Years after we tackled the Relaxation Protocol ourselves (both the one by Dr. Karen Overall and the one our own behaviorist prescribed), it remains one of the top reasons people come to Champion of My Heart. Pretty neat, huh? So, I decided to revisit a couple of the common questions I get about our Relaxation Protocol work.
If you are new to our site, please check out the MP3 audio files to make doing the Relaxation Protocol easier.
Relaxation Protocol Background
We began using the Relaxation Protocol in fall of 2007. Back when I first started, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of this detailed, tedious form of behavior modification. Today, all these years later, let me be clear. The Relaxation Protocol provides critical baseline training for fearful (or reactive or aggressive) dogs. I honestly think it sets such an important foundation that I will likely use it with all dogs in my future — whether they are fearful or not.
Our behaviorist told me it was VERY important that the dog develops the wherewithal to choose to SIT. It shows a certain confidence and self-control.
It gives them something specific they can do (as a fall-back position). Say, your dog flips out while crossing a road (as Lilly has done), would you rather the default behavior be a SIT or a DOWN?
That’s my way of saying that SIT is much more practical in real life, especially since DOWN can make some dogs feel more vulnerable.
Question #2 – I’ve read that it’s OK to let the dog stay put between the individual Relaxation Protocol tasks. Why do YOU specifically ask Lilly to get up and begin each task anew?
Again, Jennie, our behaviorist, told me that it was important that the dog recognize the end of one task and the beginning of the next.
Indeed, there are times when even after I gave Lilly her release word that she did NOT get up. So, I would actually walk to another part of the room (or wherever) and start the new task fresh by asking for a new SIT/STAY.
I don’t pretend to understand the deep-down brain science behind the repetition (trust me, I know it is skull-bashingly tedious), but by doing these tasks over and over, we’re actually teaching dogs not only how to relax but also creating new neural pathways that help solidify what they learn.
So many fearful dogs do not know how it feels to be calm. They have to learn that. And, by making each task distinct, by making specific requests (SIT and STAY … calm), and by rewarding success with quiet praise and small, soft food rewards … dogs learn to be calmer in the face of all kinds of stimuli.
We hope that they learn that being calmer FEELS BETTER than being upset. And, many fearful dogs need lots and lots of practice.
That’s why you release after each task. That’s why you do the Relaxation Protocol EVERY day for several weeks (or months, in our case).
Relaxation Protocol Revisited
In preparation for this post, I took a little time to run Lilly through Day 1 of the Relaxation Protocol … just to see how she would do.
Lilly was perfect.
Even though we haven’t done the formal Relaxation Protocol in like two years, she recognized the pattern immediately and did everything I asked, which is to SIT/STAY/Be calm, no matter what I did.
Keep in mind that we’ve been using a version of the Relaxation Protocol during “transition times,” when Lilly is likely to be nervous, like when we:
- Go somewhere new
- Arrive at class
- See or hear something out in public that might trigger a fear response
So, it isn’t completely foreign to her, but still. It was fun to go back to our dog training roots and see if she’s still “got it.”
What are your Relaxation Protocol Questions?
People often email me privately, and I’m happy to answer personally, but if there are any other questions about the Relaxation Protocol that you’d like me to address, please let me know by leaving a comment.