The Emotional Life of Dogs

I’m a big fan of Temple Grandin. I think she has done more to explain the human/dog bond than all the celebrity dog trainers combined.

I recently re-read her book Animals Make Us Human. While she frequently focuses on livestock, the sensitivity she shows to all animals, no matter their fate, is enriching. Her compassion inspires me and impacts how I relate to both my clients and my children.

Early on in the book, she sets the framework on which the rest of the book is laid. She talks about studies on the mammalian brain by the neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp. I bought his book, Affective Neuroscience, The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions and wish I had a college course to help me digest it, but the foundations are clear. Dr. Panksepp cites seven “Blue Ribbon” emotion systems that are at the root of all mammalian behavior: Seeking-Play-Fear Frustration- Panic-Lust-Caring. Following Ms. Grandins’ lead, I’m going to elaborate on how these concepts have influenced the way this dog trainer relates to and positively influences her clients-both people and dogs. There are seven emotion systems but I’m leaving out the emotions relating to reproduction. They’re important and interesting but - and I hope this goes without saying -they don’t really come into play when I’m training dogs.

Panksepp and Grandin both refer to this one as the “Master Emotion”—the one that motivates life in general and I agree. From my less lofty podium, I
call it the “For me, for me!” center. It motivates all of us animals to want, desire
and explore. Wondering what present you’ll get this holiday season? Excited
to go to a party or fair? Does the smell of good food make you salivate? The seeking emotion is in play.

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