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Using the "Jolly Routine" for Fearful Dogs

Updated on May 21, 2015
Using the jolly routine for fearful dogs.
Using the jolly routine for fearful dogs. | Source

How the Jolly Routine Benefits Dogs and Owners

Raise your hand if upon walking your dog you tense up the moment you see a trigger your dog reacts fearfully to coming your way? You may well be aware of your increasing tension, or there are chances you may not. Fact is, when people come to me for behavior modification, I notice that they often tense up, shorten the leash and sometimes even stop breathing, if they see a trigger coming their way.

What happens when you do this? Yes, you got it, your dog will pick up cues denoting something is amiss and your tension will travel right down the leash. Because dogs learn through associative learning, if in the past you have tightened the leash at the sight of a scary trigger, your dog may have learned to associate the two, so he'll tense up and react accordingly. And even if you don't tighten the leash, remember that dogs are masters in reading your emotions, so they can pick up your tension pretty fairly.

Behavior modification often involves changing the emotions of both the dogs and owners. Countless people feed off their dogs fear and aggression, then dogs pick up the owner's tension, creating a vicious cycle that never seems to end. This exercise is also excellent for dog owners who get frustrated and tend to impulsively scold or correct the dog for acting out at the sight of the trigger. An exercise such as the "Jolly Routine," can help dog owners loosen up while relieving dogs of tension.

How to Use the Jolly Routine

What's the Jolly Routine? The Jolly Routine is a behavior modification technique developed by dog trainer and author William E. Campbell. This method is based on a powerful dog behavior modification known as "Counterconditioning". The goal is to change the dog's emotional response towards stimuli that has caused a fearful response in the past. The dog owner is an active participant in this method, and the main goal is to influence the dog's behavior in a positive manner. This method also utilizes desensitization, that is, the dog is exposed to a less-threatening version of the stimulus that induces fear. Often this is accomplished by using distance.

The Jolly Routine therefore involves the owners which must "switch gears" and engage the pet and themselves in activities that make the dog happy and wag its tail, explains veterinarian, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior Debra Horwitz. The owner must project confidence, happiness and joy and the dog should lighten up and be receptive to such emotions. This may take some effort if the owner has a history of tensing up. Relaxation techniques may come in handy prior to the behavior modification session. Ideally, the owner should be able to relax her body, loosen tight muscles and act wiggly rather than stiff. Dogs tend to interpret stillness as tension or the acknowledgement of a perceived threat, according to the Animal Behavior Network. The following is an example showing the implementation of the "Jolly Routine." However, each trainer may carry it out in different ways so there may beslight variants.

1) Find a distance where your dog doesn't react fearfully to the trigger. If your dog is reacting fearfully or aggressively, you are too close for comfort and he may not be able to focus on you. In such a case, you want to make an about face and move away from the trigger, as outlined in the emergency exit method.

2) When the dog sees the trigger, talk in a silly, high-pitched voice. You are free to act silly, sing a song, dance, laugh, giggle or do anything that grabs your dog's attention away from the concerning sight. Try to be your dog's cheer-leader. "The best 'double punch' is to jolly, and then deliver food treats," says Jean Donaldson in an article for the Whole Dog Journal. "The bonus to this technique is that it also stops the owner from delivering that tense, warning tone: 'Be ni-ice!' "

3) Then leave and act normally. You want the jolly routine to happen only when the trigger is in sight. If you are doing set-ups, remember to present the trigger always under threshold, but gradually build up the intensity as the dog gets better. You know your dog is getting better when you see the dog is starting to develop a conditioned emotional response.

When should you use the Jolly Routine? You can use it in puppies which are often quite receptive to our moods and look at us for guidance. You can use it in contexts when your dog is worried about something being a sight or sound, but is still capable of being receptive to you. Best of all, use at the first signs of developing fears so to nip them in the bud before they exacerbate. If you are bashful of acting silly in the public and are looking for other behavior modification methods where you can act more composed, you may be interested in Leslie McDevitt's LAT (Look at that) or Jean Donaldson's "Open bar closed bar"

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    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Good luck Giblingirl and thanks for the votes up!

    • GiblinGirl profile image

      GiblinGirl 3 years ago from New Jersey

      My dog is scared of everything it seems. I may try this out. Voted up.