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Relaxation Protocol for Dogs Revisited

The Relaxation Protocol for Dogs audio files we created remain one of our most popular fearful dogs resources on Champion of My Heart. Perhaps it’s time to revisit how this behavior modification plan for dogs works.

How the Relaxation Protocol for Dogs Works

Essentially, truly fearful dogs need to LEARN how to:

  • Relax or defer in the face of various stimuli (scary sights, sounds, etc.)
  • Think clearly enough to make good choices (choosing to SIT, for example, vs barking, lunging at scary things)

Dogs That Benefit from the Relaxation Protocol

Personally, I think the Relaxation Protocol for Dogs is good baseline work for ANY dog because very excited, happy dogs and very fearful dogs have MANY things in common. And, the dogs in between? Well, a little impulse control is NEVER a bad thing.

Relaxation Protocol for Dogs Takes TIME

The Relaxation Protocol for Dogs takes practice, and lots of it. The fear response is so well-engrained in some dogs. It’s so immediate from brain to body, to emotion. It takes TIME to proverbially “rewire” a different response … whatever your dog’s fear “thing” is.

best dog blog champion of my heart fearful dog Lilly

Depending upon the level of fear, Lilly might:

  • Bark, lunge, growl
  • Flee like she is being chased by the scariest thing ever
  • Flop to the ground
  • Curl up, hide, and refuse to come out
  • Seem grossly “disobedient” or like she cannot hear or see me (In many cases, she truly cannot even think straight to respond.)

The basic Relaxation Protocol for Dogs is 15 days. You do just a tiny bit of work each day for 15 days in the same location in your house.

It goes a bit like this:

  • Sit for 5 seconds.
  • Sit for 10 seconds, while you take two steps back and return.
  • Sit for 5 seconds.
  • Sit for 10 seconds, while you jump up and down a few times.
  • etc.

Some people recommend letting the dog settle into a relaxed DOWN, if she likes, but our animal behaviorist specifically wanted Lilly to choose to SIT. And, she wanted Lilly to be released between each SIT, so that it’s many repetitions (which is good for learning and “rewiring” the brain) … rather than the mother of all SIT-STAYs.

Beyond the Basic Relaxation Protocol for Dogs

Once we did the 15 days in one spot in the house (years ago), Lilly and I went through the entire 15-day cycle in various locations in the house and outside on our property. 15 days here. 15 days there.

Only after months and months of work, did we try using the Relaxation Protocol for Dogs in a “strange” location.

As Lilly improved, we figured out that she still struggled with transition times … like when we arrived somewhere new or at dog training class. This is still the case, even with all the years of practice (not every day, but a lot) and even with the use of behavioral meds.

So, we still do a little Relaxation Protocol work as necessary … like when we first arrived for our hike at Dream Valley Ranch recently.

Using this standard format with Lilly gives her a chance to:

  • Focus on me
  • Do something familiar and comforting
  • Reset whatever brain / body responses she has to things she sees, smells, and hears

Have you tried the Relaxation Protocol for Dogs? Did you make it through? Give up? Find new ways to leverage it? Do tell.


I’m going to throw in a plug here for BAT (behavior adjustment training). It works particularly well for dogs who have NOT been exposed to as much classical and counter-conditioning as Lilly has been. It uses “functional rewards” to help dogs learn to respond better when faced with scary situations. We’ve tried it a little with Lilly, but because we’ve done so much other work … she often defaults to old strategies, rather than learn new ones.

BAT creator, Grisha Steward in Seattle, recently launched a new BAT site:

Behavior Adjustment Training Official Site



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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.

Kay - July 14, 2011

As always your information is worth a lot. Thanks for all the work it takes to investigate these different ideas. This sounds like it will work.

Pamela - July 14, 2011

Thank you for revisiting this. It’s really helpful to have a link to the protocol all in one place. Bookmarked now so I won’t lose track.

Maggie - July 12, 2011

This is such a fascinating concept, and I think it might help me with Lucas and his fear of other dogs on leash. It couldn’t hurt with Cooper, too, just to get a solid set of behaviors ingrained – especially if I decide to take him to BlogPaws, which might be super overwhelming for him. Thanks for sharing all this info and the audio files… going to download them now!

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