Dog Behavioral Training Deep Dive #2
PiRT: Posture-induced Relaxation Technique
Welcome to another installment in a new series of Dog Gone Smarter LLC training articles, each a deep dive into a foundational dog training exercise. Each dog training exercise will help you to build a better emotional state in your dog and establish a healthier understanding and relationship with your dog.
Each article in the series will detail a behavioral exercise, important variations to the exercise, how to respond to misbehaviors from your dog during the training, and much more.
PiRT training will help your dog learn to think, relax, trust and defer. PiRT is a key treatment for fearful and aggressive dogs and I have also found it to work remarkably well on dogs suffering from co-dependence.
PiRT training will also reinforce patience, pack connectedness, and impulse control in your dog.
- Training should be fun and upbeat
- Avoid punitive corrections
- Do not force, dominate, or coerce
- No stern voices, expressions, sounds or dominant body postures
- Excellent treatment for fearful, aggressive and co-dependent dogs.
- Improves a dog’s overall cooperation and compliance
- Improves a dog’s ability to maintain safety
- Improves a dog’s impulse control
- Provides a foundational behavior that helps obtain and maintain your dog’s attention and deference
What is PiRT?
PiRT stands for Posture-induced Relaxation Technique. It’s a training technique that I developed over many hundreds of hours spent working to rehabilitate fearful, co-dependent, and aggressive dogs. It involves gently guiding the dog into three different postures, while distracting and programmatically massaging in a way that brings a calm connected relaxation to both the trainer and the dog.
The C-tactile Fiber
PiRT holds similarities to PFR training, with several significant departures, and is based in-part on a recently discovered never fiber located in the skin, called the “C-tactile fiber.” This special bundle of nerves is slower to respond than most skin nerve fibers and is tuned to only activate to slow, gentle caresses and massage.
These C-tactile fibers really get around. They are known to travel to different regions of the brain than most other skin nerve fibers.
Research indicates that the C-tactile fibers travel to the Hypothalamus (involved with a dog’s sexual response), the Hippocampus (regulating how memories are stored & retrieved), the Amygdala (key to regulating feelings of fear and anger) and the Limbic cortex (regulates mood, motivation, and judgement).
Are you starting to see why these little nerve fibers might be important to the successful remediation of fearful and aggressive dogs?
Similar to how we sense Sound, our sense of Touch involves a mechanical stimulation as a trigger (as opposed to smell or taste, which rely on a chemical stimulation as a trigger event).
When the “C-tactile fiber” is mechanically stimulated / activated, it doesn’t tell you WHAT you have touched, instead, it tells you HOW YOU FEEL when you are touched.
Overview of PiRT Training
If your dogs shows any signs of aggression or fear, we recommend that PiRT should only be performed under the supervision of a professional dog behaviorist or trainer. Dogs can be unpredictable.
Performing this technique can result in injury and is only to be performed as part of an integrated compliance training program.
In addition to the above warning, most fearful dogs will require basic obedience training and graduated counterconditioning (which is outside the context of this article) to reduce excessive reactivity that may exist to initial touching and handling. Without such training and desensitization, PiRT training may produce unpredictable results.
PiRT training should be performed in a novel, calm, quiet and safe location. For most fearful dogs, the home is often an emotional trigger. My preference is to find a outdoor area unfamiliar to the dog, potentially in a public park or field, where you and the dog can get away from common triggers (people. dogs, kids, loud noises, etc.).
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Pick somewhere novel to the dog, so as not to encourage reactivity based on a previous experience. The training area should also be large enough to maintain your privacy and physical safety, while easily avoiding surprises or intrusions.
I have successfully used PiRT training with both puppies and adult dogs, although fearful adult dogs may require a muzzle if they demonstrate signs of aggressive reactivity.
It is my recommendation that every dog owner be taught to perform PiRT successfully on their pup by the time it reaches 6 months of age, and to continue the practice thru the dog’s entire lifespan.
When PiRT is performed at home (after extensive work outside the home), a rug or dog bed should be utilized. The dog bed will gradually acquire a calming effect by way of association with PiRT training. Once experienced with PiRT, your dog can be trained to go to the dog bed and stay there during times of increased arousal and stress. Beyond this, the dog bed may be moved from location to location as part of a generalized effort to relax and desensitize your dog throughout your home.
For example, if your dog suffers from anxiety when inside a car – the dog bed should be placed in the car and PiRT performed while inside the car. Start with the car off and parked in the garage. Gradually add Multipliers such as engine noise, windows and doors opening, turn signals activating, and of course – motion.
As with PFR, PiRT training relies on specific postures, ranked to graduate in terms of the relative relinquishment of control and the postural potential for producing relaxation.
Ok, that’s a mouthful. In other words, PiRT works by encouraging your dog to first sit, then lay down on all fours, then lay on his side with his legs stretched out in front, ultimately into a relaxed side posture with his head relaxed on the ground, all four legs relaxed and outstretched, and the dog’s eyes closing – demonstrating an overall calmer, trusting demeanor.
Use a hand-signal to call your dog over to you. Immediately upon arrival, mark his obedience with the bridge word “Good.”
Request a Down, also only using a hand signal. Mark a successful Down, with the bridge word “Good.”
Immediately request a Side, also using only the hand signal. The hand signal for Side is as follows. Hold your hand and fingers out in front of you, as if to grasp and turn a doorknob. Start with your hand grasping the imaginary doorknob palm-side facing down. Then rotate your hand from palm-side down to palm-side facing up, while maintaining the doorknob grasp.
With the dog laying in Side position, present a food treat reward by holding it on the ground, 8 – 12 inches in front of the dog’s nose. Keeping the treat low to the ground will help keep your dog’s head planted on the ground as well.
Begin with a duration of 5 seconds and gradually increase of several sessions.
During training, maintain the Key Tenets as listed above and employ behavior mitigations (e.g., 15-sec TO, 30-sec TO) as described in the earlier article “Dog Behavioral Training Deep Dive #1, Sit-stay and Down-stay.”
Repeat Steps 1-5, gradually increasing the time your dog is on his Side before receiving a reward. Once your dog will maintain his Side for at least 30 seconds, move onto step 7.
With your dog laying in Side position and the treat now held on the ground approximately 4-6 inches from his nose (without any attempt by him to retrieve it), position yourself in the middle of your dog (as if forming the intersection of a “T”) and very slowly and gently massage him on the back of his neck and between the shoulder blades (near his hackles).
If the dog becomes overly aroused or resistant, limit the massage to regions he tolerates best. Gradually explore areas further down his back into his hind quarters. As you massage him, feel for tension and stay tuned into every movement of your hand and every response you elicit.
Continue massaging down his legs, past his elbows and into the areas between the pads of his feet. Match your style of massage and touching to your dog’s temperament and emotional needs. Some dogs prefer a gentle, slow sustained massage, while other dogs prefer a more firm and faster pace.
The massage may be little more than a gentle caress at first, only increasing the motion and pressure slightly as the dog exhibits acceptance and relaxation. Keep any talking to a minimum, as this training is designed to be experienced almost entirely thru hand signals, Touch and food reward.
Once Side has been mastered, continue introducing the massage into the Down and Sit postures.
Any physical assertions of control or TO (time-out) should be kept to a minimum and only reserved for those situations where affectionate persuasion has failed, creative approaches exhausted, and alternate courses of action are judged ineffective.
You may find that for some dogs, PiRT training to be momentarily evocative and could even spike competitive and emotional tensions within your dog. This is normal. Maintain the supervision of a behaviorist or dog trainer and proceed gently, confidently and absent any sense of force, coercion, or domination.
Erik Muenker BADC RPDT
Owner, Dog Gone Smarter LLC