Basics of Conditioned Relaxation & more

Introducing Perception Modification, Conditioned Relaxation, and Cycles

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Perception Modification is simple, but not always easy.  In real life, everything happens at once, and in four dimensions.  To help people learn, we write in two dimensions, in step-by-step order.  But in performing Perception Modification, the steps are not simply linear progressions.  There are many overlaying actions and considerations which trainers soon do automatically, but which are best learned in context with the step they are acting on.   I try to make things easy to understand here.  Please let me know how this introduction works for you.  As always, please like, comment and share!  


Perception Modification is a way to change the way an animal sees something.  We can change things in any direction, but the two most common needs are to lead animals to become 1)  less reactive or 2)  less afraid.  We lead animals to cope with stress and manage their emotions.  We help animals solve their most dangerous and limiting behavior problems, like aggression, arousal, separation anxiety, sound phobias

Solve –
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperarousal
  • Hyperreactivity
  • Aggression
  • Phobias
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear of nail trimming
  • Fear of ear cleaning

Solve most things that stem from an emotional response


How –  

  • We teach an animal to attain & maintain a calm mental state, on cue
  • We then introduce the trigger in very small pieces, below arousal threshold
  • In progressive steps, we advance the intensity of the trigger
  • The animal controls the advancement of the progressive steps.
    • If he stays calm, they progress in a formulaic way.
    • If he loses calm, the trigger freezes, and fades away. (The next step will start a few steps back from the step where he lost calmness.)
  • When the animal can maintain calmness regardless of the intensity of the trigger, we start the proofing process in other environments.


Two phases in the Perception Modification process.  

  1. Conditioned Relaxation
  2. Cycles


To expand,

  1. Conditioned Relaxation:  get, and stay, calm.
  2. Cycles:  systematically expand relaxation skills while we reprogram triggers.


Conditioned Relaxation:  animal learns 5 important things

  1. That he has a mental state
  2. That he has more than one mental state
  3. That he can move between mental states
  4. How to move between mental states
  5. To choose the appropriate mental state

These are the ‘Five Milestones of Conditioned Relaxation’.

Cycles:  We use Conditioned Relaxation skills to attain, and maintain, relaxation, as we present the trigger in progressive steps.  To advance the intensity of the trigger, the animal must calmly stay under threshold, throughout the encounter with the trigger.  The process continues till the animal can watch the trigger with attentive calm, or calm witness.  This process results in a reprogramming of the effect of the trigger.  An environmental event that once elicited upset and arousal soon elicits calm witness.

In Perception Modification, self management skills come first, before we try to solve the particular issue.

Rather than immediately trying to change the animal’s reaction to triggers through physical training, we first teach him to master his emotional state, and then his emotional responses.  We start, when possible, in a calm, safe, environment, but soon, it can work anywhere, under any conditions.  No matter where you find yourself and your animal, Perception Modification may be a solution to the problem you are encountering, right there, in the middle of the problem situation.

Some therapies focus on getting an animal to look at the trainer when they encounter a trigger, or to suppress their natural reaction.  Perception Modification is different.  We take the trigger out of the situation initially, when possible, and focus on teaching the animal to relax on cue,  Conditioned Relaxation.  Conditioned Relaxation is not simply stillness.  An animal can be profoundly still without being relaxed, or in control of his mental state.

Perception Modification uses counter conditioning and desensitization, and much, much more.  We use unique tools like Name & Explain, Intermediate Bridges, and rests.

We generally use no food, toys, lure, or physical corrections of any kind.  For over 95% of cases, we can solve the problem by controlling access to the trigger.

Initially the animal complies because of our influence, but as he progresses through the five milestones, the animal drives the process, and we become his assistant, helping as requested.  This is a beautiful result of Perception Modification:  the animal usually becomes self-managing.  He is often independent of human direction and management.  Then, when an animal is returned to his  owners, his success is independent of the owner’s skill and he to continues to be successful.  The animals is often successful, for the rest of his life.

Major progress usually happens within 5 days.

We can define the Perception Modification process from two perspectives:  Behavioral and Medical

Behavioral: Perception Modification is a process, or protocol, which empowers animals to manage their emotions and cope with stresses through choosing calmness and changing the way they look at things.  An animal can change the way he looks at something he finds scary, arousing, angering or irresistible.  The animal can learn to choose moderation.  Animals can choose to cope.

Medical:  Perception Modification is a protocol to block animals from dopamine (or other addictive substances), redirect them to GABA (and other neuropeptides such as serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins), and reprogram triggers.

From both the behavioral and medical perspectives, Perception Modification is a protocol, or process.  This process affects both behavior and physiology, but from a training perspective, what does it ‘look’ like?  How does it happen?  For more information, find classes and seminars  here.