Monday, June 4, 2012

Philosophy of Behavior Training - Activity

Many dog behavior problems are associated with excessive emotional responses by the dog to things in the environment. For example, aggressive behavior often has a basis in fear. The dog has learned that aggressive behavior - such as barking, growling, snarling and lunging - is successful in driving away the dog or person that she is afraid of. Other emotions that can cause problems are anxiety, anger and frustration.

Unfortunately, most times the activity of the "emotional" side of the brain inhibits the activity of the "thinking" side of the brain. Dogs who are experiencing an intense emotional reaction such as fear are incapable of acting rationally or learning new skills. Think about the last time you were terrified or enraged about something - Were you able to think clearly? Would you have been able to memorise some new information? Probably not!

On the other hand, dogs who are in "thinking" mode and concentrating on a task are better able to fend off emotional reactions and stress. In the same way that counting to 10 can help you regain control of your ability to think rationally, a dog can stay calm if she is concentrating on doing something that requires her to think.

Dogs, like humans possess unique personality traits, tolerance for stress and vary in their ability to adapt to new situations and circumstances. As trainers, we have the ability to teach our dogs skills so they can feel safe and comfortable when unpredictable situations pop up and we can intervene on their behalf. We aren't changing their personality or temperament, but we are working on changing their responses by teaching them skills. No one will ever convince me that it is fun to go to a big party with unfamiliar people, but I have practiced enough to get through the event. We can actually teach our dogs that get aroused by things in motion that the sight of the kid on a bike means it is time to turn away and look at me.

Some researchers compare dogs’ intelligence to that of a 2-year-old child. I have heard the same thing about the larger parrots (Amazons and African Greys in particular) but I don’t think that makes sense. People who use guide dogs put their lives and safety into the dog’s paws. How many of you would trust a 2-year-old, even a very bright one, to decide when it is safe for you to cross the street? How many 2-year-olds can understand sheep herding or search-and-rescue?

Dogs are born preprogrammed to exist in a dog world. And the world of a domestic dog is weird — it is, of necessity, intertwined with the human world. We’ve played with their genetics so much that the domestic dog cannot function as a wild animal. Yet dogs retain some behaviors that are directly traceable to their wild ancestors. Their communication system — chiefly body language — mimics that of wild canines. Their vocalizations, their play style, their prey drive, and so much more. But in designing breeds and through the long process of domestication, much of this behavior has changed. Dogs have adapted to our world.

I think intelligence is figuring out how not merely to survive but to thrive in one’s environment. For a human 2-year-old, that is a human environment. For a dog, that is also a human environment — so not only must the dog learn dog stuff, the dog also has to learn to understand and make himself understood by members of another species. Much more difficult.

Dogs have mastered our world and learned to manipulate us and they’ve learned to partner us in dozens of ways that go far, far beyond the capabilities of any 2-year-old. It’s a very different sort of intelligence and there is no convincing evidence I'm aware of, from any reputable behaviorist or psychologist, that suggests dogs can replicate human thought processes: use language, think in narrative and sequential terms, understand human minds, or share humans' range of emotions.
In "Activity" we start observing our dogs. We look to see what might make them a little too aroused to learn. What worries or suppresses them? Some dogs love handling, and some get over stimulated. Some dogs tolerate people standing right over them, and some need more space. What things truly motivate your pup? What about toys? Access to other dogs and people? Have you noticed any sensitivities? Noise, space, touch are just a few. When we are training, we try to engage the drives and minimize the sensitivities. That again, will help keep the dogs attentive and calm. So really, there is that zone that the dog will find is most comfortable and able to work best. We can relate to that.

The reality is, we don't know that much about what dogs think, because they can't tell us. Behaviorists tend to believe that dogs "think" in their own way—in sensory images involving their finely honed instincts. They're not capable of deviousness or spite. They love routine: Nothing seems to make them more comfortable than doing the same thing at the same time in the familiar way, day after day: We snack here, we poop there, we play over here. I am astonished at how little it takes to please them, how simple their lives can be if we don't complicate them.

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