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.
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
Emily: and I’m Emily Strong….
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?
Emily: Yes. Same.
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.
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.
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
Allie: And you see the same thing?
Emily: Yeah. I mean, people have even said to
me, “I don’t think that’s the problem. My dog sleeps fine at night.”
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…
Allie: All the benefits
Emily: It’s pretty well known by now.
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
Emily: I love that analogy because it’s, it’s
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
Emily: Right? Yeah. I think most of us would
be pretty freaked out by that.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Allie: Shut down is not our goal.
Emily: Right. Exactly.
Allie: As you said, I think that’s going to be
takeaway number one, for many, many, many of these implementation episodes.
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.
Allie: We’re sorry, everyone. Sorry, actually,
it’s sorry, not sorry. Let’s be real about this.
Emily: Yup, sorry, not sorry.
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.
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
Allie: My story is Grizzly, and Grizzly is a
little Pom who has real big feeling.
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?”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
Emily: I love that.
Allie: And no barking.
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
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.
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.
Emily: You just get to see, like you’ve set
them on their journey towards learning more and being passionate about
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.
Emily: We should probably just have another
t-shirt that says “Relaxation, not resignation.”
Emily: I’m just saying.
Allie: Okay, I’ll put it on my list to make
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.