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Help Your Fearful Dog With the Jolly Routine Training Method

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

How to Use the Jolly Routine for Fearful Dogs

How to Use the Jolly Routine for Fearful Dogs

Why Is My Dog Fearful?

When walking your dog, do you tense up the moment you see a trigger coming your way that your dog reacts fearfully to? You may be well aware of your increasing tension, or you might not notice how your anxiety affects your dog. When people come to me for behavior modification tips for their dog, I notice that they often tense up, shorten the leash, and sometimes even hold their breath if they see a trigger coming their way.

Dogs Can Sense Our Energy

What happens when you do this? Unfortunately, your dog picks up on cues that something is amiss because your tension travels 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; they will, therefore, tense up and react accordingly. Remember, dogs are masters at reading your emotions, so they can pick up on your tension fairly well when you tighten the leash.

The Jolly Routine Reduces Tension

Behavior modification often involves changing the emotions of both the dog and the owner. Countless people feed off of their dog's fear and aggression, and then the dog picks up on their owner's tension, creating a vicious cycle that never seems to end.

Adopting a healthy training routine is excellent for dog owners that get frustrated and tend to impulsively scold or correct a dog for acting out at the sight of a trigger. An exercise such as the Jolly Routine can help dog owners loosen up and also relieve their dogs of tension.

Reducing Fear Requires Effort on the Owner's Part

Reducing Fear Requires Effort on the Owner's Part

How to Use the Jolly Routine to Reduce Fear in Dogs

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 method known as counterconditioning. The goal is to change the dog's emotional response towards stimuli that have caused fearful responses in the past.

Distractions Deter Reactions

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, where a dog is exposed to a less-threatening version of the stimulus that induces fear. This is often accomplished by using distance.

The Jolly Routine involves effort on the owner's part. They must "switch gears" and engage the pet and themselves in activities that make the dog happy, explains veterinarian and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, Debra Horwitz. The owner must project confidence, happiness, and joy in order to help the dog lighten up. If the owner has a history of tensing up, it will take some effort on their part to get rid of this habit.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques may come in handy prior to the behavior modification session. Ideally, the owner should be able to relax their body, loosen tight muscles, and act wiggly rather than stiff. Dogs tend to interpret stillness as tension or the acknowledgment of a perceived threat, according to the Animal Behavior Network.

Distraction Prevents Reaction

Distraction Prevents Reaction

3-Step Guide to Using This Method With Your Dog

The following is an example of how to use the Jolly Routine. (Each trainer may carry it out in different ways, so there may be slight variations.)

1. Find a Comfortable Distance

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 they may not be able to focus on you. In such a case, move away from the trigger.

2. Be Jolly

When your 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 cheerleader. "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 [a tense] warning tone . . . ."

3. Return to Normal

After you act jolly, walk away from the trigger and act normally. You want the Jolly Routine to happen only when the trigger is in sight. If you are doing setups, remember to always present the trigger under-threshold, but gradually build up the intensity as your dog gets better. You will know when your dog is starting to get better when you see that they are developing a conditioned emotional response.

When Should You Use This Technique?

This technique is especially great with puppies since they are often quite receptive to our moods and look to us for guidance. You can use it in contexts when your dog is worried about something, like a sight or sound, but is still capable of being receptive to you. Best of all, use this technique at the first sign of developing fear—nip it in the bud before the situation worsens.

If you are embarrassed by acting silly in 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) technique or Jean Donaldson's "Open Bar, Closed Bar" method.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 07, 2014:

Good luck Giblingirl and thanks for the votes up!

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on March 07, 2014:

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