How emotions affect behaviour ...
Just as dogs have evolved from wolves, so to has our training regimens undergone an evolution over the years. What was once an expectation that the dog will obey, usually via the use of what some call “yank and crank”, has emerged into a much more beautiful picture of a willing partnership between man and beast.
Even more encouraging is the way in which we view our training partners – not as mindless, soulless creatures, but as emotional sentient beings who feel pain, have moods and fears and likes and desires. They are more like us than many would give them credit for. And just like us their behaviour reflects their emotions.
And, it must be said, that emotions are essential to our survival. They keep us alive. For example, without fear how would we know to run from the attacking lion?
Loneliness drives us to seek out social interaction. Curiosity helps us problem solve and ensures we learn as we progress through life – for good or for bad!
A child who throws a tantrum in a supermarket because mum won’t buy him a sweet is displaying a behaviour but the emotion behind that behaviour is what is actually driving it. That emotion is likely Rage (as detailed by Estonian-American neuroscientist and psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp’s Seven Core Emotions,2004[i]).
If a dog is reacting aggressively towards another dog, in most cases the emotion behind the behaviour (barking and lunging at the end of the lead, for example) is likely Fear. (Note: this is not always the case and can also sometimes be attributed to Rage).
It is clear in both these examples that it is the emotion driving the behaviour and, as such, a trainer must address the Reason, and not just the Reaction. Just to be clear, yes, the reaction must be tackled but a holistic trainer, must be mindful that if the Reason is not acknowledged, it is the same as taking a pill for the headache. The cause is not addressed.
Emotion plays an enormous role in behaviour and it is hoped more trainers will come to understand this and not look for the ‘quick fixes’ of the past. It’s easy to strap on a bark collar to stop a dog barking when left alone but what does it actually achieve accept pain and fear? When we are really frightened learning becomes impossible, and the outcome is a dog that shuts down and can’t think. The behaviour is stopped, yes, but what learning has occurred?
The flipside is that dopamine is associated with focus and quick learning and interestingly, here the role of the gut can come into play: “Surprisingly, the health of your intestinal flora impacts your production of neurotransmitters. An overabundance of bad bacteria leaves toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides which destroy the brain cells that make dopamine.” [ii]
Other factors that will play a role in a healthier mindset (by boosting dopamine levels) include ensuring the dog is receiving enough exercise, providing an appropriate raw food diet, ensuring the dog is a healthy weight and addressing any obesity issues, using massage and T-Touch, playing soothing music, and supplementing the diet with anti-inflammatory organic curcumin in the form of Golden Paste.
[i] Panksepp, Jaak, 2004, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions
[ii] Alban, Deanne, 2016, How to Increase Dopamine Naturally, Be Braiin Fit, Better Mind, Better Life