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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Anger & Anger Management

Anger & Anger Management
Courtesy of Dr. McConnell

CAN DOGS GET ANGRY? Yup, I’m here to say that they can. Do
they get angry as often as humans? Nope, and thank heavens for that. If they
did, I doubt we’d live with them, given that they have carpet knives in their
mouths. Just like people, they vary tremendously in how often they experience
or express anger. I’ve known some dogs who appeared not to have an angry moment
their entire lives. More commonly, I’ve worked with dogs who, on occasion, are
clearly frustrated at not getting what they wanted or expected. And rarely,
I’ve worked with a small number of dogs who appeared to live in a state of
‘road rage’ for weeks, months or years on end. So even though I would never say
that anger in dogs is an exact replica of anger in people, both in its
frequency and how we experience it, it is a basic biological fact that dogs are
capable of experiencing anger. Here’s why:



Anger is as primal an emotion as fear, and if an animal can
experience fear, then one is wise to assume it is capable of experiencing
anger. The two, it turns out, go hand in hand. Both are mediated primarily in
the amygdala and both evolved to protect us. Fear is the emotion that signals
the body that it is in danger, and motivates us to take some kind of action to
protect ourselves. Anger is the emotion that backs up fear when being on
defense is not enough. Roger Abrantes tells a compelling story of when he was
about to be in hand-to-hand combat as a young soldier. As he stood in a trench,
watching the enemy soldiers run toward him with bayonets drawn, he was
initially terrified. But at the last minute, just as the soldiers were within a
few feet of him, he was overwhelmed with a burst of rage. That’s the emotion
that poured energy into his body and allowed him to move forward to fight for
his life.


That’s what anger does: it floods the body with energy,
increases the heart rate, pumps blood into our muscles in preparation for
action. Anger demands action; that’s why it can be so problematic. Have you
ever done something you wish you hadn’t when you were angry? If not, please
consider either offering life coaching sessions for the rest of us, or ask your
parents if you actually are an alien. Anger, at varying intensities, compels us
to do SOMETHING, anything, and thus… we sometimes do something we shouldn’t and
get ourselves in hot water until we learn to take a breath and let our emotions
settle. The same thing can happen to dogs. If you’re interested in following
this thread, I write more about the biology of emotion in For
the Love of a Dog.


Dogs have all the same wiring (and external expressions)
related to anger as people. They just, as I said, don’t seem to experience it
as often as we easily-angered primates do. (Ever seen chimps lose their
tempers? It’s common, and it’s not pretty.) Of course, like all emotions, dogs
exhibit a vast range of intensities of experiencing anger, from being slightly
irritated, to being truly frustrated, to downright mad to being in an
out-of-control rage. All of those are manifestations of anger, just at
different levels, and all are within a dog’s capability. Of course, dogs don’t
have the same complexity of cognitive overlays as we do; their experience of
anger has got to be different in many ways than ours. But that doesn’t mean
that we don’t share the basic, fundamental emotion of anger. As I’ve said
before, glass half empty or glass half full, both are equally accurate.


Here’s a photo of a dog illustrating what I claim is an
angry emotion. Note the furrowed brow, the offensive pucker and the hard stare.
Any one of those things by themselves would not be enough to suggest an
internal emotion of anger, but without the fur and black nose, this is exactly
the face of an angry person.


ANGER MANAGEMENT? Here’s something else we share: a need to
learn how to handle being frustrated or angry. Many of the behavioral problems
I’ve seen in my practice relate to either dogs who have never learned how to
handle being frustrated and lose their tempers when they don’t get what they
want, or owners who, uh, have the same problem.


Dogs need to be taught to be patient and polite (the basis
of the
Feeling
Outnumbered
program), and we need to learn to take a breath, or two or
twenty, before expressing anger or frustration at our dogs. I needed this
advice just recently: until recently Willie had stopped harassing Sushi with
his obsessive indoor herding, but after his long, long period of inactivity and
Sushi now being inside more because of the weather, the problem cropped up
again. I found myself starting to get truly frustrated about it, until I put on
my beh’ist/trainer hat, took a breath and put Willie in his crate when I found
myself unable to do anything constructive. (Things are improving again, whew.)


I’d love to hear your thoughts: How do you interpret the
dog above? What are your best coping strategies for dealing with your own
frustrations, and helping your dog through his or hers? Never happens at your
house? Ever? Really? Wow. Can I come over?


This is courtesy of Dr. Patricia McConnell from her site theotherendoftheleash.com



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