The Dogs Mind
Communicating with Dogs
When we are training our dogs, we are trying to communicate with them in order to teach. It is important that the dog is in a frame of mind that it is receptive to information so that it is capable of learning.
The higher the arousal level of a dog, the lower its ability to process information. When training, we want to keep the dog motivated but calm enough to think rationally and make decisions.
A dog that is too stressed will not be able to comprehend new tasks and learning, teaching a dog under stress conditions is not productive and inappropriate.
The Traffic Light System
We can use a traffic light system to recognize the emotional arousal and/or anxiety of our dogs.
We should be aiming to keep our dogs below amber at all times. When training, if our dogs get above the yellow zone, it is no longer in a frame of mind that it can process information clearly, any memories it forms from this point will be associated with stress, fear or anxiety. It is important to reduce the stress levels of the dog before continuing to train.
The four F’s - The four F’s are the options the dog has when fearful or anxious:
When under stress conditions, our dog’s sole objective is self-preservation. When presented with a stimulus that causes an adrenaline rush so great that the thinking and rational part of the brain is completely overridden by the Amygdala, the alarm centre and emotional part of the brain, they have no control when this is activated. It is activated by reflex within 1/20th of a second and it is there to keep the dog alive. This side of the brain is reflexsive and impulsive, they do not have control over the decisions made in this side of their brain.
The thinking centre is the majority of the dog’s brain. This is the part of the brain that a healthy dog uses most of the time. When the dog is using this part of their brain they can make clear decisions, learn and form clear memories. This part of the brain can be highjacked by the emotional part of the brain in moments of stress and anxiety. The four F’s are the options that a dog has when scared, stressed or anxious. In relation to the traffic light drawing seen last week, the amber zone includes freeze and fiddle and the red zone includes fight and flight.
Fiddle behaviours are displayed when the dog is uncomfortable. Experiencing fear, stress or anxiety and is communicating this. A list of fiddle behaviours is given below in relation to body language - read out body language section to learn more about fiddle behaviours.
When a dog is going through stress or is anxious, a behaviour we sometimes see is the dog freeze. The dog has got to the point where it has panicked and no longer knows what to do. It is no longer thinking rationally.
When a dog is confronted by a threat its priority is self-preservation. Dogs will avoid conflict for fear of risking injury if possible. If they can flee the situation to survive then this is the first option before flight.
When other options such as avoidance, fiddle behaviours and flight are removed then a dog may resort to fight in order to survive. This is a last resort for a dog. They do not understand that they can get repaired at a vet and this is a dog that is going through pure panic.