Some dogs need help learning how to relax


I don’t know about you but I really love my peaceful house. I like it quiet and relaxing. My first dog Johnny was a greyhound and he slept about twenty three and half hours a day. We put a webcam on him while we were out to see what he was up to. It broadcast a pic every 15 seconds on a website, and some of our friends were invited to watch too. We got so many worried messages – ‘I think your dog is dead he hasn’t moved in an hour!’. He was fine, he just liked being asleep!
Now I have much more active dogs and worse – I have two of them – but I still prize my quiet home. Charlie is a collie cross whippet and whenever the collie gets too busy the whippet tells him to take a chill pill and have a snooze. Boo, however, is another kettle of fish. Boo is a staffy cross collie and while I don’t know where she used to live I’m fairly sure it was both horrible and probably not in a house. These things all combine to produce a very busy girl. I’ve only had her three months, and at first she had a lot of crate time, mainly because I couldn’t trust her not to destroy the house if I wasn’t there. It wasn’t separation anxiety just a combination of an intelligent playful dog that hasn’t learned what dog toys are versus human prized possessions. Now that she can be trusted in some of the house I leave her free to roam in it with Charlie and she is no longer crated during the day. And I have noticed that she is becoming more busy and having more trouble learning how to switch off. And why shouldn’t she? She has access to toys and me and husband and Charlie the other dog and they are all so interesting!
So we need to help her learn to chill, even when things get exciting. I have done some mat training with her, and that has helped. I also reward her when she is calm and ignore any attention seeking behaviour.

Really, though, I need to go to the next level with her. I need a programme of training, taking things slowly and steadily. I need a plan of action that I can follow. I need a protocol.
Enter Karen Overall and her Relaxation Protocol.

Click to access B2_Protocol_for_Relaxation_Beh_Mod_Tier_1.pdf

This protocol describes a 15 day programme that will teach the dog to relax despite an escalating number of distractions and duration of the relaxed sit or down. Perfect!
Some things to note:
1. This protocol was writing in 1997. Some of the science has moved on. She wrote it when she still thought of dogs as living in packs (that’s a myth! I will write a blog post about it one day). Also she suggests the use of positive punishment in another of her protocols in a situation that I would absolutely never do so (attention seeking behaviours). Added to that she suggests the use of a harness for correction. I would absolutely not do that, especially with a nervous dog. So, as always let’s use our own understanding and take what we need to while leaving the other stuff.
2. There are other versions of the protocol in the internet that call for a down not a sit (like I am going to go crazy and do my own thing! I will start with a sit but if Boo offers a sit or a down I will take it. It’s not obedience, the criteria is relaxation. So I am not looking for the perfect ’tuck sit’ or an obedience down. The more relaxed she is the more I will reward her.
3. If you don’t learn things well by reading, this is an mp3 series that goes through the protocol.
4. The goal is to produce relaxation, not just rote moving through the phases described. So, how we do this is important. The criteria is not just bum on ground, the criteria is relaxation! What does this look like?
a. Soft eyes
b. No tension in back or limbs
c. Soft mouth, no panting or repeated yawning
d. Head held at a neutral angle or low
5. People who have done the protocol have suggested that it often takes more than 15 days to run through the whole thing with a chilled dog. That’s cool with me. Slow and sure wins the race!
I plan on blogging how I get on each day, with a pic. It won’t necessarily be a long post, but I hope that it will keep me motivated and maybe even help other people. In fact, I would welcome anyone who wanted to give it a go with me. Only takes 15-20 minutes a day and will help your dog learn to relax. That sounds like a win to me! Comment on here, or put your pic of your dog on the daily facebook posts!
Here’s to calm dogs and peaceful homes!

boo bed

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