Features December 2002 Issue

TTouch Practitioners Explain Canine "Body Wrapping"

Strange but true: “body wrapping” seems to calm and focus dogs.

[Updated February 4, 2016]

Does anything feel better than a perfect hug?

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is an expert on the therapeutic benefits of hugs. As an autistic child, she felt overwhelmed by most of the hugs she received from people, but crawling under sofa cushions soothed her. The pressure felt even better if her sister sat on the cushions.

Grandin visited a relative’s ranch and noticed how the pressure of a squeeze chute into which cattle were herded for branding quickly calmed them. Realizing that similar deep pressure might help her own over-stimulated nerves, she designed a padded box into which she could climb and press a lever to bring its side boards together. Now known as the Hug Box or Squeeze Machine, Grandin’s invention has calmed autistic children and adults around the world.

While developing her famous Tellington TTouch (pronounced “tee-touch”) therapy, Linda Tellington-Jones explored the calming effects of gentle pressure on animals, especially dogs and horses. Most TTouch work is performed with the hands by making large and small circles all over the body, but to provide consistent pressure for longer periods, she wrapped the animals in elastic bandages.

Karen Doyle, a TTouch practitioner for companion animals in Chester, New York, appreciates the behavior changes that wraps produce because her first TTouch clients were aggressive dogs.

It’s not dress-ups! A "T-Shirt Wrap" is a therapeutic device that can help dogs with physical and emotional problems.

“They all had tight muscles in the legs and rear,” Doyle says. “Not enough blood in the brain and too much in their ready-to-launch hind ends prevented these dogs from thinking or learning. They were on automatic pilot, reacting on instinct alone. Gentle TTouch and body wraps interrupted this energy flow and reconnected the front and hind ends, which helped bring their minds and bodies into balance.”

In addition, Doyle worked with dogs that were timid, afraid of being left alone, afraid of loud noises, sore from injuries or arthritis, or uncoordinated. The most dramatic improvements occurred when the dogs’ owners made the wraps part of their regular routine in combination with TTouch circles, lifts, and slides. “At first they did it daily,” she says. “Even 10 minutes at a time made a difference, and for dogs who were afraid of thunder or had separation anxiety, the wraps could be worn for longer periods. As the dogs gained confidence, became more relaxed, or showed increased coordination or flexibility, the wraps were used for maintenance once a week or whenever it seemed appropriate.”

Like all of the TTouch patterns and exercises, body wraps have a cumulative effect. “It’s a gradual process,” says Doyle. “The neurological system receives information and stores it like a computer, so even small doses are effective. Be sure to use a reassuring tone of voice and be generous with praise or treats to help the dog relax and adjust. Even those who aren’t familiar with TTouch can massage the dog’s ears to help make the wrap more effective.”

Start at home or wherever you and your dog are most comfortable, she suggests, and when you feel ready, move to other areas and activities, including outdoor walks and training classes. Even wearing the wrap for short periods, like 5 or 10 minutes, can produce positive results. For more information, see Linda Tellington-Jones’s new book, Getting in TTouch with Your Dog, which describes several exercises that incorporate body wraps.

The T-Shirt Wrap and Half-Body Wrap are recommended for dogs who have never worn a wrap, as well as dogs who have painful hips or knees, which might be difficult to wrap on the first try. Full-Body Wraps connect front and back ends, which can improve coordination as well as behavior. Full-Body Wraps that hug the hind end stay in place on dogs who have short coats, sloping hips, or no tail.

“Before you start,” says Doyle, “write down all of your dog’s noticeable symptoms, habits, and behaviors. Check the list after a few days, then in a few weeks. You may be surprised at the changes that take place. Continue using a wrap as long as it keeps producing improvements. When you reach a plateau, switch to a new configuration and see if it makes a difference. When you’re satisfied with your dog’s condition or behavior, discontinue the wraps or use them occasionally for maintenance.”

There is no official “right way” to do a body wrap as long as the bandage is kept flat and comfortably snug and as long as the dog is safe. Never leave a body wrap on a dog who is unattended. “Check to be sure that the bandage doesn’t interfere with blood circulation or body movement,” says Doyle, “without being loose or baggy. The whole point of wrapping is to provide snug support. Be careful with the male anatomy and be sure the wrap doesn’t obstruct elimination in either gender. With these guidelines in mind, you can create any kind of wrap and it will be good for something.”

T-Shirt Wrap

This is the simplest body wrap. Use an appropriate size, such as a child’s T-shirt for small dogs, an adult medium or large for mid-size dogs, and extra large for large dogs.

Place the T-shirt over the dog’s head backward, with the front of the shirt facing up. Guide the dog’s front paws through the arm holes. Gather fabric at the hem and tie the ends in a knot at the waist.

Variation: Cut an X in a plastic can lid, thread the hem through, and pull it comfortably tight. The lid will hold the fabric in place.

Elastic Bandage Wraps

Most TTouch instructors use Ace bandages, which are very stretchy and beige in color. They come in 2-, 3-, 4-, and 6-inch widths and 4.5-yard lengths. The 4- and 6-inch-wide bandages also come in 10-yard lengths. Bandages are held in place with diaper safety pins. When fastening wraps on the back, do not pin directly on the spine.

Use a 2-inch bandage for small dogs, a 3- or 4-inch bandage for large dogs, and a 4- or 6-inch bandage for giant breeds. Small dogs need only one 4.5-yard length, large dogs need two, and giant breeds may need three. Trim excess elastic as needed.

Half Body Wraps are recommended for dogs who have never worn a wrap, as well as dogs who have painful hips or knees, which might be difficult to wrap on the first try.

Half-Body Wrap

Place the center of the wrap at the center of the dog’s upper chest. Bring the ends up on either side to cross over the shoulders, then down behind the front legs, crossing under the belly, and up to the center of the back. Fasten the ends with a safety pin.

Variation: As the dog adjusts, pull the pinned portion back to the lower spine. Later, pull it back around the hips at the top of the tail. These adjustments provide some of the benefits of a Full-Body Wrap and help the dog accept that configuration.

Variation: Place the Half-Body Wrap over a T-shirt.

Full-Body Wrap

Leaving the Half-Body Wrap in place, fold a second bandage in half to find its center. Slip one end under the pinned part of the Half-Body Wrap and pull it through until its center is under the pin. Fold it over so it is two layers thick and moving from the waist straight back toward the tail. Remove the pin and use it to secure all four layers at this intersection, or use a second pin to do this, avoiding the top of the spine.

Separate the two ends and pull them under the abdomen on either side in front of the hind legs, back between the legs, then up on either side of the tail. Secure the ends on the lower back with another safety pin.

Alternative Method: Use a single length of elastic or two bandages pinned together. Place the center of the wrap over the center of the dog’s chest. Pull the ends back and up to cross over the shoulders, down to cross under the belly, up to cross over the small of the back, then through the inner thighs from front to back and up on either side of the tail to the cross at the small of the back. Secure the ends at this intersection with a safety pin.

Variation (either method): Instead of pulling the ends up on either side of the tail, wrap the left end around the left hind leg and pin it in place at the top of the thigh; wrap the right leg the same way. This variation engages the hind legs. The wrap should be snug but not tight enough to interfere with walking.

Variation: Use a single length of elastic or two bandages pinned together. Holding one short end, tie a loose overhand knot around the dog’s neck Pull the rest of the bandage straight down the spine to the base of the tail. At the right side of the tail, bring the bandage down inside the right rear leg and toward the front of the leg, then up and across the small of the back to the left side. This creates a flank-to-flank cross-piece.

Thread the wrap through the inner thigh of the left hind leg, front to back, and up the rear on the left side of the tail. Tuck the wrap under the flank-to-flank cross-piece and bring it up to the neck. Untie the temporary knot. Pull the ends to the front on either side of the neck, cross them in front of the chest and continue around the shoulders on each side. Pull the ends to the middle or lower back, just in front of the flank-to-flank cross-piece. Pin the ends of the wrap to the elastic that runs under the flank-to-flank portion. The final wrap resembles a figure 8 with the safety pin at the center of the 8.

Variation: As above, but leave the knot in place and fasten the second end at the shoulder with a safety pin.

Full Body Wraps are especially useful for dogs who lack coordination and dogs with behavior problems.

The Anxiety Wrap

When Indiana dog trainer Susan Sharpe discovered correction-free training methods, she studied clicker training, TTouch, behavior modification, acupressure, and massage. She was already familiar with Temple Grandin’s Hug Box and had recently read Molecules of Emotion, in which Candace Pert, Ph.D., explains that neuropeptides and their receptors are the biochemicals of emotion, carrying information in a vast network that links the material world of molecules with the nonmaterial world of the psyche.

“All of these things converged for me when I looked for ways to help my German Shepherd, who became aggressive during a serious illness,” says Sharpe. “I also wanted to help the dogs I train and those that vacation at my doggie resort.”

Sharpe tried T-shirts, then added duct tape to see if a snugger, more secure fit would make a difference. “The dogs became much more relaxed,” she says. “I continued using this method until one day a man thought his dog had been in an accident because of the way he was wrapped.”

Sharpe decided to design a garment that would work like the duct-taped T-shirt but would look more attractive. “I wanted to engage the dog’s hindquarters, too,” she says, “which the T-shirt didn’t do.”

For help she turned to Joyce Walker, a friend who rescues Greyhounds and sews coats for them. Together, they tested more than 80 prototypes before perfecting the Anxiety Wrap, a sturdy, stretchy vest that hugs the torso like a body stocking. An adjustable panel under the belly enhances the fit, as do strategically placed draw-strings, and elastic threaded through the vest at the back can be attached to the hind legs or crossed over the tail for a snug fit at the rear. It comes in black in nine sizes, from toy breeds at $65 to XXL at $75, with wholesale discounts for shops, trainers, dog clubs, shelters, and rescue organizations. Custom fitting is available as well.

How can wrapping a dog cause lasting behavior changes? According to Indianapolis neurobiologist Shereen D. Farber, Ph.D., any type of trauma can damage nerve receptors, leading to exaggerated responses to stimuli. “Applying constantly maintained pressure provides an unchanging, quieting stimulus that causes the receptors to adapt and modify their thresholds in a cumulative manner,” she explains.

For more than four years, thunder, gunshots, construction equipment, and acorns landing on the roof triggered panic attacks in Caroline Farr’s eight-year-old Pharoah Hound, Kody, who lives with her in Pennsylvania. Kody was also extremely touch-sensitive and did not enjoy petting or massage. Then the Anxiety Wrap arrived. “Kody loved it from the moment it went on,” says Farr. “On the 4th of July, just after it arrived, he wore it at a large open house, and everyone noticed his transformation. All the mothers said, ‘Swaddling, of course!’, referring to the ancient custom of calming unhappy babies by wrapping them closely. He stayed relaxed during the fireworks, and thunder no longer sends him running.”

In Michigan, seven-year-old Chase, a Golden Retriever, suffered from severe thunder phobia and separation anxiety. After he injured his mouth demolishing a camper door, Chase’s vet prescribed Valium and offered euthanasia as the only option. As a last resort, owners David and Kay Snell tried the Anxiety Wrap. “Within the first five minutes of wearing it,” says Kay, “he laid down, totally relaxed. He no longer pants and paces during storms or climbs into bed with us.” After a month of use, Chase still has separation anxiety during camping trips, but as long as he’s wearing the wrap, he stays calm. “Once we went on a 20-minute bike ride and forgot to put it on,” she says, “and when we returned, the screen door was ripped out. We learned our lesson and will always use his Anxiety Wrap when he’s left alone.” Unlike elastic bandages, the Anxiety Wrap can safely stay on dogs that are left unattended.

Lyda Long, MD, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bought an Anxiety Wrap for her Siberian Husky, Karma, whose traumatic experience at a dog show left the six-month-old puppy fearful, shy, and anxious around strangers. For the next eight months, Dr. Long used desensitization techniques, counter-conditioning, herbal remedies, and other natural treatments with slow and limited success. “The Anxiety Wrap gave us amazing and almost immediate excellent results,” she says, “and Karma continues to improve each time she wears it.”

Susan Sharpe encourages people to introduce the Anxiety Wrap before anxiety-causing conditions are present. “You don’t want the dog to associate wearing the Anxiety Wrap with something that causes distress,” she explains. “For thunderstorms, put it on when the animal begins to show signs of bad weather approaching, then remove it after the dog no longer shows these symptoms. If a storm has been forecast and you have to leave for the day, put the Anxiety Wrap on your dog before you go and take it off when you get back or after the storm has ended. Some dogs will calm down immediately, while others may go through three or more storms before they respond.”

For improved training, she recommends putting the Anxiety Wrap on before class, using lots of positive reinforcement during the class, and removing the wrap after. For hyperactivity, reward the dog with treats, calm praise, or petting as soon as he or she begins to show signs of calmness.

Also With This Article
Click here to view "What You Can Do."
Click here to view "Benefits of Wrapping Your Dog."

-by CJ Puotinen

A regular contributor to WDJ, CJ Puotinen is also the author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats, and several books about human health including, Natural Relief from Aches and Pains, published last summer. She lives in New York. See "Resources" for purchasing information for Puotinen’s books.

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