What Goes On In Your Dog’s Brain?

When we are training a new behaviour to Dog’s Brain, we always discuss the steps involved to achieve the behaviour, but most do not touch on what is going on inside the dogs head…

Whether it be counter conditioning your dog’s response to a stimuli or training basic obedience – it is useful to know what is actually going on inside the dogs head.

Dogs inherit natural instinctive behaviours, such as chasing cats and squirrels (also known as prey drive). This is largely down to their prey drive that is present in all dogs, albeit the level of prey drive varies from dog to dog and breed to breed. However when we try to stop the behaviour, whether it be through reward or punishment, the decision is played out within the dogs ‘limbic system’.

The limbic system is responsible for the memory function of the dog’s brain and all the associations your dog builds to its outside world takes place within the limbic system. Therefore the limbic system has a crucial part to play in training and modifying behaviours.

To put it simply, if a dog is wanting to carry out an instinctive behaviour e.g. chasing wildlife… and we try modifying this behaviour with something that is not a high enough reward OR too low of a punishment… this will be computed within the limbic system and the dog will simply ignore the handlers command. It is important to remember that dogs carrying out instinctive behaviours is self-rewarding, so we need to bare this in mind and understand that every time the dog practices it, the higher the reward history and the more ingrained it becomes.

So as an example, if your dog was to carry out a self-rewarding behaviour by chasing a cat and we stop the dog from doing so (whichever method you use) and follow this by huge reward for complying… this information will be processed within the dogs limbic system – to be specific, this would be stored within the dogs hippocampus, which is part of the limbic system that is responsible for storing new memory. This information is then stored within various parts of the limbic system (hippocampus), so that the next time the dog is presented with the opportunity to chase a cat, they may remember the event/result of the previous time they went to chase a cat, and comply with what we are asking as we have overridden the limbic system – in an ideal world!

Of course it takes many repetitions, but hopefully this provides a bit of insight into the dogs thought processes and what happens during the training process.

Canine Behaviour and training in North East England.

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