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 ARTICLES > TTouch > Tee Time For Tessa - Overcoming Obstacles
  TTouch  Article:

Marge called me recently. She explained to me that she would really like to do Pet Assisted Therapy with her 2-year-old spayed female Dalmatian, Tessa, and had signed up for my class. However, she also stated that Tessa becomes very nervous when she is with a group of dogs. “Tessa just stands there and shakes when she sees several dogs approaching her!” “However,” Marge said, “When Tess is home or on a walk with me in the park, she is just fine!” “In fact,” she continued, “Tessa really loves people; I think she is just nervous around strange dogs.”

I listened to Marge and confirmed what she said. “I understand your concern. It sounds like Tessa might become comfortable in a new environment around strange dogs if she had a little help.” So, I suggested to Marge that she put a tee shirt on Tessa...

I explained that if Tessa wore a tee shirt, she could then begin to relax while in a strange or new environment. I then went on to discuss the proper way to put a tee shirt on Tessa. First, a shirt would need to be found that would fit her snugly. Then, very gently, the shirt could be put on Tessa. You could click and treat for positive reinforcement while exposing – and then slipping - the shirt on her making sure that the FRONT of the tee shirt rested on her spine. “In other words” I went on to explain, “it would be as if a person was wearing a tee shirt backwards – with the label of the shirt touching the person’s chest and the logo on their back. “Putting on a tee shirt made for a person will fit her better.”

“Once the tee shirt is fitted on Tessa you can add a scrunchie!” I said. Now, at this point, Marge was totally confused! “Why on Earth would you want to add a scrunchie?” she asked. I went on to explain how she could take one scrunchie and use it to tighten up the end of the tee shirt, gathering up the loose part of the shirt located towards the end of Tessa’s ribcage (in the loin area). “It’s very important to remember that, if you use a scrunchie to take up the slack, to make sure you secure the scrunchie off the side of Tessa’s spine – not on the spine. Securing the scrunchie on the spine could irritate Tessa and make her feel uncomfortable.” “And,” I continued, “by gathering up the loose cloth and securing it with the scrunchie you are making it safer for Tessa to walk around; she will be less likely to step on the tee shirt with her back feet.” Having Tessa wear a tee shirt that is fitted snugly and secured properly will make her feel like she is being gently hugged; thereby she will feel much more secure in a strange environment (i.e. – with all the dogs in the class).

Marge was a little hesitant about the tee shirt technique but she agreed to try it. I suggested to Marge that she put the tee shirt on Tessa every day 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening, for one week. She should come to the next class the following week, with Tessa wearing the tee shirt and scrunchie.

Well, a strange thing happened during the second week of class. Marge came in to the class with a dog ‘dressed’ in a colorful red and white tee shirt that said, “I Love Dalmatians” on it. The dog was calmly trotting into the ring, wagging its tail, head up, very proud and very happy! I remarked to Marge, “did you get a new dog? I didn’t know you had two Dalmatians?” to which Marge replied, “I don’t have two Dalmatians, this is Tessa! I took your advice. I went home and, every day for ten minutes a day - once in the morning and once in the afternoon - I put the tee shirt on Tessa. I fed her in it and walked her in it around the neighborhood for one week. She now acts like a NEW DOG!”

“I thought you HAD a new dog!” I exclaimed. “Tessa has certainly calmed down, her tail is wagging, and she is happy and is now actually enjoying the class!”

Shortly after completing the Pet Assisted Therapy course, Marge and Tessa went on to become certified Pet Partners with the Delta Society. They are now doing volunteer work in a local children’s hospital. To this day, Tessa still wears a tee shirt while working (i.e. - doing pet assisted therapy). However, this tee shirt says, “Delta Society Pet Partner” on it. The kids love her and Tessa and Marge are having a wonderful time volunteering in their community.

So, the next time you are thinking about tossing out that old, tattered, paint-spattered tee shirt, and you have a dog that is a little nervous about new situations, perhaps you might want to consider putting that tee shirt on your dog just like Tessa! Can’t hurt – might help! Love your dog!

NOTE: Tee shirts are also EXTREMELY useful for dogs that are noise phobic (i.e. – afraid of thunder, fire crackers, etc.).

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