The dog's brain assesses the event or experience to see if it endangers the dog's well-being and safety. For instance in the wild, young small animals learn to run and hide when they -
see a bird-of-prey's shadow on the ground
detect any sudden movement or vibration in their environment
smell a predator's scent on the wind
hear movement in the undergrowth.
This is Nature's way of helping animals recognise and avoid threatening experiences. This instinctive ability to assess what is happening around it is still very strong in the domestic dog's brain.
Causes of Stress give many examples of situations that dogs find difficult to cope with.Stress itself can have a profound effect on how dogs perceive the environment around them. Their high levels of adrenalin heighten their senses so that they become over-reactive and oversensitive to what is happening. These stressed dogs are more likely to assess situations as being threatening and unpleasant, which they would not do if they were calm and focused.
A dog will also perceive an Event as being threatening if it triggers an environmental photo of similar past occurrences.
If the dog's brain assesses that the Event is very unpleasant, the dog will make an environmental photo of what its senses have detected and store it in the dog's long-term memory.
UNPLEASANT + SHORT-TERM MEMORY
If the Event is only slightly unpleasant the dog will store the experience in its short-term memory (which is only a couple of days, or a week, at the most). If the dog does not come across a similar Event in that period of time the experience will be forgotten. For instance, a dog is attacked by a black dog while walking on a lead (which means it has no chance to escape the situation and be able to use calming signals to resolve the conflict). If in the next few days the dog goes to the same location and meets other black dogs that are friendly and non-aggressive it will soon forget the incident.
However, if the unpleasant experience is repeated (often just one more repetition can reinforce the problem) the dog will then perceive the Event as being very unpleasant and store it in its long-term memory. For instance, the dog will generalise that ALL black dogs are threatening and become defensive and aggressive with any black dog it meets while on a lead, and perhaps even off lead as well.
Young or adolescent dogs are particularly susceptible to these negative assessments which can become very strong long-term memories for the rest of the dog's life.
This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).
Dog-Games Copyright 2004 - 2015 All Rights Reserved