Really Real Relaxation Protocol

by Suzanne Clothier – used with permission

This simple but effective protocol is useful for helping handlers and dogs shift into real relaxation together.


  • Teaching the dog to find authentic relaxation through his own choices
  • Teaching the handler to relax themselves, to signal “We are relaxing” and provide a way for the dog to relax.


  • Dog learns to self modulate through volunteered, not prompted, behaviours, and through attention to the handler.
  • Handler learns to modulate the connection without having to disengage from the dog, easily transitioning up and down, from active or intense to relaxed and quiet.


  • Handler seated comfortable, with body posture, gaze, breathing, etc. that indicates “We are relaxing.”
  • Dog on leash on a blanket, towel, or bed in front of handler. (Avoid arguments. If necessary, handler steps on leash – giving dog enough slack so dog can stand, sit, or lay down without any tension on leash.
  • Supply of high quality, small and easily chewed treats in easy reach.

Step One

Identify DOWN as desired behaviour of the moment.

  • Lure the dog with treat into DOWN
  • Immediately reward with 10-12 treats placed on the bed/towel/blanket (NOT the floor!) between the dog’s paws and quiet praise.

If dog stays down, pay him 5 more treats, praising quietly, then release.

If dog gets up, say nothing.

Step 2

Repeat Step one two more times

Step 3

Lure dog into DOWN, reward with 3-5 more treats, praise quietly. Continue to reinforce the dog with treats every few seconds.

If the dog gets up (sooner or later her probably will), say nothing- WAIT.

When the dog chooses to lay down on his own, praise quietly and reward with 5-10 treats. Continue to reinforce the dog, slowing the rate of reinforcement as the dog relaxes.

Each time the dog gets up, wait for a volunteered DOWN, praise, then reward.

After a few minutes of practice, release the dog and move around with him.

Step 4

The handler sits in a comfortable position, indicating to the dog “We are relaxing.” Wait for the dog to volunteer DOWN.

Quietly praise and provide a couple of treats placed between paws. Continue to reinforce the dog, slowing the rate of reinforcement as the dog relaxes more fully.

The handler should look around the environment with relaxed, slow movements, also making brief, soft eye contact with the dog.

Smile at the dog, use low, soothing tones (avoid conversations).

After a few minutes of practice, release the dog and go play!

Practice and Perfect

  • Repeat anywhere and everywhere (provided the dog can split his attention between handler and environment)
  • Vary the amounts of time you ask for relaxation
  • Shift in and out of PLAY-WORK-RELAXATION to help dog learn to self modulate based on cues about what you are doing.
  • Work to keep the connection between you and the dog at all times
  • Add standing and reclining postures that indicate “We are relaxing.”

Signs that the dog is getting it:

  • Lays down and rolls over onto one hip.
  • Stops staring at handler and/or treats
  • Begins to be thoughtfully aware of environment, while keeping handler in his awareness
  • Visible signs of relaxation (muscle tension drops, postural shifts, slower respiration and head/eye movements)

Signs that something needs adjusting:

Dog staring at handler with anticipation

  • Be sure the handler is not encouraging the dog by sustaining eye contact and/or conversation
  • Be sure the handler isn’t in the gunslinger position with tension and focused eyes
  • Be sure the handler is delivering the treats in a slow, relaxed motion.

Dog gets up and does not lay down again

  • Dog may not be clear that DOWN is the behaviour that pays. Repeat first steps, being very generous with treats.
  • Handler may need to provide greater rate of reinforcement.

Dog is unable to split attention in that environment

  • Move to quieter environment

Handler loses focus and drops connection with dog

  • Practice!
  • Identify what pulls the handler out of connection with the dog
  • Teach a rhythmic approach to checking in with dog (every x seconds)
  • Practice using peripheral vision and soft eyes


Suzanne would appreciate feedback and comments regarding this protocol. Video and photos would also be welcomed! Send any and all information regarding this to: