Last month we shared Luke’s new trick of picking up his toys, and from there I thought I’d possibly go back to trying the “roll over” trick again, which we didn’t have luck with before. We didn’t have luck with it again. I can get him as far as his side but if he rolls onto his back and then potentially over, he kind of freaks out; even though he is frequently seen on his back out in the yard when playing with toys! I’ve encouraged him to roll over more outdoors but he really only will do it spontaneously when playing. I didn’t have any other tricks up my sleeve, so to speak, and I wasn’t really sure where we were going from there.
When my husband’s brother was planning a visit, we were reminded that we really need to work on Luke’s stranger issues. The last time a friend had visited, who he had met and liked one other time, he just did not accept her. He had also escalated from avoiding people to sometimes going towards them barking, and even nipped at a hand once or twice. Even though he never bit, we knew he was definitely getting worse, not better, and we really needed to work on this. The things we tried with treats and such when she was here just did not work, and I now have to keep him on a leash so I can control his movements.
Tricks have been used to try to build his confidence, but we do need more. When my sister visited and he got to show off his picking up toys trick, I could tell he was thrilled. My one sister is the only other person in the world he loves other than my hubby and I. We are private people and don’t have a lot of company, which makes it even harder to continue to work on this.
I recently posted that Luke was going to be “home schooled”, in that his previous trainer would be coming to our house to work on these issues. Unfortunately, the trainer we worked with before fell through, and we were left with the need to find another trainer. I’d been reading a lot lately about the “Relaxation Protocol” and had been thinking of trying it; I already had it printed out. Along with some advice and ideas from other bloggers who also have reactive dogs, we decided to try some new things ourselves for a while, and of course we are keeping open the option of finding another trainer if needed.
Along with the protocol, I am also reading a book that was recommended (thank you Jody), The Language of Dogs, by Justin Silver. The book has already given me some tips that are helping with the protocol.
What is the Relaxation Protocol?
It is a program created by Dr. Karen Overall, and is considered a foundation for other behavior modification programs. The purpose is to teach a dog to sit (or lie down) and stay while relaxing in a variety of circumstances. The goals are to teach the dog to relax, defer to you, and enjoy earning rewards for appropriate behavior. The focus is to teach the dog to rely on you for cues so it can learn to act appropriately in different situations. For us, the first goal would be to have Luke listen to us and remain in one place when strangers come to the house, instead of jumping up and barking and running towards them. We did try something similar to this before, but we moved too fast and this protocol is taking us all the way back to the beginning and slowing things way down.
So, the dog stays sitting or lying down while you do nothing for several seconds, or do different distracting things around them. Most people use a mat that they could then take other places with them. That’s what we’re doing, since he was already trained to go to his bed anyway. Since we’ve already worked with Luke on “stay” we had the first step out of the way, as your dog should be able to sit perfectly still for 15 seconds without moving before starting this. If nothing else comes out of this, we are at least reinforcing a very good stay!
Each task is 5-30 seconds long, with each day’s group of tasks taking 10-20 minutes (you can break it down if need be). If you do it daily, and are able to progress each day (you can’t progress until they’ve done it all!), it takes two weeks to complete the first phase. If you are interested in the details or want to try this, click here for the complete instructions.
We ran into our first issue on Day 1, when you have to clap your hands. Luke did fine sitting still but when I clapped he always jumped up! I had my hubby work with me when he came home that day, and what we ultimately figured out was that I clap when Luke and I are training together, and he sees that as a signal that we’re going to do something fun! So I started slapping my hands on my thighs instead of clapping and that solved that issue.
We have not been doing this daily, we take a break here and there, and even though there have been some bumps along the way (there have been times Luke just was not in the mood), we have made it to Day 10! I had to learn to make it more fun by keeping an upbeat voice. I praise with my words as well as with treats. We always end on a happy note, doing High 5’s, even if we had to cut a session short. I’ve also been working with him on “fetch” in the house, so we do some of that at the end which is fun for him.
Honestly, the protocol is kind of tedious and boring, and I have to not let my feelings about that show through! We’re already breaking the rules, because my hubby is not doing it as much as I am, which he should be. He just doesn’t have the patience that I do. Once we get through the protocol once, we are supposed to move to a different location, and do it all over again, and then do it with intermittent treating. We’ll see how it goes. That’s why I don’t put all of our “eggs in one basket” and I am reading the book as well which will hopefully give us some other ways to work on things as well.
I’m combining things I’m learning from the book, such as keeping training light and “fluffy”; and that not every dog is exactly the same and you can revise things to suit your own dog, with the protocol. I remember when I went to a support group at one point in my life, one of their mantras was “take what you like and leave the rest.” I think that applies to many things in life and dog training as well. There are no absolutes and not every technique works with every dog. An open mind is needed. Truthfully, I’m not sure who’s getting schooled more here…me or him…since I’m the one with my nose to the books!
We’ll also continue with Luke’s fetch training, where I am teaching him to “get the ball”, bring it “here”, and then “give it”. I want us to have something fun to work on as well (and hope he will play fetch instead of keep away outside some day), and we’ll manage things when company comes until we’ve worked up to a point where he is ready to interact with people more. As always, we’ll never stop trying and hoping that more people will get to physically meet the sweet boy that we know and love.
We are joining the Positive Pet Reinforcement hop this week. It begins on the first Monday of every month and runs all week long. The hop is hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier, and Rubicon Days. Please visit them as well as other blogs through the links below for more positive pet training tips.