The Healing Power of Touch

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

When Phoebe first arrived in my home she was a nervous, terrified ball of nerves who was crying out for understanding from behind those beautiful eyes. She latched onto me immediately as the person who she would trust to feed her and look after her physical well-being, but I could see that emotionally she was far from secure.

The beginning of our relationship was scary for us both, and I had yet to find the coping mechanisms and support that would be needed to get her to where she is now. But what I could do was to get her to an emotional state where she could feel calm and trusting within the confines of her new home.

I had not yet heard about TTouch, but through my friends who became mommies, and from running the childcare section at the bookshop I had a little bit of knowledge about baby massage. I looked at poor heart broken Phoebe and thought Why not give it a shot? The worst that could happen is that she would shy away from me and then I’d have to find a different way to soothe her.

The benefits of touch and massage therapy are great. But what it did for Phoebe was:

– An almost immediate increase in her sense of well-being and ability to relax

– Deepened the bonding and trusting process between us

– Decreased anxiety about having people close to the her and fearing touch as she became desensitised to the fear she once had of hands, and learnt that it is a good thing to be handled.

In her first month she had a number of self-inflicted stress injuries (raw paw pads from trying to dig out the yard, open wounds from stress licking etc) and though she allowed me to manipulate the injuries and put medication on without a problem, I could see the fear as she threw those whale-eyes every time I picked up her paws or searched her for wounds. Though I knew she would let me touch her and even manhandle her if I truly wanted, I knew I had to start slowly and allow her to get used to touch at a comfortable rate for her, so that she would know that every touch didn’t have to be related to pain or an injury.

She had to learn that touch can be good.

I started by putting the tv on and sitting on the floor close to Phoebe – that way the sense of noise and normalcy was maintained in the living room, and I could have a my own distraction if I was going to be on the floor for a long time. She would lay on her pillow, groan, stretch and keep a constant eye on me. One of the cats would then stroll over with a sharp meow and a purr demanding to be rubbed – then she would zigzag between Phoebe and I, rubbing against Phoebe’s outstretched body and and my hand, clearly enjoying the attention and showing Phoebe the happiness that comes from a heartfelt belly and face rub.

Phoebe looked on with a mixed sense of curiousity and jealousy and would slowly edge closer. When she was within arms reach I would chat to her softly and just lightly tickle whichever paw or leg was closest to me. Slowly she would crawl closer and let out a big satisfied sigh when I started to gently massage her with an open hand on any leg, arm or tummy side she offered me.

I would sit with her every night for anywhere between 30min – 2 hrs and all I would do is lightly tickle her, softly massage her and gently manipulate her ears and joints. Soon she was in heaven! Her and Angel would snuggle up and wait for their mandatory massages before every bedtime.

massage therapy

I don’t spend as much time every night doing this as I used to, but I try to fit in a minimum of 10 minutes before bedtime, and in the afternoons I brush her bristly fur with a brush using the same calming movements. She is now truly and heaven when she gets these massage treats, and it’s one of the most effective ways for me to calm her if it’s been a long day, or if a particular walk or training session was a tad too taxing for her.

Since first getting Phoebe used to this kind of calming touch I’ve researched a bit more about TTouch, and would like to take her to a formal practitioner sometime soon. But in the meantime we just enjoy the soothing strokes of happiness whenever either of us need a “time out”!

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: General Anxiety, Fear of Being Touched

Tool(s) Used: A Calming hand, and occasionally her brush

Cost: Low

Ease of Implementation: Easy

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This wasn’t only good for her mental well-being, but has also been helpful in her preparations for the upcoming Canine Good Citizen Test, as one of the judging sections is how well your dog responds to being touched and will allow their face and paws to be stroked – this is to ensure they can be handled by others such as groomers or vets.

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Have you ever tried massaging your anxious dog, or gone for TTouch? Do you think it’s effective in calming your dog?

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5 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Touch

  1. There is a wonderful (and upsetting) book called Touching, by Ashley Montagu, full of studies on the crucial importance of good touch for all animals, including 2 legged ones. It’s upsetting because it details behaviourist studies on small animals and small babies around getting, or not getting, their touch needs met. – How to best treat babies has gone in an out of fashion regarding the touch/no touch idea – neurobiological studeis, however upsetting, as revealed in Montagu’s book will hopefully mean we will not deprive animals, however many legs they have (!) of the healing benefit of touch.

    As you point out, if an animal (including us!) has had a traumatic experience of touch, it all has to happen extremely slowly.

    Lucky Phoebe learning she is safe from your felines as well as from you!

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    • Wow. That sounds like a really interesting book – it’s just been put on the reading list! It’s a concept I find very interesting, and it just makes sense to me that (good or bad) touch can have a lasting effect on children and animals.

      It’s just amazing how well Phoebe is doing! In one year she has become such a loveable, trusting and caring pooch who has stolen every inch of my heart!

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      • I’m the proud companion of 3 cats, all of the rescue variety. 2 of them had not been ill treated, but they had been neglected, so ir took a little while for them to acccommodate to the idea of stillness and safety. The third who was older when he moved in, and had been living on his wits for some time, and was in a very neglected state, had clearly come from somewhere where he must have been used to really good touch – he was, for a cat living wild, absolutely desperate for cuddles, as much as he was desperate for food. Bless his little white sock-paws, he is a ‘Phoebe’ owning all those adjectives you mention, and a heart-thief too!

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