Lori Stevens is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch® Training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
She uses intimidation-free, scientific, and innovative methods, in an educational environment, to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals. Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, WA. She is also the creator of the Balance Harness.
Lori's most recent of 3 DVDs By Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao and called 'The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs.' It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time, with a class on the same topic, called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Seattle TTouch (Lori's Website)
To be released 8/4/2017, featuring Amy Johnson talking about taking photographs of our pets.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Lori Stevens. Lori is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact. She uses intimidation free, scientific, and innovative methods in an educational environment to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals.
Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator of the balance harness. Lori's most recent of three DVDs by Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao, and called The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs. It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time with a class on the same topic called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Hi, Lori. Welcome to the podcast.
Lori Stevens: Hello. Thanks for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to shout today.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, me too. Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So to get us kind of started out, can you tell us a little bit about your own dogs, kind of who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Lori Stevens: Yes. So I'm going to talk about two. One is with me now because both of them actually got me into this business. So right now, I have a 12 year old Aussie named Cassie, and I got her when she was two years old, and at two, what I was working on is very different from what I'm working on now with her. At two we worked on a lot of behavior related issues, especially on leash, what you might label reactivity. She was barking a lot every day, she was unfamiliar, really, with being out in the world, and so I learned a lot from her. Basically, you know, how do you calm, and communicate, and build trust with the dog that basically didn’t have trust in the world, so I learned loads from her, and we're always working on life with her.
Our sport is fitness. We started out in agility, but over time, I figured out that, that was really hard for her, she wasn’t really enjoying it, probably because of all the environmental sensitivity, and as much as I worked with her it just didn’t seem like her thing. She loved it when she was running, but when she wasn’t running it was really hard to hear all the noises and see the other dogs running, so we moved on, so now we do fitness, we do standup paddle boarding, we do lots of hikes, and now I'm living with an aging dog.
So I actually have firsthand experience now in living with a dog that’s getting older, but I wanted to bring up my first dog because that is the dog, Emmy, who got me into any of this work at all, and basically, she had a lot of health challenges, a lot of physical challenges, I learned just loads of stuff from her, and that’s how I originally got into TTouch Training and massage, so I'll talk a little bit about that more, but I just want to bring up that Emmy is always present, even though she's been gone 10 years. She's been gone quite a while.
Melissa Breau: They do manage to have quite a lasting impact sometimes.
Lori Stevens: That is so true. So true.
Melissa Breau: So what led you to where you are now? I mean, you started to mention Emmy a little bit, but how did you kind of end up working with dogs for a living?
Lori Stevens: Well, so Emmy had all these physical issues and I just took a TTouch class, basically, to learn things to help Emmy, and I kept going to my vet, and my vet kept saying you're just doing wonderful work with her, if you would just get cards made up I would send all my clients to you, sent lots of clients to you, and it's kind of strange because…I won't say when, but way back when I ended up with a degree in computer science, but before that I was in occupational therapy, and I was also in the University Dance Company. I danced for many years, so I have this kind of weird dual interest, both in things physical, movement, bodywork. I always had that interest with occupational therapy and dance, but then I ended up in IT for many, many years. I just retired from the University in April 2017, from the university of Washington, but in 2005 I started my practice, and that was at the urging of a vet, so I got cards made up, and I didn’t really think a lot was going to come of it, but in fact, that built my practice. So I went to four days a week at the University and had a practice one day a week for a long time, and then I went half time at the University. I just kept, you know, kind of building my practice and working in IT, and am out of IT, and totally focused on animals, which is fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Indeed. Congrats. That’s so exciting being able to focus on that full time.
Lori Stevens: Yes, it is. Now I'm spending full time writing this course, which is really great fun, but it's a lot of work, and so it's a good thing I don’t have my job too.
Melissa Breau: So there are lots of kind of interesting pieces there, right? Just kind of all the different things that you work with, and all the different techniques you have, but I want to start with TTouch. So for those not familiar with it at all can you kind of explain what it is?
Lori Stevens: I can. You're right, there's all those pieces, and oddly enough, they do all fit together, but what is Tellington TTouch Training? So people here touch and they think it's only body work, but Tellington TTouch Training is actually a lot more than body work. It is body work, and there are a variety of body work touch techniques, but there's also an element of it that is movement, which includes slowing down dogs and having them move precisely over various equipment on different movement patterns over different surfaces, stopping, turning, really slowing down the nervous system and letting them feel themselves, their bodies, in a way that maybe they haven’t felt them before. It's interesting how many dogs move really, really fast, and it's uncomfortable for them to move really slowly when they're working with someone, so you learn a lot from that, and there's also several tools and techniques that go along with TTouch. One of those is leash walking and making it more comfortable for dogs to walk on a leash, and to fit well in their equipment, and that’s pretty much how, you know, it's that awareness that caused me to develop, over years, the balance harness, but there's also the really learning to observe the dogs, and to give them choice. So there's a lot in TTouch that many years ago other people weren’t really focusing on, and now, thankfully, many people are focusing on it all over the place, so it's kind of nice that, you know, it's now overlapping more with other work that people are doing, and anyway, I hope that gives you a better idea, but it's not just body work.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to ask kind of how it works too, and does it work for all dogs, is it something that works, you know, for some dogs better than others, is it something I could learn to do? I mean, how does that all kind of work?
Lori Stevens: Absolutely, you could learn to do it. Does it work for all dogs? I have to answer that…and you know, of course, there's an element of it that works for all dogs, but you have to define what you mean by works, and everything depends on the dog and what you're trying to do, but the thing that makes Tellington TTouch work unique is that it's not habitual. In other words, the way you touch the dog is not the way the dog is used to being touched, so it sort of gets the attention of the nervous system in a different way. The way you move the dogs is different from how they typically move, so it kind of gets their attention in another way. It's almost as if they're listening to the work sometimes. It's super interesting. The nice thing about it is that I can get a dog that’s so fearful in my practice that I can't touch the dog, but I have other tools to use with that dog, so I can move the dog, and over time, with that movement I build trust and we have a dialog going on between us, and eventually, that dog says okay, I'm ready to be touched now. I mean, they really do, they come up to your hands, and then once you start the touch work you've got another set of things you can do, so it's really got a depth to it that isn’t so visible on the surface, and the fact that it's called TTouch often just leads people into thinking that it's just this one thing where you touch your dog.
There's work in humans called Feldenkrais, so it was developed years ago, and it's a technique that moves people in nonhabitual ways to kind of develop new neural pathways to give them freedom of movement again. So people that have serious injuries, and they're, you know, varying them for whatever reason, a variety of reasons, have very limited movement, they can work with the Feldenkrais practitioner, or in a Feldenkrais class called Awareness Through Movement that really slows down and moves your body into nonhabitual patterns to regain new freedom of movement in your own body. It teaches your body to move in another way to get to the same place. Linda Tellington Jones, who developed Tellington TTouch Training, went through that Feldenkrais training for…she did it in order to work with the riders in our Equine Center, the horse riders, so then she started applying those ideas, and those techniques to animals, and that's where the work came from.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: I know. It's a well-kept secret.
Melissa Breau: So you know, you're also a small animal massage practitioner, and you're a certified candidate in massage, so how did those pieces kind of mesh? What are some of the differences between something like TTouch and massage, how do you use them in conjunction?
Lori Stevens: There is overlap and there's also quite a bit of difference, so with my massage training I can really focus on if I'm working with a dog who is super tight in the shoulders from doing too much agility over the weekend, and has big knots, you know, I can get those knots out because I have that training. Also, my training is in rehabilitation massage, so I can do manual lymphatic drainage, so if the dog has lymphoma say, and has huge swollen lymph nodes in the neck that you can actually see how swollen the lymph nodes are, I can do this very gentle work to bring that swelling down, to move the lymph node system lymph fluid again, so I can do very specific work that has a very physical effect.
In TTouch body work I can work on a tail and change the behavior of a dog, so…what? So it's very different, you're more working with fascia and skin in the nervous system than you are working muscles, although muscles can change as well. Both of the techniques can change gate. It's all very, very interesting how, you know, both of them can change gate from working on the bodies, and I'm sure there's a lot of overlap, even when you're focusing on different things, but they really have kind of a different focus. And the TTouch work is much…I won't say lighter, because they both can be quite light, like even when I'm working on a knot in a muscle I don’t dig in there, you know, I'm very…I go with the muscle, but I would just say they have a different focus, and therefore, you can end up with a different result. And the TTouch body work can actually…I see more changes in behavior than I do with massage, and I don’t know if that’s because I'm focused upon that, I don’t know. I mean, it's kind of interesting, but you know, when a dog gets really uptight, often times out on a walk, my dog's tail will start to go up. That will be one of the first things I see. Maybe her ears and head, but I'll see her tail go up. If I actually reach down and just stroke her tail and bring her tail back down it actually brings her back down.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, I know. It's kind of interesting. I might have to teach that in my next Fenzi course.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I'd certainly be interested in learning a little more about it. So it sounds like to me…and I could be totally of base, obviously, but if the TTouch is a little bit more focused on kind of the physical and behavioral tied together, whereas, the massage is more kind of on the physical and performance side. Is that kind of right?
Lori Stevens: Well, sure. You can put it that way. I would just say they are different techniques. There is overlap, but there are different techniques. TTouch in no way does it do manual inside drainage, for example, that is a massage technique, and when I'm doing just message to get knots out I'm not generally looking for changes in behavior. I'm looking for changes in the body. So…I don’t know, I mean, they're both touching the body, both body work.
Melissa Breau: Now, you're also a certified canine fitness trainer, so how does that factor in?
Lori Stevens: So that factors into the movement work, so I have been doing the Tellington TTouch training moment work for years, and it wasn’t really getting dogs to the point that…it wasn’t getting them where I wanted them to go if they were showing weakness in their muscles. Having a background in dance and being active my entire life, I was really looking for ways of helping the dogs be stronger, and more flexible, and more agile, and more confident, and blah blah blah, and some of those TTouch gave, and some of those it didn’t, so it was natural for me to take it a step further. I mean, all the stuff I do sounds like a bunch of certifications, but they're all really interwoven. I had been doing some fitness with dogs for years, and then when the University of Tennessee offered the certified canine fitness trainer program and partnership with Fitpaws I jumped on it, because that was the first program that I saw that I thought would be worth doing, and just going ahead and getting my certification in it, plus I learned things.
When I see…especially a dog's age, is weakness, or you know, I see habitual movement patterns that maybe a dog got injured when they were two, and at six they're still carrying the same pattern, they just never quit taking all their weight off their back right foot, say, so fitness really allowed me to take it a step further and help those dogs get back to being more functional, and stronger. And it's really fun, and it's a fantastic way of building trust, and enjoying communication with your dog. It's just another…well, like I said, it's my sport, one of my sports, so I just think it's fantastic.
Melissa Breau: So I want to kind of shift gears for a minute and look at your interest in older dogs. What led to that? Was it Cassie getting older or was it something else?
Lori Stevens: No, no. I've been working with older dogs for years. It's funny how long I worked with them before I had one, although, I have had older dogs before, but because of the kind of work I was doing the veterinarians were sending lots of senior dogs to me, and because I was helping them get functional again, and helping them feel better I just kept getting them, so I had a lot of experience. Even in 2005 I was getting the older dogs sent to me and I just kept building up that knowledge of working with them, and helping them feel better. I wonder what year it was. I want to say it was 2014, but I can't be certain.
Kathy Sdao and I decided to do Gift of a Gray Muzzle together and really focus on aging dogs in a video in our workshop. We just gave that workshop recently again. It's kind of a passion of mine because you know, everybody when they get a puppy they're very enthusiastic about their new puppy, and you know, they have to learn a bunch of things, but there's a motivation to learn a bunch of things because you have a new puppy, you just went out and got it, but our dogs age gradually, and it's not the same kind of oh boy, I've got an aging dog, and I'll go out and learn all these new things. You know, books on aging dogs don’t sell, and the thing is that there's a real joy of working with aging dogs, and watching them get new light in their eyes, and watching them physically get through things that maybe they weren't getting through before, so anyway, that’s what led me to it.
Melissa Breau: To kind of dig into that a little more, what are some of the issues that older furry friends tend to struggle with where your training and presumably, also your upcoming class may be able to help?
Lori Stevens: Well, I think even with people, keeping our dogs minds, or keeping our minds and bodies active is incredibly important, and this thing happens as dogs age is they all of a sudden get really comfortable sleeping for a very long time, and I think we go…especially if we have more than one dog I think we kind of say to ourselves well, our older dog's fine, you know, I'll put more energy into my younger dog, you know, maybe don’t think that, but that’s what ends up happening, and then one day you notice oh my god, the hind end strength is going, and the proprioception is going, which both of those naturally diminish with age. I better say what proprioception is. Proprioception is your conscience ability to know where your body is in space during movement, so if you think of a toddler at a certain age, they can't hold their cup up with juice in it, they're just pouring it upside down and then they're upset their juice is gone, but then at a certain age they suddenly know how to keep their cup upright while they move. That's proprioception. Well, you lose it with age, and so you have dogs that used to be able to step over and run over everything, running into low poles, or low logs, or whatever, and so hind end strength and proprioception naturally diminish with age, and so in the course, and when I work with older dogs, and when I do the workshops, that’s what I'm helping people do is get those back.
Also, I think we’re not quite prepared as humans to all of a sudden, we have this senior dog, and our dog can't do as much as it could do before, and so we have to change as well, so how do our expectations need to change, and how can we make this time together, which hopefully, will be many years as wonderful as it can be. You know, we have to change our expectations, and rather them be disappointed, find joy in that as much as our dogs need to find joy in a different kind of life as well. Not meaning…this isn’t bad, this is all good stuff. I mean it all in a very good way. It's just that’s it's different, and so you know, in the course I give lots of tips on the easiest way to get your dog in and out of a car, or on the sofa, the functional things that dogs could do when they were younger, sometimes those go away, and so how do we bring back that function or maintain that function and joy with our aging dogs. So we'll be doing lots of activities in that course on keeping our dogs minds and bodies active, but also tools and techniques we can use to participate in making their lives as good as we can. Did that help?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So if you were to make one recommendation for everyone listening who happens to have an aging or older dog, what would it be? Is it about mind shift, is it about, you know, exercise? I mean, what kind of piece would you pull out of that?
Lori Stevens: Well, I certainly have one. Surprise, surprise. I would say be your dog's advocate, trust yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, be a detective until you get to the source. I can't tell you how many times the answer is well, your dog's getting older, you know, you're making stuff up, or that’s just natural, your dog's getting older, and there really has been something, so I do think it's really, really important to be your dog's advocate, and to trust yourself, and it's okay to take your older dog to acupuncture appointments, or TTouch appointments, or massage appointments, or swimming appointment, you know, whatever you want to do to make yourself feel better. That's a good thing, but if you notice that…and your dog feel better, but if you notice something seems off it can be really hard to find what it is, and just be your dog's advocate is all I can say. Go to another vet if your veterinarian isn’t willing to work with you through figuring out what it is.
Melissa Breau: And finally, the questions I ask in every episode. I want to ask you kind of the same three questions that I asked everybody whose come on so far. So to start, what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Lori Stevens: My observation skills. I mean, they have developed since 2005 and I'm happy that I can now recognize how developed they are, and how important observation skills are, and really honoring the dog's needs rather than my own agenda, right. I mean, you know, sometimes it's natural when you have a practice to think through I'm getting ready to see this person and dog, and here's my agenda for the hour-long session, we're going to do it, X, Y, and Z, and then the dog gets there and goes no, we're not, you know, I want to do something else. So really being observant to be able to tell that, and then honoring the dog's needs, and the person, of course, has the say in what you do as well, but you know, really honoring the dog's needs. And I've actually…I will say it's only happened once since 2005, but I lost a client for not forcing a dog to do things, so I didn't mind losing that client, but…
Melissa Breau: It's important to stand up for your principles and kind of do what you believe is the right thing.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, and I'm just not comfortable forcing dogs into position for a massage.
Melissa Breau: Right. So what about training advice, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Lori Stevens: You know, it's funny. I don’t really think these are what you have in mind, but…
Melissa Breau: That’s okay!
Lori Stevens: Yeah. Meet the dog where she is or he is. That was the best piece of advice I heard and that was in TTouch, but just kind of change to meet both learners, the dog and the person, where they are. You can't really tell people to change, right, you have to guide them gently, and kind of move with them when they're really to move. People have to decide for themselves to make changes, and communication is so incredibly important. I've seen dogs and people go from, you know, a pretty dark place to an incredible place, and I'm so thrilled with what, you know, with the influence that I had on that. I would have to say just meeting everybody where they are, and recognizing how important communication is, and that it's not just about what we think, or how we think it should be done, but bringing the person and dog along at their own pace.
Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Lori Stevens: Well, you know there's several, but I have to say Dr. Susan Friedman and Ken Ramirez probably are two top.
Melissa Breau: Ken's well regarded among the FDSA staff. I've heard his name a couple of times now.
Lori Stevens: Yeah. He's pretty great. So is Dr. Susan Friedman. I think you'll hear her name more and more if you haven’t already.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Lori. Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.
Melissa Breau: I feel like I learned a ton.
Lori Stevens: That's great.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Amy Johnson to discuss photography and our dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have or next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.