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How Can Tellington TTouch Help My Dog?

Written by Kerry Jenkinson, Tellington TTouch Practitioner, P2

Tellington TTouch Practitioner

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.

Bodywork

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

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.

 

For further information on our Tellington TTouch Workshops, please click here.

For the date of our next TTouch Workshop, please click here.

Pet Necessities Professional Dog Training – Egham, Surrey.

www.petnecessities.co.uk. 07969 997 272. training@petnecessities.co.uk.

https://www.facebook.com/petnecessitiestraining/

 

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Helping Dogs over the Firework Season

Often owners are searching for ways to assist dogs over the firework season.  This is because for many of us, and our pets, the firework season is very distressing.  No-one likes to see their beloved pets distressed.  Some will cower in a corner whilst shaking, whereas others will frantically try and get to the fireworks, sometimes injuring themselves in the process.  For many dogs it a very unhappy time, and it seems to go on for weeks on end.

Dog scared of fireworks

The noises caused by the fireworks can cause fear, anxiety and sometimes a phobia.  Research shows that the large majority of noise phobias involve either loud quick sounds (e.g. fireworks, gunshots) or thunder. It is also reported that fear of fireworks is the most commonly reported noise phobia in dogs, with the second being fear of thunder.

Fear is the apprehension of a stimulus, event or object.  It is essential for animals to feel fear in order to survive.  Fear triggers the “fight or flight” response, characterised by increased heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension, which allows the individual to escape from danger of defend itself against a predator.  This coping mechanism is called upon in the presence or absence of a stimulus.  The brain’s job is to regulate the strength and duration of this coping mechanism, but this can sometimes fail.

Anxiety is a reaction of apprehension or uneasiness to an anticipated danger or threat.  Signs are physiologic (increased heart rate, autonomic arousal) or behavioural (restlessness, freezing, lip licking).

Phobia:  A phobia is an unreasonable fear reaction prompting extreme and irrational avoidance responses.  The physiological responses to a phobic stimulus include trembling, tachycardia (fast heart rate), tachypnea (rapid breathing) and gastrointestinal disturbances (loss of bowel control).

Many dogs are not adequately habituated to these particular loud noises over time, so instead become sensitised.  This is the opposite of habituation where the presence of the stimuli creates a bigger response than its earlier presence.  Frequent exposure to these highly aversive events cause the brain to quickly activate alarm-threat pathways encouraging fear and startle responses.

 

Fireworks Phobias in Dogs

Ways to help your dog over this season

  • Ensure your dog has had plenty of physical and mental stimulation throughout the day.  A highly-strung dog with lots of pent-up energy is going to be far more difficult to keep calm and relaxed.  Do not walk your dog after dark and make sure he has been out to the toilet before darkness falls so he has no reason to need to go outside.
  • Provide your dog with a “den” area to help him feel more secure.  Hiding is a natural coping strategy designed to limit the exposure to the stimulus and dogs with anxiety issues tend to prefer to move to the safety of a den area when they feel emotionally challenged.  This is because they frequently try to get to places where the sound level is lower and multiple closed sides assist with this.  This can be a covered crate, an area such as behind a sofa, or under the bed.  Let him settle wherever he feels the most comfortable.  You may be the safe place your dog requires, so if cuddles under a blanket on the sofa are what is required, then so be it.
  • Close curtains and keep lights on to minimise flashes and sudden brightness.
  • Have a TV or radio on at a reasonably high, but comfortable volume to help drown out the sounds of fireworks.
  • If you know your dog will be scared, don’t leave him home alone.
  • Do feel free to comfort and support your dog when you feel he needs you.  Try and distract him whenever he is showing fear by giving him treats, playing games or doing some training exercises.  Generally, distracting him away from the fear is the best approach and all these things will improve his emotional state.  Ensure you avoid any punishment as this will make the dog far more distressed.  The best approach is to be cheery and jolly, to help lighten their mood.
  • There are various products on the market to assist with anxiety reduction.  These include the Adaptil products, Zylkene, Nutricalm, etc.  Speak to your veterinary surgeon about using any of these products before purchasing them online.  In some cases, pharmacological treatment is required to assist your dog during this period.  This must be used in conjunction with a behaviour modification programme from an appropriately qualified specialist.

Adaptil for firework fears

Desensitisation and counter-conditioning to treat noise sensitivities

Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning are the most effective methods when treating a noise sensitivity.  Systematic desensitisation is when an animal’s response to a stimulus is gradually reduced, to the point that it is in a neutral emotional state.  This is accomplished by progressively exposing the animal to increasingly intense forms of the stimulus while the animal is stress-free.  Counter-conditioning involves exposure to gradually increasing feared stimuli whilst concurrently encouraging emotions that are incompatible with fear.  The Dogs Trust website has free sound files you can download for this process.  Although this method takes some time before results are seen, it is often extremely successful.  This method should not be undertaken unless advice is taken from a qualified specialist.

 

The “portable hug”

Other products have a more immediate effect and can be used once a dog shows signs of distress, or to avoid them getting into a negative emotional state.  The Thundershirt, KarmaWrap and Equafleece T-Shirt are worn by the dog and provide a “portable-hug” based on the practice of Tellington TTouch.  These should be worn at various times during the day, not just when the stimuli is present, to avoid it becoming a predictive cue.

Keep your dog occupied

Keeping your dog distracted while fireworks are going off is an excellent way of helping to keep them calm.  Using long-lasting chews such as Yakers, Pure Dog Stag Bars, FarmFood Antler Bars, Anco Roots and Bullbars will not only give them something to focus on beside the bangs and flashes, but chewing releases endorphins which will help to feel more relaxed.

A stuffed Kong, Tux, Traxx, K9 Connectables or Quest is another ideal way to keep your dog distracted during fireworks.  These are easily made in advance and frozen, ready to use whenever they are needed.  It’s easy to make up these stuffed toys in batches so there’s no need for last-minute preparation.  Once you’ve purchased appropriate toys the recipes themselves can be very inexpensive and you can use everyday food items that you’ll find in most kitchens!  We have a very comprehensive list of toy-stuffing recipes.  You can also save part or all of your dog’s daily food allowance to feed out of these toys during the evening.

 

Interactive dog toys are also invaluable and can play a great part in focussing your dog’s attention.  These include the Snuffle Treat Mat and many of the toys found in our Mental Stimulation section.

 

Training games

Training games are a great way to keep your dog entertained and help them stay in better emotional balance.  There are many types of games you can play:

  • Home-made food toys: This could be a box full of shredded paper with treats inside, a plastic bottle filled with treats and squashed, or a squashed cardboard tube with a few yummy morsels inside and allow him to shred the lot! You may also consider hiding treats in a towel.
  • Hiding food around the house and garden and encourage the dog to “find”. Make this very easy to start with, but in time leave treats inside items and at different levels.  With some dogs, the only way to occupy them when the bigger bangs are occurring is to constantly throw food rewards around the home for them to find … this is perfectly fine.  Tiny morsels of really high-value treats (e.g. liver, cheese, ham) may be required if their fear response is greater.  For some dogs, food is not much of a draw so games with their favourite toy may be a better approach.
  • There are various activity toys on the market (e.g. Nina Ottosson, Trixie Activity Toys) that can be played with your dog.
  • Some dogs just enjoy the interaction with their owners and this is enough to distract them from the noises. This can be simply performing “sit”, “down”, “come” “heel”, “leave”, etc.  When a dog is successful at an exercise, they feel empowered, which in turn increases their confidence.  Ensure they are rewarded handsomely for each correct response.

Clicker Training Exercises

Clicker training is a great way of mentally stimulating your dog and giving him something to focus on other than the fireworks.  There are various exercises you can work on with a clicker:

  • Free shaping on items such as cardboard boxes. Click and reward the dog for interacting with the box in any way (except destroying it).  This could be using paws, mouth, moving around the box, getting in the box, turning it over, etc.  In order to obtain unique behaviours, you must withhold your click once the dog has performed one exercise twice.  If you continue to click the same behaviours, the dog will never offer anything different.  Remember: touching the box with a paw on one side is a different behaviour to touching with the paw on another side.
  • Hand touches: touching your hand with their nose. Hold hand at different heights and start to move your hand so they have to follow it for a period before receiving their click.
  • Other nose targeting exercises: Touching the end of a target stick, pole, or wooden spoon. Encourage the dog to also touch a small post-it note, which can then be stuck to items away from you (e.g. to touch it on a wall at the other side of the room).
  • Targeting with a paw(s): Encourage the dog to touch a marker or upturned bowl with their paw. This item can then be moved further away to add distance.
  • Encourage the dog to place their front paws on a box, small step or wobble cushion. They can then be sent onto this item at a distance.  Once front paws achieved, back paws can be worked on.
  • Teach your dog to go “away” to bed, towel or marker on the floor.

Example fun tricks:

  • Roll over
  • Play dead
  • Spin/twist
  • Give paw
  • Give both paws
  • Commando crawl
  • Play bow
  • Weave legs
  • Wave
  • Circle around handler in both directions
  • Retrieve post from letter box
  • Hold dumbbell
  • Put waste paper in bin/tidy toys into box
  • Stand in-between the handler’s legs
  • To “go around” an item and then return to the handler.  This can be a chair, waste paper bin, cone, etc.
  • To catch a treat

Safety

An up-to-date microchip and collar with ID tag are essential in case the worst should happen and you are separated from your dog.  Some dogs have been known to jump out of bedroom windows and scale 6-foot fences when distressed, so take great care with them.

 

When your dog is in a heightened state of anxiety they can behave out-of-character.  They may need more space in the home and on walks for a few days after a stressful event.

Further help

If your dog really struggles over this period you may need to consider seeking some professional advice.  It is essential that this person is a qualified clinical animal behaviourist as it’s essential that reward-based, up-to-date and scientific advice is given.

APBC Member Surrey

Pet Necessities Professional Dog Training – Egham, Surrey.

www.petnecessities.co.uk.  07969 997 272.  training@petnecessities.co.uk.

https://www.facebook.com/petnecessitiestraining/

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