What is the Relaxation Protocol?
Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol is a collection of task lists that teach your dog to “sit and stay while relaxing in a variety of circumstances.” You can print it out by clicking the PDF document below.
Check out my favorite example of how it's done here.
About the Protocol
The Relaxation Protocol by Dr. Karen Overall is the best method I have found for gradually teaching your dog to maintain control in the presence of distractions. It does all the hard work of setting up a plan of graduated distractions and all you need to do is follow along.
On “Day 1” you will be working on very simple things like 10 second stays and moving slightly forward, back and side to side while your dog stays in a sit or a down position. By “Day 15” your dog will be holding that same, calm stay while you run around and ring the doorbell.
While the program is laid out as “Days” you may have to work on a “Day” for several days or even weeks before your dog can perform all the tasks perfectly. You won’t move on to the next day’s task list until your dog has accomplished the current task list perfectly. When you’ve accomplished that, you can either move on to the next task list, or you can continue to work on the same one in a different location. Every time you change location you will want to start from Day One.
What you will need
Small, tasty treats: Good enough that your dog wants to work for them, but not so good that she loses her mind
A location: Choose one location to begin and stick with that location until you are ready to move on as described above.
The task lists.(see PDF) You can use the sheets and just look at them as you go, or you can use the audio files on the Sweet Wag website you guide you through.
How it works
Each day has a list of tasks. These can be done in a sit or a down position – whatever is easier for your dog. In general, calm dogs do well in the sit and more excitable dogs do better in the down. Whatever position they start in, they will need to hold that position the entire time.
If your dog is successful for a particular task, she gets a small reward. The goal is for her to eat the reward without getting out of position. If your dog does not complete the task, try the task again but make it slightly easier. For example, if the task was a step to the right and return, you can try just leaning right. Make a note in your head that you will need to repeat the task list again looking for improvement every time.
Things to Remember
This is not an obedience exercise. You can and should talk to your dog calmly throughout the task list. Use a calm, quiet voice. You don’t want to sound stern or overly excited. Imagine you are leading your dog through a quiet meditation.
Give a treat for each task completed perfectly. Do not reward the dog if the dog doesn’t complete the task, and reward for EACH task, not just at the end of the entire list.
Work in the same location until the dog has completed the entire list perfectly. Any time you change location you will begin with the Day One task list.
Keep it relaxing. If your dog appears stressed, cut the task list into sections and work just a little at a time. It’s not how quickly you move through the protocol; it’s about achieving each task list perfectly no matter how many days or weeks it takes.