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Relaxation Protocol for Dogs: How to Help a Reactive Dog | Pupford

December 6th, 2023

Filed under Training

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Before we dive into the relaxation protocol for dogs, a quick question. 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 reactive dog – one easily aroused by stimuli. It can present as barking, chasing, becoming stressed, or hyperactivity.

Dogs who have issues with reactivity, 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 help your dog relax?

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 Dr. Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol, why we recommend it, and how to use it to help your dog unwind.


help your dog to relax to avoid hyperactivity

First, let’s take a step back and talk about why we want our dogs to relax in the first place.

Sure, decreasing braking, leash pulling, 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.

Related Reading: Leash Reactive Dog Training

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 essential 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:

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 various distractions they may encounter.

🐶 Need extra help getting your dog to relax? Check out the effective Calming Supplement. Shop here!


relaxation protocol for reactive dogs

Dr. Overall’s 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 here.

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.


counterconditioning is a helpful tool for helping reactive dogs

Karen Overall’s protocol is a type of counterconditioning that, when followed with consistency, can be a really effective tool for dogs of different ages and reactivity levels.

Here’s why you should consider using this relaxation protocol for your dog:

  • 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 positive reinforcement training 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.

🐶 Need extra help getting your dog to relax? Check out the effective Calming Supplement. Shop here!


reactive dog learning how to relax

If you’re considering using this strategy with your dog, maximize your success with the following tips:

  1. Master the basics first. This program relies heavily on your dog being able to hold a “sit,” “down,” and “stay” with distractions, so be sure your dog is strong in this area first.
  2. Designate a “place” for your dog so they have a designated spot (crate, bed, mat, etc.) that they can associate with relaxation.
  3. 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.
  4. Select treats carefully. Choose high-value training treats to reward your dog that are small, enticing, and high in protein – high protein content can even help your dog relax in itself!
  5. 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 clicker or marker word (“yes,” for example) for quick praise.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 dog body language and if your dog is showing any signs of stress, end the training session.
  8. 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.


brown puppy laying on carpet after practicing the relaxation protocol for dogs | Pupford

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!

And if you're looking for a little extra bit of help getting your pup to relax, be sure to check out our Calming Supplement loved by thousands of pup parents. Shop the Calming Supplement here!

🐶 Need extra help getting your dog to relax? Check out the effective Calming Supplement. Shop here!


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