Head and Heart - Emotions
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Canine Behavior Associates
Academy of Dog Behavior
at Humane Society Silicon Valley

Level I - Starts on February 5, 2017
If you're interested in learning more about dog behavior or becoming a professional in the dog world, check out the Academy. This 40 hour class is convenient for working people, avoids the commute (Sunday afternoons at Humane Society Silicon Valley), and you'll meet a bunch of great people.  The next class starts February 5, 2017  and runs through April 23rd For more info, please click here:   Academy of Dog Behavior
Advanced Modules for Academy Grads at
Humane Society Silicon Valley
Head and Heart - Emotions & Empathy
As we know, the New Year is supposed to be a time for resolutions.   Besides all the normal stuff - getting in shape, reading more books, etc, your resolutions might include dog related activities - walking the dog twice a day, or getting in some quality training time.

Good trainers have attributes besides skill - they are generally focused, patient, and persistent.   And they also know how much emotions play into both dog and human behavior.

Without emotions, people couldn’t make decisions at all... even ones as simple as what we are going to have for dinner, or what t-shirt to buy.  There’s always an emotional element – what do we feel like eating, buying or doing.  We are emotional beings who can think. We are also pretty selfish – the narrator and hero of our own story – and sometimes forget to take other beings into account.   Dogs also are emotional beings who can think, and they are also the heroes of their own stories (they just don’t make up really good ones…or if they do, they don’t tell us).

One of the interesting things about dog ownership is how much it is a function of our emotional need for animal companions.  Most of us probably realize the decision to acquire a pet has nothing to do with logic.  Dogs are messy, noisy, invasive, and expensive, as well as fun, sweet and affectionate.  If you want a watch dog, alarms are more reliable, and don't eat nearly as much.   We want them because we want something to love that will love us back and make us feel good and useful. 
Like us, actions that your dog takes are always based on an emotion or instinct.  They use their seeking circuit to find affection, food or fun.   If they are frightened, they run or fight, depending on their temperament and the circumstances.   In fact, dogs don't go through the rather convoluted process we do when it comes to deciding what to do - if they feel an emotion, they act on it!  And generally, all you have to do is look at them to know what they're feeling. 

It should come as no surprise that methods of helping our dogs behave also have their roots in our emotions.  There are as many methods of training as there are reasons to get a dog, and each one has its emotional appeal.   More positive types of training are geared at enjoyment; both you and your dog having fun and learning together.   Other types of training are aimed more at unquestioning obedience, and sometimes use fear or intimidation to get the desired results.
When training a dog, it's usually a good idea to try to tone down your own emotions as you try to adjust his behavior.   Punishment will tend to suppress behavior without adding an appropriate one, and overly-effusive praise might actually interrupt his thought processes, so he doesn't remember what he did right! 

This can be relatively easy when you're teaching behaviors like sit or down and stay.  But it can be almost impossible with more serious problems, as people with destructive, noisy or explosive dogs understand well.  When your dog erupts at an oncoming dog who is doing nothing whatsoever to provoke her, it’s very hard not to get angry.  When she keeps pulling your arm out of its socket on your “walk,” it’s difficult to believe she’s not doing it to you.  (She isn’t, by the way.  It’s just the price she has to pay for getting where she wants to go.  After all, she's the hero of her own story).
If we’re dealing with a problem behavior, it’s also very important to think about the emotions that are causing the behavior, so that we can intervene calmly at the appropriate time. 
For example, if your dog greets you hysterically when you get home, or jumps uncontrollably on your guests, your dog isn't misbehaving - he's probably jumping for joy.  When you get angry because it’s uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing to have a jumping dog, you probably increase the energy, confuse your dog, and sometimes cause even more jumping.  

When considering how to modify the behavior, it’s generally a good idea to try to  understand what’s going on in his brain, then figure out a way to diffuse the excitement.  Maybe you need to tone down the energy, replacing it with a more acceptable behavior, like moving to a different spot, sitting calmly, and waiting for a reinforcement.  There might be other solutions as well, like pottering around outside until the first burst of excitement has dropped, or walking around the house, studiously ignoring the leaping dog until he calms down.  All these solutions are generally way more effective than yelling at the dog...although perhaps not so immediately satisfying.
The same thoughtful techniques can be useful for other emotionally charged behaviors – If the dog slams through the dog door to chase a squirrel, the tendency is to yell at the dog to knock it off.  Alas, your yelling will have precisely zero effect on your dog, who isn’t thinking about you – she’s intent on the squirrel. So it might be useful to remove her or block her access to the squirrels, so that she isn’t tempted and you aren’t always reacting. 
When working with fearful dogs, empathy can be extremely important.  If your dog barks at strangers from six feet away, he’s frightened of the person and is trying to drive them off.   If you insist that he meet the person, you may end up with a dog so terrified that he will actually bite.  Understanding his fear, allowing more space and time, and conducting introductions under controlled conditions will lead to a better outcome.   Many clients don’t understand why their dog doesn’t just get over it, but they won’t without help.  As far as they’re concerned, their fear is saving their lives. 

This is a silly acronym for working on behavior problems involving high levels of emotion, like fear or anxiety.  The idea is to put yourself in the dog's place while helping him cope and improve. 
  • Creative Anthropomorphism Modification Program
    • Assess the dog’s emotional state or perception of danger and figure out what he needs to be able to concentrate
    • Turn fear and anxiety into fun
      • Understand what motivates the dog when he or she is relaxed and comfortable – practice at home and in safe locations until muscle memory is strong
      • Work outside the dog’s threshold until you are sure he or she is ready for the next step
        • If you are working with a fear aggressive dog and he will not willingly look back at you, you are too close or you have been working too long
      • Maintain a bearing of cheerful relaxation...or the dog will read your energy and feel your emotion and your efforts will be in vain
If you or someone you know would like a consultation, or to see a topic covered in this newsletter, or if you have expressive dog photo's you might like us to use, please email
Trish King
Tricia Breen

Art by Robin King
Copyright © 2017 Canine Behavior Associates, All rights reserved.

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