August 2020 Training Challenge: Work on a Relaxation Protocol or Mat Work

This month’s training challenge is dedicated to the “Calming Enrichment” chapter of our book Canine Enrichment for the Real World and is one of my favorite exercises for clients:

Work on a relaxation protocol or mat work

This exercise is something that most pets can benefit from. I incorporate it into flight training, building a sense of security, teaching pets to be calm, and teaching them to hang out in a particular location. Almost all of my clients working through anxiety and aggression behavior modification plans get this exercise!

Oso demonstrating mat work on a pillow case.

Different options:

There are several different types of relaxation protocols and ways to do mat work. Even though some of the protocols don’t require performing them on a mat (or bed, blanket, towel, etc.), I still like to include one. Options include:

  • Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol
    • This is my favorite for so many reasons: the frequency of treating is higher than most people do on their own which lends itself to it working faster and more consistently & it tells you exactly what to do so there’s less room for error as long as you’re following the instructions. 
    • Emily has further developed this protocol and put a special agency twist on it which we’re finding makes it even more effective! She’ll be teaching a course on Pet Harmony’s version of this protocol for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Stay tuned for more info on that upcoming course.
  • Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol (this link contains the first half of this protocol; the full protocol is available for sale here.)
    • I like this one for pets and people who need less rigidity than Dr. Overall’s RP and who also have some training prowess under their belt. It can sometimes be too loosey goosey for someone newer to training. 
  • Mat work
    • Similar to the Really Real Relaxation Protocol, but I would say even more loosely structured when it comes to relaxation as our goal. Some people start with this to teach their pet to go to a mat and then switch to one of the above protocols. 

There are other options out there but these three are my go-to exercises. No matter which option you choose, start working on this in just one location before taking it on the road. 

Now what?

  • Choose an exercise that you’d like to work on. 
  • Choose a mat, bed, blanket, towel, rug, or whatever works for you and your pet! We want to pair this mat with relaxation. I like bath mats quite a bit; the rubber backing helps it to not slide when you’re practicing. 
  • Start practicing! Remember that the goal is relaxation– not stay. I advise against using a “stay” cue and having that be the primary criterion. It’s okay if they’re not perfect at this yet! 
  • Send us your pics and videos of your pet working on the August training challenge! Email us at [email protected] or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining.

Happy training!