Day 24: Relaxation Protocol

Most of the time when I talk to other whippet owners I’m encouraging them to let their dog be naughty: to see jumping up for a toy as a positive thing (my dog just stopped staring at those BCs doing agility and decided to do something with me instead!), allow barking and other kinds of showing excitement. I let my dogs do some pretty obnoxious things as long as they give me their best when working and follow a few rules.

For example, Java is barking and crying with the loudest of them if I’m working with another dog. This would have been very simple to stop when it first started. She was so sensitive to my moods that an angry word would have stopped that barking and I wouldn’t have this “problem” now. But who knows what else would be affected if I got angry back then. Would she connect it with agility? With me leaving her? With other dogs? Punishment can be associated with either or all of these (yes, angry word is classified as positive punishment because it decreases behavior). A much better way would be to treat her while she isn’t making a sound. I would probably need a helper for this, but no negative meaning would get attached to agility, me leaving her or other dogs. I didn’t decide to do it, though. I decided to let her bark, because there are quite a few people who believe that letting the dog bark when another dog is running will increase their desire to do agility and I think for some dogs this is true. I would think that once the dog loves agility there is no “harm” in teaching them not to bark (in a friendly, positive way of course).

Which is to say, there is time to be crazy and there is time to be calm. Especially for Ruby who isn’t a calm dog anyway. As a puppy he had a terrible time learning a down-stay (or a sit-stay for that matter). Even at six months old he couldn’t stay still for 10 seconds without a constant stream of treats. Then I discovered Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol which is a tool she uses to help with behavior modification with her clients. It’s incredibly simple: for 15 days you’re supposed to put your dog in a sit-stay or down-stay and do a series of silly exercises that look suspiciously like proofing a stay. You’re supposed to do it all in a calm manner, without a clicker (to not excite the dog) and treats that aren’t too exciting for the dog, but are just good enough to keep him in a stay. The whole thing is incredibly boring for the human, and I’m sure pretty boring for the dog, too. That’s why it works. It’s like doggie meditation. It teaches hyperactive or stressed dogs how to calm down and unwind.

I think Ruby needed 45 days to get through the 15-day protocol. We couldn’t do the whole daily scheme in one sitting as he was too hyper and sometimes we had to do things more than once because he wasn’t calm enough to continue with next day’s schedule. But he got through them and at the end he was lying down on his mat while I walked through the front door out of his sight, rang a door bell and waited 30s. Quite a feat for a dog who had a problem with a 10s down-stay with me right in front of him!

Later on I used Relaxation Protocol when Ruby was too stressed at osteopath’s practice and wouldn’t lie down for her. I asked her to give us a few minutes, started the Relaxation Protocol (complete with my meditative voice) and soon he was much more cooperative and calm.

Now I would like to teach him the Honor Down which means the dog is lying down for a few minutes while another dog works. Yeah… not so easy for my crazy/anxious one. We have been successful at prolonging duration at home, but at the training field he just won’t relax. He will stay for about 30s, but it’s a twitchy kind of stay and not something I would like to build upon. So I think we’ll have to first complete the Relaxation Protocol at the field when there’s no one but us and then with one other person working before we’ll have any hope of getting relaxation in class.

Here’s the protocol if you have a stressed or hyper dog and would like to try it: Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol

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2 thoughts on “Day 24: Relaxation Protocol

  1. Trinity calms down almost instantly in my lap, but on couch beside me or in her bed it’s really hard for her. She just wants to run, chew and play until she’s really tired and we ignore her completely. I’ve tried this (in a way, probably the wrong way :D), but gave up because she gets excited even with the lowest treats – kibble. Thank you for the link, we really need to try this.

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