More on the Relaxation Protocol

A lot of you expressed the same feeling when I started talking about the Relaxation Protocol–“I want to do this/started this, but I can’t get started/keep up with it.”

So I thought I would talk a little about the best solution I came up with the manage the process. Anyone who’s successfully done it, please post in with your good ideas for how you managed.

The real problem with the relaxation protocol is that it is insanely tedious. Give the dog a cookie, wait five seconds, give the dog a cookie, take one step, give the dog a cookie, take one step in the other direction. You keep this up for stretches longer than five minutes at a time, by the time you’re a week or so in.

Not only is this tedious, it’s hard to keep up with. Unless you have a photographic memory, there’s no way to remember more than a step or two at a time. You have to manage the dog on the mat, the cookies, and the instructions. What’s worse, because the instructions for a given day might be 30 lines long, it’s very easy to lose your place.

One solution for this is to get Roxanne Hawn’s audio files, which I didn’t try.

What I learned to do was this:
1) Open the protocol file on my laptop
2) Copy the tasks for today into a new file
3) Zoom up so they’re big enough to read
4) sit the laptop on a low table, close enough to read but far enough to be out of the way
5) Read the new task as I get Silas’s cookie, and move the cursor down to be next to the next task.

It takes a few seconds to set up, but it’s much easier than juggling the paper copy.

Also, let go of being able to do everything exactly like it’s written. That’s actually why I gave up last year when we were starting this–in my small, very rectangular townhouse, I just don’t have room to walk ten steps away from the mat in three different directions. You need to be able to disappear from your dog’s sight, and you need to be able to ring your doorbell. Pick a place with that in mind, and then just do the best you can about the required steps.

If all that is too much for you, there’s still a lot of useful stuff to be done with a mat. Karen Pryor has a great article about it here. (Your dog should probably be that proficient with the mat before you start the protocol anyway.) My Rubicon Days also has a good description of how basic mat training can be just-plain-handy around the house.

Happy relaxing!

11 thoughts on “More on the Relaxation Protocol

  1. Hey, thanks so much for the link! Juggling the instructions is one of my challenges, too, and becomes its own distraction for Ruby when I turn the page or pick it up and set it down. I love your laptop idea. I, too, will have to get creative as we get further into it as I will soon run out of space for steps. I also noticed on a later day that it says “walk quickly backward while clapping” but doesn’t specify how long or how many steps. Ultimately I don’t think it really matters – you could easily make up your own tasks as long as they were varied in intensity and duration.

    I find that both myself and Ruby need to be in the right head-space to be effective. I can tell when she is just too wound up to settle in to it, or if I am too distracted or rushed to tackle a day.


    1. For something so specific, there are some really ambiguous instructions. One of them says something like “while you bend down and touch your toes for ten seconds.” Does that mean I touch my toes once? Or go up and down for ten seconds?

      There’s also one that instructs you to open the door while you clap your hands. With that third hand I can extend from my chest, maybe?


  2. “Go lie down” is one of the most valuable things I taught Kaya when she was young. She used to tremble in place and whine a lot but she stayed put. Now she knows it just means find somewhere to settle down and stay calm. The only time it’s challenging is when we have people over. So this is exactly when we should practice but of course I am distracted by making sure I’m paying attention to my visitors also:/


    1. That kind of thing is hard. I wonder if you could set it up deliberately, in advance. “Hey, let’s stop by my house on the way to dinner–I’m doing some dog training.” Depends on your friends not thinking that’s crazy, of course.


      1. Good idea. I think that is the problem. My fam and friends think I’m dog crazy enough so when they’re at my house I try to pretend I’m not so obsessed. Haha. I do have a couple friends that talk so much they don’t seem to notice if you’re responding so they are perfect to practice with:)


  3. I think trying to do things perfectly is why many people quit training. Of course if you do it for any length of time, you realize that you have to improvise at times. Glad you found a way to make it work.


  4. I really like the protocol so far! We are on day 11. Ive learned to juggle the instructions (i printed them.put and place them on a table next to me) and i have a treat bag that clips on to my pants for the treats. My dogs do well with most things, but really struged with me tinging the doorbell and knocking on the front door. Did you have difficulty with this one? We’ll have to do it again tomorrow.


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