How to Help a Reactive Dog Relax | Pupford
May 9th, 2023
Filed under Training
Do any of the following remind you of your dog?
- Gets spooked by almost anything
- So. Much. Barking
- Chases alllllll the animals in the yard
- Just can’t seem to chill out
If so, you may have a – one that’s easily aroused by stimuli. It can present as barking, chasing, becoming stressed, or hyperactivity.
Dogs who have issues with , fear, and overexcitement can have a hard time regulating themselves. In other words, they need help chilling out.
Did you know there’s actually a protocol you can follow to ? It’s called – shockingly – a relaxation protocol, and it can help your dog quiet their brain alongside their body even if there is a lot going on.
Today we’re going to focus on veterinary behaviorist ’s relaxation protocol, why we recommend it, and how to use it to help your dog unwind.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOUR DOG TO LEARN TO RELAX?
First, let’s take a step back and talk about why we want our dogs to relax in the first place.
Sure, decreasing braking, , and other unwanted behaviors is beneficial for you and your dog. That’s all well and good – but let’s take it one step further.
Teaching your dog to relax helps them thrive in a variety of environments. Whether you’re trying a new dog-friendly restaurant, hiking a trail while on vacation, or enjoying a backyard BBQ with family and friends, it’s important to be confident that your dog can handle different types and intensities of stimuli.
To get into specifics, teaching your dog to relax can address and reduce:
- Lack of focus and
- Inability to get their attention on you
If your dog needs help in any of these areas, a relaxation protocol can definitely help. But even if they don’t, the protocol is still beneficial since it can prepare your dog for a variety of distractions they may encounter.
WHAT IS KAREN'S OVERALL RELAXATION PROTOCOL?
is a series of task lists designed to teach your dog how to relax and focus on you in a variety of situations. It’s broken down into 15 days that gradually build in difficulty.
For example, Day 1 starts off with:
- Down for 5 seconds
- Down for 10 seconds
- Down while you take 1 step back and return
- Down while you take 2 steps back and return
And so on.
Once you get towards the end of the program, tasks will look like:
- Down for 5 seconds while you clap your hands and hum
- Down while you run around the dog
- Down while you walk back and forth to the door
- Down while you leave the room, quickly knock or ring the doorbell, and return
To see everything in between, view the full protocol .
With each task, you will reward your dog for ignoring your distraction (clapping hands, doorbell, etc.) and keeping their focus on you.
It’s also recommended to practice each list in at least two locations, to maximize your dog’s exposure and get them used to applying their skills in different places. Also, your dog may have to go through the task list on a leash in order to have success and that’s okay – just repeat the list without a leash as the next step.
WHAT MAKES THIS PROTOCOL EFFECTIVE?
Karen Overall’s protocol is a type of that, when followed with consistency, can be a really effective tool for dogs of different ages and reactivity levels.
- It provides a framework that is applicable to dogs at any starting point
- It gradually builds up to slowly increase difficulty, setting your dog up for more wins
- It’s based on which results in better outcomes
- It strengthens the bond between you and your dog because it’s based on repetition and frequent rewards
This program was designed for your dog to learn without becoming overwhelmed or stressed, while still gaining exposure to a variety of stimuli.
While it does require a lot of time and practice, this protocol is highly effective and even beneficial for your dog.
TIPS FOR USING KAREN'S OVERALL RELAXATION PROTOCOL
If you’re considering using this strategy with your dog, maximize your success with the following tips:
- Master the first. This program relies heavily on your dog being able to hold a “,” “down,” and “” with distractions, so be sure your dog is strong in this area first.
- Designate a “” for your dog so they have a designated spot (crate, bed, mat, etc.) that they can associate with relaxation.
- Go at the right pace for your dog. There are a LOT of steps in this protocol, so it can be tempting to breeze through it. But not every dog works at the same pace, and that’s okay. Your dog may grasp certain tasks more quickly than others, so the key is to follow your dog’s lead in terms of pacing.
- Select treats carefully. Choose to reward your dog that are small, enticing, and high in protein – high protein content can even help your dog relax in itself!
- Use a marker alongside treats. Since many of the tasks are duration-based, you’ll want to be quick and precise with rewards. Use a or marker word (“yes,” for example) for quick praise.
- Make sure YOU relax. Dogs can pick up on our energy so if you are frustrated, rushing through training, or overall not relaxed, your dog can follow suit. Even if a training session isn’t going according to plan, hold a positive tone of voice and celebrate any possible win.
- Know when your dog is stressed. Given the nature of this training program, your dog may end up overwhelmed or stressed by the stimuli. Learn and if your dog is showing any , end the training session.
- Don’t skip parts. Yes, this protocol has many, many steps. But it’s designed that way, with each one being an important part. Skipping parts can cause the pace to become too quick and your dog may lose progress.
With these tools and tips in mind, you can get started on Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol with the confidence that your dog will make progress. Remember, slow and steady wins the race in all things dog training, but especially for a program like this.
For pup parents who have utilized this program with their dogs, what was your experience like? What parts did you find the most challenging? Share your stories in the comments!