This is the first official entry in my ongoing series about Reactivity Activities. Though not meant to substitute for actual training, these extracurricular activities are meant to serve as complements to our ongoing training efforts in order to reduce stress and thus, reactive episodes, for Balton as he takes on the big scary monsters (well, perceived big scary monsters) of the world. Today, a recap on our first session with a TellingtonTouch (or TTouch) Practitioner.
Balton and I trekked up to Woodside TTouch in Silver Spring MD this past Sunday to meet with Pam Wanveer, a Level 3 TTouch Practitioner. I knew very little about what TTouch involved but had seen it referenced in a few places during my continued self-education, and our trainers at All About Dogs had suggested Woodside TTouch as a resource for “helping a dog learn to be more relaxed, confident, and secure in the environment.”
I also had learned about Linda Tellington-Jones (developer of TTouch) during my reading of Suzanne Clothier’s book, Bones Would Rain From the Sky, officially one of my favorite books ever. Suzanne Clothier’s relationship based training methods are heavily influenced by Linda Tellington-Jones. I had to learn more about the person who inspired she who so inspired me.
Last month, Your Dog’s Friend was offering a TTouch group workshop, which once again nudged me into thinking this might be something worth looking into. Uncertain that a workshop setting would be helpful for Balton (and therefore, its other attending students if he acted up and started an uprising) I emailed ahead to explain his situation and gauge if I should sign up for it. Ultimately, Pam and I decided that one-on-one TTouch time would probably be best for him. After several emails, sending a copy of Balton’s most recent behavior evaluation, a phone call, and some back and forth schedule conflicts, we were able to set up a time to get together this past weekend.
TTouch was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones in the 1970s. Its origins are with horses, but the practice has since been developed for companion animals, and even humans. According to the TellingtonTouch website, TTouch “is a method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence…Using a combination of specific touches, lifts, and movement exercises, TTouch helps to release tension and increase body awareness. This allows the animal to be handled without provoking typical fear responses. The animal can then more easily learn new and more appropriate behaviors.”
For those of us who are more visual learners, check out the video below for a demonstrative summary.
(if you can’t see the embedded video, click here to go to the YouTube Page)
Sound like new age, sort of crazy medical magical mumbo jumbo? You betcha. But was I intrigued? You betcha. There have been lots of research studies done on TTouch and it is accepted worldwide. Training is helpful for skill building, but proactive efforts toward overall stress reduction will (I hope) ultimately assist in continued learning.
Much of our first session was focused on helping me understand a little bit of the science behind TTouch, while also working to set up a positive relationship between Balton and Pam. She put on some beef stew to get the room smelling yummy, and had a number of cozy blankets for Balton to lie on. She had chicken in butter, as well as other high value treats, at the ready for him and made a point to interact with Balton in a non-threatening way, capturing and shaping behaviors that showed relaxation (deep breaths and laying down without being prompted to, for example).
I had thought that TTouch was sort of like doggy massage – which it kind of is – but not quite. Instead, the idea is that “a system of non-habitual touch is believed to activate unused neural pathways and even create new, more complex neural connections within the body and the mind, to sharpen awareness, mind body integration and the ability to learn new information.” (source) – I guess if I had to come up with an imperfect analogy, it’s a little more like doggy yoga in the sense that the mind becomes calm through awareness of body. The touches are very light, but very purposeful.
All the while she talking to me about neurotransmitters and pathways, lobes in brain and shifting states. If I’m being honest, a lot of it went over my head because I was half focused on making sure Balton wasn’t getting keyed up and deciding he wanted to attack our new friend. If he stood in one position for too long I called his attention, but Pam assured me she was getting a lot of blinks, which is much better than a hard stare. He also was willing to turn his back to her as time wore on, and started begging her for food. Like, hard core begging, coupled with lots of whimpering, barking, and other vocalizations. The same sort of noise we get at home when Balton is attempting to demand something from us – like going outside or playing with him. I was pretty embarrassed.
But then Pam smiled and said “I’d rather he be bored to tears than intently focused on getting me.” Which, I suppose was a fairly good point. He soon started to figure out if he laid on the mat instead of barking, he would get the chicken.
Still, enough of it processed and resonated that I wanted very much to learn more. Among what was discussed was this concept of an awakened state of mind. “Studies suggest that horses move into an awakened mind state when training with Tellington Touch techniques. The Awakened Mind reflects a state of balance and optimal functioning that is expressed in a particular balance of delta, theta, alpha and beta brainwaves. Enhanced intuition, creativity, insight and spiritual awareness can occur. The body is relaxed and the mind is alive and capable of learning with ease. As described by Linda Tellington-Jones, the horse that is working in the awakened mind state learns more quickly and is safer to ride because the horse’s capacity to think helps it to override primary instincts to flee in novel or startling situations.” (source – with cool charts to help illustrate the delta/theta/alpha/beta balances).
Pam used an analogy of when you are taking a test and struggling to recall some bit of information and totally freaking out about it, then all of a sudden you have an “ah ha” moment and a flash of important info just sort of comes to you. This is sort of what the awakened state of mind can be likened to.
We spent the last bit of our session practicing TTouch on Balton. Well, I practiced and Pam supervised, in the interest of keeping session #1 a good one for B. I don’t really get how little circular touches have such a big impact, but after only a few minutes of practicing TTouch, it was remarkable how Balton’s face just softened and he laid in a position that exuded relaxation. I guess you had to be there to really get it, but I was amazed. I left feeling my own mind in an awakened state, and Balton slept in the car the whole ride home.
I still feel like I have much to learn, but I am fascinated and officially a believer. The only issue is too many in person appointments will get to be very expensive very quickly. Coupled with the weekly training we are already doing I know I will need to limit how much professional TTouch we can actually afford. But, if it will ultimately help Balton continue to excel in his training, and become equipped to find a sense of calm, I believe it’s worth it, and no matter how much professional help I can manage to get, this is definitely something I can (and plan to) do regularly at home. We’ve only scratched the surface but I can’t wait to dig deeper!