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?

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. While there are other theories regarding how dog achieve this I support emotion.  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. A second observation supporting the idea that dog have the same emotions as we do, is that nature with all her complexity often uses the same design for the same purposes right down to DNA and RNA. The third most compelling support for my proposition is that dogs suffer from the same “emotional malfunctions.” Things like anxiety can also be effectively treated using modified treatments designed for humans. Theories of conditioning and simple association used by your average dog trainer does not even come close to offering satisfying answers to observed dog behavior and yet they persist.

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. Not a simple association. Ask yourself why you like one person over another. Maybe both feed you and treat you well but, you prefer one to the other. Do dogs act this way?

Trust ….. even more complex construct that requires mental models in order to compare you to their idea of a trusted animal. You can not build a cogitative model of who to trust and when to trust based on simple association.  This is more analogous to an algorithm.

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 highly emotional creatures that exhibit all well defined emotions of humans they lack the highest brain functions that some believe 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.

E. Dogs are in no way simply association creatures. They even collect far more sensory information then we could ever hope to and this is just another example of how many associations dog are capable of making or connecting to a situation and/or individual.  so, to say that a dog is a simple association animal is like saying you wrote a paragraph on a subject and I wrote a book but, you have more information then I do.

The fact that most dog trainers do not appreciate the associations that an animal is capable of making is surprising but, that does not mean that it does not exist. At Motley we use the abilities of canines to improve training.

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. 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


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