Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Training Tuesday: Update on the Relaxation Protocol and Other Foundation Tasks

Malcolm continues to "help" me do the Relaxation Protocol.

Despite the boringness of this whole relaxation thing, Maisy and I continue to plug away at it. Please note, dear readers, this should not be construed necessarily as “dedication” so much as “sheer stubbornness.” At any rate, I’m pleased with the progress we’re making. We’re also working on a few other tasks, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to update on those, as well.

The Relaxation Protocol
We’re doing well with the Relaxation Protocol. Although it’s still boring, we’ve been working on it for about a month now, which means it’s becoming more of a routine and less of a chore. Although I still don’t get it done every day, I manage most nights, and Maisy seems to enjoy it. If it starts to get late, she’ll whine and nudge at the travel crate, as though to remind me we haven’t done it yet. I must admit, this helps motivate me.

Last night, we did Day 5 for the first time. There is a definite pattern in our work- the first time we start a new “day,” she’s worried and a bit anxious. She won’t remain lying down, and she gets a bit frantic when she takes treats. However, I’ve noticed that we’ve needed to spend fewer sessions on each day before she relaxes for the duration of the exercise. While we had to spend seven sessions on Day 2, we did five sessions for Day 3, and only four sessions for Day 4. (We only needed to do Day 1 once, but that doesn’t really count as we’ve done that one a lot here and there over the past year.)

I repeat each day until Maisy seems calm, relaxed, and even a little bored. For Maisy, I’m looking for the following things: to remain lying down for the duration of the exercise, to roll over on to a hip instead of being in an “alert” down, to periodically rest her chin on the floor, to have sleepy or droopy eyes, to quit making eye contact with me, and to take the treats with a soft or “lazy” mouth. I find the eye contact to be an important indicator, as it lets me know that Maisy is switching from “working” mode to relaxation. Similarly, the way she takes treats tells me a lot; snatching the treats indicates higher levels of arousal.

Although I’m not sure yet, I think she’s beginning to figure out that even when the tasks change, she can still relax. It used to be that during the first session of a new day, she would remain anxious for the whole session, but yesterday, she seemed to calmer by the end. For example, one of the tasks for Day 5 is to walk to an entrance and touch the doorknob, an action which is done three times. Maisy found this unsettling, and every time she heard me touch it, she would stand up on her hind legs and peer out the top of her crate. The first time this happened, after I returned, she remained standing until I finally cued her to lie down twenty seconds later. The last time, though, she offered a down shortly after I returned.

Crate Duration
Another thing we’re working on is lying calmly in her crate for longer durations without the distractions of the relaxation protocol. I started out with a duration of five minutes, giving her a treat every 30 seconds. We slowly stretched out the length of time between treats, and got up to five full minutes with a treat only at the end! I was pretty excited about this, because that’s a long time lie still for a dog like Maisy.

Just like the Relaxation Protocol, she’s been needing fewer repetitions of each stage before we can increase the difficulty. We spent four sessions with a treat every 30 seconds, and another four sessions with a treat every 45 seconds. After that, though, I was able to spend only two sessions on the intervals of 60 seconds, 90 seconds, and two minutes, and she only needed one session each for the intervals of three minutes, four minutes and five minutes!

Last night, I increased the duration from five minutes to ten minutes. Since I made the duration longer, I reduced the length of time she needs to wait for a treat from five minutes back down to two, but I should be able to work up to five again quite quickly. Ultimately, I’m working towards one hour of calm crate time with a treat every five minutes.

“Poke” is my either awesome-or-crazy strategy to teach Maisy a new way to get my attention. I’m hoping she’ll learn to poke at me instead of lunging at another dog when she’s feeling stressed. It’s going well. I started out by transferring a hand target to my leg, then worked on it while I was sitting, standing and lying down. Once she was reliably poking my legs, I added the cue, and then started working in different rooms around the house. She’s poking on cue about 90% of the time, even when interspersed with other known cues like sit. Last night, we started working on poke outside. Although she was confused at first, she figured it out pretty quickly.

The last major thing we’ve been working on is reorienting. We’ve mostly worked on it while going through the fence gates in or out of our yard. The back gate is easier, and the reorienting is almost automatic there, although she’s a bit quicker going into the yard than when leaving it. The front gate is a bit harder because there was a bunny outside that gate one time a few months ago. Ever since that, she scans for the bunny every time we walk through. Still, she’s reorienting quicker every time, and last night she only looked for the bunny for three or four seconds before she turned back to me. I’m going to need to transfer it over to other locations soon (the car, the training center, etc.).

Overall, I’m very pleased with this focus on foundation work. Maisy is really doing a great job at learning to relax- no easy task! I’m hopeful that this is the piece we’ve been missing.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I'm glad things are going so well!!!! Pat yourself on the back for being determined and sticking with it!

Joanna said...

I appreciate everything you've been writing about the RP, because for a long time I was confused about how it really worked to generate relaxation. The way you write about it makes so much more sense than anything else I've read.

Crystal said...

I'm glad it helps, Joanna. I agree that everything I've read about the RP doesn't really explain how it works. Still not sure I understand it myself, but I can see that it's working.