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.
Lara Elizabeth says
The Relaxation Protocol was so helpful for Ruby although we never did get all the way through. I must confess I sort of abandoned it after adopting Boca. It would be interesting to try with her – I think it’s fascinating to find what parts are challenging for the dog. Ruby at first couldn’t sit still for the counting out loud!
I just love that last picture of Luke – the epitome of a happy dog.
Thanks, he is our happy boy!
I just found out on Day 10 what part is challenging for Luke…the knocking. The weird thing is that he would stay when I knocked lightly, but when I came back and gave him his treat, he’d jump up after that! It’s almost like he was thinking “I’ll stay here to get the treat, but then I’m going to see what that noise was!” LOL. We’ll keep at it though, after taking a day off. 🙂
Wow, you’ve already gotten to Day 10! I’m so impressed! So many dogs can benefit from learning to chill out and relax.
Have you ever looked at Control Unleashed? Puppy Ping Pong would be great for Luke–it sounds like he needs to not be rushed into being close to people when you countercondition his fear of strangers, and that game is perfect for that. I bet that the book would give you lots of other great ideas, too.
Thanks! We’ve become a little stalled on Day 10 though! So we’re taking a day off to “regroup” – LOL.
I had not heard of Control Unleashed but I will add it to my list right now – thank you! I think games Could be perfect for him, and would love to give that a try.
My hubby is impatient too, (I see a reoccurring theme from the women here) LOL I may have to check some of this out myself as Miss Delilah needs to learn to relax. It’s not that she’s afraid of people, but more like she’s always on alert so she never really rests.
Keep up the good work, and when Hubby begins to see Luke reacting better, he’ll find some more patience. 😉
We’ll hope for that! 🙂
I think the protocol can be good for a lot of dogs even if they’re not reactive in the way Luke is. I hope to try it with Cricket too. She’s fine with people, but she gets very wound up when they first arrive…and Luke feeds off of her craziness, which I know doesn’t help him.
Sand Spring Chesapeakes says
I’ve never heard of that protocol, good job with Luke’s training and keep up the good work.
Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom says
OMD! Luke sounds so much like Ducky that it’s almost scary. And your hubby sounds like mine, although in your hubby’s defense he may be more patient than mine. And you and I think pretty much alike.
We sure seem to have a lot in common, Sue, and I guess Luke and Ducky do too! I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be more impatient than my hubby…LOL.
Ann Staub says
Luke’s stranger behavior sounds similar to Shiner’s. I’ll have to check this relaxation stuff out. We did have a “stranger” over a few weeks ago. It’s a person who she used to know and be friends with years ago, but has obviously forgotten them. I wonder if this would work with the cat too.
It seems weird to me that dogs forget people, when they can seem to have such amazing memories in other ways. I’m not sure about it working with cats, but anything is worth a try I always say!
Congratulations on working through the Relaxation Protocol. I think it’s such a good idea… and a lot of work! Luke picking up his toys for your sister reminds me of Isis and her soccer ball. She reacted once to my mom… just barked, but it was scary. I took them both out back and had my mom kick the soccer ball for her. That smoothed things over.
Dogs that love balls are easier to distract I think. Our beagle Cricket has had issues with some people…but if anyone will throw her ball for her, all fear is forgotten!
Hailey and Zaphod says
That pose is the one good idea we got from our dog behaviourist. Our problem is, Hailey has learned to sit like that and not to be relaxed!
Tenacious Little Terrier says
We did the relaxation protocol too. I think we made it up to day seven. I need to go back to it at some point. Mr. N loves people but foster pup didn’t like strangers at all. We had strangers throw him food a lot and we let him ignore people until he was comfortable. Thanks for joining the hop!
We’re going to try throwing some food a little more too, and keep up the ignoring. Honestly, I think we just don’t have enough patience, it takes so much time to get them comfortable….and getting people to understand that can be challenging too!
M. K. Clinton says
We are lucky that both boys enjoy people and in most cases, other dogs. Bentley is not a fan of children, but he has not been around many in his life. You are so right about the training, a combination fo techniques is best for us too
It’s tough to expose dogs to everything they need to be exposed to. When you’re older like us you just don’t have a lot of kids around! Luke did meet one of our grandsons when he was a puppy, but they live so far away by the next time he saw him he was totally freaked out by him. My stepson was not very understanding which didn’t help matters. Oh well….we’ll keep at it anyway and hope it’s better next time.
Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady says
Luke reminds me SO much of Koda!!!! I am going to look into this as well. He is not the best behaved boy when people come over either.
ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
I think Luke and Koda do have a lot in common. We’ll have to share tips if we hit on anything that works!
Two French Bulldogs says
Mom said I am back to training 101. Do you believe it. Thanks for the tips
Edward (& Lily)
It IS back to school time, Edward! 🙂
Sounds like an interesting technique. We all love people, any people, anywhere. Some of us only have issues with dogs. We are working on it, but it is not easy.
We’ve never had a dog who didn’t love people, though Cricket had a spell where tall strange men bothered her. But she got over it. So it’s just a whole new thing and so unusual to us. Yeah, dogs are another whole story for Luke too….but I can only handle one issue at a time! I hope you find some things that work for you.
easy rider says
that’s 100% Luke n’ Roll buddy! we tried the trick with the clapping hands too… sadly my mother ruined the idea as she started to clap with her hands when Easy started mischief…. now I make a weird noise when I want easy’s attention… it sounds odd but it’s unique lol
Lauren Miller says
Luke is so cute! <3 Poor guy! Stranger issues are the worst. I totally relate, Phoenix is scared of people and lately Zoe has gotten really shy, too. That's awesome you're doing the Relaxation Protocols! I hear you on it being tedious and boring. I hope it helps him, though!
Thank you! We’re going to keep at it, it will be worth the tedium if we get results, right?
2 Brown Dawgs says
I also think Luke still needs to mentally mature. As you work through these things and do all your different training, you may find that one day it all clicks. I was pretty amazed that when a delivery guy came to the door with a large package I had to sign for, I was able to put Freighter in Thunder’s crate which was handy. I did not want to have to watch Freighter and try to manage the package. Despite being super excited about the guy at the door, Freighter went in the crate right away. We have never trained that, but I think it is all his training together and maturity. I bet you will see it with Luke too. I also think training gives confidence and that is the best part for a reactive dog. LOL on the hand clapping. I do that too to show excitement to the dogs.
Thank you so much for that encouragement! I wonder too…Luke always loved his crate but when he outgrew the one we had we stopped using it. I wonder if that might be a good tool for him too, giving him a bit more security then just being on his bed. It was also suggested to me it could be a place to put him when company comes and we can’t be watching him the whole time…but he could still watch everyone. At other times, we’ve put him in a separate room with a gate but he couldn’t see everyone from there.
We’re going to keep up the training and keep working on building his confidence, and will hope we see that click one day!
2 Brown Dawgs says
We still use our crates. If we have people coming over to work on the house and such, the dogs go right in their crates. I do not need to watch the dogs and the workers too…lol. The dogs do not seem to care too much. Crates can be very helpful.