Relaxation is an important skill for your dog to have. If they are not relaxed, they will not be able to focus on their training or the job at hand. When your dog is mentally in a relaxed state, their behaviors will reflect that state. Rewarding and marking their relaxed behavior will encourage them to remain relaxed and repeat the behavior. Once dogs learn how to relax, they are more motivated and focused on their handlers. If they are overly excited with the environment around them, they will be distracted and unmotivated to work or listen to you.
Practice makes perfect and this goes for relaxation training. The more you practice the better they will get at relaxing and the better you will get at presenting your dog with relaxing body language. Relaxation is not learned overnight, it takes time, persistence, and determination
The biofeedback program created by Dr. Karen Overall, coined The Protocol for Relaxation, conditions a relaxed response for dogs while they are presented with increasingly stressful stimuli. The protocol is comprised of daily activities that you are to perform while your dog either sits or lays on their relaxation mat. The activities that you will perform range from you standing in front of your dog to clapping while taking three steps backwards or running circles around your dog. This protocol teaches your dog to remain relaxed on their mat regardless of what craziness is going on around them and they will get rewarded for remaining relaxed. In addition, you can use your own body to help the dog relax. Remaining calm and speaking softly to them during the exercise will encourage them to start relaxing again if one of the activities gets them too worked up. The goal of the protocol is to desensitize your dog to stressful stimuli under controlled conditions to prepare them for stressful situations they will encounter out in the real world.
Relaxation becomes especially handy if you want to bring your dogs to new locations and places. For example, before starting the protocol, Odin was over excited every time we went over and wouldn’t listen as he was overly distracted by the new people, dogs and smells of my parents’ house. I have been working with Odin on the protocol and mat work daily and when we went over to my parents’ house earlier today he was better behaved. I laid out his mat and used his command for going and relaxing on his mat (“place”) and he laid relaxed in the living room while we watched the World Cup game.
Relaxation is an important skill to teach and reinforce. Once dogs learn how to relax, they are more motivated and focused on their handlers. Hopefully, the protocol (I provided the link below) can help get you started on nurturing your dogs natural relaxation responses.