• Kristen Renaud

Day Five - 30 Days of Dr. Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol

February 2, Day Five

Today, we finally came to a task that proved too much for Kirby. Day five tasks include walking to a door and touching a door knob. These tasks challenged Kirby in a way I had not seen before during this exercise. It required creative training solutions.

We train in the living room of the apartment since, which is the largest room and allows us space to move during the training. However, the front door or the backdoor to the patio are the only entrances which Kirby can see from the living room. This presented a challenge as Kirby is excited by both these doors. One is the portal for walks and adventures, the other leads directly to the place where squirrels and birds sit.

This meant that putting a hand on either of the doors excited Kirby. The first time I touched the front door she bounded up from her mat with the excitement that only the promise of a walk can bring. It was a big let down to be led back to the mat.

As proper training technique and the Relaxation Protocol both call for - when a dog cannot do the desired task you should not repeat that entire task to the point of frustrating you and the dog. Rather, you should break down the task into smaller tasks that allow for mini victories for you and the dog.

What if I asked you to go run a marathon? Would you bolt out the door and run 26.2 miles this minute? Probably not, and more power to you if you could right now. You would probably break that task down into smaller achievable segments before the marathon. You might start with slowly jogging a mile, then three miles, then finally after weeks of training you would get to your first long run. It would take many smaller victories before you were ready for the marathon.

Breaking down tasks for dog follows the same concept. Divide the training into steps you know your dog can achieve. Try the full task again only once the smaller wins have been consistently performed.

For Kirby, I broke the steps to touching a door knob down as follows:

  1. Walk towards the door and immediately return

  2. Walk towards the door and half bend my arm towards the door knob (note, I did not fully extend my arm)

  3. Walk towards the door and fully extend my arm towards but not touch the door knob

  4. Walk towards the door and brush the door knob with the my fingers

  5. Walk towards the door and touch the door knob with my full hand

It did not take long. It was perhaps a two minute detour from the exact tasks in the protocol. Breaking down steps ensures that dogs learn without getting over frustrated, and disengaging from the training session. Try it out with your dog the next time you have hit a plateau or problem during training.

Photo: Kirby enjoys a post training nap on her mat

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