#5: Creating a Restful
Environment for Our Animals

[00:00:00] Allie: The goal is for an animal to be able to complete their own stress response cycle. They need to be able to self-regulate their own stress levels. It’s not about stay. It’s not about going to a place. It’s about self-regulation.

Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:33] Emily: and I’m Emily Strong….

[00:00:34] Allie: and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. Last week we heard from Dr. Chris Pachel and one of the topics we discussed was how important relaxation is.

This week, we are going to dive further into relaxation and talk about implementing this often-undervalued category of enrichment with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about the difference between shutdown and relaxation, why stay is not relevant to your relaxation protocol, and a little Pom with real big feels.

I think this is one of my favorite topics. How about you?

[00:01:29] Emily: Yes. Same.

[00:01:30] Allie: I feel like I say that about most of the topics, but whatever, anyhow, relaxation. This is one of the facets of enrichment that we felt deserved its own category when we were talking about the pet world, because it’s so often overlooked and undervalued.

We hear that old adage of a “tired dog is a happy dog,” and so folks think that that means exercising the bejesus out of their pets as the answer. In reality. A lot of times when pets are struggling with relaxing it’s because they’ve never been taught that skill. So, exercising the bejesus out of them while it might seem like it might be working in the short term, doesn’t teach that skill, and so we often see folks then having an issue down the road, where they can’t exercise their pets enough, they created an athlete that they can’t keep up with, and the pet still doesn’t know how to relax.

[00:02:20] Emily: Yeah, I think this is one of the saddest things to me actually about the pet world, because you see people who are so committed to their dogs, that they want to do anything to make them happy, and they end up running themselves ragged, and they just end up with an animal who needs even more interaction instead of less. So, for sure, this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart.

[00:02:43] Allie: And that’s a great point that it’s done with the most love in their heart but it’s just not as effective at getting that relaxation. And one of the things that I hear from my clients, I don’t know if, if you hear this to Emily, but one of the things that I see more than hear, is when I’m talking about, “We need to teach them how to relax” there’s a little bit of kind of confusion on their faces, as if they were thinking, “But they sleep, so I don’t like they do relax. I don’t get it.”

[00:03:15] Emily: Yeah.

[00:03:15] Allie: And you see the same thing?

[00:03:17] Emily: Yeah. I mean, people have even said to me, “I don’t think that’s the problem. My dog sleeps fine at night.”

[00:03:24] Allie: Right. And different skills sleeping because you are exhausted, is not that the same thing as being able to relax. And so, one of the examples that I give to my clients is, think about meditation. For people who have tried meditation, and I would say that’s probably like a lot of people in our country at this point, because it’s, you know, there’s been hype, there has been stuff about meditation and…

[00:03:51] Emily: Yeah.

[00:03:51] Allie: All the benefits

[00:03:52] Emily: It’s pretty well known by now.

[00:03:54] Allie: Uh, yeah. And so, I tell them, think about meditation. In the beginning, clearing your mind for even a minute, is a really challenging task, but as you continue to practice, then you can clear your mind for longer and longer. So yes, you have a lot of skill sitting there and doing nothing, but to actually be able to relax and calm your mind to the point of meditation is absolutely a learned skill. And that’s similar with our pets, too.

[00:04:27] Emily: I love that analogy because it’s, it’s spot on.

[00:04:30] Allie: I appreciate that. I’m glad you liked it. So, in short, most everyone can learn how to be more relaxed in their life, and that includes our pets. And that may mean overall in all situations, or that may mean in some very particular situations, like when the doorbell rings for dogs or seeing predatory birds outside of a window for our parrots, or when a strange, scary stranger comes in the house for everyone. That’s my biggest fear, is strangers coming into my house. I don’t need to be relaxed when that happens.

[00:05:01] Emily: Right? Yeah. I think most of us would be pretty freaked out by that.

[00:05:06] Allie: And that’s all right. Fear is, uh, is typical it got us this far. But in all those other situations, I think it’s fair to say that relaxation would, it would be a great goal. And so this topic is absolutely relevant to all species.

[00:05:21] Emily: I totally agree with that, and it was really interesting hearing from Dr. Pachel about how he teaches relaxation, because it’s different than how we go about it. How you and I do it.

[00:05:34] Allie: PS for those of you who are already in Pro Campus, you have access to our version of the Relaxation Protocol. Go into your course, weekly recordings, training challenges, then Relaxation Protocol. You’ll have a video describing how we train it, how we teach it to clients, and also a handout that you can use with your clients as well!

[00:05:57] Emily: And that’s just another example of how there are many paths up the mountain, and there are a lot of different correct ways to get the same results. So, some things that are the same between what Dr. Pachel does and what we do, and again, it’s not about right and wrong, it’s just different, ways to, to achieve the same outcome.

Is that, first of all, the animal has agency in the process. They have choice and control over their outcomes throughout the Relaxation Protocol that we’re using. Secondly, that we’re doing this in a way that provides the animal with opportunities to pursue things that they want to obtain rather than avoiding things that they don’t like.

And thirdly, we are determining whether or not relaxation is actually happening or not by looking at the change in body language signals and the change in breathing patterns, instead of stillness being our only criterion. Stillness is not necessarily the goal of relaxation protocols, although it is often a by-product of them.

[00:07:05] Allie: And making that distinction between goal versus by-product I think is really important. And I have that conversation with my clients a lot of, “We are not going to use a stay cue in your relaxation protocol, but if they’re relaxed, they’re going to stay there on their own. But again, it’s a choice and not a cue or a command.

[00:07:28] Emily: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that’s different about how we teach relaxation protocols versus a lot of the ones out there, is that we actually let the dogs be in whatever position they want to be in, so that we can use their choice to lay down as a litmus test for how relaxed they’re actually feeling. Which is a different approach than a lot of other people. And yet it is still very successful. Right? we do that all the time and we see that has a really good outcome in almost all, all of our cases.

[00:08:01] Allie: I think that conversation is really important too. You know that there are a lot of paths up the mountain and there are a lot of right ways to do something because there’s so many different protocols and exercises and activities out there. And we get asked all of the time, you know, which is the right one? And the answer is there isn’t necessarily a right one, you do you, like whatever works best for you and your individual pet. Yes, what we do may be different, you know, the, the nitty gritty of it might be different than what Dr. Pachel was talking about in his interview, but there are so many similarities, and those similarities are what’s really important and really salient and is what makes it, so that all of those different options work. And so, I love that you broke that down, Emily as to, if it fits these criteria, then you’re good to go. And there are a lot of ways to do the same thing. So, let’s dive a little bit deeper into how we can implement relaxation with our pets at home.

[00:09:07] Emily: Yeah, so this is another reason that we have to learn how to be able to read and accurately interpret body language. Because we can’t actually know if an animal is really, truly relaxing if we don’t know what to look for. So, there’s a difference between some of the protocols out there that are really focused on physically holding a dog, or a horse, or any other animal into a position until they relax. Which doesn’t actually achieve relaxation. It just achieves learned helplessness or resignation, versus any protocol that focuses on what are we seeing the animal doing that’s indicating to us that they’re truly feeling relaxed? Are we seeing that the whole process was being done in a way that they chose to engage with, and they had say in what was happening to them and they had choice and control over their outcomes? And then are we seeing body language signals of a really, truly relaxed dog or horse or parrot or cat? We’re seeing that nice, slow breathing that happens when we’re really feeling melty, right? Melting into the space that we’re in.

So, I think that’s the first takeaway. You’re going to hear us say this a lot, learn to read and accurately interpret the body language of the species that you’re working with so that you can see for yourself if they’re actually exhibiting relaxed behaviors, not just stillness.

[00:10:45] Allie: Shut down is not our goal.

[00:10:47] Emily: Right. Exactly.

[00:10:48] Allie: As you said, I think that’s going to be takeaway number one, for many, many, many of these implementation episodes.

[00:10:56] Emily: Our poor listeners are probably going to get sick of us saying it, but we’re going to keep saying it anyway until the day that we die.

[00:11:02] Allie: We’re sorry, everyone. Sorry, actually, it’s sorry, not sorry. Let’s be real about this.

[00:11:07] Emily: Yup, sorry, not sorry.

[00:11:09] Allie: So, takeaway number two. In last week’s interview with Dr. Pachel, we talked about relaxation protocols. So, I think we’d be remiss if we weren’t as warrants to talk about it here, but before we do that, let’s get super clear on the purpose of using one of the many relaxation protocols that are out there.

The goal is for an animal to be able to complete their own stress response cycle. They need to be able to self-regulate their own stress levels. It’s not about stay. It’s not about going to a place it’s about self-regulation. Now that we have that, there are a lot of re relaxation protocols out there and different people like different ones, and that’s totally okay. For example, we created our own version for Pet harmony based on Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. And that includes 15 different phases and a bunch of different steps. And that works really well for a lot of clients who aren’t as familiar with splitting larger steps down into teeny tiny approximations when it comes to training, because it does that work for them.

And I tell my clients that it does all the thought work for you, you just have to do the thing, it will tell you exactly what to do. And I appreciate that, I don’t have to put any extra brain cells into it, and I know a lot of my clients appreciate that too. However, I have a client who I would count more like a friend at this point, shout out to Amy, who told me it makes her anxious to have all those unfinished steps. So, she prefers Suzanne Clothier is Really Real Relaxation Protocol and she absolutely has the training chops to be able to do that one, so I told her, “Go for it. I, I don’t mind as long as we are working on relaxation with your dog.” So again, there’s not one right way up the mountain, figure out what works best for you and your pet.

[00:12:59] Emily: Absolutely. And obviously we’ve been talking a lot about relaxation protocols specifically when we talk about calming enrichment, because it is one of our favorite strategies. But there are a lot of other options here, it could be things like structured nap times, which is an especially favorite strategy for us when we’re working with shelters. It could be deep breathing exercises like Dr. Karen Overall’s, Bio-feedback Protocol. It could be giving them self-soothing opportunities like licking or chewing, if that does indeed soothe your pet. So, you don’t have to do a relaxation protocol, even as long as we’re achieving our end goal of the animal, being able to self-soothe and complete that stress response cycle when unavoidable stressors arise in their life, which they do, they will, right? Stress is just a part of life. Then as long as we’re meeting that goal, there’s just lots of ways to get there and do that.

 So, we like to tell you all success stories about implementation strategies, so that you can see what this looks like in real life and that we’re not just making this up. And to be honest, we had a hard time this time coming up with individual stories, because we implement some kind of relaxation procedure with almost every single one of our clients, and it almost always has a huge impact. So, it was hard to choose just a couple of stories because this kind of success story or outcome is kind of like, “Welcome to Tuesday” for us.

Relaxation is just a really important component of addressing maladaptive behaviors. We did have a little bit of challenge, but we were able to kind of pick two where it was especially poignant or meaningful. So, Allie, what was your story that you want to share?

[00:14:54] Allie: My story is Grizzly, and Grizzly is a little Pom who has real big feeling.

Grizzly has feelings about a lot of things to be honest, but one of the things that he has real big feelings about is the man who lives in his household. I’m just going to call him dad. So, Grizzly has real big feelings about dad, he thinks dad is scary, dad is like, “Why are you yelling at me all the time?”

There’s some relationship that is being repaired on both ends. Dad, dad is moving along faster than Grizzly. And side note. I have to say, this is one of the cutest cases in that this is a case where one of the kids is really involved, which I love to see those cases.

 There is a little girl and Grizzly was supposed to be her responsibility and I, I’m terrible, y’all at figuring out ages of kids. I know I was told at some point in time, and I don’t remember it at this moment. I’m terrible at figuring out ages because my niece and nephew, who are seven now, are like the shortest stack of pancakes you’ve ever met, and so I’m like, “Surely this child is like, I don’t know, four, because they’re the same height as my niece and nephew.”

And, and they’re like, “No, that they’re eight.”

I’m like, “Okay. I, I have no idea what I’m doing.” But y’all get what I’m saying of like, I’m really terrible at telling age with kids

So, I don’t know how old this little girl is, but ten-ish, I would say. Training Grizzly is one of her responsibilities and she takes this very seriously. It is so cute. And so, relaxation protocol was one of her tasks with Grizzly. And I have to tell you, like, behavior does not lie, we can tell when folks are working on things.

It was one of those situations where I could tell how much work this little girl put into Grizzly’s relaxation protocol. We were talking about how’s he doing? What are we seeing? And they were telling me that he’s going to his bed more frequently, he’s hanging out there, he is going there and being calm when he’s there, and relaxing when he’s there. And I was like, “Oh, this is beautiful. Okay. We are on the right path.”

And then in our last session, which I think is maybe the third or fourth session I’ve had with them, we said, all right, we’re ready to work on this new exercise, and let’s practice this with dad. Which is going to be challenging for everybody involved. It was so interesting to watch. I am obviously working remotely with this client because I only take remote clients at this point, but I was able to see the entire thing unfold, where dad came down the stairs and Grizzly was like, “I have feelings.”

 They had two beds for Grizzly and dad was coming closer and Grizzly was like, “I don’t know what to do.” and went to one of his beds, and he was like, “I can’t take food, I can’t train, but I am in my bed. Darn it. Because that is where I go when I’m stressed and when I need to relax.”

It was just so fantastic to see that even though we hadn’t necessarily talked about that next step of being able to use going to his bed and relaxing through that relaxation protocol as the next step in his plan, Grizzly showed us that he was ready for that next step.

He was like, “Y’all, I’m stressed. Can’t deal with you right now. I’m going to my bed. Talk to me later.”

It was so fantastic to see. So, Grizzly has more work to do, but he is just fresh on my mind and such an amazing example of when the dog has really dog, pet, whomever, when they’ve really taken it digested what we’ve been working on and are starting to implement it to self-soothe.

It was so great to see with Grizzly.

[00:19:00] Emily: Yeah. It’s so satisfying to see an animal, have a moment and then make a choice that is good for themselves. Because of what we’ve taught them. There’s just nothing in the world that compares to that experience for me. I just think it’s so extraordinary.

[00:19:18] Allie: Absolutely, and this was a dog who was yelling at dad every moment that he got, we had zero yelling. He just went straight to his bed and said, “Don’t talk to me. I’m here. I’m self-soothing right now.”

[00:19:29] Emily: I love that.

[00:19:29] Allie: And no barking.

[00:19:31] Emily: I love that. So. My story is about a dog named Reese who was adopted by a woman who was a grad student and lived in an apartment, lives in an apartment in downtown Chicago with three other grad students.

One of the other roommates also had another dog. And Reese had just a hard time. She was having a hard time adapting to living with that many people and another dog in a really busy downtown area. She came from a shelter, which we know to be a shelter that gets dogs from rural areas and brings them in.

So, it seemed to me like Reese was probably one of those rural dogs that had been adopted out into the city. Of course, four grad students are very busy, and they have, you know, friends come over and it’s a somewhat hectic household. And so, Reese was really struggling, particularly with, the man in the house, the male roommate, and with the other dog.

We started the relaxation protocol with both dogs, so that the dogs could just move away from each other and move away from the hustle and bustle of the house. Yes, we need to build other skills. Yes, we need to build trust and relationships. Yes, there’s a lot that we need to do, but as a first response, let’s have the dogs seek safety when they don’t have any of those skills onboarded yet.

So, we worked on the relaxation protocol with both of these dogs. I met with all of the roommates, and one of the things that one of the roommates who’s not the owner said was, “I didn’t think this was possible. She goes to her own bed now when she’s stressed out.” The client herself is delightful, great client to work with, but what was really adorable is that the roommate started really becoming a behavior geek and she was so floored by how well this was working, that she was starting to learn more about behavior because it just blew her mind that these dogs, both dogs could make a choice to go and relax in their respective bedrooms, when they were feeling overwhelmed by each other or by other stuff going on in the house.

And of course, from there, we were able to build relationships with other roommates and Reese was able to go out on walks and not react to everything out on a walk anymore. So yes, we did all of that stuff later, but the relaxation protocol was that first. I loved seeing not only the dog’s responses and how they learned that and used it, but it just was delightful to me to see the roommate and her response to that and how amazed she was that that was a thing that could happen. I thought that was really sweet.

[00:22:18] Allie: I love that. I love when it just opens up the world for the human learner, with what’s possible for their pet. I love that so much.

[00:22:28] Emily: You just get to see, like you’ve set them on their journey towards learning more and being passionate about behavior.

[00:22:34] Allie: Absolutely. So, our three takeaways, quick recap. Our three takeaways for this week, I think we had like kind of three and a half. I feel like that’s also going to happen where there’s three and a half.

The first one is, we need to be able to accurately learn and read body language. And again, our goal is relaxed, not shut down, and while those may seem similar on a cursory glance, when we dive deeper into subtle body language signals, there’s quite a difference between those. That’s the half.

[00:23:07] Emily: We should probably just have another t-shirt that says “Relaxation, not resignation.”

[00:23:13] Allie: [Gasp]

[00:23:14] Emily: I’m just saying.

[00:23:15] Allie: Okay, I’ll put it on my list to make that one.

[00:23:17] Emily: Okay.

[00:23:18] Allie: I love it. Oh, my goodness. You are brilliant. Okay. So, relaxation, not resignation is half-step, 1.5.

Number two is relaxation protocols, there are a lot out there pick which one works best for you and your pet.

And number three is there are a ton of other options, so try a bunch of things with your pet. That could be midday naps. That could be deep breathing exercises. That could be self-soothing opportunities like licking or chewing. There are a lot of options out there, and it’s just a matter of what works best for your pet.

Next week, we will be talking with Mara Velez about shelter enrichment, and playgroups, and agency in play groups, and it is exciting, y’all. Just trust me. You’ll be excited when you get there next week.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram, for those of you who are behavior professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes, and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. A special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixebay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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