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Baseline Training for Fearful Dogs: The Relaxation Protocol

We first began using the Relaxation Protocol in fall of 2007. Back when I first posted these audio files, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of this detailed, tedious form of behavior modification. Today, some 18 months later, let me be clear. A 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.

As I noted then, on paper, these protocols seem overwhelming. To help myself, I created these audio files so that I could listen to them on my iPod while I did the training work with Lilly. I can tell from blog traffic statistics that people all over the world continue to access them.

The Relaxation Protocol: A quick recap
The original protocol developed decades ago has been updated and modified by various animal behaviorists. Dr. Karen Overall developed the version upon which these audio files were created. Simply right-click on each one and select Save Link As in order to save the MP3 audio file onto your computer.

I’m really boiling things down here, but essentially the
protocol teaches a dog to settle and defer to you in no matter what
happens. Through food rewards and calm, quiet praise, the dog learns good associations with the various stimuli. It’s essentially a formatted, systematic way to use classical conditioning to teach a dog to feel better and relax.


Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Day 15

Our Experience
We did weeks and weeks of this 15-day routine in 2007 and early 2008, where we did the whole series in a bunch of different locations. Then in mid-2008, our own behaviorist gave me a detailed behavior modification plan with similar protocols better tailored to Lilly’s fears, including certain moving objects, all manner of noises, strange people of all shapes and sizes, and dogs of all kinds. It took us months to get through each stage completely. Now, we’re using similar strategies in real-life scenarios to continue our progress of building Lilly’s ability to handle any Sudden Environmental Change (SEC) we experience when we’re in public. SEC is just a fancy way of saying something changes that could possibly freak Lilly out.

Early on, working on my own, I let Lilly lay down if she wanted to, but once we started working with our behaviorist, she really wanted me to get Lilly to SIT since a very specific form of laying down (kind of like this recent dog show video) is a “shut down” behavior for Lilly, and we wanted to avoid rewarding that accidentally. Plus, we wanted to keep her working from her thinking brain, not her fear brain, and making a decision to SIT helps with that.

Look at Training Updates and other posts from July 2008 forward to follow our ongoing saga. If you’re new or catching up, our treatment plan includes clomipramine and alprazolam to help Lilly cope with her fears. The whole medication story is filed under Dogs on Drugs.

I won’t kid you. This is hard, tedious work. It takes a tremendous amount of human and dog discipline day in, day out, but I truly believe it has laid the foundation for the progress Lilly is making (no matter how small).

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

SeeDogThink - July 23, 2010

thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. i cannot imagine trying to do this with the printed out version of the protocol in hand. the dogs thank you, too.

Rox - January 18, 2010

Give a treat at the end (or time) for sure, but if your dog needs quiet, verbal praise or treats during a particular exercise … you can give treats throughout the STAY as well.

Meg - January 16, 2010

When you say “time” is that when I give a treat? Thank you for these files, I have a fearful rescue foster (rescued from a puppy mill) and the behaviorist suggested relaxation protocol.

Rox - April 2, 2009

Thanks. It was all about making it easier for me, then I figured … heck, other people might like this.

I’m happy to make other recordings if there are other training scenarios or routines where it would make sense. Just send me text, and I’ll record away.

Dog-geek - April 2, 2009

Definitely a stroke of genius to make those audio files – and generous to share them!

Brenda in Mechanicsburg OH - April 1, 2009

Thank you so very much for sharing your audio files. They have made doing the Relaxation Protocal so much easier. Even my 11yr old daughter can do the exercises smoothly.

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