, trying to get behind furniture and knocking small tables over.  She was brought to a weekend clinic where she received TTouch over her body, and she was taken through the confidence course with a piece of equipment called a body wrap on her.  She also received TTouch on her ears.  Her owner followed up with the TTouch work at home, and at last report, her tolerance for thunderstorms has increased to the point where she will now whine just a little before a storm, but is able to relax and even go to sleep if it is a night storm.  

A third case involved a German Shepherd who was terrified of strangers and would bark and hide.  A stranger could not get near her to touch her.   This case started with the practitioner sitting next to the owner, the dog on the far side of the owner at leash length away.  Beginning with TTouch on the owner, work progressed to the owner stroking the practitioner and then putting her hand on the dog with the practitioner’s hand on top of hers.  Then TTouch was done on the dog through the owner’s hand.  By the end of the first session, the practitioner could do TTouch on the shepherd.  By the third session, the owner and practitioner could take the dog through the confidence course together, and a stranger could actually approach and touch the dog with the dog standing at the owner’s side.  

Does this work comprise a real breakthrough?  Recently animal training has gotten a lot more positive and less coercive, following the TTouch model.  Even with livestock, animal handling techniques are beginning to evolve through acknowledgement that gentle, more respectful handling can affect the way animals respond and make the whole process better for both animals and people.  TTouch, combined with some of these newer methodologies, can provide an effective holistic method for achieving deeper relationships with the animal companions people love, while either solving issues that already exist, or actually preventing the issues from developing.

Frances Smith and Wendy Fast are Tellington TTouch Practitioners, level III.  They have been involved in TTouch work since her certification in 1997 and have traveled throughout this country, Canada, and England doing TTouch work.  They have done presentations for such organizations as the Association for Pet Dog Trainers, the American Boarding Kennel Association and many breed clubs.  They have raised Scottish Deerhounds for over 40 years and have shown in both conformation and obedience.  They currently reside in Dansville, NY, where they give  weekend workshops and do private sessions with clients.  Click here to contact them for more information.

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© Frances Smith 2012