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Dog Behaviour >>FEARFUL DOGS - TRANQUILITY TRAINING

Tranquility training, just like leadership training, is a part of almost every behaviour modification plan. These exercises are designed to teach the dog to remain relaxed in a variety of circumstances. They always start off in the environment where the dog is the most relaxed. Over time, the exercises progress to more and more distracting situations while being sure not to overwhelm the pet. While they need to be challenged, we have to progress in a manner that they don't become so fearful that learning is impeded.

So, if your dog was frightened to go outside in the yard, you would start these exercises in the house and repeated daily for one week. The next week you would try them near the exit door as long as that wasn’t too frightening for the dog. The next week after that you might do the exercises at the door with the door open for one week. So these exercises would be continued until the dog was happy and comfortable going and actually being outside. These exercises can be modified for almost any problem.

Some dogs are so fearful that they are simply unable to relax and to learn new behaviours. This is why a behaviour assessment might be needed. Also, if your dog doesn't have any basic training they will need to be taught the commands first! So contact me by email: ldmawer@hotmail.com if you need help.

These exercises are printed from a behavioural textbook with permission.

576 BLACKWELL’S FIVE-MINUTE VETERINARY CONSULT CLINICAL COMPANION

TRANQUILITY TRAINING EXERCISES


Listed below are guidelines for a series of daily training exercises, taking less than 10 minutes to complete. These are the foundation work for later desensitization and counterconditioning exercises. It may be more successful to start with the dog on leash and head collar, then progress to off-leash training on the second rotation through the exercises. If the dog’s problematic behaviors only occur outside the home, do all the tranquility training on leash. If a dog routinely gets bored, distracted, agitated, or distressed during these exercises, they can be broken down into two 5-minute sessions. The person with the most control over the pet should begin the training first.

  • Find a quiet place in your home for initial training.
  • In some cases, you may want to use a small rug or bed as a location to train your pet to settle and relax.
    • Using a rug or bed will allow you to take this item to other locations where your pet may need to be calm. Naturally if the problem occurs outdoors, this is not necessary.
    • Having a reliable “go to X” command is very helpful for a wide range of undesirable behaviors ranging from obnoxious greeting behaviors to aggression.
    • This can be used in separation anxiety exercises for independence training and teaching a safe place to remain when alone.
  • In all of the exercises, the dog has to do a simple command (sit or down) and then remain in that position and in a tranquil state to gain the reward.
  • You may want to add in a key phrase like “relax” or “easy” to teach the dog to associate relaxation with sit/down and stay.
    • The goal is for the pet to be relaxed and calm.
    • Relaxation is measured by watching the facial expressions and body postures of your pet; ears should be relaxed and the body soft and loose.
    • You also want slow and relaxed respirations.
  • As you progress through the exercises, the handler will start to engage in mild distractions during the command phase.
  • Remember that the handler throughout the exercise should give the dog verbal direction. The distractions will become greater as the training progresses.
  • Noncompliance is not rewarded. Just turn away, take a short (e.g., 30-second) break, and adjust the exercise to increase chances of success then try again.
  • Between each exercise, the dog should break the sit, get up and move, and sit again. To get this to happen, the handler can move to another spot in the room and call the dog to them for the next exercise.
  • The first round of these exercises should be done inside the house with minimal household distractions; other dogs should be confined elsewhere, it should be quiet, etc.
  • The second round can be in slightly more distracting circumstances such as in a secure yard.
  • Once the dog has successfully completed these exercises in at least two different locations, you can progress to desensitization and counterconditioning to the trigger stimuli.

Example Training Day

Day One

1. Sit
2. Sit, watch you for 2 seconds
3. Sit, watch you for 5 seconds
4. Release for a rest
5. Go to spot, sit
6. Sit, watch you for 3 seconds
7. Sit, watch you while you take one step backwards and return
8. Release for a rest
9. Go to spot, sit, stay for 3 seconds
10. Sit, watch you while you raise your free arm to chest level and return it to your side again
11. Go to spot, sit, watch you for 10 seconds
12. Sit while you walk one step to the right and return
13. Go to spot, sit while you walk two steps backward and return
14. Sit, watch you for 5 seconds
15. Go to spot, sit while you walk three steps backward and return
16. Sit, watch you for 5 seconds

Day Two

1. Repeat steps 1–16, varying the time the pet remains in place from 3 to 10 seconds
2. Vary the direction of movement; go left then back, swivel and turn away one step and return, or turn in a circle or march in place
3. Vary the distraction, perhaps clapping your hands softly two to three times

Subsequent Days

1. For the remainder of the first week, continue to vary the amount of time the pet remains stationary in each step.
2. Continue to vary the distractions, include jumping jacks, knocking on furniture, talking, jogging in place, turning your back on the dog, etc.
3. After a week, return to Day One and repeat in a different location.
4. Repeat with different family members handling the pet. This handout may be reproduced without written permission.

This handout may be reproduced without written permission.
Authors Drs. Horwitz and Neilson

If you have any questions or comments on this article – click here (go to my email)

Thanks for your interest.

Dr. Liana Mawer

Updated July 2013