Really Real Relaxation

Every fiber of the Connection, Cooperation & Control program (CCC) -- each component, every exercise -- is aimed at teaching the dog the gift of finding balance within himself.

Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation protocol (RRR) is one of those components. Unlike most other relaxation protocols, which depend on prompting and handler monitoring, the end result of RRR is that the dog is equipped with a skill he can use on his own, when he’s feeling unbalanced, whether he’s inhibited or activated.

I was reminded of how effective RRR is just the other day when I was doing some filming with my CCC students. We were at a local park, in a small area between two active baseball fields. The goal was to capture the dog and handler walking through the area connected and on a loose leash.

One handler and her Lab/Golden mix Tyrus were staged to begin moving toward the camera. Tyrus didn’t know about our goals for filming. He had other things on his mind, like sorting out the balls flying, the kids running and the fans cheering. As we watched and waited for him to be ready, he lay down and looked at his handler as if asking her to join him. So she did. It took less than a minute for him to find his balance, at which point, calmly, in connection, they walked towards me.

More recently a canine house guest came to stay for a few days. Belgian Tervuren Jinx had stayed with us many times before. But even in this familiar setting, she had a difficult time settling, even though our five dogs were quiet and relaxed. She would wander, seemingly looking for something to do, exploring, inciting the other dogs, seeking social interaction from anyone who would offer it. Only when she was put in a crate would she rest. 

A few months ago Jinx’s owner Sue enrolled in the CCC program. They practiced their new skills, including RRR regularly and in many ways and places. Sue reported many shifts in their relationship at home, when they’re out and about, and in competition.

When Jinx arrived this time, all the dogs enjoyed a beautiful spring afternoon outside, playing hard and long as they always do. That evening, shortly after the dogs came in they settled and soon fell asleep. All of them. I decided that Jinx must have been really tired, although that never seemed to matter in previous stays.

But in the 48 hours since Jinx arrived, the same pattern has occurred over and over again. I keep looking around for Jinx to make sure she’s comfortable and able to rest, and there she is amongst the other dogs, curled up and sleeping, or just relaxing and looking around. Best of all, because she’s getting the rest she needs, Jinx is in a different state emotionally. She isn’t challenging the other dogs as she has in the past. We haven’t had to step in to give anyone their space.

Jinx has mastered the art of finding her own balance – without needing Sue in her presence or dependency on a prompt from me. She owns it. The power and gift of RRR is evident in the new balance and comfort Jinx has found in her world, wherever she is.

The Devil is in the Detail

 (c) 2016 Wayne Ramsey

(c) 2016 Wayne Ramsey

My dog Swift loves dock diving.   I was looking forward to competing with him on this beautiful fall day, watching his enthusiasm, athleticism and drive peak as he launches off the dock and the look of satisfaction as he retrieves his toy and brings it back.

There were lots of excited dogs at the event, leaping and lunging at the end of their leashes, barking in their vehicles when other dogs jumped, and dragging their handlers towards the entrance to the dock.  Some couldn’t hold their sit stay when the handler led out, and others needed to be held by a helper.  Some were so crazed by the time they jumped that I wondered how their bodies must feel to break the plane of the water in such a contorted way.  I wondered how much further they might jump if they were better able to control their bodies using their minds.

When our turn came to practice we climbed the ramp to the dock and found our sit stay spot.  I walked to the edge of the dock with Swift’s ball while he waited to be released.  He ran the length of the dock to the end and then stopped and barked, which was quite unusual for him.  He loves to fly!  He loves to splash!  When I set him up again he stopped short and went to the access door to the ramp that led to the pool instead.   Some folks encouraged Swift to jump, meaning to be supportive.  One woman explained that dogs just do that sometimes.  They didn’t really know how to respond when I told them I thought it was Swift’s way of saying he wasn’t physically able to make the jump.

We left the dock and I pulled him from the event.  I walked to the registration table in the adjoining field and pulled our disc dog entry for the day.  And then I found the veterinary chiropractor on site.  When she went over him she discovered that his left shoulder was tight and sore.  I was surprised and then relieved when I saw the tension on Swift’s face melt away as she adjusted him.  And I was grateful that she was there for him.

My good friend and a student of CCC was competing with her dog at the event, so I stuck around a little while to cheer them on.  She was early in the lineup in the first round, and felt a bit rushed to get her dog.  She did her best to help her dog hold it together as they got closer to the dock, but struggled to prevent the dog from lunging and barking.  By the time they got to the dock, the dog’s jerky movements showed how tense her muscles were, so much so that she slipped on her first jump, and flailed into the water on her second jump, coming up short on both.

After considering her dog’s mindfulness, or lack thereof, my friend came up with a plan to help keep her dog more emotionally balanced the second round using some of the CCC principles she’s learned.  She got her dog earlier, and took her time approaching the competition area only moving forward when the dog showed her she could handle it.  She added lateral distance from the dock to support the dog’s mind, and waited in a more quiet location until it was her turn.  The dog’s movement was smooth as they set up on the dock.  It was clear that she was in a thoughtful state.  She was coordinated when she reached the edge of the dock, showed full control of her body as she jumped . . . and landed her personal best, by a landslide.

Later in the day she practiced more CCC strategies while the other dogs competed, and at a distance that the dog could be successful.  

And in the Finals she jumped a NEW personal best!  Way to go girls!!

The devil is in the detail when it comes to a dog’s performance, whether we’re asking for their cooperation at home or control when we’re out and about.  Practicing awareness through connection helps us to support to dog’s physical and emotional needs, and improves performance in whatever we do and wherever we go.  CCC helps handlers and dogs develop that awareness to strengthen the team, and to strengthen the relationship.

 (c) 2016 Cindy Knowlton

(c) 2016 Cindy Knowlton

I’m disappointed that Swift and I didn’t get to compete today, but I’m also glad that I heard him, and satisfied that I made the right decision for him.  For us.

When your dog says I can’t, whether it’s in response to a behavior request or in the way he carries himself in a certain situation, listen.  He’s not doing because he’s being stubborn or willful.  He’s not being a bad dog.  He just can’t.  Hear that.  And adjust to support the dog.