Behaviour: inside->out

Bono f Beeler – BCCSDip.Bhv.Prac
SpeakingDog K9 Services
Christchurch, New Zealand
10th May 2020
“Discussions about predictive coding which occupy my mind”


The dominant hypothesis, especially within animal sciences, still views behaviours as reactions to the world, in turn, learning reflects the world being referenced in the brain, by the world. [Stimuli -> Response / Stimuli -> Cognition -> Response]

Our individual human perception causes to anthropomorphize a many ideas onto our animals behaviours; some positive but as many negative.

The predictive nature of the brain is nothing new. Its not a new concept that has arisen in the last few decades. Even the so called father of psychology, William James, stipulated on predictive properties of the brain, there were many others, but somehow theses hypotheses never really gained popularity like models such as classical conditioning and behaviorism in animal sciences.

And so, this short paper, as others I wrote before, is a reflection of what occupies my mind taking into account the fact that each of our individual perceptions are layered with biases of our past experiences, priors, which influence what we read, how we study and research, present and teach others. The problem: our stipulation are ours, and very unlikely the perceptions of the very animals we observe, study and work with. To understand the brain as a statistics gathering predictive organ leads me to profoundly question the inferences we have made of animal behaiours but also the methods used to study animals; specifically, in this article: Domestic Dogs (canine lupus familiaris)
Behaviour: inside -> out

As we think of behaviour as reactive actions to the world, we seem to miss to ask, how does a brain and the system it controls, its body, react, in a timely fashion by awaiting a stimuli as not to be delayed in the responsive action? How does a brain perceive by vision, audition, olfaction, touch, taste to reference the world outside? How does the brain perceive and reference the body itself to be able to control every system down to the nanometer and move it purposefully at every level of every system within the body?

Are we asking these questions enough within the animal sciences especially the animal training professions?
The very nature of matching “word descriptions” to behaviours, brain regions, brain circuits and brain activity brings with it linguistic and cultural biases. Take for example the words “Calming Signals”- used by Turid Rugaas to describe behavioral interactions between dogs to communicate politeness, discomfort, stress and also producing a physical calming effect by a dogs system for itself or to calm another dog- is translated into German to “Beschwichtigungs-Signale”.

The very word: “Beschwichtigung” however, translates into English as “appeasement”.
“Appeasement” as a definition as: “giving something to an aggressive power to ensure the peace”, is however rather a submissive action that may lead to more discomfort for the appeasing dog. For example, if one dog gives up food to keep the peace, it may be calming in our perception for the lack of further aggressive action by the intimidating dog, however for the appeasing dog, who is giving up the food its system needs for survival, it becomes at the very least uncomfortable due to hunger and in prolonged circumstances stressful to the body and its brain for the lack of energy intake. From what I understand of the hypothesis of how dogs use Calming Signals; they are suggested to be purposeful communicative tools resting on cooperative abilities for successful social interactions in dog groups [packs].

The very translation -Appeasing- may imply to some something different compared to the original meaning the Author intended Calming Signals to be perceived. This has consequences; what we infer enforced by our cultural biases, and in turn I suggest, may have little to do with what the dog perceives, the world he moves in to be.

The so called “displacement behaviours” are another good example of misinterpretations. Originally Nikolaas Tinberg and Konrad Lorenz refered to “Übersprungsverhalten” -> then translated into English as: “Displacement Behaviours”- as behaviours which were perceived by the observer as unexpected irrelevant actions between 2 instinctive behaviours. These substitute activities were perceived as such because they did not fit a situation in any context and seemed to show a conflict between two instinctive behaviours, thus, the animal presenting an irrelevant third action. In later behavioural research however, “Übersprungsverhalten” – “Displacement Behaviours” seemed to conform more to social signaling. Thus while these actions may seemed to be irrelevant and out of context to the observer, in the animals perceptions of the environment its brain and its body moves in, these actions have profound meanings. (Consciously and unconsciously experienced) The observer is simply experiencially blind to the meaning of these actions- to the observer these are just noise.

Hannah-Maria Zippelius and Peter Sevenster pointed out in different publications their view, that none of the hypotheses by Lorenz and Tinberg, which supposedly explain displacement behaviours [Übersprungsverhalten], are empirically measurable with methods of continued neuronal and postured behavioural changes of the actions leading to substitute movements [displacement behaviours] within innate behaviours.
Sure, we can write the ethogram of a dog from continuous observations made with inferences we have made. As stated above; these inferences are influenced by prior experiences; what we learnt from others, agreed on with others, our cultural upbringings, believes, social needs and so on. Priors influence what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste this feel and emote.

Is a hen that is running up and down next to food she cannot get to, showing irrelavant behaviour or trying to communicate to the feeder that she cannot get the food? The latter would suggest the behaviours have context and are very relevant in that situation to the hen in the environment she moves in.

The examples above also present us with another insight. In all examples inferences were made. These guesses are predictions which the observers made of an animal in specific situation. They then went out researching, measuring their predictions to look for statistical reoccurrences which are then presented as evidence suggesting an accurate prediction.

The very nature of any system has a predictive rather then reactive nature; from the smallest chemicals moving by diffusive and electrostatic forces across neurons membrane through ion channels leading to various neuronal actions, making it possible for the sensors to sense. Action has to occur to move they eye to be able to process light. To do that, the brain has to have an idea what it is sensing. We cant see light with our ears, so there must be inference leading to actions to move the right sensor, the eyes. It means, every action has a purpose.

We may be displeased with some behaviours our dogs display. We call these problem behaviours. We go out of our way trying to change these behaviours to accustom the dogs to our life styles; how we envisage them to live with us. For that, many pay a lot of money to trainers and behaviourists to tell them how to change the very nature of a behaviour, to “inprint” the dogs brain with our ideals and all the while, the brain of “the mans best friend” is predicting possible outcomes, updating the prediction errors in milliseconds just to be pulled along on a short leash as reprimand for wanting to sniff and we infer from those actions, proof that the dog learnt through operant principles.

We can make the above statement with a positive reinforcer as well. How many of us have made a dog sit and look at us to “not react” to something uncomfortable and then stipulated this as proof that the dog is now calm and “ok” with the “stimuli it reacted upon”? Through the repetitive nature of training these behaviours increase and we can argue that the dogs brain has made the concept of looking at you during a situation it would have acted and felt differently before. But the predictive nature of the brain had already made inferences about the handlers actions (you) and the probabilistic outcome of the food by the action of sitting while also inferring the actions and/or movements of the uncomfortable stimuli (another dog) leading to the same outcome in affective mood. The dog will still be aroused and feel unpleasant if that’s how he felt before he was taught the action of sit in that specific environment. The movement has changed the prediction of the feeling has not because there is no new experience with the uncomfortable stimuli (the other dog) to create prediction errors and update the inference of: “the other dog is a threat”. What we do by looking at behaviours from the outside is the equivalent of treating a symptom rather then the cause.

Many will condemn me for the above suggestions but maybe some will be open to spend the energy to learn more about the predictive nature of living systems to create a future of animal training which teaches the very nature of our dogs to owners, to have deeper and richer bonds where dogs can be dogs and owners wonder how their furry friends perceive the world rather than sculpt them to fit into our world only to later band aid symptoms rather then treating physical and mental causes.

“An evidence-based decision assistance model for predicting training outcomes in juvenile guide dogs”
Naomi D. Harvey, Peter J. Craigon, Simon A. Blythe, Gary C. W. England, Lucy Asher

●Great Expectations: Is there Evidence for Predictive Coding in Auditory Cortex?
lMicha Heilbron Maria Chaitc
Département de Biologie, École Normale Supérieure, Paris 75005, France
Université Pierre et Marie Curie P6, Paris 75005, France
Ear Institute, University College London, London WC1X 8EE, United Kingdom
●Predictive coding in the visual cortex: A functional interpretation of some extra-classical receptive-field effects(Article)
Rao, R.P.N., Ballard, D.H.
View Corr2espondence (jump link)
●”Does Subjective Rating Reflect Behavioural Coding? Personality in 2 month old dog puppies: an open-field test and adjective-based questionnaire “
Shanis Barnard, Sarah Marshall-Pescini
●CALMING SIGNALS – The Art of Survival
Turid Rugaas
●Derived activities: their causation, biological significance, origin and emancipation during evolution
Nikolaas Tinberg, The Quarterly Review of Biology. Band 27, 1952, S. 25.
● Die vermessene Theorie. Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der Instinkttheorie von Konrad Lorenz und verhaltenskundlicher Forschungspraxis. Braunschweig: Vieweg 1992, S. 260,
Hannah-Maria Zippelius
●Hanna-Maria Zippelius, Die vermessene Theorie, S. 261.
●the free energy principle, karl friston
●the theory of constructed emotions, lisa feldman barrett, 2017

●Principle of neural design, stirling & laughling, 2015

Anne Lill Kvam on Calming Signals & Angola

🐕: “You’ll be presenting on different things such as agression, barking, scentwork but will talk a lot about calming signals and communication.
What is so important to understand for the everyday dog owners and any canine professionals about calming signals?”
ALK: “The understanding of Calming Signals is crucial for any person wanting to be close to dogs, as this is the dogs’ natural way of communicating. Dogs communicate with each other and with their environment. And like humans, they love it when someone understand their language.
When we understand the meaning of dogs Calming signals, we can easily prevent difficult situations, like biting or other expressions of fear or aggression. Because dogs, like us, give warnings when something is wrong. And like us, the warnings escalate when not heard/read. Every individual has its own threshold for violence, some will nearly never hit anyone, others rather easily turn to punitive behaviour.
People who have learnt to read and use the Calming signals, have reported back that they  feel a whole new world of their dog is opening up for them. And that the bonding between them get stronger; and this is possible, as the dogs and we are evolutionary developed to fit together. Our nervous systems are tuned into each other, so that both dogs and humans, by eye gazing dog-owner, will increase our oxytocin levels. Oxytocin = a hormon which strengthens the bonding between mother and child and between lovers when looking into each others eyes. So also between dog and owner.
If you want better performance from your dog, you need to know the best way of “talking” with him. If you want a better relationship, you create this by speaking the same language.
🐕: “Your work with dogs has taken you far and wide across the globe; especially a stint in Angola, training dogs and handlers in mine detection. Thinking back how has that time in Angola influenced you?”
ALK: “OH, My time in Angola was precious. I was there for 2,5 years. Those days the war was still not over, and we were there to clear land mines with dogs.
First of all, I had a wonderful opportunity to test and verify the training methods and philosophy I learned at IDTE with Turid Rugaas, and in the Search and Rescue team I was part of home in Norway.
I learnt a lot about dealing with humans, and how to approach an unknown culture. Of course, I did some stupid mistakes in the beginning, but learned and improved, and as I educated the men to become dog handlers, they educated me as well, to become a better team leader, being a guest in a foreign culture, and to speak their language.
And, I learned to trust my knowledge, and stay on even in difficult situations.
Sometimes people ask me for advice, and I recommend anyone who are touching this kind of thoughts to go out there. The chance to give and to learn in mutual benefit like this, is something that is part of me for my life. And I believe that every person will enjoy and grow personally, from doing something like this, maybe not with dogs, but with any organisation doing humanitarian work somewhere in the world. It should be mandatory for any education.”
Book your ticket now:

Why Dogs Love Elena & the Team @ AnimalPhysioNZ

My dogs literally jump out of the car and stear themselfs right towards AnimalphysioNZ’s entry every time we arrive there. If time is short to treat all my hounds, disappointment is hudge by the dog that didn’t get her or his time on the bed with Elena.

And I’m sure Im not exaggerating when I share with you my perception, that all dogs that go there seem to feel the same; they know their discomforts are going to be addressed and they will leave painfree or at least feeling a great deal better.
Elena is hudgely educated in the field of Animal Physiotherapy; importantly, she is also very natural with the dogs. She travels far and wide tutoring vets and veterinary surgeons.
That is why we are so lucky to have her present at The Nature of Dog Seminar next April.

🐕 “What is involved in becoming an Animal Physiotherapist?”

Elena: “Well, first one has to become a human physiotherapist or veterinarian or already be a certified physiotherapist. After that, one has to do a post graduate study in animal rehab which is all done overseas. You can then get certified as an animal physio and start practising”

🐕 “You were a (human) physiotherapist for many years, why the shift to animal rehabilitation?”

Elena: “I had 5 very successful clinics around Christchurch with 40 plus staff and managers running these businesses.
One day I saw a seminar advertised for information about animal physiotherapy on the Gold Coast in Australia, which I then decided to attend. I really loved the idea of offering physio to animals. I thought of it just as a hobby at first but as my clinics were so successful and running smoothly, I travelled to the USA to study for ceveral years to become certified as an animal physiotherapist. Once I had all my qualifications, I went to Vetspecs and offered them to do rehab for recovering animals which worked out very well.
Then the Christchurch Earthquakes occured. All my “human”-clinics were destroyed and my house was red stickered. I volunteered to offer physio for the search & rescue dogs and my staff offered physio for the humans at the army hubs in town. I did eventually reopen two (human) clinics but felt I’d rather specialize in animal rehab. We now have 3 clinics around Christchurch and we all just love our clients”

20191014_154739 20191014_192159 To Cash, Del & Loren, my beautiful greyhounds, Elena means the world; I can see the improvement in their movement, their behaviour and their moods.
As a behaviour practitioner, I know that pain and illness are the most likely cause of many “problem” behaviour patterns; the brain, mind and body are interconnected. Ethically, musculoskeletal and / or physical illness have to always be investigated first before any behaviour therapy is attempted. I feel very fortunate to have met Elena and her team to help my hounds and in turn…. me and my clients as well.

Elena will be presenting at The Nature of Dog Seminar on Sunday the 19th of April 2020.

For tickets and more info go to:


Why Fear is not a Reaction to Threat; Emotion, Language & Life Events

Threatening, Fear or Anxiety; they are often “tumbled-dried” by academics and citizens to suggests emotion to make an assessment or/and a judgment. The truth is, they are different.

Our brains; any brain for that matter, don’t simply react because the individual is threatened, fearful, anxious, frightened, enraged, happy and the likes. A brain predicts.

WHAT??? You think, if you made it reading this far.

The fact is that its not just one circuit, leading to a physical adjustment, a face or and posture/ behaviour- reacting to stimuli. Different brain regions involved are predicting and simulating every moment sensory information proceeds via the senses to the brain. The brain anticipates what each information may be, what it may lead to, compares it to using past experiences and in turn, predicts what needs to happen for the brain to stay save and survive.
We dont drive cars waiting for emotion to then react, our brains predict every possible outcome everytime we drive; prediction error leads to adjustment hopefully early enough before an accident occurs.
A tennis player doesn’t wait to react to seeing the ball coming over the net, he would physically not be fast enough to hit the ball; the tennis players brain predicts where the ball will be at any certain time, to hit it with precision, to hopefully get the points and eventually the match; if he outwitts the other players predictions.
Prediction errors lead to new predictions, this act has a fancy name: Learning.
A dog does not wait to see the rabbit to react with different prey-drive patterns. Its brain actively predicts the rabbits location by sensory information. And the rabbit in turn doesn’t just react to the dog hunting it; its brain predicts which defensive action may keep it save. It may use various actions to get away not just hiding or freezing or running.
The rabbit is not simply reacting in fear.
Its predicting behaviour to stay alive and by default reestablishing positive feelings of savety, if it outwitts the dog by prediction and actions. In either case ones organisms affect is gonna be pleasantly affected and the others… well you get my point.

These “basic feelings” are called “Core Affect” by scientists.
Feelings that have range between pleasant and unpleasant to aroused and calm/sleepy but they are not emotions.
Affect is part of interoception, consiously (by that i mean we are aware of the feelings) sending information to the brain about the state of our bodies feelings (of pleasant – unpleasant – aroused – calm), just as the organs, muscles, tissues, joints etc send information but without us consciously noticing it most of the time; until that is…there is an issue.
There are also the sensory information of balance/orientation (vestibular system- equillibroception) and movement by muscles and joints in relation to where our body is in the world (proprioception)

All these systems are important in anything we do. Take something as simple as standing up. To us it may feel as though we are just standing up but our brain has to simulate what the needs are to do so. For example: raising blood pressure slighlty so we wont faint, balance and orienting where we are. Are we getting up from a chair or laying down on a bed or floor? And of course we need our muscles, bones, joints, ligaments etc to now communicate to get us upright from whatever point we are.

Sit down, close your eyes and have a think about just getting up again.
Now think about how much energy is used by a dogs system everytime we command it to do something and what effect that will have on the dogs core affect.

Defensive meassures are no different; the brain simulates, and systems then act on it right down to every movement we make to get away, freeze or fight the threat. It is then when affect starts setting in and our brain may make an assessment of the predicament we find ourself in. That, some of us humans may call Fear. Some use a totally different language to communicate what just occured. Some may even have a different category for it. Like “Gförlich” (unsafe in Swiss). Another may say they were “spooked” rather then frightened and so on. In turn even our emotional assessments dont appear the same in language to form individual brain states. What is Fear to you or “Gförlich” to me and “Spooked” to another results in differences of how brain networks interact with eachother. To an animal, that will feel even different in comparison.
Us humans also use spoken language every day to explain our state of being. Imagine explaining your state of being in another country where no one speaks English. Will they understand what you experience?
Close your eyes and imagine that.
Now that may just be how it is for our animal.
Fundamentally, our problem is not that we generally dont care about animals; its that we go about understanding them , looking at one essence at a time. We cluster symptoms and behaviours together and predict by individual perception. Some individuals are more influencial so we follow their expressions and label categories as they do. What’s playful to some is dominance to others. A posture may be submitting to some and to others a fearful dog and to others again a sign of pain. Some go further and claim single brain circuits for specific emotional states.

The amygdala is not the fear circuit or the sole circuit for emotion events. It has many jobs, one of them is to “alarm” to novel things. So if you are still reading, your amygdala has signaled that this text may be important and extra expenditure has now been made available for you to read this. Leading for some of your brains to conclude this to be utter nonsense and not deserving of any more gloucose and oxygen, while to others, who grasped the predictive nature of the brain, will share a moment of awe with me and spend much more energy, wanting to learn more about it. Two very different perceptions, leading to different brain states, different physical and behavioural actions.

There are perceptions and statements about Fear, Fear Response, Fear Conditioning etc which are just foreign to me.
Through the first earthquake in the early hours of the 4th September 2010, I awoke simply to a very loud rumbling. Instantly my brain predicted what it may be; starting with the picture of a train. Realizing there are no train lines near, my brain created a picture of a plain engine to which a simulation was run that showed my house flattened by a plain with me in it and created movement (running outside) in the pitch dark. Supposedly humans dont see well in the dark which didnt matter to my brain it created outlines of objects and where they may be.(fig1)
As the ground started moving, while the action stayed the same, it was imminently clear that it was an earthquake rather then an airplane. Not because I had ever experienced a large earthquake before, but because my brain used past theoretical experience to predict what I was experiencing at present. All this happened in split seconds, effortlessly, automatically without any emotion at all. No Fear.
However, I can pinpoint the exact moment when emotion was created in each large earthquake event, and it was always after action had gotten me to a point where I could not move further or at a point of relative savety, in the face great uncertainty. Interestingly, in the 4th September 2010 event my first emotional event was that of euphoria after having established there was nothing wrong with my balance, rather, that it was the ground moving so excessively!!
In one event I was in my restaurant, in a brick building. A large jolt reminded us of the tumult under our feet and again i moved quite efficiently to the front door and halted just as the ground movements stopped. Then I felt scared and reliefed at the same time, as I realized that running out of a brick building in an earthquake is a dumb idea!
While in one of the most distructive events we had in Canterbury, the 22nd Feburary 2011 earthquake, my brain had to simulate many different adjustments to get to the front door let alone turning the doorknob to get out of the house which my brain clearly predicted as “pancakeing”. It was like being on a trampoline, having gotten out of rhythm and being jolted about uncontrollably. Only once I got out of my home I renembered I had my parents in the back of the house, in the kitchen, under the ceiling where the concrete water tank sat. And immediately I felt emotions such as deep despair and sadness with the thought of, how I was going to tell my sisters that our parents had died. This was followed by euphoria and great happyness when my parents appeared from the intact houses’ back door with my father joking in Swiss: “That was a little bit of a rumble”. And ended with guilt of having totally forgotten about having a dog! I loved Sam to bits and she lived with me to a healthy 16 1/2 years until 2016. What I learnt was that my survival surpasses anyone elses needs in these acute events. Knowing that, I’m always close to an exit knowing I might push others aside to survive. Not a nice thing to learn about one self, that I’m helpful to others when I’m save but no hero in an immediate event itself.
For parents it was a different experience. Those who shared their accounts with me all stated that nothing mattered until they had assured their childrens safety, which then resulted in their emotional events.

In researching into this field of emotion to understand me and my dogs better, I had scientists tell me that my experiences where just illusions and that really “Fear” was the cause for my responses to ensure survival; just to hold their beliefs.
I have to respectfully disagree. Sometimes a life event teaches us something profoundly different then staring at mice and rats all day or placing electrodes in specific parts of the brain to construct conclusions about behaviours, which where not dicovered but decided meaning upon. There are scientists, who had implemented the word “Fear” in unfortunate context, and now, very openly ask to redifine scietific language so the public stop to confuse meanings. Joseph DeLoux suggests to use words like “Threat” and/or Defense instead of “Fear” to explain innate behaviours.

This doesnt mean that we go back to the dark ages of behaviourism when mental states were excluded and all was explained by stimuli-response meassurments. We can be quite certain that animals feel affect and may well have the brain structures to construct profound emotions. As Lisa Feldman Barrett put is: “Ask better questions. Ask HOW rather then WHERE?”
What emotions may a dog construct with its refined nose, his sharp hearing, somewhat blurred short sight and less colouful vision sensitive to movements, limited taste, sensitive touch and individual interoception guided by his or her own past experiences?
Now that is an interesting question needing an answer!




“Theory of Constructed Emotion: an active inference account of interoception and categorizations” Lisa Feldman Barrett; 2017

“Core affect, Prototypical Emotional Episodes, and other things called Emotion: Dissecting the Elephant” J. Russell; L. Feldman Barrett 1999

“The Amygdala is NOT the Brain’s Fear Center” Joseph LeDoux; 2015

Damage by Aversive Training Methods & Training Tools

“A personal inference of a specific experiencial observation of aversive training and tools used”



Bono f. Beeler BCCSDip.Can.Bhv.Prac, SpeakingDog K9 Services
18th September 2019
Christchurch New Zealand

This morining I took one of my canine clients, out to Rabbit-Hill to have a good sniffary. There she was, sniffing and investigating the rabbit holes and taking in the world while i watched a gentleman walk a German Shepherd X on a very short lead and a choke chain, following a couple of girls riding their horses, in very close proximity. We talk 1 to 2 meters distance.
His German Shepherd was obviously not coping with the situation as it was pulling and launching at the horses.
The dog owner gave the riders & horses a little more space but kept proceeding to follow them, even though his dog was still not coping. In fact the dog was now pulling so hard it was on his hind legs being chocked by the owner pretty hard causing a hanging sensation. Behind him was another gentleman with a Boxer X, now closing in. As he was overtaking the GSD and his owner, the Boxer clearly tried to curve around the GSD but wasn’t allowed to and physically couldn’t, because it was also on a short lead and a flat collar.
This meant the Boxer X now had no other behaviour patterns left then launching at the German Shepherd who replied by barking. The GSD got chocked again and sternly reprimanded while the Boxer got hit with the back of the leash.

It is worrying to see such techniques still being applied whether by dog trainers or by owners out on walks, because of the impacts it will have on the dogs and the horses experiences and what their brains will memorize, processing these sensory information.
While us humans may believe that our brains evolved as cognitive thinking machines, in natural terms, a brains’ main job is to first ensure survival of itself and the body in which scull it is encapsuled in; in the most energy efficient way to ensure the passing on of variable genetic material by means of reproduction. Sensory information suggesting to endanger the organism will be quickly absorbed as vital information and stored as an e experience to be called upon in future simulations of the world.

Lets start from the beginning and investigate what is actually occurring in this specific scenario:

The German Shepherd follows the horses and the riders, while doing so the dog is pulling and launching for the horses & riders while actively being chocked (positive punishment) [1]
The choker chain pulls tight, which means the dog feels at least discomfort if not pain (now since I’m not a dog or we are not dogs, we cannot claim to surely know the pain intensity; this is why I’m saying that; “the dog feels at least discomfort if not pain”)
Either way, negative feelings arise. The scientific term for these basic feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, aroused & calm is affect. [2] It is well established that all animals experience at least affect.
We also assume that prolonged, continued chocking will have damaging effects on the dogs neck and throat area. [3]
It implies that at this moment the dog is engaging in a multitude of negative sensory experiences while looking at the horses, which means his brain associates the horses in a negative way in relation of what’s happening in the world. The next time the GSD sees a horse while being walked on the short leash and choke chain, he has no option but to use the same behaviour patterns because its brain predicts discomfort and pain in connection with horses in its environment.
he will pull, he will launch, he will bark …
His owner will apply more preassure on the chocker creating a viscous, negative circle of events.
By doing so, the neural connections of these defensive actions grow stronger and stronger which in turn amplify the [unwanted] behaviour patterns. Instead of the wanted outcome, that the GSD stops pulling, launching and barking; using punishment to change behaviour is actually strengthening these defensive actions. By restraining the animal further, eventually, as no other behaviour options lead to escaping or avoiding the situation, will lead to shutting down of all actions which we call “Learned Helplessness”.

As repeated behaviours’ neural connections become stronger, lesser and lesser neurons are needed to simulate negative experienced associations. [4]
In addition,the dogs negative affect [2]- aroused and unpleasant experiences- create an uncertain environment for the dog.
Uncertainty breeds negative feelings (anxiety), emotions (fear, rage) and moods (frustration). [5] [5b]
It doesn’t make for a confident dog but a dog with strong defensive behavioral patterns within the variational paradigm of flight/fight and freeze.
As this vicious circle, of punishing to try and suppress the defensive actions continues, it is now only a question, not of if but when the dog has had enough and proceeds to bite anything that is right in front of the poor dogs snout.

Predicting Future outcomes:
The dogs brain, whenever seeing anything coming close to looking like a horse, will simulate the unpleasant, discomfort of pain, the danger of tissue damage and survival potential, using past experiences and signal to proceed to launch, pull, bark to keep the negative stimuli away.[1] [5] [6] [6b]
If however, the owner keeps punishing, even more forcefully, by tightening the choker chain or even by hitting the dog or worse, the dogs communicative defensive signals are not listened to means, the only behavioural option that the dog has left, to get out of this negative situation, is to proceed to bite or attack if the dog is off lead. If nothing but restraint is offered to the dog, slowly the animal will cease to fight or try and get away. Its body will shut down and arrive at learned helplessness. This may look calm and submissive to an untrained eye, giving the appearance the dog has submitted to his owner / handler. A popular view by some dog trainers who value to beliefs of the dominance hypothesis.

How can we proceed instead:

A) what can we do to avoid negative associations to occur to minimise the dogs need for defensive behaviour patterns?
B) how to address defensive behaviours and change the underlying feelings, emotions and mood to positive asaociations?

A) When we get a dog, but especially when we adopt a puppy, we need to understand how important it is to provide positive sensory experiences, whether that is during socialization or habitualization. We must ensure that the puppy makes positive associations with events and the environment for its brain to learn to cope in efficient ways. This means that the dogs brain can use these experiences to better and more positively predict and simulate [6] it’s world to use better communicative behaviour to interact with other dogs, people, animals, and adapt easily, thus cope with and within the world. A dog will be able to be curious thus use its senses and become more confident.
Letting any organism use all the senses is fundamentally important as the senses are the only way for information to get signaled to the brain. This includes the interoceptive information being sent to the brain from within the body:
Interoception is the scientific term for the physical sensory information coming from the inner organs, nervous system,fascia, muscle tissue, bone, joints ligaments, balance, spatial orientations and so on. [5] [5b]
So imagine yet again, if a dog is getting choked, it’s following and looking at horses while it’s feeling negative. The dogs brain also gets interoceptive information of tissue being damaged in form of pain. This now amplifies the negative experience towards the horse. The dogs brain is actively memorizing that the horse is affecting its survival in a negative way.
The dogs brain and body is alert and in an acute stress response and has to use more energy that is coming in; it’s going over budget. If this continues on a regular basis, the body budget (allostasis) is so overdrawn it will start to shut down; negatively affecting immunity which will lead to illness, allergic reactions, negative mental states which are affecting brain function, cells are starting to die, in turn, creating more “aggressive” outbursts by the dog.

The aim is to avoid this by actively ensuring positve experiences, statistical & observational learning through sensory information gathering, to create better simulations of the external and internal world. Meaning the dog will learn to use different behaviour actions in situations to adapt quicker to a changing environment ending with a greater likelyhood of a positive outcome.

For a dog that has already made those negative associations and who’s brain is now actively predicting that horses mean discomfort or pain, and acts upon predictions, using behaviour patterns such as for example; pulling, launching, barking and the likes, we can certainly start with counterconditioning and desensitization processes. Starting with adding more space between a horse and the dog. However what we really want to achieve is, to teach the dog other behaviour patterns. To use communicative actions such as those outlined in the hypothesis of calming signals,[7] letting the dogs initiate what they can and cannot cope with.
For example, if a dog wants to turn to the side and sniff the ground upon seeing a horse or another animal in the distance, we would reinforce these behaviour pattern to ensure these actions occur more often and thus strengthening the neural pathways of these communicative actions. By ensuring that the dog uses less of the defensive behaviours such as pulling, launching and barking, we influence the strength of those neural pathways, thus weakening the defensive behavioral patterns occurring when in safe proximity to horses.
Further, we can add sensory stimulation like sniffing, where we teach the dog to actively use a different, natural behaviour to take it’s mind of the horse in the distance. This way we are adding a physically calming action which provides the dogs brain with other sensory information that are positive for the dog to concentrate on.
In both situations; A) and B), it is important to observe and learn the dogs communicative signals, so that we aquire the skills to understand what the dog is trying to tell us way before he has to engage, in defensive behaviour which many categorize as aggression.

For the above methods to be successful, a dog owner would have to be open and willing to change his/her own behaviours, the environment and most importantly their belief.[8]
We can certainly try to engage with Dog owners who are not as open to newer scientific understandings, but we have to take into consideration that our teachings are so new to the client that it will actually strengthen their outdated beliefs in using aversive methods and tools to change the dogs behaviours.

To prevent that I suggest a softer approach ,engaging in educating more open individuals and children of school age. Making it socialy unacceptable to use aversive training tools and methods and go as far as to change legislation to stricter laws, forbidding the use of aversive tools and methods, ensuring the animals mental & physical well being, not just on their basic needs, but their natural needs and wants in daily life.

Any behaviour is a natural and normal action by an animal upon external and internal sensory information gathered by the brain, simulating a prediction using past experiences to construct its world; or the lack of them producing a state of experiential blindness. Behaviours are symtoms of the well being of the animal and how adaptable it is to ever changing environments. They must not be trained away or breed out of them, but embraced for us to learn and profoundly understand what and how we must do better.

[1] “Operant Behaviour”, B F Skinner, 1963, 18 (8); 503

[2] “Core Affect, Prototypical Emotional Episodes, and other things called Emotion: Dissecting the Elephant” J. Russell; Lisa Feldman Barrett, 1999, Vol 76, No 5, 805-819 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

[3] “Did you ever stop to think what happens under the collar?” Els Vidth,

[4] “Cascades” Lisa Feldman Berrett,

[5] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: an active inference account of interception and categorization” Lisa Feldman Barrett, 2017, 1-23 Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

[5b] “Constructing non-human animal emotion” Eliza Bliss-Moreau, 2017, 17; 184-188 Current Opinion in Psychology

[6] “Redefining the role of Limbic Areas in critical processing” Lorena Chanes, Lisa Feldman Barrett, 2016, Trends Cogn. Sci

[6b] “Embodied Decisions and the Predictive Brain” Christopher D Burr, 2016, University of Bristol

[7] “Calming Signals the art of survival” Turid Rugaas, 2013

[8] “Processing Narratives Concerning Protected Values; a cross-cultural investigation of neural correlates” J. T. Kaplan et al, 2017, 27 (2); 1428-1438, Cerebral Cortex

“The Why we Do, What we Do”

This is Why we do What we do:

Our walk today- Elsa and me out at Hauls road-
This is what we do at SpeakingDog- its not about quantity dog group but one on one interaction. Is being social important to dogs? Yes; but being social doesnt just mean running about in a group of dogs getting adrenalized- social is also just hanging out; spending time just doing as dogs choose to; chewing, looking, hunting down a bunny track zigzaging; resting, wondering what the human does behind the bushes- (FYI picking up pine cones- mind out of gutter please!! 😉😂)
We walk any dog; no matter what behaviour symptoms they may show; letting them choose, sniff, being curious and thus getting more confident with scary things around us.
The other plus of one on one- we can do scent games together; lost retrieve, descriminate mushrooms, finding a specific stick or toy in a field etc. I do understand to humans competitions are important but honestly the dogs couldnt care less about that ribbon. They love soending time with us thats what they want and need-
Our walk is calming and intriguing
Many times i hear people say to me: “he needs extra excersise to calm him down to make him tired so get him to run”
No!! adrenalizing dogs with fast games is not calming nor is running next to you or you bike. Every now and then is great but my job is to excersise their greycells first the body second. We do “doggie-joga” rather then cardio work outs. (You’ll never out-work a dog; actually using his brain uses more energy)
A dog that learns to use his brain past the commands and genetic behaviour patterns becomes a more calmer and emotionally balanced dog.
So in process to our walk, with any dog we take on, their behaviours will balance out. Does that happen quickly? No it is induvidual dependent.
There are no quick solutions even if it looks like it with some tools. Its a perceptive illusion. Its what magicians use.
We do walk small groups (2-3 tops) especially a younger dog with a balanced more experienced dog. This is so the younger dog learns his language from the older dog. This is what socialization is about. This is where he learns from the older dog not just to run at others, to share, to communicate, to play gently, to get proper bite inhibition, inhibit aggression etc…

And this my friends is Why we do What we do

Bono Out

To Condition or not; is that the question?; A phylosphical think piece from behind the leash”

“To condition or not; is that the question?;
A phylosophical think piece from behind the leash”

I get often calls to help train their dog to be less anxious, less aggressive, to cope better. It seems that the conclusion is quite often that that is an easy feat with the proper techniques. Routine and obedience, the remedy for all behaviour problems. A quick search on google only enforces this suggestion. Conditioning is sold as the be all and end all of behaviour modification and its causing emotional states.

I think there is quite a few pple who may want to go back over the books; and learn behavioursm for what it is. The ideas of behaviourism (Watson) / Operant Conditioning (Skinner) / Law and Effect by Thorndike dont leave room for affective emotions – it shows how little us humans investigate and just take some parts of science that suits us at a moment of time to support our perceptions of the world to force a view on to others- if we argue behaviourism to be; the be all and end all how can we then argue for aminals affective emotions? By applying only behaviourism we actually decline that animals have affective emotions. Below is an excert quote of (1): “the affective brain & core conciousness; how neural activity generate emotional feelings” by Pankseep
It has to be said that Pavlov did see affective emotions in some of his dogs, which goes back to the questions;
what is the impact of conditioning to an animal?”
“Is the animals affective state really changing or just the movement it uses to communicate inbalance / unpleasant affect?”

We can argue backwards and forwards about this till we are blue in the face; turth is, as per yet we do not know since animals cant talk human to us.
For some here Conditioning works and is a gentle method because this is how they perceive that to be and for others its just another way to get control of another being for whatever reason we may find makes it ok-
Animals in general live quite well without human interruptions and training why oh why would a dog be different?
The learning process starts at the moment a being is born. Every split second of every minute, every hour of every day until one dies we learn from the information that comes in through our senses (exteroception) and the physical information (interoception)- the brain takes all the incoming and internal information and processes it, predicts on meaning and needed movement (behaviour and physiologically). If a small prediction error is made the brain re-evaluates in spit seconds and acts upon new information. If a bigger prediction error is made it gives effective attention to it and that is concious learning.
If we teach a dog to sit in an unpleasant situation; we created a motor pattern, a movement-behaviour the dog will do in this situation. But not one person can scientifically proof that that behaviour/movement has changed the dogs affective state from unpleasant to pleasant nor is it currently really measurable. We can say that if his heart beats faster that means he is stressed. Well the affective state of positive arousal can lift heart rate or lower it as much as negative affect can. Its variable. We can say we see it in postures. But the same posture can mean pain or ill feeling so which is it?
Today i took my hounds on a walk in the red zone (meaning ex residential area after earthquake). It was very gusty though sunny. The walk was unusually nervous in feeling for me and the dogs were actung rather aroused. We need to walk dogs don’t we. This is ingrained to us. But as i was walking along into the wind following my hounds i realized that taking the hounds out for a walk and expect it to be the tranquil walk as it usually is even in rain, was probably the dummest thing to do today.
Well lets TRY to see it from the dogs point of view:
-They hear better… so the sound of these windy gusts (air pressure) even uncomfortable to me would have been uncomfortable to them.
-Their skin is more sensitive the ours, so here we were walking while wind gusts visuable pressed the fure on their coat against the hairs usual position. Does that feel good or not so good to a dog … i dont know. But on another question do dogs have the brain processing ability to understand its the windgusts moving the hair and project a touching sensation? If not how does that make the dog feel in form of affective emotions?
-Smell…. well i observed that they went backwards, forwards, sideways….. in all directions much more then usual while looking up frequently and listening (ear position changes in errect state). To me that suggest rather that they really tried to find out where all these different smells came from, they tried to make sense of the disturbed airflow laden with smells
– Sight; being in a mainly green space with flooded areas the view might have been very yellowish and blue and not much else to take information in?
Does that sound like a lovely experience to them?
Again, i cannot write here of wether my dogs were uncomfortable, hated it or rather aroused. But they did act different and more erratic. More interstingly as we were home and i went into the garden leaving the front door open; not one of my hound wanted to be outside with me which is usually the case in warmer and calm weather situations.
I could train the dogs to walk a certain way, no matter of weather or other environmental changes using conditioning that would make a walk seem less erratic both visually and affectively; but appart from a different behavioural movement in the sane situation i would not have gained anything meaningful for the hounds.

The question is:
“What would the animal do in the same situation without human interferance?”
In there lies the answer of making better decisions whether that is on training methods, exercise, or anything else we interfere with in their life.

In summery of a longwinded post;
We can use conditioning techniques to help us, but we MUST take into account, that the brains intrinsic activity, observational learning, the simplicity of letting the animal choose to avoid or exit, lifting curisoity opportunities to get an animal to choose to interact with something on their term to create new experiences to predict better, are solutions that take into account the dogs perception of its world at that moment of time. Conditioning takes our perceptions into account which we then force upon animals.
In our human world there are times when we do need to help a dog along but that is not for the lack of the dogs ability to live without us but because it is US humans that put them in these situations.

-The affective Brain and Core Conciousness: How does Neural Activity Generate Emotional Feelings” Jaak Panksepp
(1) Quote: “Our current, lingering problems arose when excessive antivitalistic forces spilled over into
experimental psychology, where mental constructs were eventually deemed too spooky to be accepted as scientific. The physiologist Jacques Loeb, a peripheral member of the Berlin Biophysics movement, brought antimentalistic biases to the United States. At the University of Chicago, he enthralled John B. Watson, the eventual “father of behaviorism.” At Harvard, B. F. Skinner came under the spell of another Loeb protégé, William Crozier. Together, Watson and Skinner inaugurated a
methodologically rigorous, and eventually doctrinaire, radical behaviorism. As they brought a
new level of sophistication to the environmentally controlled analysis of learning, they actively discouraged instinct- and brain-based
psychologies. Through their influence, radical behaviorism, with no room for emotionality, became the focus of inquiry.
Watson (1919) was initially interested in emotions. Skinner (1953) famously claimed “The ‘emotions’ are excellent examples of the
fictional causes to which we commonly attrib-ute behavior” (p. 160). Their important contributions to methodologically rigorous behavioral analysis resulted in narrow, nonaffective views of animal behavior (Panksepp, 1990b).
As they marginalized instincts (inbuilt tools for behaving and feeling) in preference to learning, they impoverished our understanding of the
evolved emotional and motivational underpinnings of mind.
Watson and Skinner’s radical “black box” of behaviorism overwhelmed academic psychology until the 1970s, whereupon an oversimplified computer-inspired mentality—information processing that could be rigorously monitored by reaction times and other objective
measures— moved to center stage as cognitive science. This transition did not happen in animal research, where behaviorism continued to rule. In the 1970s dramatic shifts in funding
(partly resulting from Vietnam War expenditures) coaxed many American behaviorists to become neuroscientists, with little interest in emotional processes that control animal behavior.
To this day, neurobehaviorists are generally unwilling to discuss affective processes within animal brains. This inhibits linkages between biological psychiatry and neuroscientific psychology. Most behavioral neuroscientists consider it unrealistic to consider that affective feelings actually exist in animal brains; thus
they position themselves in the lower right quadrant of Figure 4.2. Most subscribe to ruthless neural reductionism, where psychological
processes play no role in the control of behavior.
In this context, it is noteworthy that the first “law” of behavior—Thorndike’s (1911) “law of effect”—envisioned how “satisfying” and “annoying” events could mediate learning.
These affective concepts were eventually transformed by behaviorists into “positive reinforcements” and “punishments,” more by selfappointed decisions than through evidence-
based discussions. Thus the diverse affective aspects of the “law of effect” were discarded because they raised the specter of scientifically
unobservable internal processes—apparent
nonmaterial principles—within the brain…”

-“How Emotions are Made” Lisa Feldman Barrett
-“The emotional Lifes of animals” Mark Bekoff Yes! Magazine, Spring Issue 2011

Dogs’ Emotions

When I was little I always wondered what animals are thinking and feeling but we were told that animals are not like humans and all they have is just instinct. That was 30 plus years ago and research has delivered new and interesting discoveries about dogs, their brains and how they work.

While a humans brain is larger in relative size, has more folds and a larger frontal cortex, a dogs brain is not that different to a human brain. They share the same brain structure that produce emotions and the same hormone production and chemical changes occur in both dogs and humans in emotional states. Just like in us humans, dogs have oxytocin release which is involved in feeling love and affection.

Sharing the same neurology and brain chemistry  suggests that dogs basic emotions are similar to that of humans of around 2-5 year old; joy, fear, anger, disgust, love & affection.

The scientific consensus seems to agree on dogs not being able to feel guilt, pride and shame but there still needs to be more research done.

What may be different though is how emotions are processed since humans larger frontal cortex gives us the advance of higher level processing, thoughts, judgement, empathy etc. This is which gives us humans the ability not just to feel emotions but to analyze them and then judge whether to share them or inhibit showing them to avoid causing hurt or shame in another human or ourselfs for example.

In dogs however, brain sections associated with smell use larger size brain area to analyze scents. Their olfactory system is extremly sensitive and can have effects on emotions as well just like in us humans.

It is what is sometimes forgotten in the training world, that conditioning methods may train away a behaviour the dog is showing during and emotion / feeling but training has not changed the emotion itself. If a dog is fearful or depressed for example, we have to find the reason of why the dog feels that way. By obeservation and communication with the owner, vet and the dog we can detect whether your dogs emotional behaviours are down to physical or behavioural problems. Anxiety and depression can in many cases be due to the dog being in pain due to an undiagnosed physical issue.

It might be more likely that changes to the environment and/or lifestyle need to be made before any desensitation or counter conditioning processes start, if at all. And just like with human beings, any modification program can take a lot of effort and time.

That said, that fact we know that dogs are emotional and feeling beings should inspire us to ensure our furry friends are as happy and content with their individual life as we are everyday.

When to adopt the puppy

2018-01-13 17.19.27

  • A summary of parts of:

“Haqihanas’ Puppies”….

Lately I have been doing a few consultations with young adult dogs with fear issues. Why is this related to ‘when to adopt a puppy’?

It seems to be a common practice these days for breeders to let puppies be adopted at week 8, sometimes even week 6 or 7.

I am not at all keen on this practice and let me share with you how I learnt “why”:

Just like with little baby-humans, the early development stage is a crucial learning time for puppies. While in their newborn stage of weeks 1 and 2, still blind and without hearing, they already have the ability to smell. They need the warmth and love of their mother and littermates, food, calmness, rest and lots of sleep. In the wild, the dog mum would have her young in the den and let no one in. The father dog will hunt food and leave some in front of the den for the mother to eat.

In week 3, the young begin to see and hear. They are starting to take in the world with all the senses. They get more active, start playing and moving about trying out their signs and sounds with their mum and mates.

In the wild this would be the time when socialization with the other family members begins. One by one the mother would let a pack member in to meet the new furry additions.

From week 4 or 5 onwards the puppies now learn to move their bodies around outside, go exploring but more impotantly they start learning their language – signs, sounds.

They learn from their mother to respect others’ properties; that when she has something they can’t take it off her and if they have something she can’t take it of them. They also learn redirective behaviour.

More importantly, from around week 6, 7 and 8 onwards, the puppies learn bite inhibition and aggression inhibition. This is the most impotant time for puppies, learning about their social behaviour within a group. To learn inhibition is to learn to keep the family pack save. Fights within a pack are dangerous. If a pack member is hurt this could actually be destructive to the family. It is the equivalent of a child learning the social right and wrongs to be able to function in the family and in society.

To take a puppy at 8 weeks or younger is a rather bad time to adopt and take it away from the litter because it has not fully learned to inhibit its bite and inhibit its aggression.

There is another reason to wait until after around week 10 to take your bundle of joy home with you:

At exactly 8 weeks old, puppies have their first ‘fear period’. It only lasts for a few days but the puppy needs to be with its mum and mates in a calm, familiar and safe environment. Taking a puppy during this fear period in week 8 can have a very negative impact leading to fear behaviour problems later on.

In a consultation with a young dog my first question is always: ‘how old was the puppy when you adopted him?’

Some may say; fear behaviour is just that, we can use the same techniques to conquer the problem and lead the dog to success.

That would be like saying; it doesn’t matter what trauma an adult human experienced as a child, we just use conditioning techniquest for the adult to overcome his/her issues.

The “why” is always very important because you become to understand the dog or in the human world, the person. It can give you ideas of how this dog will approach the surroundings with a more timmid or fearful apporach and how to work with him in the least stressful way possible. We don’t just modify a behviour, we are actually trying to change an emotion. A lot of training techniques change the behaviour the dogs show but not the emotion. That is treating the symptom but not the cause.

During the development time from puppyhood to adult dog there are more fear periods:

41/2 months

around 9 – 10 months

between 13 – 14 months, which is hormon related

around 17 months, seldom

Just as the first fear period, it only lasts a few days. Your dog may suddely show fear behaviour towards an object or being it was fine with before. During these days there should be no changes in the home and no new scary additions or training. Stay calm around the object or being and by being calm and interact as normal you show the puppy that all is safe and fine.

There is always people who have a ‘yes, but…’ story.

There is no ‘but’- healthy dog mothers show us how to bring up healthy, well balanced pups. It is “us” humans who are the ones creating the problems.

A great example is, how we change what the pup has learnt about respecting others properties. They learnt from mum to respect whats hers and she’ll respect whats theirs and then we humans come along and take things from the pup all the time. We don’t need to do that, we can use their redirective behaviour and curiosity to get them away from something their chewing on that is not safe, like a power cord for example.

Be clever and safe rather then sorry later on, and ask the breeder to let the pup be with its mother a couple weeks longer


Turid Rugaas: Puppies

Haqihans: Puppies

Alpie and Rosie
Alpie and Rosie