Monday, February 10, 2014

Dog Behavioral Therapy

The previous post is quite confusing. Can/should we influence our behaviors? I am not in favor of influencing behavior of a whole human being as it easily turns into mental and psychological abuse. I may choose to promote or discipline a state of mind by providing appropriate feedback. Is there a difference? As I write this, I am not sure anymore. I have learned the need to accept and work with inconsistencies and contradictions in the past few years.
So, here is a kind of related idea, that there are no good and bad behaviors, just adaptive responses. A quote from from Stephen Porges interview by Ruth Buczynski of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of behavioral Medicine (NICABM) about the Polyvagal Theory's use in treating trauma. (Link:
That is the other point I always make: there is no such thing as a bad response. There are only adaptive responses. The primary point is that our nervous system is trying to do the right thing and we need to respect what it has done. And when we respect its responses, then we move from this more evaluative state and we become more respectful, and we functionally do a lot of self-healing. ---p. 20
Anyway, here is the approach Cesar Millan suggests for training dogs (providing a balanced environment for them):
These are the basic skills everyone in the family needs to master in order to manage a puppy's behavior:
1. Have a picture in your mind of the behavior you desire.
2. Clearly and consistently communicate that desired behavior. In this communication, energy, intention, and body language are more important (and more easily comprehended by your puppy) than verbal command.
3. Ignore very mild misbehaviors using the no-touch, no-talk, no-eye-contact rule (they usually correct themselves when they aren't reinforced).
4. Immediately and consistently give corrections to more obvious misbehaviors.
5. Always apply corrections with calm-assertive energy---never take your puppy's misbehavior personally!
6. Always give your puppy an alternative acceptable behavior every time you correct an unwanted one.
7. Reward good behaviors---with affection, treats, praise---or simply your silent joy and approval, which your puppy immediately senses and understands.
--- pp. 134-135, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Next, let's address the issue of emotional openness specially in relation to surrender. Here is one approach:
What does it mean to be open? The outside comes in and the inside goes out, freely. Where before there was a gatekeeper---your self---between these two worlds of inside and outside, now there is an open door. Though it often feels more like an open wound. … the workaday world has its own rules, geared mostly toward the survival and success of its institutions and not personal or spiritual growth of its members. And so, staying truly open and soulful … can be downright agonizing … ---p. 182, Zen Confidential
I do not agree with everything in the above quote, but the basic message seems worth emphasizing, that openness is very much like an open wound!
The third quote is related to separation anxiety, in dogs that are very social animals, just like us humans.
Dogs are not programmed to live by themselves. In nature, the constant presence of the pack is what shapes their identities. The only time they have to learn to be alone is when they live among humans. We shouldn't be surprised that they are distressed by it. But even though we are asking them to do something unnatural, we can't feel bad about it or stress out about it, because this is the reality of how we live today.
… A dog, and specially a puppy, can adjust to this new style of life with very little difficulty, if we help her to do it in stages, and if we stay calm and unemotional about it. That's what we want to communicate to her---to relax. ---pp. 135-136, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
And finally, let's have another look at the problem of openness and how it works.
In crowded public spaces … I almost always unconsciously regulate my breathing. It's as if I don't want to fully take these places in. But if I remain open to all the filthy and aggravating details on my journey's way, if I breathe them in, make them part of me … I inoculate myself to their hellish aspects. Whatever you become one with cannot harm you. ---p. 188, Zen Confidential 

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