Dog's Emotion: A Blessing For Wally and I | Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition

Translate To Your Language

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dog's Emotion: A Blessing For Wally and I

Wally expressing that's he's ready for action!
I used to look at Wally's highly emotional nature and how strongly he feels emotions as a curse. Of course, part of this was because of his fear issues he had back then. Everything would trigger such a strong avoidance and fear from him and it would take him so long to recover and be something resembling 'normal', that it just seemed like a hindrance to everything we wanted to do.

Even then, it helped his learning, though not in a way I would want to repeat or try to recreate, but the strong fear emotions also made him remember what got him taken away from what he was fearful of. One way I didn't realize at the time was getting him to sit and/or indicate in his way to me what he was afraid of so I could deal with it and keep him from trying to strangle himself getting away. When he saw that sitting near me and staying close would get me to take him away, it ended up being something he remembered strongly. He learned this quickly as well.

Fast forward ahead about a year or so and the fear issues aren't the consuming thing for him anymore, and now the emotional intensity is on the other end of the scale, sheer excitement. This level of emotion worked the same way, with the added benefit of being an emotion I did want to trigger. Who doesn't like to see a happy and excited dog? What I learned, though, was that these emotions would cause the events that occurred while in that intense state to be more strongly remembered. So the things I could teach him while wound up and excited and super into the game or training we're doing, they would make a bigger "footprint" in his brain, making it easier for him to remember and making a bigger impression on him, so to speak.

So now, the first thing I like to do is get Wally wound up. I do what I can to get him excited, bouncy, and super alert and ready for action. Once he's had time to "charge up" we start going into the game or training we get into. I also use treats he loves (everything I use is 'high-value', meaning I only use treats he puts on his to-die-for list) which only helps keeping the spirits high, even if the task at hand is challenging and that he struggles with accomplishing.

There are other benefits to working him in this higher state of emotion:
  • He learns how to think and perform behaviors when something excites him in "real life".
  • He learns how to control himself during times of high emotion.
  • The alertness and focus that occurs when he's like this also burns off energy, adding to any physical and mental energy he's consuming.
  • It keeps the learning and training fun, making him want to participate in training again later.
  • The fun he is having becomes part of the memory associated with the behavior and cues - a form of classical conditioning. Performing the behavior itself can trigger some of these feelings when the history is strong enough.

Of course, there's too much of a good thing - and if the dog is too wound up to where he's not able to perform with control and composure, or is unable to listen to your instructions, it's time to dial it down some so he can regain some self-control. Take a break, do something low intensity, whatever ways you have to calm the dog some so he can be in a more controlled state.

And of course, negative emotions are something you have to make the best of - obviously not something you want to trigger and cause your dog to intentionally endure - and the same rules apply: calm him down and withdraw him from the situation if he's so overwhelmed that he can't think (often called "shut down" or "the dog is shutting down"). At this state, there's no sense doing anything because he mind has "locked up" and is not processing rationally. Wait until he's settled down and try again.