Making Life a TTouch Easier for   You and Your Conformation Dog  

We want our conformation dogs looking and moving their best.  Tellington TTouch, with its focus on balance, is wonderful to use with show dogs. Tellington TTouch uses the interrelationship of self-confidence, self-carriage and self-control to help animals  function at their best.  Relying on the wisdom of the nervous system, and helping the nervous system to use new neural pathways, Tellington TTouch uses somatic education to help all animals  function as well as they can.

TTouch has been used with dogs who have great conformation, but a poor attitude about showing.  It can help those dogs who hate the show ring and who make that obvious to even the most casual observer by their posture and attitude.  TTouch can also help those dogs who think the show ring is a grand place to be, and they are so happy they are flinging their legs all over as they are supposed to be showing their splendid movement, or they are dancing around when they are supposed to be  stacked and displaying their lovely profiles. Tellington Touch can also help the dog who appears to have lovely structure  BUT whose  movement does not live up to that structural promise.

Remember to make use of the educational axiom, “meet them where they are.”  When we are trying to give someone directions to our house, we need to know where they are as a starting place for the directions. The same holds true with our animals.  We do not have to know WHY they are there, but the more readily we can figure out “where” they are, the more readily we can help them shift from that place.

Those of us who show our dogs are used to observing them carefully.  Bring this ability into play when you use the TTouch.  Even your dog’s subtly turning his head away as you touch his face; or his sitting, or turning to lick you as run your hand over his croup, can show you that he is not quite comfortable being touched in those places.  You will want to be aware of any small changes or responses.  These will give your guidance with your touches and ground exercises.

Start with a gentle, full-body exploration of your dog.  To be most aware of places where she  is not at ease with being touched, do not put her on any kind of command.  Just slip your thumb through her collar, or do something else to gently contain, not restrain, her as you touch her all over.  What you find in the exploration, coupled with what you know about  her performance issues, will help you find direction for giving  her opportunities to change.

After you complete the exploration, and have some idea about body areas where he might have concerns,  do TTouches over his whole body -- circles, lifts and slides.  Very likely he will relax.  Some of the areas that were of concern before may now be just fine to be touched.  If not, you have some indication of where to work.  Remember this is done “with” not “to” your dog.  So if he does not care to have a certain area touched, think about how to make that touching more acceptable.  Chunk it down:  try using the back of your hand, or a different TTouch or a sheepskin (if he does not think that a wonderful toy—or something to herd) or a sock; try touching a comfortable spot for him, going briefly to the sensitive area, and back to the comfortable area; remember the architectural credo, “Less is more” and stop sooner, rather than later.  

People not too familiar with the Tellington TTouch can sometimes feel bewildered at the array of “tools” we have available, and want to know exactly which thing is used to treat what problem.  A typical answer is, “It depends.” This is not just a flip answer.  Because your dog is an individual, what worked for another dog who seemed to have an identical issue might not work for your dog.  Part of the effectiveness of the work comes from the vast number of tools and combinations available. Using the TTouch tools in combination with your observations, thoughts and creativity enables you to work with your individual dog.  You are not in the predicament the psychologist Maslow referred to when he said, “If a hammer is your only tool, you have to treat everything as a nail.”

Because this work is about bringing an animal into balance, we often use the same tools for behaviors that might seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.  For instance we would be likely to try the same things with both a shy, reluctant dog  and an overeager dog.  Mouth work might be very helpful for the too shy as well as the too “in your face” dog.  Tail work is also likely to be very useful for dogs with either of these issues, helping with self-confidence or self-control, to improve self-carriage.  Additionally we have often seen the dog who previously could not contain himself, after wearing the bodywrap show calm and focused behavior. 

Just as often, we have seen the reluctant dog, who would rather be on a hike, on the sofa, chasing the lure, or, apparently, anywhere else but at a dog show--after experiencing the bodywrap--come into the ring displaying none of that prior reluctance, but rather an eagerness and interest for the new things that may happen. General bodywraps, anchoring around the chest, wrapped around the trunk, and encompassing the hindquarters, are most typically used.  We can also construct the wrap to help bring awareness to a body part that might function more efficiently.  We might, for instance, wrap down the forelegs of a dog who stood too wide or too close in front, or who  moved with wasted or restricted motion.

Though the work is called Tellington TTouch, groundwork is an integral part of the learning model. Even though show gait is a trot, we still go through the confidence course mostly at a deliberate walk, with stops to do some of the ttouches on the dog.  When you ride a bicycle at speed, you are usually not very aware of your balance and what you must do to maintain it.  Riding slowly gives you an acute awareness of what you do to balance.  Results show  that moving slowly, with focus, also gives an animal a heightened awareness. Groundwork, when used in conjunction  with the TTouches and other tools gives your dog the experience in  a different context, and changes the lesson.  Once in the body wrap, a dog will have a different awareness of his body.  Leading him through the labyrinth while he wears the body wrap provides still a different way for him to experience turning and moving, as well as standing.  We change a step in the dance, and it becomes a different dance.

Getting your dog to do the “half walk,” which is taking a step over a pole with only one foot, and then backing up a step, can really help if your dog does not seem to move as well as his conformation indicates he will move.  You will find your timing very important the first few times you try this, but once you catch the single step a few times the dog gets the idea very quickly.  Changing the leading foot, and stepping over something with the back foot as well is an informative learning experience.  Try it!

A crowning TTouch: Leg Circles.  Wonderful for freeing up movement!  Remember the Feldenkrais Principle (this work is partially an outgrowth of Linda Tellington-Jones’ study of the Feldenkrais human somatic education): “Work with possibility rather than limitation.”

We had a homebred with very nice conformation, who hated the show ring.  When she was with us we did bodywork and took her through the confidence course. Her co-owners would put a body wrap on her, which she wore on her way to the dog show. Though not taken out often, she finished readily, winning over nice competition. She was not campaigned, and went to only a show or two after finishing.  In 1998 we took her to the Scottish Deerhound Club of America National Specialty.  Just before the specials went into the ring, we did leg circles, a little tail work, and Tarantulas Pulling the Plow along either side of her spine.  Hattie (Ch. Dhu Mohr Elena Tess Algonkian) went into the ring, and breeder/owner handled, went on to take Best in Specialty Show.

The videos, “Unleash Your Dog’s Potential, Getting in TTouch with Your Canine Friend.” “TTouch of Magic for Dogs” and the books Getting in TTouch with Your Dog: a Gentle Approach to Influencing Behavior, Health, and Performance and  The Tellington-Touch: a Breakthrough Technique to Train and Care for Your Favorite Animal give extensive information about how to do the TTouches and exercises mentioned above. 

Wendy and Frances offer private sessions and weekend workshops that can focus on many aspects of TTouch, including workshops for the conformation dog.  References available.

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© Frances Smith 2012