Change Your Life With Some Help From Your Dog

Almost three years ago, for no logical reason, and to my husband’s dismay, I started looking around for a small dog.  I had two requirements: the dog had to weigh less than 20 pounds when full grown and it had to be female.

The female part was the easiest criteria. We live with a male, Great Dane named Jasper and he likes being the only male dog in the house.  He’s very happy living with the ladies and I knew we’d have an easier transition bringing a third dog into the mix, if that dog was a bitch.

I wasn’t too fussy about the color of the dog’s fur and I decided that if the dog’s age was anywhere between 1-3 years, that was okay.

I also decided that I’d start my search by looking at dogs that were available through local dog rescue organizations. Forget the fact that early in my search I was prepared to drive as far as Massachusetts for a dog that totally charmed my heart – simply because I fell in love with a photograph that I saw on the internet.

Wanting a dog can get pretty tricky given the immediacy of the internet – where your heart can make all kinds of irrational demands … just because it can.

Said another way: the scariest words on every adoption web site are “Available Dogs.”

I thought I had a handle on the emotional part of this until I got an email from a woman who volunteers for Another Chance Pet Rescue.

I’d adopted an orange and white kitten from Another Pet Rescue and one of the smaller dogs up on their web site caught my eye. As luck would have it, that dog had just been adopted.


They were expecting another small female pup to come in from Indiana on an up-coming transport.  She had a photograph.

Did I want to see it?

And that’s the short story for how Tessa came into my life.

She was a skinny miss with a mouth.

When my husband and I first saw her, she was a barking fool.  Every cell in her body was screaming, “Run away! Run away!” Except that there was no where to run.  We took her outside into the fenced back yard and watched her.

She had a style and grace about her despite the fact that the yard wasn’t big enough for her to run full out. That joyous leaping she does now would be a long time in coming. We would finally see her explode into the air legs stretched full out, in our own backyard after she’d lived with us long enough to feel at home.

On that first day, almost three years ago, we got glimpses of what she could be. We also got clear indications of what she was.

She was scared of big guys with deep voices – my husband headed that list.  Her body language was a contortion of confused signals. Was she coming toward or backing away from him? At times, it looked like she was doing both. Fight or flight – not a happy girl.

Someone at the animal shelter in Indiana had marked this dog with a kill date – having misinterpreted her behavior and decided that she was unsuitable for adoption. The folks who pull dogs for Another Chance Pet Rescue thought otherwise and got her out of there.

If you didn’t know how to read small dog behavior, it was easy to miss Tessa’s more positive attributes.

Watching her explore that small back yard, I saw a smart dog with a bit of an edge to her; an attitude that said, “Nothing is going to get by me when I’m patrolling.”  She wasn’t too interested in what my husband and I were doing that day, but she kept an eye on us.

Suddenly, her nose pointed straight up – she’d caught the scent of something. And, she took off like a rocket – all of her energy muscled into taking her off the ground. She was quiet, like a heat missile locked on to her target. And, she was fast.

Fast like lightning.

How had they ever caught her in the first place?

In that moment,  that’s when I got my first glimpse of what she could be … and I wanted to bring her home.

Tessa was a diamond in the rough with a lot to work with.  I didn’t think that she’d be easy because of her small size. And, I’m glad for the dogs in my life that came before her because the lessons they taught me laid the foundation for things that Tessa and I would do.

Has she changed me life?  I think so. She’s already opened a door into a training modality that I’ve been interested in for a long time. TTouch.  She’s already shown a marked improvement in behavior from her first session. Together, she and I will get better at TTouch and that experience will change both of us.

That “change your life with some help from your dog” is a powerful dynamic. What it means for me is understanding that my job is to  honor whatever presents itself in the dogs that comes into my life.  If I accept that I’ve been offered the possibility of becoming part of a working partnership, it’s up to me to figure out how to make the two of us be the best team.

It’s in the “figuring out part” where change happens. And, that’s where the magic is.  [gplus count=”true” size=”Medium” ]





  1. Polly says

    Your posts have had me interested in what TTouch is, and if it might help our Greta be less anxious about her life/acceptability. I have done just some reading, and viewed the video which demonstrated the ear touch – and boy has that made a difference for Greta already. She is calmer, less jumpy, less scared-submissive, and we have a nice time talking and circularly rubbing her ears, just sitting with me. All this in just one week of ear rubs. I have tried the body touch, and though she enjoys it, she was still prone to leaping anxiously the moment my hands left her – but not so with the ear touch.

    I need to do more research – this may be just the thing for her.

    • htkhp says

      I saw huge shifts in Tessa’s behavior for the rest of the day after Carol had worked with her. She (Tessa) was more calm and watchful. Instead of making her mad dash to the upstairs window to bark madly at whoever was walking by, she’d merely raise her head and listen. What helped me was having Carol demonstrate how to position my hands on Tessa’s body, and watching how she wrapped Tessa; if you can, look for someone in your area who’s trained in TTouch and see if you can set up an appointment to meet with him/her. There is a lot of info on Linda Tellington-Jones’ web site, and that’s enough to get you started. What Carol emphasized to me is that TTouch is very much a partnership – that if you try one technique and your dog backs away, you honor that response and ease off. You can always return to it at another time. Keep me posted. I’d love to hear your progress, Polly.

      • Polly says

        Kathy, you had purchases an anti-anxiety vest for Tessa earlier – has the TTouch wrapping been much different for her?

        • htkhp says

          I really liked how Tessa was after Carol did TTouch with her ….would have to say that I liked it better than the anxiety wrap. Would I use the anxiety wrap again? Yes. It served its purpose because she was brand new to us.

  2. Carol says

    Hi Kathy and Polly – sorry to be joining the conversation so late, I was offline for the holiday weekend. Polly, have you tried zig-zag on Greta? I think zig-zag is a very easy touch to learn and use and most dogs are immediately responsive to it – I wrote about it in the December issue of Pup Culture Magazine (pg 46-47), here is link

    • Polly says

      Haven’t tried the zig-zag yet, but we inadvertently found wrapping really helps her – we had to put a towel collar on her to keep her from licking a puncture on her chest, and wow – almost docile pup! She is out of the collar as of the weekend, but the more tame version of this little lady persists. I was waiting until my copy of the book on TTouch and your dog arrives before I tried further measures, but the wrapping is definitely on the agenda.

      Thanks Carol, and Kathy

    • Polly says

      ohh, misread that – zigzag is a touch – hopefully the book will tell me all about it – I ordered it last Thursday.
      Again thanks – anything to help Greta settle comfortably into being part of our family and household is so very welcome.

      • Polly says

        Oh, does Clifford like the zig-zag – he rolled over and displayed his tummy for me, after a bit of that! I have never seen him do that, in the half year we have had him. And this weekend he has finally looked at me directly, rather than just briefly before averting his face – wonder what gave him that level of trust?

        The only problem I have with TTouch is trying to get down on the floor (no, I can get down – I have to get back up!) to do it on such big dogs, or letting them up on the bed/sofa to do it. Also hard not to “get in their faces” when doing it, but I am being sensitive to that, as Greta will start licking lips and yawning quite quickly otherwise.

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