Saturday, December 14, 2019
Treating Dogs with a Touch
Robbie Sawyer calms Bentley with a TTouch stroke.
Sunday, June 16, 2019


The Australian shepherd panted with excitement as he dragged his owner into the education barn at Mountain Humane.

Bentley thought he was there for a play date, but his human companion had something else in mind. She had come in search of something that would help Bentley and his buddy—a bird dog named Wilbur--survive the upcoming fireworks season without having a meltdown.

Could the answer lie in TTouch, a way of training animals using a gentle touch designed to generate trust?

Clare Swanger shows Terry Fowler how to wrap a bandage around Wilbur.

Clare Swanger, who teaches Tellington TTouch under her program known as The Comfortable Companion, greeted the dog owners as she told how TTouch is not an obedience class but rather something that uses force-free techniques to improve animal behavior and wellbeing.

At her suggestion, Robbie Sawyer—Bentley’s owner—tried a certain stroke on her dog, opening and closing her hand as a way to connect with the dog’s body. The dog, which had been panting with excitement, calmed some.

There are other touches, as well, Swanger said, including one a tiny circular touch designed to move the skin that works particularly well around the muzzle and jaw.

Tellington TTouch was developed more than 30 years ago by Linda Tellington-Jones, an Edmonton, Alberta, native who was so tuned into animals that she was teaching lessons by age 13.

Bentley begins to zone out as Robbie Sawyer wraps a bandage around him.

When her grandfather showed her a Russian Gypsy massage, she began using it on her thoroughbreds. And she eventually augmented that massage with some Feldenkrais techniques, a system of movements that improve human functioning by increasing self-awareness while activating unused neural pathways to the brain.

Tellington began moving the hair in a circle on horses’ shoulders to quiet them. And she soon found that a variety of touches, including a touch using the flat of the fingers and palm, flat hand pressure, walking fingers up the back like a spider while letting the thumb drag behind and even pulling the tail in a certain way, could calm a stressed dog and promote other desirable behaviors.

A study done at a biofeedback institute in Boulder, Colo., showed that these touches can create changes in brains that are different from petting or massages.

Swanger came across TTouch after adopting an Australian shepherd that wouldn’t stop pulling on its  leash.

Bentley warms up to his Thundershirt.

“People told me to try choke collars and shock collars, which I hated and didn’t work,” she said. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to find an easier way.’

She discovered TTouch in a book in the bookstore and was drawn to what she called “a gentler, respectful, effective way of working with animals.” She attended a workshop and 12 years ago became a certified TTouch trainer.

“It’s training with the animal, not to the animal,” she said. “There’s no judgment—you meet the animal where he is and go from there. I look at things from the dog’s point of view—how does it feel if you’re in the dog’s paws?”

In her dog’s case, it was a matter of working on physical balance and posture. Once she taught it how to walk in balance, the dog stopped pulling.

Wilbur looks pretty darn handsome in his Thundershirt.

“We do things like ground work where we walk them through what looks like a form of agility course.  Physically, some dogs get out of balance so you walk them through labyrinths to help with their balance. We’re focused on helping them be calm and confident,” she said.

Over the years, Swanger has helped puppies get adjusted to their new homes. She’s tamped down adolescents who are over-the-top excitable, and she’s worked with older dogs who have such issues as fear of loud noises, hostile reactions to other dogs or a penchant for jumping up on people or excessive barking.

TTouch can also address chewing, car sickness, arthritis and biting, she added.

One of Swanger’s most memorable cases involved a shelter dog that fell when he walked because of a neurological disorder. He couldn’t even take treats because his head moved around so much.

“I did tons of touches and used some props and pretty soon I had him running and playing,” she recounted.

Swanger encourages dog owners to tune into what their animals convey through their behavior.

And, in the case of the dog owners who were seeking help for their dogs’ reactions to fireworks and thunder, she suggested a couple props in addition to the TTouch.

First, she had the dog owners wrap their dogs in Ace bandages or T-shirts.

The dogs, already calmed by touching, calmed down even more with the light pressure exerted by the bandages around their backs and bellies.

“I’ve even heard of women wearing wraps underneath their clothes to give them a sense of security when they have to make speeches,” Swanger said.

She brought out a couple commercially produced Thundershirts, which she noted could be put on before a forecast lightning storm or the Fourth of July fireworks show.

The Thundershirt Terry Fowler wrapped around his hunting dog noticeably calmed the dog, even though the dog was convinced a flapping sprinkler flag outside the building was a bird.

Bentley calmed down even more than he already had when Sawyer wrapped a Thundershirt around him.

“My dog gets nervous when the wash machine comes on. I put a Thunder shirt on her and it’s fine,” said Swanger. “I think that dogs think, ‘Oh my wrap is on so I shouldn’t be scared.’ ”


Clare Swanger will conduct two more classes in June—from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. June 18 and June 26. These particular classes will deal with groundwork. Each class costs $45

She also will conduct a series of classes from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays in July—that is, July 1, 8, 22 and 29. Cost for the series is $170.

To learn more, contact or 208-309-0960.


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