What is Tellington TTouch®?
How many readers have pets? A large number, I am sure – maybe even the majority. However, although we share our lives and our homes with dogs and cats, how many of us really pay much attention to what is going on in their minds and their lives?
Anyone who has a pet at home, particularly a dog, knows only too well that their every move is scrutinised and recorded. Dogs know when you are going out and whether or not they will be going too. They keep tabs on the time and know when it is time to eat or go for a walk … But, what about us?
We bring animals into our lives and expect them to conform to our needs. Dogs are often expected to be surrogate children or fill the emotional gap when a relationship breaks up. We want them so we can compete in agility or obedience, or maybe just to accompany us on our walks. We expect a great deal particularly of dogs, and life can become quite stressful for them as we can often see – if only we take the time to look.
The philosophy underlying Tellington TTouch® is respect and this method can help both us and our pet animals to establish a strong, cooperative relationship which can help eliminate some of the sources of stress for both them and us. But what is it exactly? Is it a training method? Is it massage? … It is all that and more.
Tellington TTouch® does not aim merely to modify unwanted behaviours or alleviate symptoms, but to get to the bottom of things to find out why certain things happen at all. Often an animal may behave in a way which is unacceptable to us, and we can indeed eliminate such behaviours by “training them out”, but getting rid of the behaviour does not necessarily mean that the underlying causes have been eliminated or even identified, so often what we are doing is papering over the behaviour, hiding the cause, but that does not resolve it.
TTouch aims to help us affect the health and behaviour of our pet animals using different tools to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the part of the nervous system responsible for inducing calm and wellbeing. We all know that if we are in a state of constant stress, it is impossible to learn.
But, how can we do this? When people know anything at all about Tellington TTouch, the area they are most likely to have heard about is the bodywork aspect of the method. TTouch bodywork exerts light but firm pressure on the body in order to awaken the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulate cellular communication. There are several different types of TTouch work: slides, lifts and circular movements.
Another branch of bodywork are non-habitual movements based on the principles of the Feldenkrais Technique. We also do specific work on the ears, mouth and tail which are crucial areas of the body.
A less known aspect of TTouch work are body wraps. Different wrap configurations allow us to draw the attention of the brain and nervous system to various parts of the body. Wraps produce a calming effect and also help animals become more aware of their own bodies, which helps us correct irregularities in posture and movement. Crucially, TTouch recognises a direct link between posture and behaviour, so this area of work is of great importance.
The third pillar of the Tellington Method is groundwork. The Confidence Course, as the name suggests, helps animals concentrate and, therefore, learn more effectively, which, in turn, enhances confidence. This is essential when we wish to modify behaviours and teach new options. The work is done slowly. This allows animals to find their point of physical balance which leads to increased mental and emotional balance. Groundwork also enhances proprioception or awareness of where the limbs are in space.
This is all well and good, but what is the point of it? Who has not known a dog that went mad whenever it had to go to the vet’s? How many people have pets that suffer from separation anxiety? Many animals are nervous or hyperactive. When animals reach old age they may suffer joint pain and a growing number of young animals suffer from dysplasia. How about noise sensitivity? Many dog owners simply dread fiestas and ferias when fireworks send their pets into a spin. The list of applications is long and varied.
The wonderful thing about the Tellington Method is that it can be used for any animal, from snakes to tigers. The Method was born in the 1970s when Linda Tellington Jones was searching for ways to reduce the effects of endurance riding competitions on her own and other people’s horses.
From the equestrian world the work spread to dogs and other companion animals, and more recently it has found a place among human therapies. The effectiveness of the work has earned it a place among animal health professionals so that today it is used by vets, veterinary nurses, groomers, zookeepers and other professionals. It is best known in North America, Britain, Australia and northern European countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, but interest is growing worldwide – Argentina, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Africa, Uruguay … In many countries animal shelter staff are trained in the method because it has been shown that nervous and sensitive animals benefit immensely from the work and, as a result, are more likely to find homes.
© Mary J. Rodriguez M.A. (Hons); Dip.Ed.; Dip IAZ
Certified Tellington Touch practitioner
Dip. Applied Zoopharmacognosy
First published in “Andalucía Life”