Telling TTouch uses a system of gentle movements on and with the animal’s body, promoting relaxation while improving awareness, physical balance and movement.
The Tellington TTouch Method1 recognizes an inextricable link between posture, the nervous system and behavior. It uses a system of gentle, non-habitual movements on and with the animal’s body, including the skin, to promote relaxation while improving awareness, physical balance and movement. The non-invasive TTouches elicit profound changes in an animal’s emotional state and relieve tension and anxiety. When clients use TTouch at home, and your staff also uses it in the clinic, counterproductive stress responses are minimized and trust is built.
“TTouch… allows us to treat without creating iatrogenic stress,” says Dr. Tom Beckett. “Handling actually reduces existing stress rather than adding more stress. The animal, thus freed from stress, can respond appropriately to staff, owners, home environment and to disease – he can participate fully in his own healing.”
With TTouch, we and our clients can effectively convey our healing intent to the animal and suggest to him ways in which he can help himself get well or function better. Compliance improves as animals become easier to treat at home.
Uses in the clinic — dogs and cats
TTouches can be used on any animal regardless of age or species. Even animals that do not naturally seek human contact (such as reptiles, feral cats or wildlife) settle more quickly when TTouch is applied. When direct hand contact is threatening to an animal, TTouch can be done using feathers, dressage schooling sticks or long paint brushes to stroke and calm the animal before he is handled. TTouches can be used to aid both assessment and treatment, and to help an animal recover more quickly from sedation, injury and surgery.
TTouch can reduce the need for chemical restraint drugs for minor procedures. While useful, most drugs require time to take effect, and time for recovery. They may be contraindicated and there may be adverse reactions. They generally dull learning processes so that it is difficult to train an animal to accept repetitive treatments.
As well as offering ways to approach, initiate contact, handle and manage the animal, Tellington TTouch can be used for specific situations such as preparing the animal to be handled around the neck prior to microchipping, injecting, and taking blood.
When you accomplish a medical event peacefully, quietly and pleasantly, it is much more rewarding than when it’s accompanied by scratches, bites, sweat, poop and tears. TTouch is a wonderful tool for animals that don’t understand that we just need to do a little nail trim/wrap change/injection/exam and then it will be over. And it makes clients feel good when we don’t have to engage in a small war with their animals.
Uses in the barn — horses
As an equine vet working with acupuncture, osteopathy and craniosacral therapy for many years, Dr. Rikke Schultz is still astonished by how well the Tellington TTouch method fits into explanatory models about the body and mind in humans and animals. Of course, much of the discussion for equines applies equally to all species.
Rolfer and massage therapist Thomas Myers’ explanation of the muscular chains,2 which was also demonstrated in horses,3 and the importance of fascia, explains why circular TTouches and skin rolling have such a huge effect on large areas of the body [see IVC Journal, Winter 2015/16 for an article on fascia by the late Dr. Kerry Ridgeway]. The TTouches work on different layers of the fascia depending on the finger positions. The lifts release the subcutaneous tissue and give space for blood vessel function, which impacts the pulse and respiration in endurance horses. Releasing the fascia around the carpal and hock joint improves joint mobility and may decrease some cases of lameness.
Craniosacral system (C-S system)
The central nervous system is surrounded by multiple layers, including the pia mater and dura mater. The dura is very rigid, attaching to the inside of the cranium, the atlas and the sacrum. All peripheral nerves leaving the spinal cord go through the dura. A static dysfunction of the skull, atlas, sacrum or the other vertebrae can result in a pull on the dura, influencing nerve roots, spinal fluid flow, the mentioned bones and craniosacral rhythm.
Doing circles with the horse’s tail can release the sacrum, while pulling gently on the tail stretches the whole spine and also affects the dura. I think this is why horses often shake their heads when the tail circles are performed. This also emphasizes why a gentle pull and slow release is so important.
Ear work affects the acupuncture points in the local area and relaxes the tentorium (the membrane separating the cerebrum from the cerebellum, also a part of the dura), which attaches to the temporal bone. Major nerves, arteries and veins pass through the lacerum foramen. Tension here can affect multiple systems since the vagal nerve connects to most inner organs, and the accessory nerve innervates some of the muscles around the shoulder blade, thereby impacting front leg movement. Impaired blood flow to and from the brain will have a huge impact on the horse, including many behavioral issues.
This understanding makes one realize the power of ear work, but also why it has to be gentle, and why one should never pull hard on the ears. Ear and head shyness may therefore not be behavioral, and can be resolved by the rider with gentle ear slides or TTouches.
Fight and flight reflexes
Linda Tellington-Jones has always spoken about the importance of bringing the horse’s head down in order to overcome fight, flight or freeze reflexes and increase learning ability. This happens because the parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system is activated, or the sympathetic (stress) nervous system is deactivated. TTouch can bring horses very much into a parasympathetic state, and the ground work into social engagement. The more Dr. Schultz works with complementary medicine, the more she realizes how much “deeper” the treatments work when it is possible to bring the horse into a parasympathetic state. TTouch, acupuncture and craniosacral therapy are some of the methods that can do that.
Doing the TTouches
TTouch should not be confused with massage. In TTouch, the skin is moved lightly in one and a quarter circles using the tips of the fingers. The majority of animals prefer the circles to be in a clockwise direction. The object is to simply move the skin, not press down into underlying tissue. The animal learns, remembers the experience, and accepts handling more quickly and easily the next time.
The body work movements are broken down into three groups — circles, slides and lifts. Tension held in the animal’s body increases reactive responses and these passive, non-invasive movements release tight muscles and skin.
- Circular TTouches can be done anywhere on the animal’s body and can teach him to accept and enjoy contact. They also help alter an animal’s expectations of what hand contact might mean.
- Gently stroking an animal’s ears from the base to the tip lowers heart rate and respiration. It is calming, decreases fear and can prevent or reduce shock if the animal is traumatized or in pain. Owners/carers can be easily instructed to work their animal’s ears while waiting for the vet or on their way to the surgery. Working an animal’s ears can also make examinations or treatments more tolerable and, provided it is safe to do so, can be done in most situations, even if forceful handling is unavoidable. Sometimes just ten minutes of gentle ear slides from the base to the tip of the ear is enough. Ear slides are also appropriate for gently bringing all species of animal out of general anesthesia without the usual period of disorientation.
- Examining the muzzle/mouth can trigger a stressed animal to bite. Working gently around the jaw, using the tips of the fingers to move the skin in small one and a quarter circles prior to oral examination, can release tension from the mouth and can be combined with ear slides. Mouth work is also valuable for animals that are reluctant to eat. Soft paintbrushes or cotton buds can be used for very small animals. If there is a chance that the animal may bite, a fake hand on a long wooden stick can be used.
TTouch rib releases can normalize rib and diaphragm tension and dysfunction. These are commonly-overlooked problems in a lot of horses, both in Western medicine and chiropractic. They could be why many horses have an aversion to saddling or handling along the back, bending properly, moving with good rear impulsion, or other training issues. Rib releases together with back lifts bring the back into flexion; most lesions in the spine are extended lesions in which the horse tries to avoid using the back in flexion.
The Tellington TTouch method offers a wide range of ways to promote relaxation, lower stress and make treatments more enjoyable. Clients can easily be taught specific moves to benefit their individual animals so home treatments are not stressful. This allows animals the freedom to relax and continue the deep healing process we begin in the veterinary clinic.
When clients regularly explore TTouch methods at home, their animals will be less stressed when visiting the veterinary clinic, allowing for better diagnosis and hospital treatments.
Using Tellington TTouch, we and our clients can effectively convey our healing intent to the animals, and suggest to them ways in which they can help themselves get well or function better.
- A small dog had not eaten for a couple of days following surgery. A variety of foods had been offered with no interest. After doing mouth work on the dog for no more than a few minutes, he wolfed down all the food in his bowl. The dog continued to eat with no further treatments.
- We currently have a stray feral kitten in the hospital who needs a home. Newly trained nurses saw the benefits of TTouch for calming and bonding with the kitten within days.
3Elbrønd VS, Schultz RM. “Myofascia – The unexplored tissue: Myofascial Kinetic Lines in horses, a model for describing locomotion using comparative dissection studies derived from human lines”. Medical Research Archives, 2015, Issue 3.