In the past ten years or so, modern neuroscientists have validated some of Sigmund Freud's key principles, particularly the idea that all behavior is essentially about the release of pent-up energy. This has been proven through MRI studies, showing changes in energy (i.e., blood glucose levels) in the brain of both dogs and humans. Meanwhile, the idea that animals form associations between a behavior and its subsequent reward (or "positive reinforcement"), has been questioned. It turns out that dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical, long thought to be part of the brain's "reward system," is not released when an animal gets a reward. It's released when both good and bad things happen, and sometimes even when there's a simple change in the pattern of reward. Dopamine essentially makes us pay attention to shifts in energy, both positive and negative.
The truth is, positive
reinforcements only work - that is they only have a long-term, lasting
effect - when they give a dog an outlet
for his pent-up energy. So even though the
names Pavlov and Skinner are more likely to ring a bell
when we think of animal training, Freud's view actually fits our canine companions much better. In fact, the entire philosophy behind operant conditioning is
essentially just a clinical and experimental outgrowth of Freud's "pleasure principle."
things experience tension as part of being alive. Just waking up in the
morning increases the production of cortisol, the body's stress
hormone. So when I refer to
internal tension I don't mean to imply that the dog is a nervous wreck,
just that even the vaguest feeling of dissatisfaction drives the dog to
look for some form of release, whether that release comes through
chasing a squirrel, picking garbage off the street, or bringing you a toy. (The last is obviously the best
stress will always need some kind of outlet, just as electrical energy
does; it needs to "flow" in some direction. It's our role
to teach the dog how to reduce this inner tension by letting his energy flow into obedience behaviors.
Over time, those
behaviors that are successful at reducing tension without disturbing
the social dynamic, are preferred by the dog and become learned. If you
want to apply the behaviorist paradigm to this it means that learning
happens, or is reinforced, through the pleasurable feeling of releasing
internal tension. If you want to apply the dominance paradigm, you could
say that when a dog knows who's in "charge" of his energy, he's much
less likely to have any internal tension; that's all taken care of.
I've studied and used both
dominance and behaviorist techniques, and have found that it's only through
understanding where and how a dog's internal tension comes from, and how
best to use it, activate it, and help the dog release it, that you get
results that work much closer 100% of the time with all the dogs you
train. So I think it's always best to at least try to
understand how a dog's emotional energy influences his behavior.
For instance, dogs who've had their oral impulses punished or squelched as
puppies, or pups who've had their natural inquisitive nature quashed, will either display too much energy (in the forms
of destructive chewing, excessive jumping up, barking, digging,
aggression, etc.) or will display too little because they've repressed, shut
themselves off from their natural forms of release. This is why some good hard
games of chase, tug, and fetch can be
successful "cure-alls" for behavioral problems, especially when played outside, because for the
first class of dogs, those with too much energy, these games are an incredibly
satisfying outlet. For the others, it's a safe way to bring their
repressed natural energy back up to the surface and finally find a way to
I'm not against using treats or exerting discipline. I am
against an over-reliance on food rewards, or physically punishing a dog for anything. But I see nothing
wrong with letting a dog know when he's out of bounds.
The only thing to add is that since most dog owners and
dog trainers are unaware of the kind of training I do, I have, of
necessity, framed a good portion of my philosophy in contrast to the two
most common and well-known approaches. Since I've studiously researched
and used both the alpha model and operant conditioning, and found them both effective in some ways, but not-so effective in others, I believe I have a unique perspective on all
three forms of training.
- Lee Charles Kelley
To read more on how modern neuroscience is validating the Freudian dynamics of learning, check out the following articles: