Five Things I've Learned About the Relaxation Protocol
If you've been following along you know that Ruby and I have been working through Dr. Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol. The Relaxation Protocol is a series of increasingly difficult tasks that you and your dog complete. More correctly, you complete the tasks while your dog sits or lays on the mat. The idea is that the dog will a) gain impulse control in a variety of situations and b) associate the mat with a place for calm, relaxed behavior. In Ruby's case, this is very much an example of "fake it until you make it," since relaxation does not come naturally to her. The tasks range from walking around the dog to ringing the doorbell. A more detailed post about it is here, and today I thought I'd share a few things that I've learned so far:
It takes more than fifteen days.
It takes more than fifteen days.
Unless your dog is not the anxious, hyper-vigilant type that benefits most from this kind of work, don't be fooled by the "Fifteen Day" protocol. The exercises are broken down into days, and each day into tasks. Ruby and I have been on Day 3 for thirteen attempts now. Last night we would have finally completed it except that I dropped a piece of food on the floor midway through and wasn't quick enough with my 'leave it." Bring on attempt fourteen!
Don't be intimidated.
The tasks look tedious and daunting. You might read ahead and think "no way could my dog sit still while I ring the doorbell..." That's exactly why the Relaxation Protocol is set up the way it is. Baby steps. If you need even smaller baby steps, make them. If 10 seconds is too long, do 7 seconds. Break the days in half and do mini-sessions. I do think that different terminology would help the work seem more appealing. I would like it if the 'Days' were called 'Phases' instead.
Sometimes doing nothing is harder than doing something.
Ruby seems to have the most trouble with the long stays where I am not utilizing a distraction. The longest so far is 20 seconds, and that was often the breaking point. She is perfectly fine with me jogging backward, jogging left, jogging right, clapping, walking around her, but stay in place while I stand there and stare at her? Not so much. (I don't actually stare at her, and I've been experimenting with eye contact and calming signals such as deep breaths, blinking and yawning to encourage her to relax).
Set your dog up for success.
I've learned when to bust out the pink mat and when to work on something else. Ruby needs to have at least some exercise beforehand. She needs to be interested in food but not overly hungry. I close the dog gate between the kitchen and living room since we haven't arrived at "Stay while the cat runs by" in the tasks yet. Certainly, eventually the goal is to add external distraction, but on the first time through the environment should be as controlled as possible while you are both learning how to navigate the protocol.
Don't give up.
As I said, we're a month into Day 3, and for a while I dreaded our sessions because Ruby was having such a hard time with the seemingly simplest things. Then I decided to buckle down and work on it at least every other day, and it got better. Ruby stopped demand-barking at me, she started putting her head down, and last night for most of the session she was laying in her little 'S-curve' where she has one front leg and the opposite hind leg stretched out and the other two legs tucked under. Even though we'll be revisiting it in different parts of the house and eventually outside, I think we're going to turn the page to Day 4 very soon.
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