Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Dog's Life

The Partnership for Animal Welfare defined temperament as "the general attitude a dog displays towards people and other animals; it is the combined inherited and acquired physical and mental traits that influence the dog's behavior." Temperament is hereditary, but behavior is the result of the upbringing and external situations in which the dog was exposed. While we might not be able to change the temperament of a dog, we can influence its behavior. I worked at an area Humane Society years ago and was able to observe the temperament testing that each new shelter dog had to undergo. Once the dog's natural drives were identified we were then able to work to amend the dog's behavior, to help him to unlearn reactions to situations, whether social or drive related. Dogs 4 Life, a training center, wrote that there are three social temperaments in dogs; social, neutral and unsocial. The social is just how it sounds, dog greets you with a nice friendly wag of the tail, perhaps a slurpy kiss. The unsocial reacts with either fight (aggression) or flight (hiding or fear). Now I know I am not a dog, and perhaps some might find it offensive to be compared to an animal (we are mammals, part of the animal kingdom whether we like it or not) but I think there is something here. What is my temperament versus my behavior. What is my ingrained response to the world, hereditary perhaps (you do know that this is the one post my parents will stumble upon), versus how I react to the world. If I can pinpoint that, say in my social response, maybe I can understand why fear is such a driving force for me today. I could consider my temperament to be that of an unsocial dog. And according to Dogs 4 Life, "The unsocial dog needs a program of counter-conditioning the fight/flight response, through classical conditioning and removing the reward for the aggression." When I am in fear, as I am now, stewing in my lack of earning potential, I either lash out at the world, blaming everyone else for my problems or I retreat into a cave, hiding and removing myself from life. I either want to throw a rock or step in front of a moving vehicle. I slip into the deep subconscious and react without thinking. What would be my counter-conditioning program? As an unsocial creature perhaps the answer is the end to self-imposed isolation. I don't suppose that anyone will drop treats in front of me as a counter conditioning tool, but I do get "rewards" each time I try a new behavior. For instance, when I ask for a help, something counter intuitive, I receive the reward, providing I ask from someone equipped to actually help. When I call about a job opening, working against my ingrained tendencies to run and hide, I am rewarded with the satisfaction of working outside of my comfort zone. Today I will attempt to react to fear in a new way, and like my dog who gets a biscuit when she sits, I will gain the satisfaction of moving beyond my temperament, my base fears. I still want the cookie though...I would be happy with shoes as well. 


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