Saturday, July 31, 2010

Synchronized Group Behavior and Other Stuff

The upcoming communication seminar called for me to finally organize all my dog photos – mine, and many friends and clients sent me over the years.
I was surprised how often they show dogs in the same picture doing the same thing.
Animals in a social group orient their actions to one another – one yawns, eats, stretches, lays down, barks, focuses in a certain direction, and the other(s) follow suit. It happens with dogs that cohabitate, but also ones that are just on a task together.
Real bonded group members also synchronize subconsciously, not one after the other, but at the exact same time lift a paw, speed or slow the pace, pee, open or close the mouth, change directions, tail wag or are still.
We want our dogs to have a strong sense of social belonging, so that they orient and synchronize their actions to us, and that’s why they should:
Sleep where we sleep;
Eat where and when we eat;
Be quietly in close proximity when we work on the computer or watch TV;
Be active when we initiate activity or a walk;
Be part of family outings.
The less the dog experiences those group activities, the less she will coordinate her actions to ours, and the less she will respond to us voluntarily, especially in conflict situations. Group orientation and synchronicity cannot be forced and commanded, but comes naturally when members are truly bonded and/or on task together. Next time you are out and about with your pooch, check if she follows your actions without you giving her any verbal cues.

While I was at it, and because I had a summer lull in the tide, I sorted through notes and scribbles I take whenever I read, see or hear something interesting, or when a thought or idea takes shape in my mind.
This is something I wrote down in 05, right after a herding workshop.
Things I learned:
Dogs learn by observation – even older ones.
Follow through when you say something – or don’t say it.
Find what really floats your dog’s boat and get the best responses and performances.
Sheep are smart – but not as smart as a rookie Australian shepherd.
She who controls space is in charge.

And that is from November 09. Whenever I drive to and from clients I listen to CBC Radio one. One of my favorite programs is Quirks and Quarks, and last November they had a segment on what the brain does when an organism is in fight/flight mode. We already know what the rest of the body does: stress hormones are released, the heart rate goes up, glucose is pumped into muscles, digestion and rational thinking seizes temporarily, pupils dilate and whatnot.
What scientists discovered was that in the brain, when the body is in fight/flight mode, the centers for habit are activated, which means that whatever behaviors happen at that moment can quickly become compulsive. Evolutionary that makes total sense. An animal who subconsciously “remembers” how it got itself out of a tough spot has a greater chance of survival.
What does that mean regarding dogs? Well, maybe that every time a dog feels threatened and behaves in a way humans don’t like, but gets a response that decreases his fear and anxiety, his brain memorizes what actions took the pressure off. And each time that happens, the habit of behaving “badly” is strengthened in the brain.
Another reason to manage an emotional dog’s environment in a way that keeps her below threshold, below fight/flight mode, or at least teach and ensure that the behavior she exhibits at that moment is an acceptable one, for example controlled retreat.

Last but not least, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Blockbuster, the DVD rental place, permits dogs inside. I don’t have time to watch movies very often, but this weekend I do. I like independent stuff, so I got two German ones: The White Ribbon and North Face, and a horror/thriller in English called: The Children.
Today, when we walked in, we saw a sign at the door that said not to leave dogs in the car, but to bring them inside instead, provided they are well behaved, of course. I wondered if it was just for the summer so people wouldn’t leave their pooch in the hot vehicle. But no. New policy. Blockbuster is now pet friendly. At least the one in Truro, Nova Scotia, is.


  1. Cant wait to get back into Halifax and to some of your seminars. :) Very excited.

  2. Thanks Amy, looking forward to see you.