As workshops go, this is definitely hands on; there will be dogs here! Brought in by a nearby shelter (which is also hosting visits for delegates), they will allow workshop host, Sarah Fisher, to demonstrate how body language and postural cues can help canine carers assess and respond to a dog's behaviour.
"I love the way this work is really respectful to the animal... and helps that animal reach its full potential". With this positive start, Sarah's getting started, and I'll keep editing and updating this page to bring you the highlights.
1:20pm: In response to a question, Sarah says she has worked using these stress-reducing strategies with all sorts of animals (including meerkats, prairie dogs, snakes - even tarantulas!). Shelter work is her favourite, as it's so rewarding and makes life easier and more positive for both animals and people in a potentially stressful environment.
1:25: The dogs are ready to make their entrance! Sarah is prefacing this with a list of things to look out for. Because of the situation, the dogs have been chosen by the shelter only if they're happy to be handled by people, but Sarah has not worked with them before. Her first observation - of uneven ears - speaks to her as typical of dogs that don't like to be handled in a certain way and might have been misdiagnosed as 'dominant' when actually they're fearful and tense.
1:30: The dogs, two beautiful hounds called Dimo and Pizzikella, are brought in. D is instantly uncomfortable - there is huge muscular tension through the legs, a tucked in tail and very little movement. P is a little happier and more mobile, but still nervous.
Touch starts with the back of the hand. All the touches are very, very light, using just the fingertips or palm but not gripping - just floating across the skin. Sarah begins at the area the dog is most comfortable with, often the front end (where 60% of the weight of the dog is). From back of hand, you can move to one and a quarter turns of a circle, clockwise, with the fingertips.
1:40: The idea of the T Touch is to "bring movement back to the body even though the animal is afraid".
As Sarah's hands move to the hindquarters, D moves away. She resumes contact from the front, guiding him back to her by stroking, not pulling the lead. Slowly he shoes signs of movement. These can be fearful of calm (just like people, dogs yawn, lick lips, sniff as a calming signal or sign of stress, so it's important to read context).
A body wrap is applied, which can be a useful distraction and calming technique for the animal. D does not object; if he had, it would have been removed.
1:50: Treats are brought out. P confidently wolfs down a few; D is still to nervous to eat.
2:00: In answer to questions, Sarah recounts some success stories, such as that of a Pointer that could only be approached with stroking sticks through kennel bars, such was its kennel guarding fear. Within an hour of repeating a few strokes, followed by a break, she was calm enough to be put on the lead and lead out of her kennel.
A story about an Akita that narrowly escaped destruction after savaging its owner follows. Despite being virtually untouchable, working only "within the threshold of what the dog can cope with" (in this case touch for a few seconds near the head only) and some physiotherapy delivered amazing results, with a dog who started out with eyes fixed, and no interest in humans rapidly becoming a tail-wagging, eager friend.
2:10: Sarah demonstrates the touching techniques on the backs of some willing human volunteers before letting them try on the dogs (provided the hounds are comfortable). They agree that clockwise, gentle motions are much more pleasant than flat-handed, heavy pressure patting and stroking. A very soft tissue lift is demonstrated, cupping the skin to raise and guide down the tissues. This can also be used over joints. She explains how we must mirror relaxed body language and respect what the animal is telling us: "we're the only species that greet head on with eye contact and something held out - and that's considered polite!".
2:20: Despite having a short break out of the room followed by a drink (a very promising sign), D signals he's had enough by going to sit under a table and stare at the wall.
Reading this blog is no substitute for attending a session like this. Sarah worked on, showing the delegates the right type of touch by demonstrating on the backs of willing volunteers, and displaying props that can help with animals that can't be approached. I hope this taster makes you think of finding out more about the Tellington Touch and using these calming techniques on animals in your care. I know that my kitten can be a bit fractious and fearful, having lived on the streets, and I'll certainly be trying out the basic strokes and finding out more.
Hopefully there will shortly be some photos to follow, but in the meantime I'm gearing up to join a workshop on pet first aid. More blogging to come!