Borrowing from human psychology, we can understand dogs better. They are intelligent and creative beings just like us. They experience stress hormones and the physical affect they have upon the body. Ask any dog lover and they will tell you dogs are emotional creatures.
This chart is based on the Russell Dimensional Model. It diagrams how humans, and by extension dogs, live in the emotional states of either Fear, Excitement, Worry, or Calmness. Just like us, dogs tend to make poor decisions while in a state of fear or worry, and make better choices in an excited emotional state-with practice, but the best choices are made in a state of calmness. Our job, as dog caretakers is to help them find calmness as the default emotion. Some dogs are lucky and just naturally chill out in calmness, others struggle to even find a moment of the respite offered by calmness.
Research also shows that just like a beams of light, emotions travel in straight lines. Think about it. It's much easier to move directly from worry to fear than fear to calmness.
Add in a general state of pleasure or displeasure and the dog settles in as an optimist or pessimist. In the chart this is expressed as the left side being displeasure and the right side being pleasure. Finally, emotions move up and down with the increasing or decreasing brain activity. If the dog is in a mindset of Pleasure it functions on the right side of the chart where things are happy and bright. If the dog is displeased it is functioning on the left side. Increase the brain activity of a dog already displeased and you get fear. Lower the brain activity and the emotional state returns to worry, but it doesn't have to stay there. Through Games Based Training the dog will move to the right side of the chart and settle into calmness where all those good choices begin.
This is not to say that dogs should spend all their time in calmness. They need active brains or life would be nothing but boredom. Dogs are curious. They love to play and they will invent their own games if need be. Brain activity is good. Fear and worry have their place as well. Those instincts have kept the species alive.
All four emotions are necessary. It's our job as Games Based Trainers to teach our dogs to spend nearly all their time on the right side of the chart, and to ultimately teach them through Games to default to Calmness where all good decisions can be made.
Rebecca Porter has been fascinated by dogs for decades, but it took a frantic mixed breed to send her on a journey into innovative and real life solutions in dog training.