To create Conditioned Relaxation, we use massage and other body work to help the animals experience and examine the state of deep relaxation. We make them aware of their body parts and the relaxation or tension shown in that body part. We lead them to learn to change their own relaxation state, a bit at a time. This process includes both classical conditioning (often unconscious) and cognitive (usually conscious) learning, as well as physical facilitation of the relaxation through body work. As the animal experiences the physical changes of relaxation, he becomes more resistant to arousal. He starts to seek to stay in a more relaxed state. Once the animal knows how to attain and maintain relaxation, we are ready to put these skills to use to solve real life problems. We do this through ‘Cycles’.
‘Cycles’ are progressive, or graduated, presentations of the trigger that elicits the emotional reaction in the animal. We make the first cycle so small that the animal can maintain relaxation easily. With success, we advance the trials, or cycles. Our goal is for the dog to experience many easy successes. Soon, the dog is an expert at maintaining the relaxation, regardless of the triggers.
During Cycles, we use desensitization and counter-conditioning (changing both the emotional impact of the trigger, and the animal’s physical response to the trigger – using both classical and operant conditioning).
We use bridges (see next section) and ‘Name & Explain’ – which is a running narrative that covers 8 key areas: what will happen, what the dog is to do, what is happening, how the dog is doing, what did happen and how the dog did, body state information and information to help the dog focus/refocus (cognitive information).
The body work and the Name & Explain engage the animal in the physical changes of relaxation and active thought. This is critical to the success of this process.
Very importantly, we bring the information to the dogs’ conscious awareness, rather than leaving the training at the rote response level. This is incredibly strategic, because only when we consciously understand things can we choose to apply them. An unconscious response precludes a decision to act. We want the animals deciding what state they intend to be in, and then acquiring that state.
What DON’T we use in Perception Modification?
In the Perception Modification process, we generally use no food or toys, no leash or collar corrections, and generally, no criticism. Instead we provide a running commentary, detailing what is occurring in the dog’s environment – as it happens, encouraging feedback through the Terminal and Intermediate bridges (also known as the Success and Support Signals), and we give the animal greater access to the trigger if he is able and willing to manage his arousal, and we take access away if he is unable or unwilling to manage it. This works in over 90 percent of the cases we see.
Next: Actual case study