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Getting in touch with the T Touch

*This interview took place in December, 2009 when Claire Pearson was in her final months of training.  Claire is now a fully qualified Tellington TTouch practitioner and is listed at the bottom of this article and in our Dog Services Directory under Dog Behaviourists.

The T Touch (Tellington Touch) was named after its founder, Linda Tellington-Jones, who in the 1970’s devised a relaxation technique using a gentle massage that has proved to be successful on both horses and small companion animals.  This was my limited knowledge of the T Touch until Claire Pearson contacted London Dog Forum to ask if I would be interested in learning more about the Tellington Touch.  I was delighted and my reply was, ‘absolutely, London Dog Forum is interested in anything that is beneficial to dogs.  When can we meet?’

In her e-mail Claire had told me that she was in her second year of three year training course to become a TTouch practitioner.  I have to admit to being surprised that the training should take so long and I was fascinated to know how she had become involved initially.

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“It was through my cocker spaniel, Bella.  As a puppy she had been very confident around other dogs and had learned the social skills needed in canine company.  She had been out with a dog walker from the age of 12 weeks and therefore had loads of opportunity to mix with all kinds of dogs, but at 16 weeks she was attacked by a stronger adult dog.  Despite severe trauma to her chest, Bella seemed to regain her confidence and continued playing happily with other dogs.  Unfortunately over the next few months she was attacked a further three times by dogs whose owners appeared to be unaware or disinterested in the havoc their pets were causing.  The final attack happened when Bella was on the lead and this seemed to be the final straw.  Bella became impossible when I took her out and when she saw another dog would literally go into a spin, snapping and barking and in a terrible state.  Our walks became extremely stressful for her and for me, and living in London where there are so many dogs on and off the lead, made the situation all the worse.  Bella’s behaviour continued to deteriorate and something had to be done.  I tried ‘clicker’ training with a small degree of success and all the positive reinforcement techniques I had heard about, but nothing really seemed to help.  Then I remembered a book I had bought at a dog show. I had put it away without really looking at it.  It was Linda Tellington-Jones’, ‘Getting in T Touch With Your Dog‘.  To be honest, I was quite sceptical at that time but I was at the stage when I was willing to try anything.  Bella seemed to enjoy the gentle technique of moving her skin in small circles, and even started asking me for more, so I obliged, but I saw no immediate change to her behaviour. Then around six weeks later during a walk, she introduced herself to a big, black Labrador which was quite out of character for her. Many dogs are fearful of large black dogs, even those that are generally quite relaxed in another dog’s company.  It is thought dogs find it difficult to see the facial expression of a black dog and therefore misinterpret its body language. I took this friendly gesture from Bella as a fluke, but gradually over the next few weeks she proved me wrong, replacing her air snapping with friendly sniffs until we reached the point where I no longer worried about how she’d react to dogs approaching her.” 

“I was, frankly, amazed at the change in Bella, and as the only thing I had done differently was the T Touch, I decided to learn more and attended a T Touch workshop with practitioner, Toni Shelbourne.  There were 6 of us with our dogs and by the end of the day the dogs were so relaxed they were falling asleep on top of each other!  I was completely hooked from then on and decided to train as T Touch practitioner myself.”

Claire had aroused my curiosity and I was anxious to learn of the dimensions to which this treatment could be taken.  I wanted to know the ways in which T Touch could be beneficial for problems other than fear aggression and how much could be learnt from a one day workshop.

“There are two main areas of the T Touch, bodywork and groundwork,” Claire continued.  “The bodywork T Touch brings the dog awareness of its body, and enables you to find spots where there is tension, fear of contact or discomfort.  People tend to think that it is the hot areas on an animal’s body that are the trouble zones but often it is the cold areas that indicate a lack of circulation due to tension.   Small light circular movements help to improve circulation, release tension and promote a sense of well-being.  Dog owners can be taught these basic techniques to benefit their pet in just one session with a practitioner.  Bodywork can help to overcome many fear issues such as being handled at the groomers or vets, or as a result of an injury, or simply a fear of being petted.  It can improve confidence in socialising with other dogs, as it did with Bella, and it can help to overcome problems such as fear biting of humans.  It is very useful in treating dogs with separation anxiety, car sickness and hyperactive dogs too.  Unwanted behaviours such as jumping up, boisterousness, spinning and lack of concentration can begin to be addressed through T Touch as it encourages dogs to have more self-control.  In fact, the T Touch is tremendously beneficial for training because the dog is more relaxed and focused and therefore more able to learn. It is also a great way to bond with your pet as you really get to know them in a different way."

“As part of my course, I have been volunteering in a cat rescue home with feral kittens and nervous cats, and have found that T Touch has really helped them, in particular one cat that was self mutilating by excessive grooming due to severe stress – she has now completely stopped this behaviour and has gone from growling at everyone to being happy about being approached and petted.”

“What does groundwork entail and what kind of problems are you addressing with this technique?” I asked.

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“Groundwork is similar to low level agility, but everything is taken at a very slow pace. We use a Confidence Course which includes uneven poles to step over, a low-level seesaw, and a variety of surfaces and turns for the dog to deal with, all at a walking pace.  It helps dogs improve their balance and co-ordination.  We use various leading techniques that can teach dogs to stop straining on the leash by taking the pressure off the neck and encouraging them to walk in a natural balanced way.  You would be amazed how uncoordinated some dogs can be when they are asked to think about where they are placing their feet at a slow pace, but the groundwork teaches them to be more aware of their bodies and to learn how to organise themselves. Better balance and coordination can really improve their confidence and help them to respond more appropriately to situations rather than reacting through fear.”

“We also use bodywraps which have proved invaluable for dogs suffering from noise phobias such as fireworks and thunder.”

My ears instantly pricked as I have a personal interest in dogs with firework phobia. 

“We wrap the dog in an elastic bandage or snug-fitting T shirt and this instantly gives the dog a sense of security. Wraps or T-shirts can be great for settling anxious dogs and have proved very helpful for dogs with noise phobias.”

Claire promised to send me some photos and I made a mental note to try it sometime.

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 “I have been training under the Canadian, Robyn Hood, who is Linda Tellington-Jones’s sister, and the only two UK instructors, Sarah Fisher and Tina Constance.  Robyn is incredibly knowledgeable and inspires everyone she teaches. Sarah runs Tilley Farm, the UK centre for TTouch training, and also does a lot of work at rescue centres including Battersea, helping to rehabilitate some of their dogs.  She also fosters some of their really tricky cases!”

To become a T Touch practitioner, Claire told me, she has to undergo six, week-long training sessions in the clinic at Tilley Farm near Bath, and in between that time, she has to complete a number of case studies.  Claire is currently looking for case histories in the Lewisham/ Greenwich area.  These sessions are free and require 4 or 5 visits during which time the client will be taught some T Touches themselves.  In March, following her 4th training session, Claire will become a Practitioner in Training, when she will be allowed to practise as a professional with one-to-one clients, and in one more year she will become a fully fledged P 1 (practitioner).


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During her training Claire has had the chance to handle a variety of wild animals including meercats, an owl, a skunk and even a tree python.  Claire proudly showed me the photo of her seated in a line of T Touchers with an enormous snake spanning the length of at least five people’s laps!  Looking at Claire, who is attractive and petite, one wonders how she copes with some of the more ferocious beasts, but she is a remarkably calm and self possessed young lady and it is understandable that animals should feel relaxed and comfortable in her presence.  “TTouch is all about working at the animal’s own pace and respecting what it can or can’t cope with – this way you are able to quickly build up a trusting relationship and move the animal forward in a gentle and positive way.”

Claire grew up with ponies, a rabbit and a variety of dogs.  Her mother was a keen dog trainer and Claire would often assist so becoming a T Touch practitioner seems to be a natural progression for her.  The T Touch is also ideal for those working as groomers, pet sitters, animal behaviourists, breeders, those showing dogs, vets and vet nurses. 

For further information on the TTouch visit
www.tellingtontouch.org.uk
or
www.ttouchtteam.co.uk
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Claire Pearson is a Tellington TTouch Practitioner P1 who works one-to-one with clients and their dogs. TTouch is a gentle, innovative approach to training and rehabilitation and can be use to...
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Claire Pearson - TTouch Practitioner
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