As a Highly Recommended Associate Dog Listener, I am in a priviledged position to be able to share some of Jan Fennell’s nuggets of wisdom on dog behaviour beyond what we have time to go through in a consultation, so I wanted to share one of her weekly topics, Remembered Pain. The below a Jan Fennell Article:
Have you ever felt some butterflies in your stomach, accompanied by the over-whelming urge to turn and run away when you are about to go through the door of a dentist surgery, even when you are there for a check-up and no matter how much you tell yourself that it will be alright the feeling of dread refuses to go away.
We can also have similar feelings when we go into any situation that has in the past caused us to wish that we were a million miles away but we can always hope that “this time it will be different”.
The very fact that we have the ability to imagine a different outcome is unique to humans but all other species will react exclusively according to their own experience or what they have been taught. An example of this would be a dog owner becoming distressed, angry or panicked when a particular breed of dog appeared, in a very short space of time their own dog would come to make a negative reaction to the breed of dog all based on the influence of the owners behaviour. This in turn results in a negative association with any dog that looks like the one that causes panic in the owner. In exactly the same way a child can be taught fear of dogs, spiders, horses etc.
Whenever a dog encounters something that it has learned results in a negative experience, it cannot imagine a different scenario when faced with this situation. The only way to resolve this is to show the dog a different outcome and create a new association for it, guided by a pack member it trusts completely and is a source of reassurance; the group decision maker.
One of my most earnest tips with ‘remembered pain’ is to accept that you may never come to know why it has first occurred, especially if you have taken a dog from a rescue organisation. This way you will avoid wasting precious time establishing a root cause and just be able to get on with the job of creating a new and safe association. A dog’s trust in you will reassure it and the old “remembered pain”
One advantage our dogs have is over us is that they never become afraid of something that may happen in the future, they don’t worry about meeting that aggressive dog on that walk in the park tomorrow or the visit to the vet you may have planned, they are just concerned with now. Maybe that’s something we can learn from them; ‘today is the tomorrow that I worried about yesterday’.
29th February 2012