R is for Relax Harder

I had a hard time finishing this post about getting dogs to relax, because Mia kept whining and trying to climb onto my lap. Think she’s trying to tell me something?

The idea of relaxing harder used to be kind of a theme in my life. I suffered from TMJ and headaches, and the medical professionals insinuated that these were stress-related ailments. My recovery would come when I relaxed harder.

Then I had an anxious dog, and I realized how alike we were. Could I have caused her anxiety? Was my inability to relax contagious? Or just a coincidence?

My TMJ got better, not because I learned to relax, but because I had Craniosacral Therapy that involved having a dude massage inside my mouth. In a general sense, I feel like I am more relaxed than I used to be. Certainly I’m more relaxed than I was during the seven months we lived with two dogs who couldn’t be in the same room together.

Outside of my house, though, there seems to be an epidemic of nervous and fearful dogs.

Among the possible treatments, which include Tellington Touch, ThunderShirts, ThunderCaps (just wait until T day in the A to Z Challenge), and anti-anxiety meds, is Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol.

The Relaxation Protocol conditions a relaxed response by rewarding a dog for sitting or lying calmly for various lengths of time in the presence of various stimuli.

Paws Abilities explains it well here.

Rubicon Days also writes about it in this post and that post.

I wish there were something I could do to help shelter dogs relax harder. In the short time I’ve been volunteering, I’ve seen anxiety escalate alarmingly in a couple of dogs. One started grabbing the harness out of my hand before I put it on him, and shaking it violently. He also grabbed my hands and wrists with his mouth; definitely not behavior that is going to get a dog adopted.

Another dog who was fairly timid when I first started walking him also has started grabbing my hands. A fellow volunteer gaped at me trying to extricate my wrists from his mouth, her eyes wide like she was witnessing a murder. Like she’s never seen a spazzy dog before. He actually mouthed me kind of gently; Leo used to leave marks when he did that as a puppy. Still, the behavior can’t continue. My strategy is to turn my back and cross my arms until he calms down, but it’s not like I have all day. Maybe I can reach in with lightning speed, clip the leash to his collar and then step on it, so he can’t jump up.

As a volunteer, I take these dogs for walks and play with them outside, which I hope enriches their lives with a little stimulation and exercise. I wish I had enough time that I could also massage their ears and jaws, and do Tellington Touch body work. I wish I could hang out with each of them every day and work through the Relaxation Protocol.

While I’m throwing out wishes, I might as well wish for them all to have loving homes, or at least foster homes while they wait. Living for an extended period in a kennel is too stressful.

R is for Relax Harder


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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

4 thoughts on “R is for Relax Harder

  1. Our dog Jack spent a year in the shelter before we adopted him. They had put him on Prozac for his anxiety, poor guy. I”m happy to say after a few weeks with us and a regular and vigorous exercise & training program we were able to wean him off. He still gets anxious once in awhile, but a good run usually gets the endorphins kicking in and he relaxes.

  2. It is so very sad to see how stressed shelter dogs can get. I worked at a humane society for a year, and it was devastating to watch a dog go what we’d call “kennel crazy.” High amounts of anxiety turned many of them into unadoptable dogs…all because they spend their life in a cage 😦 Thanks for this post.

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