Dogs Simple Association and Emotion

Dogs Simple Association and Emotion


I may have already corrected my theory so, hang in there we are always try to improve around here. Emotions are a kind of intelligence EQ, they are an evolutionary adaptation that improves our ability to interpret the world, to survive and reproduce. EQ maybe on a continuum from reptile to human. however, dogs are like little emotion detectors. How are they so good at sensing moods? determining if your message is credible? It is because they have the same emotions we do.. think about someone with autism or antisocial personality DO.. they can not recognize emotions because they do not have the same “emotional systems” that we do and may not have the same emotions we do. These differences result in an inability to recognize and correctly interpret the emotional and nonverbal comms of other animals. So, if dogs  lacked our emotions would they be able to recognize fear, aggression, depression and anxiety?  Another observation, did you know that the methods used to train people to face potentially traumatic events or highly stressful events have the same core principles as those used to train dogs. Think about it.. it is true. Consider the number of PTSD suffers both canine and human and ask .. is there a better way ? Makes me wonder how much influence our higher brain really has to do with emotions if much at all.

A common problem in dog training… my dog likes me but, if I puff up and tell him … hey I am the boss… he just laughs at me and says … hey I really like you but, I don’t respect or trust you. According to the Motley Dog model they can do these things because they recognize what you are doing with something that is in them. Remember, I do not know the connection however, the best evidence for dogs having the same emotional hardwired as us, is that anyone having a variance in their emotional hard-wiring seems to be serious deficient in reading nonverbal comms.  So, if we believe that dogs are masters of reading and correctly interpreting nonverbal information they must have advance emotional systems. Research strongly supports a link between EQ and nonverbal comms. this is yet, another reason there is no such thing as a reactive dog. And supports the theory that dogs are not simple association animals.

Some dog trainers have a funny explanation for this but think about it. The explanations do not fit the finding of research. I will not cover them but, here is a list to consider, Alpha theory, Wolf theory, Dominance theory, Positive only theory and go ol’ yank and crank.  I hope now you see they are seriously lacking.  Here is a little extra love for you dog behaviorist and operant conditioning experts. No matter how many treats you give your dog… I promise you that if they do not respect you and dont feel like listening to you in those critical leadership moments. They will not!

Simply put if your dog can:

Like someone ….. higher level emotional construct… not a simple emotional state.

Trust ….. even more complex construct that requires mental models in order to compare you to their idea of a trusted animal.

Respect … a lot like trust.

All of these skills require going far beyond simple associations and limited emotional capacity.

However, ask any seasoned trainer and they will tell you dogs are more then capable of this. I do not buy their explanation for why.

Just so those how prefer ideas like training collars, dominance, alpha, wolf theory… no your dog not listening to you is not solved by the use of any of these old theories.  Dogs are highly intelligent and the best solution for this an all other behavioral dilemma consist of

1. changing how your dog interprets a given situation

2. changing your behavior


We still need to compare canine and human hardware. If you look at the evolution of the mammalian brain you will notice that we all have evolved the same structures in the oldest parts of the brain see fig below.


Further reading for those who are inspired :

This is not a shock.. people forget that we are all animals so, surprise we have all evolved in a similar fashion. Also, it is important to note that studies using fMRI and other techniques are finding that dog are highly emotional and far more intelligent then some have thought.

An article I found with a quick google search is a good example:

My theory is that dogs just like humans have biochemical messages that come from the body and brain and either excite or depress the nervous system. There are interesting effects like, homeostasis, changes in threshold and rebound, to name a few but, the point is that dogs and humans have the same “hard wiring”.  The major difference seem to be the new part of our least from and evolutionary perspective that allows us to think really complex sometime very useful and sometimes just over complicating things. Dogs have yet to develop this new brain so one could say they don’t over complicate things like we do. They must experience pure emotion similar to ours. It also means that they can not solve a calculus prof but, who really wants to do that anyway 🙂 no what it means is that we are complicated but that does not mean dogs are simple.

The answer to many of my questions seems to be dependent on how much influence the “over complicating parts” of your brain has on emotion. I came across this and it may help.

When I look at this I asked myself does a dog have the same equipment? If you put the same fuel in the same engine you get the same result? The answer is of course yes within given parameters/

Some hypotheses that I have derived from this little experience:

A. Dogs are not only emotional creatures that are almost all emotional and lack the highest brain functions that we use to inhibit our emotions. The funny thing is that just like our dogs 90% of our behavior is not conscious to us so, makes me wonder just how much inhibition on influence our higher brain structures really have on emotion if much at all.

B. I have suggested that dogs learn episodically, These findings seem to support that conclusion. ie.. have you even been in a traumatic event? do you remember it in a slow motion movie kind of a way?  sometimes these memories manifest in nightmares that are like little horror movies that play over and over in your head. Talking about similarities between dogs and people… have you ever smelled something and suddenly had and emotional reaction?

C. For Memory or learning it is best to learn to help your dog control their emotional state. While creating an episode as opposed to a positive or negative reinforcement.

D. Behavioural problems are complicated in that dogs do not have our higher brain function so, the solution needs to be tied to an experience that is counter to the dogs current understanding of the situation. Working with the dog to “calm” or break the old brain emotional flooding.

Dogs must see the world as an emotional picture and while we have the ability to inhibit and organize our world the dog must see the situation and context combined with raw emotion. This is not a simple association.

Look at it this way simple association works in teaching a dog because it is difficult to learn in an emotional state. Think about when your dog gets to excited.. to aggressive? people say the don’t listen to me.. well of course not. Have you ever tried to speak in front of a lot of people, take a difficult test that you were afraid of? whatever, your fear maybe .. even with your advance thinking apparatus sometime emotional states takes over, so imagine what it would be like to have a limited ability to inhibit emotion?

so, simple association works in training because it is simple not because your dog is simple. Here is the sad news based on loads of research and experience.  Both dogs and people show the same results when exposed to learning via conditioning so, no it is not your dog.

  1. You can get a dog to sit on command by using force (negative) or you can get a dog to sit using (positive) rewards.
  2. Does not matter if you use positive or negative methods neither work without loads and loads of repetition
  3. There are always situations were the use of either positive or negative techniques fail and this is common.

CONCLUSION : Move past Skinner.

Learning via conditioning positive or negative is crap.

Learning requires

  1. control of emotional state
  2. understanding and elaboration through communication
  3. Motivation

If all else fails look at it this way… we don’t have any idea how human emotions or intelligence really work so, how could we be so bold as to claim that we understand other animals ?

So, when your training your dog and something doesn’t go right.. instead of thinking “stupid dog” try saying oh “emotional dog” how can I work with this an communicate effectively with my dog.  Also, try to remember that even with you, if you are in an emotional state simple is good however, that does not mean you are simple. I can also see how studying dogs and their emotions will help us better treat people with such things as OCD, PTSD and similar concerns. Since in these states we seem to lose our ability of higher cognitive function and could be experiencing the world just like our dog?

Is it possible that I am wrong about all this? of course it is but, hey give it some thought.


Motley Dog

Here is a fun thing to think about, Anthropomorphism

Dog trainers seem to love this word… it is quite a word. If you are not trying to impress people you might say that you are attributing your dogs behavior to an emotion that we don’t think they are capable of and/or making them participate in an activity that is really human. Dressing up,. partying and play dates to name a few of the common ones.

Here are a couple of things I would like you to research:

Psychology is the science of predicting behavior and behavior is general, yes emotion is a behavior but, a good psychologist or psychiatrist will let you know that we do not understand human emotion.

If we do not understand human emotion might investigate the numerous corrections the “Animal Behaviorist” have had to make over the years regrading emotion, and other human like characteristics that hey…. they now are beginning to realize animals are capable of..

Anthropomorphism is a little like a stereotype when we like someone or something we want to include them in our activities. This is why dogs were domesticated in the first place. Trust me if you tried to train a Wolf to guard sheep you would lose a few sheep. The point is that your relationship with your dog is your business. If respect for each other becomes a problem, just like with people you need to work that out. Now remember Tiny the 100+ pound Rottie can’t tell you that dressing up is not their thing so, think. If you dog does not respect you it is likely because your non verbal comms are not credible and you have not practiced or earned the trust necessary for your dog to take you as a credible leader. Your dog is more then capable of distinguishing between fun time and a serious situation, work time and play time. Your dog is so good at this they also make an informed decision whether to take you seriously or not. Is this the act of an animal based on simple association? Just like humans there is a reason I would follow one person into a fire fight and not another. Has nothing to do with their ability to dominance or force. I now they have gotten me through tight spots before and they have earned my trust and respect.

According to Motley play and exploration are the keys to canine learning but, it is purposeful play. Your dog will challenge you during play they will test the boundaries and you had better know how to read you dog and to lead. Your dog is constantly reading you and just like hunting they are programed to find and exploit weakness it is an instinct. They lean your weaknesses, moods and mannerisms most of which we can not even perceive or are conscious of.   I guess in all fairness it depends on how you define simple association but, you would have to have a fairly loose definition to place dogs within the definition. Humans use conditioning to try to lean things and we have similar results to dogs.

Simply put 🙂 simple association is a great tool for clarifying complex situations and establishing an understanding of the expectations of a behavior but, not much else. So, look at simple association and conditioning as a good tool for comms it can be a great starting place but, you are not simple and neither is you dog.

Dogs are not simple association creatures, we have no idea what emotional or cognitive range they have an example, is how they whip our butts at non-verbal comms. this is a kind of intelligence and they far surpass us… not simple association. A typical dog will size you and your emotional state up even before you are aware of it while creating a sent profile of you and their surroundings not to mention monitoring and associating any unique sight and sounds that might occur in the episode. They even remember your body posturing and use this as cues in the future..a common problem in dog training. They remember all this and add to it as they go so…. love each other have a good time. We are here to help if either of you get confused.. 🙂






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