Have a Dog Who Needs Behavior Modification? Biofeedback Is a Good Place to Start — For All Dogs

I first heard of biofeedback for dogs in Leslie McDevitt’s first book, Control Unleashed. I couldn’t imagine dogs learning concepts that people can have trouble learning. How many of us have heard the phrase, “Just take a deep breath and calm down?” How could we ever teach dogs to take a deep breath? Guess what? We can. These amazing biofeedback techniques aren’t just for dogs who need behavior modification. They are great foundation skills for all dogs.

Dr. Karen Overall published these techniques in 1997 in her Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. They were modified and re-released in 2013. The two protocols relating to biofeedback and behavior modification are: “Protocol for Teaching Your Dog to Take a Deep Breath and Use Other BioFeedback Methods as Part of Relaxation (TAB)”  and “Protocol for Relaxation: Behavior Modification Tier 1 (RP).” Phew! That’s a mouthful! Because of that, most behavior consultants and trainers refer to them by the abbreviated forms: TAB and RP.

I’ll tell you right up front that I was a skeptic. I didn’t believe dogs could learn to self-calm. But then I had the opportunity to consult with Dr. Overall for one of my troubled dogs. That consultation was life-changing. My dog, Pride, not only learned how to TAB, he taught me how to teach other dogs to do it.

You can click here to see a video of Pride learning to TAB on his own, in the presence of his triggers. Dr. Overall included the URL to this video in her Manual. You’ll notice that I used a clicker when I taught Pride how to TAB. I no longer use a clicker when teaching this behavior. It’s not necessary and can make some dogs too excited.

Dr. Overall refers to these protocols as Tier 1 Behavior Modification. That’s because before we can teach a dog to be calm around things that worry or excite him, we have to teach calm behavior when he is not around things that worry or excite him. That makes sense, right? These protocols are the foundation for further counter-conditioning and desensitization.

If you are interested in learning more about these protocols and my “trainer hacks,” Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is hosting me for two webinars. You can learn more about me here. You can sign up here for the webinars – https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/buy-webinar