Even if you’ve never heard of Tellington Touch, learning one simple technique — known as the “raccoon touch”— can help your dog become more tolerant of handling both at home and with strangers.
The Tellington Touch (“TTouch®”) method, created by famed horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones, offers anyone who works with animals a unique and effective way to encourage the behaviors we want while enhancing our interspecies communication and deepening our bond. TTouch is a well-established training method that includes groundwork exercises, body wraps, and dozens of pleasant, novel touches.
For now, let’s focus on the “raccoon touch”— a simple TTouch technique that helps increase any dog’s comfort being handled in the common “problem areas”: paws, mouth, and ears. These body parts get handled the least during daily activities, resulting in wariness (at best) when they must be handled by someone who isn’t the owner, in a setting other than the comfort and safety of home.
As a TTouch Practitioner since 2008 (and in training for two years before that), I have found the “raccoon” invaluable in helping dogs get comfortable being handled. (Many TTouches are named after animals; this one is called the “raccoon touch” because it resembles the small, precise hand movements raccoons make.) The technique is easy to learn, and can be used on all of these challenging body areas.
The raccoon touch is a circular touch. The circles are tiny and light—like you’re gently touching your closed eyelid. When doing raccoon touches on the mouth, it is often most comfortable to rest the dog’s muzzle on one hand while you make slow, small circles with the tip of your index finger on the other (see above). Start at the hinge of the jaw, outside the mouth, and work forward towards the nose. If your dog is wiggly and the circles feel too fussy at first, begin with simple, gentle stroking along the sides of the mouth (from the nose back), adding a small circle at the end of each stroke. When working inside the mouth, making circles on the gums, use one fingertip and keep a cup of water nearby to moisten your fingertip.
To work on the ears, rest the thumb of your dominant hand behind the dog’s ear, near the base. Keeping your thumb in this spot, use the tips of one to three of your fingers (whatever fits and feels best to you) to make a light circle about ½” in diameter right where your fingertips would naturally touch down. Slide your thumb softly about ½” to an adjacent spot and repeat, working along the base of the ear(s).
Handling a dog’s nails and paws is frequently difficult and requires patient practice. To work the raccoon touch on a dog’s feet, begin where it is reasonably easy for the dog to be touched, which may be up the leg a few inches. Slowly and casually work your way down onto the paws (fur side and pad side) and each nail, making tiny circular touches with the tip of your index finger.
Practice raccoon touches a few times each day, in sessions lasting just two or three minutes each. As you practice, keep your mood positive, breathe calmly, and speak reassuringly to your dog. If you’re frustrated or hurried, take care of yourself first and then work with your dog.
Let your dog’s posse (vet, pet sitter, walker, groomer, etc.) know you’re working on increasing your dog’s comfort being handled, so they can support your training by giving your dog a break if she gets stressed.