Written by Kerry Jenkinson, Tellington TTouch Practitioner, P2
Using TTouch Bodywork and Groundwork on a regular basis can help your dog to become a more calm and confident canine, building a deeper relationship with your dog based on co-operation, trust and understanding.
Observing your dog on a daily basis will help you notice any subtle changes that might occur both physically and mentally. Postural changes can happen when tension is carried throughout your dog’s body. This can be as a result of a medical problem, injury, change of circumstance or emotional upheaval etc.
So what can you do to help your dog feel more comfortable and confident and help them cope in situations that they may find stressful?
Flat Hand Assessments
You can start to gather information as to where your dog may be carrying tension throughout his body by making a flat hand assessment.
Instead of just stroking your dog, mindfully move your hands over his body and watch for any reaction that he may express. These can be very subtle from looking at the area that you are touching to placing his nose on your hand. He may sit or lie down on the area that you have just stroked in order to stop the contact or he might start to play or fool around as a distraction to avoid contact.
If this doesn’t work he may become very still (freeze) and his eyes become hard and staring. This is a definite sign to stop what you are doing as his next move might be to snap at you. Other signs are more obvious – curling a lip or growling. This is an escalation of their behaviour which can occur if we ignore the more subtle signs that they express.
Using the back of your hand for this process is less threatening for your dog and enables you to feel any changes in temperature.
Coat changes such as the hair standing up or looking dull, dry and scurfy or a change in colour can be caused by a lack of circulation and tension. Check how easy it is for your dog to pick his feet up by lifting each leg slowly. If the foot feels rooted to the ground he may be carrying tension in his shoulders or hindquarters. You can also check the wear on his pads and nails of his feet as this will show you where he puts the most pressure.
Using your hands to make specific gentle movements of the skin on your dog’s body will stimulate the nervous system into responding in a positive way. It will help to release tension and improve circulation, reducing levels of stress and helping him to relax. Some simple ear work, making long gentle strokes from the base of the ear to the tip can help to lower heart and respiration rates.
I found this particularly useful at the vets where my dog, Wilbur, becomes a quivering wreck. Being able to calmly work his ears lowered his stress levels and stopped him from shaking. This has also been useful for both my dogs as they are worried by fireworks. Together with ear work a body wrap (stretchy elastic bandage), put on around their body so that it is just in contact, gives them a sense of security helping them to settle.
Sarah (owner, Pet Necessities Training & Behaviour) also found this helpful with a previous dog, Billy. He had become blind and was becoming distressed at night and would pace when Sarah went to bed. He was also concerned about being left and suffered an increase in anxiety due to his loss of sight. I showed Sarah some bodywork which she did with him in the evening which helped him to relax. Sarah used an Equafleece T-Shirt (instead of the body wrap as this can be left on when you are not there), which made a big difference to Billy; he would wear this whenever he had to be left.
Groundwork has many benefits for our dogs and for ourselves. It can teach us to really observe our dogs and see how their posture affects how they think and feel, allowing us to pick up on the small subtle changes that can lead to reactive behaviour. Groundwork will also teach us the subtle ways that we can influence our dogs as well as patience and understanding.
Dogs take information in through sight, smell, hearing and touch. If a dog is carrying tension in his body it will inhibit his ability to learn and take on new information and can heighten or decrease his senses (e.g., sight, smell and hearing). This can cause him to react to situations rather than make a calm and considered choice. Our posture and how we react can also influence our dogs and so learning how to change ourselves and release tension that we may be holding and transmitting down the lead will be really beneficial.
The groundwork side of TTouch is useful for helping to build confidence and improve focus. Taking our dogs over a series of low level obstacles, poles and different surfaces will give them different experiences and can show them and you their potential to be successful rather than their limits. Asking your dog to move in a slow measured way, rather than rushing, teaches them to be better balanced with more body awareness as well as improving coordination and athletic ability.
Having a dog that pulls on the collar and lead can be very frustrating for both the dog and you. It will also set up areas of tension in the neck, shoulders and hindquarters. With the use of bodywraps (stretchy elastic bandages), we can improve proprioception (awareness of where his limbs are and coordination), and also give a feeling of security, helping to calm and settle your dog. The bodywrap can also be part of the process in introducing your dog to wearing a harness.
Wearing a harness can be more beneficial for dogs that pull on the collar and lead as it takes the pressure off of the dogs neck. Using two points of contact on the harness makes it easier to help your dog be in better balance and stops any damage that may be done to their neck with constant pulling.
Moving them slowly through the groundwork on the harness and two points of contact will engage their brain and start to help them focus. It will improve paw/eye coordination (great for dogs that do agility), as they are asked to move mindfully over and through the obstacles. Doing some groundwork will encourage flexibility and suppleness which will help put less strain and wear and tear on your dog’s joints.
Groundwork can be a safe way to introduce dogs to situations that they find stressful. If they are worried by other dogs or indeed people, these can then be introduced during groundwork in a controlled and stress free way so building the dog’s confidence and ability to cope with these situations.
Ten minutes of groundwork can be much more beneficial for dogs that are on limited exercise as it is mentally stimulating and won’t tire them out physically. Sessions can be kept short and the introduction of some bodywork (TTouches), whilst doing the groundwork will help your dog to relax and release any tension that they may be carrying.
My previous dog Trevor was attacked whilst we were out walking. He was very distressed and very sore from being pulled around by the other dogs. I used specific TTouches (bodywork) to help with any bruising that had occurred and to help reduce his stress levels. He didn’t want to go out for walks as he was very concerned about meeting other dogs. To help build his confidence I set up some groundwork for him. This proved really beneficial and within a few days he was happily going for walks again and interacting with other dogs.
Together with the Bodywork you can help to release tension and show your dog how to change their posture and to move in a more functional and balanced way. This will help to alleviate stress on joints as well as giving them a sense of well-being physically, mentally and emotionally.
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Pet Necessities Professional Dog Training – Egham, Surrey.
www.petnecessities.co.uk. 07969 997 272. firstname.lastname@example.org.