Instincts and Drive in Dogs.
I was on week 2 of a private training session. I thought things were going very well. The owners were responding, and even having fun. Their Abby, an eight month old boarder collie, was responding well. I could see the joy returning to her eyes.
In the initial intake the owners expressed pride that they had a working bloodline dog. They described in length how Abby’s mom herded sheep around the paddock and through the gate. That is why their next statement caught me by surprise.
“I know all this dog training is important,” said Abby’s owner, “But this isn’t what we want. We want her to lay down in front of the fireplace and not disturb us.”
I literally came to a complete stop. What could I say? How do people know they are buying a high drive dog, but expect it to be ‘trained’ to not be a high drive dog? That would be the same as me buying a pickup truck and being upset because it didn’t have the gas mileage, comforts, and upgrades found in a BMW.
This is exactly what we need to consider whether a dog trainer who is trying to help a pet owner, or people who are buying a dog. There are a lot of things that we can train, but there are a lot of things that we cannot train.
The explanation can be quite complex. There are entire courses at institutions like MIT and Harvard that cover one aspect of cognitive development or instinct.
Dogs are hardwired for certain behaviors. A border collie is bred to have the stamina to work all day because it needs to work all day. It is not trying to give you a hard time. It is not ‘bad.’ It is not acting out. It is acting like a perfectly normal border collie.
The same with a beagle. Your beagle is bred to hunt. It is bred to stay on the trail until it chases down what it is hunting. We know these behaviors as instincts. In the Neuro-Science world they are simply memories that are stored on proteins which are attached to Chronozones. They are hard wired into the dog’s brain.
Another issue that you cannot train out of your dog is brain chemicals. Some dogs release more cortisol when excited than others. Cortisol makes a dog run longer, hit harder, work longer, or appear scarier. It is all based on how the brain releases the chemical, and in part, the size of the pituitary gland.
As you can see, a lot of intangibles come together to shape a dog into the breed/type. This is why behavior experts like Dr Ian Dunbar say that ‘behavior can be changed. Temperament cannot.’ That is because behavior is often learned by experience. Temperament is hard wired.
Then dogs have 2 cognitive centers. We often call these cognitive brain and primal brain. The more cognitive a dog the less emotional it is. Another way to say this, the less it is to react to fear, stress, and being startled.
”Cutting-edge neuroscientific tools are now available that make it possible for scientists to map and interrogate the specific brain circuits that control these behaviors. Modern neuroscience now stands poised to unravel exactly how this circuitry works in order to generate both normal and pathological behaviors.” Jim Jikomes, Harvard. Edu.
So, as much as I like you, and I would love a good review, I cannot teach your beagle not to hunt squirrels. I cannot teach your Akita to be the friendliest dog at the dog park. And I cannot make your border collie stop acting like a border collie. f