Dogs and cognitive association : access vs availability Garnand, Jeau 2013
In human psychology we discuss whether or not information is in your memory and you can not access it or if the information is really not in your brain at all. How in the world does this pertain to your dog? Well, according the the Garnand 2013 model of canine memory there is a lot of information that your dog has learned but do to blocks and distractions such as, communication, instinct, emotional states or, allocation of attentional resources, your dog just like people can not access this information reliably.
Take this example, trainers and handlers often believe that their dog is tricked into thinking a tennis ball is a prey item or that the dog must be tricked into giving up one ball for another. I do not believe this is the case. Dogs have far more advanced senses then we do. All information that you learn which equals some form of memory, is collected via sense. A dog knows by the texture, sent and taste of the object whether or not it is a true prey item. So, why do they act as though it is a horribly valuable thing? This is where we get into the applied psychology of Dog Training.
I theorize that your dog focuses so much attention on the object that the object ceases to be the focus. This happens with people. They become so focused on and object or event that the object becomes secondary to the memories associated with it. In a dogs mind it may go something like, I am having so much fun, I want the ball… I want the ball.. I want to hunt … I want to hunt…
The key in dog training is to manage these states of extreme excitement and learn how to communicate with your dog when your dog is approaching this state. Motley gets so excited if someone tells him there is a squirrel in the yard by the time he gets in the dog yard he is so worked up he can not find the squirrel, even if it is right in front of him. This poses a few problems in dog training and also accounts for negative behavior such as, anxious aggression, redirected aggression and anxiety in general. It also means that your dog probably knows a lot more then you realize but, if attention is to focused the dog can not access the information until the extreme focus is broken and redirected. However, there are situations that having this ability to focus so relentlessly on one goal and/or object is exactly what we want in our dogs. This brings us to the tricky part. You must find a balance or method that communicates to your dog that there are times of extreme focus and time for a more relaxed focus.
Motley and I are working on exercises to achieve this complex communication and we will follow up with you soon.
Motley and Jeau