Protocol for Relaxation

This program is the foundation for all other behavior modification programs. Its purpose is to teach the dog to sit and stay while relaxing in a variety of circumstances. The circumstances change from very reassuring ones with you present to potentially more stressful ones when you are absent. The purpose of the program is not to teach the dog to sit; sitting (or lying down, if the dog is more comfortable) is only a tool. The goals of the program are to teach the dog to relax, to defer to you, to enjoy earning a salary for an appropriate, desirable behavior, and to develop, as a foundation,a pattern of behaviors that allow the dog to cooperate with future behavior modification (generally desensitization and counter conditioning). This protocol acts as a foundation for teaching the dog context-specific appropriate behavior.The focus is to teach the dog to rely on you for all the cues as to the appropriateness of its behavior so that it can then learn not to react inappropriately.

About Food Treats
This program uses food treats. Please read the logic behind this approach in the “Protocol for Deference: Basic Program.” Remember, the treats are used as a salary or reward-not as a bribe. If you bribe a problem dog, you are defeated before you start. It is often difficult to work with a problem dog that has learned to manipulate bribes, but there are creative ways – often involving the use of head collars -to correct this situation. First, find a food that the dog likes and that it does not usually experience. Suggestions include boiled, slivered chicken or tiny pieces of cheese. Boiled,shredded chicken can be frozen in small portions and defrosted as needed. Individually wrapped slices of cheese can be divided into tiny pieces suitable for behavior modification while still wrapped in plastic, minimizing waste and mess.Consider the following guidelines in choosing a food reward:

  • Foods that are high in protein may help induce changes in brain chemistry that help the dog relax
  • Dogs should not have chocolate because it can be toxic to them
  • Some dogs do not do well with treats that contain artificial colors or preservatives
  • Dogs with food allergies or those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) drugs may have food restrictions
    (cheese, for dogs taking MAOIs [deprenyl])
  • Dog biscuits generally are not sufficient motivation, but some foods are so desirable that the dog is too
    stimulated by them to relax – something between these two extremes is preferred
  • Treats should be tiny (less than half the size of a thumbnail) so that the dog does not get full, fat, or bored
  • If the dog stops responding for one kind of treat, try another
  • Do not let treats make up the bulk of the dog’s diet; the dog needs its normal, well-balanced ration

The Reward Process

Rewarding dogs with food treats is an art. Learning to do so correctly helps the dog focus on the exercises and
keeps everyone safe. To prevent the dog from lunging for the food, keep the already prepared treats in a little cup or plastic bag behind your back and keep one treat in the hand used to reward the dog. That hand can then either be
kept behind your back so that the dog does not stare at the food or can be moved to your eye so that you can teach
the dog to look happy and make eye contact with you. The food treat must be small so that the focus of the dog’s
attention is not a slab of food but rather your cues. A treat of the correct size can be closed in the palm of the hand by folding the fingers and will not be apparent when held between the thumb and forefingers. When presenting the dog with the treat, bring the hand, with a lightly closed fist, up quickly to the dog (do not startle the dog) and turn your wrist to open your hand.

When starting the program, let the dog smell and taste the reward so that it knows the anticipated reward for the
work. If the dog is too terrified to approach, you can place a small amount of the treat on the floor. Then ask the dog to “sit”; if the dog sits instantly, say “Good girl (boy)!” and instantly open your hand to give the dog the treat instantly while saying “stay.”

Getting the Dog’s Attention

If the dog does not sit instantly, call its name again. As soon as the dog looks at or attends to you, say “Sit.” If the dog will not look at you and pay attention, do not continue to say “Sit.” If you continue to give a command that you cannot reinforce, the dog learns to ignore that command. If necessary, use a whistle or make an unusual sound with your lips to get the dog’s attention. As soon as the dog looks at you, say “Sit.” Use a cheerful voice. Some people may have to soften or lower their voice almost to a whisper to get the dog to pay attention to them. Often this is because they have given all their previous commands to the dog by yelling. The dog has very successfully learned to ignore this.

If the dog is looking at you but not sitting, approach the dog to close the distance, raise the treat gently to your eyes,and request “sit.” Often just moving toward a dog helps the dog sit. Not only have you decreased the distance, but you appear taller and to be over the dog; such behaviors are used in canine communication to get the lower (in relative elevation) dog to obey the desires of the higher one. You can use these innate dog behaviors as long as you are careful. Never back up a dog that is growling. Never corner a fearful dog. Never continue to approach a dog that acts more aggressively the closer you come. Remember, the point of the program is to teach the dog to relax and look to you for the cues about the appropriateness of its behavior. The dog cannot do this if upset.