Over Excited Dog: How Understanding Behavior Thresholds Can Help You
In this article we will try to understand behavior thresholds for humans and dogs. We are going to start from the basics and then move on to more complex topics.
What is a threshold?
A threshold is a point where something changes, or happens, that causes an animal to experience fear or anxiety. For example, if someone were to jump out at you and bite your leg, you would feel fear. If someone was to throw a rock at you while walking past, you might feel some fear. Now let’s say that person threw a rock at your head instead.
Would it make any difference what happened?
Of course not! Both events cause the same effect – they frighten or alarm us.
The concept of thresholds comes from evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biologists have studied the way animals respond to threats and dangers in order to better understand how our own brains work.
They’ve found that there are certain situations when an organism experiences fear or anxiety. These situations include being chased by a predator, seeing another individual get hurt, hearing loud noises such as gunshots or explosions, smelling poisonous substances or even just feeling threatened by something like a large group of aggressive men.
These situations are called thresholds, because they’re the points when animals experience fear and anxiety. Each organism has slightly different thresholds for different circumstances.
For example, a rabbit might be afraid of wolves (the predators) but it isn’t afraid of men (the non-predators), since men don’t hunt and eat rabbits. This is why petting a dog makes it feel calm and happy, while petting a cat makes it feel anxious and disturbed.
How does this apply to dogs?
One of the most important findings of animal behavior research has been that almost all animals respond to aversive stimuli with avoidance (this is called the Universal Behavioural Reactions). When an organism experiences pain or discomfort, it generally tries to avoid the situation in the future in order to protect itself from danger. In the case of dogs, this means that it learns to avoid whatever it is that’s causing it to feel pain or discomfort. This might sound pretty obvious, but it’s actually an important factor in how we train our pets.
Let’s think about the dog on the right for a moment. This dog has been trained through positive reinforcement – every time it does something good, it gets a treat.
This isn’t aversive training, this is just rewarding the dog for doing something positive. In fact, if you tried to use aversive training on this dog, it might get angry at you!
But what about the dog on the left?
This dog has been trained using aversive stimulus – in this case, a shock collar. When the dog does something wrong, it gets a shock. As you can see, this is quite a different situation!
There are two main problems with this. The first is that the dog on the left is going to be very afraid of you, and will do anything to avoid you because it associates you with pain.
This means it won’t be able to learn or listen to you as well, and you’ll always need to use the shocks to get it to behave. The second problem is that the dog will probably develop some pretty serious emotional problems over time, since it’s constantly under threat of pain. This actually causes the brain to change physically in a way that’s similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in humans.
Now that you understand how aversive stimuli can affect dogs, let’s talk about how you can avoid using punishment in your training.
Sources & references used in this article:
The impact of sensory processing abilities on the daily lives of young children and their families: A conceptual model by W Dunn – Infants and young children, 1997 – img2.timg.co.il
Maternal sensitivity scales by MDS Ainsworth – Power, 1969 – psychology.sunysb.edu
Chemical senses, chemical signals and feeding behavior in fishes by J Atema – Fish Behaviour and its Use in the Capture and Culture …, 1980 – books.google.com
On the thresholds of knowledge by D Lenat, E Feigenbaum – Foundations of Artificial Intelligence …, 1992 – books.google.com
Natural selection and the regulation of defenses: A signal detection analysis of the smoke detector principle by RM Nesse – Evolution and human behavior, 2005 – Elsevier