Behavior Modification: TTouch(R)

By Ellen Lindell, VDM, DACVB; Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM

What is TTouch®?

Tellington TTouch® was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones as a way to condition relaxation through gentle massage. It is postulated that the light touch raises the animal’s awareness of the environment, thereby promoting controlled reactions to stimuli rather than reflexive reactions. TTouch® has been used in people and in many animal species as a component of behavior modification. The technique is safe and well tolerated by most animals and, though no major scientific studies have been done on TTouch benefits, anecdotal responses have been positive.

What is involved in TTouch®?

The technique consists of specific, controlled, massage procedures that, through their relaxing effects, help the animal to learn new and more appropriate behaviors more easily.

What problems can be benefited by TTouch®?

Dog and cat owners have reported positive responses after using TTouch® to help them manage excessive barking and chewing, lead pulling, jumping up, aggressive behavior, fear, shyness, excitability, car sickness, and behavioral problems related to aging. By promoting relaxation, TTouch® may be a helpful adjunct for dogs and cats that exhibit specific fears such as fear of thunderstorms or fireworks.

TTouch® may also be useful for easing anxiety related to veterinary visits.

How is TTouch® administered?

The first step is to apply TTouch® over several sessions, until your dog or cat shows consistent relaxation during the massage. Next, TTouch® can be applied in the face of the stimulus that triggers distress. For example, if your dog or cat becomes distressed during a storm, TTouch® may be used to condition a relaxed response in a specific location that will be available when the storm occurs. Once relaxation is established, you can gradually introduce muted sounds of thunder while your pet is being massaged. Over time, you can make the sound louder, so that your pet can gradually be desensitized to the noise. As with any basic behavior modification technique, improvement is gradual.

It is important that you are personally relaxed, and the easiest way to achieve this is by controlled deep breathing. In this way, you do not communicate tension to the animal. When you are tense, it is impossible to apply the “touches” properly because, in effect, TTouch® involves a partnership between you and your pet. Every animal varies and the right pressure for one may not be the same for another. This is part of the skill of the therapist. Practice with a friend to get feedback about whether you are generating the right feel. Remember the “touches” must be repeated several times over different parts of the body.

Are there many different TTouches®?

Several TTouch® techniques have been developed, and each one has a specific, evocative name. For example, the “Clouded Leopard” is a basic circular movement that is especially useful for highly muscled dogs. Press one hand on the animal and gently cup the other like a paw. The pads of the thumb and the fingers should be in gentle contact with the body but not moving. The three middle finger pads should be held together. Then move the skin in a clockwise direction, starting with an upward motion, moving in a small circle about half an inch in diameter.

After making slightly more than one revolution, you move to another part of the animal’s body and repeat the process. Rapid circles appear to increase alertness and slower ones release muscular tension and enhance breathing.

"Rapid circles appear to increase alertness and slower ones release muscular tension and enhance breathing."

Another technique, called the “Lying Leopard”, involves the same circular movements as the Clouded Leopard, but the hand is held a little flatter, so there is more hand surface in contact with the animal’s body. The increased contact with the dog appears to improve relaxation, particularly in fearful or easily startled dogs. If the dog is very excited, start by making a few circles quickly and then slow down as the dog calms down. This touch is reputed to help relieve the pain associated with some injuries.

A further modification of this circular motion is the “Abalone”, also used to calm anxious and excitable animals. The full hand is placed in contact with the animal and moved in a circle, one-and-a-quarter rotations, but the stroke ends with a reverse action.

Another touch that is frequently used is the “Tarantulas Pulling the Plow”, in which a fold of skin is taken between the thumb and forefingers of each hand, with the thumbs behind the fold, touching one another. The fingers are then walked against the natural lie of the hair with the thumbs gently pushing the fold along from behind. This is often used in animals that are very sensitive to touch.

Other techniques include ear and mouth work, again endeavoring to calm and relax the animal.

Will it help if I try some of these techniques?

TTouch® appears to help calm many pets. However, its effectiveness has yet to be validated, whether it is the specific touch techniques or merely the effects of training your pet to relax with a gentle and calm massage.

When applying any form of TTouch®, it is important to be aware of your pet’s body language, particularly when your hands are close to your pet’s mouth. A fearful or painful pet could become anxious and with repeated sessions, and fear could escalate, potentially generating an aggressive response. It is important to modify or discontinue the massage protocol if you observe signs of fear or aggression.

How can I find more information about TTouch®?

Linda Tellington-Jones’ website, www.ttouch.com, gives further information about TTouch®.

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