Saturday, October 1, 2011

Seminar II: Looking at the Brain

Back to the seminar notes for the Sept 2011 Obi Fox event.

There are a lot of neurons in the brain.  Motor neurons "fire" (electrical/chemical changes within the cell) in response to a specific stimulus and then cause movements of specific muscles or muscle groups.  The type of stimulus depend on the type of neuron.  Some only respond to a visual stimulus, some only to touch, some to specific internal changes...etc.    AND there are some that respond to two specific types of stimuli, and other to three or more specific types of stimuli.

Quite a few motor neurons respond to visual and tactile stimuli.   This means that you are getting the same changes in the brain, the brain is perceiving the same thing... if the individual is touched or if the individual perceives something moving 'within' range.   Specific body areas correspond to a part of the 'personal space' field.  

By moving into a dog's space, the brain can be responding as if the animal was touched.

Just as important is that those neurons will continue to fire until the 'threat' is removed from the space or when the motor sequence is completed.   If someone is too close...those neurons will fire until the dog can move far enough away that the person is out of the dog's 'space'.  

That somewhat makes it even harder to think about dogs that are asked to "just get over it," both shy-fearful type dogs, reactive dogs, and super excitable dogs.

The personal space zone can change over time in response to desensitization or sensitization.  It can get bigger or smaller.

And that's probably enough to think about for today.   Any errors in this post are mine.


Kirby @ Dog.Nerd.101 said...

Great post, I love that your bringing the science into the art of dog training. Your explanation of motor neurons really helps people understand the whole issue of space with dogs. Great that you were able to point out the implication for fearful or shy dogs and people that want them to just "get over it."

The hard wired responses of animals, are just that, hard wired. Yes amenable to influence (as you note, to sensitize and desensitize and make the space smaller or larger) but also, to some extent relatively fixed. I think this varies largely on the individual dog and their genetic profile. I think every dog (and person!) comes with a pre-determined, biological "base line" temperament (or other parameter, like intelligence, introversion, extroversion etc) and that each individual can shift that baseline to some degree. But the dog who comes genetically pre-programmed with a high level of fear, can increase (or decrease) their fear levels (and that space you talked about earlier) to some degree. But dog number two, who came genetically pre-programmed with a lower level of baseline fear, (who can also increase or decrease in fearfulness) will likely always have "an edge" over dog one, with the potential to decrease fear. Not sure if this all makes sense, but I guess it just all boils down to the old "nature vs. nurture!" Great post, keep them coming :)

Kristen said...

To be extra clear.... these are my notes from the seminar, the presenter did the work of grouping together the relevant bits of information.

You are right, there are species typical zones, and further variations for each individual and then variations as a result of learning.

Genetics definitely play a huge part in this, and especially as we have a lot of information to support that shyness/fearfullness (or a 'stronger avoidance response') is very much a genetic and heritable trait.

Not to say there's nothing we can do in those cases, we can make a difference. It does tend to help take the blame off of the pet owner and work towards reducing any guilt s/he may have about the pet's behavior.

Kristen said...

And to add on... much of this sorta info about motor neurons, perception, flight zones, etc. Is available in various places. It's just a bit of a task to pull it together from various studies/text books. The presenter applied a lot of it to dog and adding in her relevant experience.

More unclear? ... I tried!

Kirby said...

Thanks for the additional information Kristen! What seminar was it that you were at? Who was the presenter? Sounds like a good one. You're right, there is a ton of information out there, in peer reviewed journals etc., but its so helpful when the info can be consolidated and put into
"understandable" terms. Thanks for making this information more accessible!

Kristen said...

The presenter was OBi Fox, the seminar was in Columbus, Ohio. The description can be found on the 'events' page of www.posidog .com

It was a very interesting weekend and giving us something -else- to consider when working with dogs. It also fills in a lot of the information gaps for why specific behaviors happen (or don't) in some contexts.