Relaxation Protocol

Yes, you can actually train a dog to relax!


Click here for a print version of the protocol. The protocol starts on page 5.

Here is an example of how the protocol works.

  • Starting on a mat or bed will simultaneously build love for the bed.  It’s not essential, but can be helpful.
  • The dog can start in a sit or a down.  The goal here is to see increasing relaxation.  So if the dog starts in a sit, you will eventually want to see the dog lie down, and then relax in the down.
  • If the dog “breaks” (either goes from a down to a sit, or a sit to standing up), stop the protocol.  
    • If you’ve gotten halfway through the day, end the session and start again the next day repeating the same day.  Keep repeating the day until you can get all the way through it.
    • If you only got through a few steps,  then stop, take a 5-minute break and start again.
  • If you find your dog gets “stuck” on the same thing, make that thing easier so you can get through the day.  So if 10 steps is too much, do it with 8 steps one day, repeat the day again, with 9 steps, and then again with 10 steps (so it would take 3 days to get through that “day’s” sessions.  If you can’t find something your dog can do, videotape it and get in touch with us with further instructions.
  • It’s okay if you have to repeat a day several times.  The goal here is not to get through all the days of the protocol, but to teach your dog that weird things can go on around your dog and they don’t have to do anything about it.

How the Relaxation Protocol Works

This protocol is a set of exercises where you systematically teach your dog to relax in a sit or a down, or on a mat and stay calm even when there are “weird” things happening around them. Using food and quiet praise the dog learns to associate good things with different stimuli.

It’s boring.  But really works.  Work at your dog’s pace . . . although the protocol is broken down into 15 days, some dogs might take 30 or 40 days or more to get through the protocol successfully.  First time I did this with my dog Ringo, it took 46 days!  (He lived tethered outside for 4 ½ years, and was crazy hypervigilant.

Feel free to email with questions about this.  It’s always easiest if you can take a video of what you are doing so I can help coach if you are running into problems.

A few points:

  • This is not a stay exercise, it’s about relaxing.  A sit or a down is fine, and if your starts in a sit and slides into a down, great!  If your dog further relaxes by rolling onto his hip, even better.
  • Do not use a clicker for this.
  • Deliver treats calmly.  If your dog is too excited about the food, then use a lower value treat (something that’s not as exciting).  Most dogs do well with using their mealtime kibble for this exercise.