Partnership and TTouch:          Communication and                     Observation                                   

One of the ways we ensure that we are working WITH rather than ON our companion animal is by paying attention to his subtle responses; “Listen to his whispers so he does not have to shout” as Robyn Hood so eloquently puts it.  As we work with an animal it is extremely helpful to continually monitor things such as respiration rate, posture, relaxation/tenseness, use of tail and ears, expression (unless you are working with your reptile), and all aspects of behavior.  For example a nervous, fearful dog might first show this with whispers such as blinking, turning his head away, licking, flattening his ears, and  moving his body away.*  If the person engendering this reaction by whatever she is doing to the animal does not hear the whispers and change her behavior, the dog may feel he has to shout by snarling and snapping—or worse, biting.

By studying how nonhuman animals communicate, we have learned to use calming signals such as yawning, head turning, and blinking to acknowledge concern and/or defuse reactions.  When something we are doing causes concern, we can change what we are doing.

A look at human behavior can bring us awareness of other ways to improve our communication with animals.  Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. has studied and written about this.  Her new book, The Other End of the Leash:Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs will give you much more information on this fascinating subject.  She points out that for millions of years, humans have been social, verbal animals who establish social contact by reaching out with hands (forepaws), repeating sounds with increasing volume when aroused, and responding more to vocal communication than to visual signals.

When a human converses with another human who speaks a different language, and thinks that the other human has not understood, the tendency of the first human is to repeat the same words, raising the volume with each repetition.   Novice teachers also tend to do this with (to?) students.  And, whoops,  guess what happens in dog training class --when the dog does not respond correctly to the first command,  each successive command from the human tends to become louder, as if more volume will increase the clarity of the message.  We all know the definition of insanity as repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Seems as though we humans have a tendency to do just that. 

To put our behavior in perspective, it is a primate type of reaction. Chimpanzees (98.4% of whose DNA matches ours) also repeat vocalizations with increasing volume.  It is called “pant-hooting.”  If you’ve ever seen chimps interacting, and most of us have at least seen multiple videos, you can easily recall this sequence of behavior.  What begins as relatively calm behavior becomes much more excited, as sounds are repeated with more speed and volume, and often the chimp will begin waving arms or stamping feet

Moshe Feldenkrais used to say, “If you know what you do, you can do what you want.”  When we know that as humans we tend to repeat words while increasing the volume, and that we tend to keep our hands moving, and often grasping, then we can use this awareness to see if our behavior is congruent with what we really want to express.  Is the verbal language meaningful to our animal?  Is the body language showing what we want?  Remember that our animals are much more attuned to “listening” to what our body “says” than what our words say. And we can “speak” by yawning, turning our head, blinking, etc.  We also “speak” with regular, easy breathing, comfortable posture, and relaxed muscles. 

With Tellington-TTouch we frequently use toning—slow, relaxed vocalizations with long vowel sounds such as “eeeaaaasyyy,  goooood dooog,  thaaaat”s   the waaaaay.  This not only offers calming, soothing sounds to the animal, but keeps us breathing and relaxes us, meaning that our body message is congruent with our voice message. Using toning also precludes increasing the volume.

Doing Tellington-TTouches and groundwork is a wonderful way to use our “forepaws” for help and clarification. As we do this, our awareness of our animals responses and our own, with shifts as appropriate brings us what Linda Tellington-Jones calls the joy of the dance that we do with one another.

                      Let’s all spend more time dancing with our animals!

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© Frances Smith 2012