Biofeedback; Teaching Your Dog to Relax with Your Touch

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relaxI run a few different kinds of dog training programs here with The Dog Training Secret.

One is our companion dog program which teaches more advanced obedience and working toward off leash goals.

One is on different types of aggression.

And, soon one will be on overcoming your dog’s fears.

And, I have learned through the years that teaching your dog to relax on command or simply with a small touch can be vital to your training program!

It can help your dog learn to relax his body, and reduce his heart rate before he gets scared or aggressive; and that is crucial for people that have dogs suffering from these problems.

In Humans

In humans we call this Biofeedback.

The Mayo Clinic defines biofeedback  as a technique you can use to control your body’s functions such as heart rate.

With biofeedback your connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio).  This feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes in your body, such as relaxing certain muscles, to achieve the results you want such as reducing pain (also something to think about with your dog!).

In essence biofeedback gives you the power to use your thought to control your body, often helping with a health condition or physical performance.  Biofeedback is often a relaxation technique.

Or one that can help with stress.

In Dogs

We certainly can’t hook our dogs up to a heart rate monitor and teach them to reduce their heart rate.  They simply don’t have the cognitive powers to make this effective, since we can’t explain or reason with them as to why this technique is important.

However, we CAN teach them to relax themselves with a touch and on command.

I Always Have That One Personpitbull

I always have that one person that takes one of my classes, and as I describe massage therapy and giving your dog a massage at night, tells me that they already massage their dogs.

But the problem is…

But the problem is; if you don’t put it on command or in control you can’t USE it to your benefit later.

In Comparison

Sometimes people have a hard time understanding a slightly abstract idea.

But let me try and help.

That would be like me trying to get you to teach your dog to lie down on command; and having you tell me that he lies down on his own every night to sleep.

Well, that may in fact be the case; the truth is that unless you get it on command and under your control you can’t ask him to do it at other times.

Make more sense now?

Let’s Get Started

So now that I have hopefully explained WHY you need to get this behavior under control and on command let’s move on to how you get started.

Firstear massage

Begin by massaging your dog at a time that is conducive to his enjoying it.

Most people opt to do this at night right before bed.

Some people engage in this behavior first thing in the morning.

Either way you want your dog to already be somewhat relaxed, and/or in a state where you could assume he already has a lower heart rate.

Begin by massaging him in a circular fashion on his ears (some dogs won’t like this but most will).  If he doesn’t want you touching his ears, find another easily accessible area like the top of his head or his shoulder blades.

Work your way down and around his body, circularly massaging, and deeply massaging his muscles.  I want you to concentrate on doing this for 20 minutes or more.

Imagine that your dog is getting a deep tissue massage from your favorite masseuse. You want your dog to be in heaven.  I want your dog to get somewhat addicted to this new training method.

Some dogs will have a difficult time accepting this kind of touch.  Work slowly with them and find a slow type of massage that he likes.  You may have to work up to 20 minutes and teaching him to enjoy it because not all dogs like touch for more on that click here.   And if your dog has aggression issues toward you and doesn’t always want to be touched PLEASE DON’T TRY THIS or you are liable to get severely bitten.  Again not all dogs like to be petted.

Now do this for several weeks (unfortunately this is not a quick process, but it is one that is worth it!).  Remember that conditioning behavior or starting a new habit takes time, even for us humans, it can take even more time for your K9 companion.

Nowpek ear

After your dog has become somewhat of an addict to his daily massage we can assume that we have conditioned him that this deep, circular massage, puts him into a state where his heart rate is lower and his muscles are relaxed.

I always begin with my dog’s ears, so that in times of higher stress I have conditioned them to begin to relax with just a slight circular touch to the ears.

Instead of being stressed, I want my dog’s body to take over when he feels that touch and begin to relax like he has done in weeks past.

This first touch becomes my “command” to let go and relax himself.  Can you add a verbal command?  Sure! But I prefer to let my hands do the work.

Now, it is time to teach him to relax when he is more stimulated or excited.

Start small

Don’t expect to give him a touch at the dog park and expect him to relax.

Instead find a time when he is wide awake and teach him to enjoy massage even when his body is less likely to be still.

I like to do this at first after my coffee in the morning.  He has slept all night and he is awake with me; but he hasn’t been over stimulated yet.

It is harder for him to accept, but if he likes it he will learn that he can relax himself even when he is not tired.

Thenpet guide

Then it is time to add more and more stimulation.

I add massage times right after a walk or a run.

This teaches him that he can relax and enjoy a massage whenever it is offered and that it is not a behavior that is conditional on a certain time of day.

Only when you can see your dog relax with massage after a state of excitement can you then expect to add his trigger for aggression or fear to the mix!

So Give It a Try!

So give this a try!  If you want a well behaved and a relaxed dog; train for it!  Teach him that he can control his impulses and that he can control his body and his state of excitement.

I love to just reach down and circularly rub an ear and feel my dog’s whole body relax and watch his breathing slow and to see him become more calm.

Is it Easy?

No, no it’s not easy that is why you don’t see this method being used often.  But it is well worth it if you train hard for it!

There are 55 Comments

  1. Iris says:

    I use this on my dogs. It’s called the Tellington TTouch . Linda Tellington-Jones wrote a comprehensive book on all aspects of the TTouch.

    [Reply]

    Linda Hoffecker Reply:

    Thank you, Iris, for reminding me of this lady’s name. Her info was very popular about 20 or so years ago and seems to have been forgotten by ‘modern’ medicines..

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  2. Patti Drier says:

    I found Linda Tellington-Jones way back in the 1980’s working with horses. I am (still) a huge fan of the TTouch. I have lost my original book, loaned it out, made too many moves. Wish I still had her first book. I enjoyed reading this article on biofeedback. And can see using it on my fearful, older, boxer/lab cross. Thanks! And thank you Iris for reminding me of the TTouch. All good stuff!

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  3. Thank you. I will pay better attention to that. My baby girl is a rescue. I have had her for seven years now. She is very obedient EXCEPT when I take her for a walk at dusk or if she sees a rabbit. If she gets that scent she is gone and she comes back when she wants to, usually when I have exhausted myself hollering for her and I go looking for her. What can I do to get her to come every time bunny or not?
    I’ve tried better treats. I’ve tried leaving her on the lead for walks for a while. Usually she will heal. I just avoid dusk.

    Me

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  4. Jack says:

    Chet, are you nuts? Give my dog a 20 minute massage every night? Not going to happen man.

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    Minette Reply:

    That’s too bad, because it is good for both of you and has health benefits for you both as well.

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    Connie Reply:

    Jack, you don’t have to get out scented oil and a massage table. Yes, it would be cool to have that extra time in the day for massage(to give and to get, lol) What I do every night when I check my emails, or Pinterest, I dangle one hand over the side of my Lazyboy ,I say “want a scratch” and Monkey(my dog) come over for his massage before going to bed. Ideally, when giving a massage you should not be multitasking but he hasn’t complained yet.
    This article was so helpful because I will now start to use it to curb his barking and chasing responses. I plan on increasing the massages for a while at different times of the day as the article suggests and repeat the word Relax so hopefully in a few days/weeks/months he will catch on. To speed up the training I will focus on the massage and not do the multitasking for a while so that the massage reward is more enticing than barking at my mean neighbour. hope this encourages you to massage your pet and btw, it will also have a positive affect on you. It calms us and lowers our heart rate and blood pressure so everyone is happier.

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    Dana Reply:

    You do not love your dog very much. Get a hamster.

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  5. Leslie says:

    I am excited to try this! 20 minutes is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things! My rescued Aussie/Border Collie is very high energy and she used to reject the human touch altogether. Now it’s been a year since I adopted her and she has come around quite a bit. This technique could easily be what I need to calm her down after her run or when company arrives. I know that time is a commodity for most people these days, but I think it’ll be time well spent! Thanks for sharing, Chet!

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    Linda Hoffecker Reply:

    So many people think that dogs love to be hugged and snuggled, but most of my dogs didn’t like it at all. They felt a ‘hug’ was ‘confining’ them, I’d presume.
    The puppy mill dogs were especially not into being picked up or touched more than absolutely necessary like in and out of the vehicle. None of this lap dog stuff for them! I am not into ‘needy’ dogs so that suits me just fine. Love the independent breeds. 🙂

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  6. ethel raniola says:

    1 person ,4 dogs, what to do?

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    Minette Reply:

    Make time! It really works and is beneficial for you both

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  7. Diana Hartley says:

    Tellington Touch uses light surface contact done with the pads of your fingertips (no nails). It reprograms the nervous system and is especially useful for dogs and people who have been traumatized. Make circles that are one and a quarter rotations: start at 12 o’clock, make a full rotation and end at 3 o’clock. Lift your fingers at the end of each rotation, place in a new spot and repeat. The circles should be small (one inch) to medium (2 inches) and should
    slightly overlap.

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  8. I have to agree with Jack! 20 minutes times 4 dogs in my house is crazy!. I do have one girl that is becoming more reactive as the days go by. If it works on her I guess I’ll be taking up a new career in doggy massage for the rest of them. I’ll let ya know if it works.

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  9. Jamey Smythe says:

    This is similar to Kayce Cover’s SATS training program. It is a much quicker process. Usually you can see a change by the 3rd session. Dogs can learn to relax on command and it is a wonderful thing for them.

    Thanks for getting your program out there. It is much simpler and easier to teach.

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  10. Linda says:

    please provide inf.

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  11. Al Magaw says:

    I’ve been using this technique on select dogs and have had some impressive results – with up to 25 dogs receiving behavior therapy here at any one time, we don’t have the staff to do it with all of the dogs, but it’s very impressive to see an aggressive, 3rd strike dog stop his fence attack to the dog next to him, and lay down when I called “relax” from a considerable distance from the disturbance – it is time consuming, but the results are impressive

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  12. Bliss says:

    I foster dogs in Mexico, and I’m always looking for techniques to bond with a frightened dog or calm an overactive puppy. I’ve heard of the circular massage before, but you filled in some gaps in my knowledge. Thanks!

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  13. Louise says:

    I could see how this would be a calming experience however, not realistic if you have more than 1 dog. Try 5 Jack Russells, at bedtime, first thing in the morning or anytime there is any noise or sudden movement. I would need a full time team.

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    Pam Reply:

    4 Jack Russells would be a challenge. Try 7 Papillons and a mouthy Pomeranian!

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    Donna Reply:

    I have 4Papillons,1yorkie/poo,1brusselsgriff,1bordercollie,1GSD. Just pick the most hyper or excited and work from there. We are only one person, but you will gradually see benefits with this method of relaxation. Sometimes if the alpha is relaxed it helps the others to calm quicker.

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  14. Diana Alexich says:

    Chet,
    I am caring for a dog while his owner is ill. The problem is, he barks and barks and now my dog is barking. How can I get them to stop the incessant barking? He will be with us at least another month.
    Thanks,
    Diana

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Read this and the articles listed within it http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/top-5-reasons-dog-quiet/

    [Reply]

  15. Jackie Cook says:

    I am a body worker with both a massage and shiatsu background and can attest to the fact that massage and (yes) shiatsu are readily accepted and appreciated by both dogs and cats. I have actually had my animals request their session from me once they have experienced it. I recommend starting out with no more than 5 min. sessions to start with, and give them your undivided attention. TTouch is good and I’ve used that too but with the different techniques it takes time to learn them all well. Massage, on the other hand is known as intentional petting and we all pet our animals, right? It is true that some dogs and cats don’t care to be touched initially but not hopeless. You just have to start on an even smaller scale. Thanks, Chet for the reminder. I had a friend consult me about training her 9yo dog not to bark every time the doorbell rings. I will definitely pass this info on to her.

    [Reply]

    JoanM Reply:

    My dog barks when the doorbell ring or someone is at the door. I just tell her to sit and take both my hands along her body and she quiets down. When my doorbell was broken it was a good thing. Maybe not now since people are afraid of a barking dog.

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  16. Marty says:

    I have 4 dogs – a standoffish lab/Irish setter mix, a reactive choc lab, a hyperactive jack Russell/chihuahua mix and a new chihuahua who we just rescued from a hoarding situation with a whole mess of disfunctions – all get massages several times a day, as do my two cats, and the results are truly amazing, when done with consistency – you would almost think they are well balanced. It’s about making time to meet their needs. If you aren’t willing to do that, maybe you have too many dogs.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Very well said Marty. Not only do I not think 20 minutes is a lot, I also recommend several training sessions a day 3-5 which would equate to more than 20 minutes a day. Not to mention exercise if you don’t add that into training.

    I guess we make time for the priorities in our lives and often this is why dogs are so ill behaved and mannered. If 20 minutes is a lot, how are people meeting their dogs needs?

    Kind of makes me sad

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    Dave Reply:

    I truly think the question is, what do I, or you, or Jack or whoever wants. If we want a clean kitcken when it’s messy we have to do something about it. We can clean it up ourselves or pay someone, but either way, it costs us something. If time is what it costs for our pets not to behave the way we don’t want them to, we can pay the price now, or pay the price the rest of our pets lives every time our heartrate & blood pressure goes up at our pets unruly behavior.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    That is a good point!

  17. Papabob says:

    Hey Chet,
    Great info. I’ve been doing this with my dogs for years with great effects in many ways.One is using it as a good time for checking your dog for injuries etc. I didn’t know the fancy names for it just used it on all of my dogs since I was a young lad. Many wonderful dogs later I still do it. My latest border collie (1 yr old now) loves it in the morning after she does her morning strech and scraches! We kind of wake up together.
    I usually get along with most other people’s dogs with a little of this treatment and plus,I enjoy it. I can’t always do a 20 minute go but do maybe a second one later in the day or evening. If I’m getting stressed myself,it helps me also.

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  18. Papabob says:

    Works for me Chet;been doing it for many years on all my dogs,many working dogs.great for the person also!

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  19. Neil says:

    Everything is relative. Even dogs with owners that can’t take all the time a dog should have. At least that dog is being provided with a home and, hopefully, food, water and some attention. And that means one more dog that did not have to euthanized. Some days I don’t spend enough time with my one dog. Then I feel guilty. Other days I spend too much and don’t get some of my other chores done. But, I feel it is worth it on those days because my dog needs my attention. My point is that not all owners are perfect but maybe some are good enough. Same with positive vs negative reinforcement. I think most negative reinforcement for animals is bad. But, some folks to use it and their dogs have a home and seem to be fairly well adjusted. All matters of degree I suppose.

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  20. vivienne says:

    Great to see a few people mentioning Ttouch. I have seen some wonderful changes in dogs (and other animals inluding snakes) with real problems in a matter of just a few days at various Ttouch workshops. A brilliant modality. Also wonderful for conditioning shelter dogs so they can be rehomed.

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  21. Trish says:

    Yes it works, I have used T/T on a my timid girl and she went on to be a very successful obedience dog gaining a few titles, BUT I need this too to calm me before I go into the ring !

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  22. Dottie says:

    I have a Cockerpoo who seems to go into a trance when giving her a massage. I have to be sure she doesn’t fall over in the process.

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    Minette Reply:

    hahahaha if that doesn’t convince people to try this, I don’t know what will!!!

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  23. Sandra K says:

    Have just the right schedule with our 2yo Schnug to try this.. sounds great!
    But, if one person trains (with the word “relax”, for instance) will he relax if his other person uses the cue word??

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    If you are consistent, yes.

    It would be like you both saying sit, eventually still means sit.

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  24. Fiona says:

    The Guide dogs puppies that have been with us have a massage after each feed. And a particular muscle rub which is used in stressful situations in later training. I’m just a puppy raiser, but am very interested in the TTouch idea and putting relaxation on cue!
    Will be looking up Kayce Cover SATS Training and TTouch for approval from Guide Dogs if it’s successful.
    Thanks for the idea!

    [Reply]

  25. Meg says:

    Well it does make sense to me, I actually massage my dog occasionally as like humans if she runs and jumps around a lot, why would she not be stiff and sore in places, she loves it when I do this for her so now I will put it into practise more frequently and when I feel it is the right time I will try this on her when she hears the postmans motorbike coming from the next street away as she gets herself really revved up to chase the postie along our fence line not in an aggressive manner but to enjoy the chase (being she is of working breed). I really feel that this is going to help her to calm down so thanks for this information I will definitely try this.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Work slowly up to such big distractions 😉

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  26. Rebecca says:

    I know this is a dog website, but for the dog-owners who are horse-lovers (like me!) There is a good series of books called “Heartland” that uses real horse training and caring methods including TTouch. Isn’t it amazing how the same training methods can be used for so many animals!?!

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  27. mary says:

    when my dog was little i would rub his head and when he lays down by me he takes his paw and taps me for his rub in the moring and befor bed time he love it and his body he love to be rub thank yoh

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  28. Lee says:

    my Spoodle does not like to be picked up or hugged. However he laps up being rubbed around his long floppy ears and head.
    I had not attempted to match this up with his lead reactive behaviour towards other dogs. Nothing else has calmed him despite training and medication from two different behavourists.
    So I am now looking forward to applying this technique. Look out KC I am on my way over to begin a massage.

    Another comment: while we are massaging our dog, we are actually calm ourselves…….
    Lee

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I almost think it is better for us than it is for them. My girl sat on me this morning trying to fling my phone (I was reading emails) I realized she was right put down my phone and pet her. One hour and a half later I am much calmer and thankful for a little slow down.

    [Reply]

    lee Reply:

    I found KC this morning with a mess of sticky flower stamens that he had run through. Trying to scrape it off his head with his paw resulted in his floppy ears stuck to his leg pulling his head down. He was very quietly trying to get free and making it worse. I used massage while trying to cut the mess away. It took 1/2 hr and while he continued to try to bite them off I was able to keep him calm and got the mess off. How lucky was I and KC too find this method this week. thank you….

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  29. that is so nice man keep it up man. see you then.
    Happy near year to you, greet every one home.

    [Reply]

  30. Sunshign says:

    My 2 yr old Black GSD has an ear infection and as much as I tried to make ear washing pleasant she tolerates it but wasn’t feeling comfortable. After finding this blog I decided to try it, heck I love massages.
    Tonight I took her in the walk in shower where we have been doing the ear treatments. First I massaged her as TTouch for about 15 minutes, right away she started relaxing and almost slid from her sitting position to a down. I slowly got the ear solution and could tell she was tensing up a bit. I just massaged a little more then put a squirt of ear wash. Massaged ear let her shake and then a big praise and high reward treat. The TTouch made a difference and I will try to massage her daily. I think it will also help her with her anxiousness in general.

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  31. Kristy says:

    I use this method with my children who have special needs and my dogs. I just forgot that I can and will use it on command with my dogs. I have learned this with my special needs kids and inadvertently use with my dogs. I have a new to me 1 yr old Newfoundland with horrible social skills and she has so much trouble using her mind instead of just getting anxious, fearful or aggressive in response to different stimulus. I am going to use this lesson and I KNOW I will see rapid positive results. And build on relationship with this sweet out of sync dog. Thanks!!!!

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  32. Teigan says:

    Hey Minette! Thanks for this great article; I wish devinately try this! I have a question though. Once your dog automatically relaxs when you start in any situation, can you start to wean your dog off the daily 20 minute massages? And if so, how much? Can you get to the point where you don’t have to massage your dog at all? Just wondering because 20 minutes a day every day per dog for the rest of my dogs’ lives adds up 🙂 Thanks!

    [Reply]

  33. Teigan says:

    Hey Minette! Thanks for this great article; I wish definitely try this! I have a question though. Once your dog automatically relaxes when you start to massage in any situation, can you start to wean your dog off the daily 20 minute massages? And if so, how much can you cut back? Can you get to the point where you don’t have to massage your dog at all? Even just down to 10 minutes a day or 20 minutes every other day would be nice. Just wondering because 20 minutes a day every day per dog for the rest of my dogs’ lives adds up 🙂 Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Like anything if you do it long enough it becomes part of a conditioned response.

    In order for a conditioned response to remain a conditioned response you still have to reward it and do it occasionally. Every day; probably not but enough that it is still remembered and matters.

    Think of Pavlov and his dog he taught the dog bell=food then bell=nothing so in order for it to continue you must do if often enough for it to matter to the dog. I’m sure each dog is different and undoubtedly every other day would be fine

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  34. For those who are posting negative comments. You should be a responsible pet owner. You have a responsibility to your pets, and if you don’t want that responsibility to them, Why have them? It would be great if you’ll buy a stuff toy instead of having a dog.

    [Reply]

  35. Thanks Minette for your advice on calming my 2 Jack Russell’s down i have just massarged Dolly behind her ears and she is now completely relaxed she has just laid down and gone to sleep haven’t tried it with Pip yet as she was already asleep so hopefully after a while they will learn the word relax and it won’t be a problem when i am getting them ready for their walk i will let you know my progress in the next couple of weeks

    [Reply]

  36. Darla Lyon says:

    I have always enjoyed a massage session daily with my dog. Each evening she comes up for her session.

    [Reply]

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