While some of the specific exercises and techniques may have changed slightly – the approach and attitude towards helping animals overcome their fear in a positive, low-stress and empathetic way has not.
Alf’s experience demonstrates how “Change the Posture, Change the Animal” really works!
Going through exercises that do not seem directly related to the “problem” will often transform the way and animal feels and therefore experiences their environment. This allows an animal to “Act” instead of “React”, by increasing self-confidence and letting them make better choices.
In the course of our TTouch work, we sometimes encounter animals who have suffered various forms of neglect, abuse, or violence, often at the hands of humans.
It is difficult not to be overwhelmed or angered by these sad stories, but important to focus on the animal before us in the present moment.
Our intention when working with these animals is to help them move beyond the limitations of their past experiences to reach their full potential. Two very special dogs that I had the honor of working with recently illustrate how TTouch can foster the transformation from living in a state of fear to feeling safe in the world.
ALF – Pit Bull (rescued from Michael Vick’s Dog Fighting Kennel)
Alf was one of several Pit Bulls rescued from the horrors of the Michael Vick dog-fighting kennel. I will spare you the gory details, as the story was widely reported.
Initially placed in the care of the Richmond Animal League, Alf eventually moved to a loving foster home in Oklahoma with Molly Gibb.
Molly, a Feldenkrais Practitioner who had previously attended one of my TTouch workshops, asked me to assist with Alf’s recovery.
When Molly and Alf arrived at my place for their first visit, Alf cowered on the floor of the car and would not get out. No amount of coaxing or offer of yummy treats worked, as Alf just would not budge!
Of course, we could have pulled him or lifted him out of the car, but that would have defeated the goal of giving Alf some choice and earning his trust.
While very fearful of people, Molly told me that Alf was typically more interested in other dogs. Indie (my very neutral dog) came to the rescue!
It took a few minutes of walking back and forth in front of the open door, but eventually Alf tentatively stepped out of the car to join us.
With my best intentions to remain neutral, I have to admit it was emotional to see Alf for the first time.
His extreme fearfulness was reflected in his posture…contracted, tail tightly tucked, legs tense, and so out of balance that he looked unstable. At the slightest sound, he startled and flattened him- self to the ground.
Molly called this “pancaking.”
As you can imagine, Alf was not keen on being touched by a stranger and I had to do everything I could to make myself less threatening. Lowering my posture, being aware of and responding to his calming signals, and using treats all helped.
Introducing Alf to the body wrap was a first step to reduce his bracing pattern and sensitivity at being touched.
The initial TTouch sessions were brief, and I allowed Alf to move away as needed.
Again, giving him some choice seemed to lessen his fear and eventually he started to approach me, staying close to be touched for longer periods of time.
Throughout our sessions, the goal was to introduce Alf to several new sensory experiences in a safe environment, allowing him to gain confidence. In the photo sequence below, you can see how difficult it was initially for him to walk on different surfaces and textures.
We addressed Alf’s lack of balance and sometimes awkward movements using the TTouch Confidence Course. Walking across boards, up and down ramps, stepping through ladders and completing the labyrinth helped him to organize his body more efficiently.
An important step was to have Molly change the connection of the leash from his collar/neck, to a harness. Since Alf would startle and suddenly move away at any time, constriction around his neck only heightened his fear and anxiety.
We used food mindfully to help him feel safe to walk over different surfaces.
Changing Alf’s leading configuration from a flat collar to a harness allowed us to use the leash with two points of contact, giving us more influence to bring Alf into balance. As his balance improved, so did his confidence and ability to stay focused.
Introducing new people and other animals in the context of the TTouch Confidence Course was also part of the process.
While Alf was not the least bit aggressive towards other dogs, he often was over exuberant, pulled on the leash, and defaulted to “fooling around” as a coping mechanism.
By far the most significant change occurred with Alf when we introduced him to Gabriel, my Icelandic horse. Using the horse was a way to change the context of the exercise.
At first Alf was overly ex- cited, but soon responded to Gabriel’s calming signals and demonstrated an improved level of self-control.
Following several private sessions at my place over the course of a few months, Molly brought Alf to a weekend workshop I taught in Oklahoma City.
Alf handled the situation beautifully!
Witnessing Alf’s newfound confidence and ability to cope with so many different people in an unfamiliar environment was a profound moment for both Molly and me.