Temporary External Inhibition - why it does and does not work


First what is external inhibition?

External Inhibition is when an external factor (stimulus) acts upon our dog to stop a behaviour.

For example, your enjoying a training session with your dog in the garden and a breeze kicks up. Your dog then shifts their attention to a wind carried scent, this is an example of external inhibition.

Another example could be the pecking of a chicken, when they take up a noxious item they will then reject the irritant.

Both of these examples shift the dogs emotional bias from one mode to another. In the former the dog is taken out of a social emotional mode to prey and in the case of the latter, the chicken is taken out of the herbivorous equivalent of the prey mode and defence is activated.

In both of these examples is the behaviour halted permanently? No, the chicken must continue to forage for sustenance and the dog, as a social animal, is dependent upon the handler for social interaction, security and sustenance.

What we have then is a temporary interruption of a behaviour. We have discovered Temporary External Inhibition.

Note that it is inhibition of behaviour, not the elimination of behaviour that is affecting the behavioural display.

How can we use this information?

By looking at how we handle our dogs as teachers, we can discover why certain behaviours continue to re-occur despite our best efforts to eliminate them.

Let us take an example from real life:

You are walking your dog and you have not walked your dog in a couple of weeks for whatever reason, immediately you are rearing to go and start with Heel. Now your dog is also rearing to go, just not to Heel. What do they do? They start to explore the environment, they engage in Prey behaviours anything apart from Social.

The response is a frustrated raising of the voice and a sharp snap on the lead.

Resulting in your dog quickly shifting from what they where involved with to you and your boring old Heel.

Works right? Sure it does. Let us look at why it works then.

As you raise your voice in frustration your body language and voice changes to match you mood. The snap on the lead is less precise and more forceful. The image you are sending your dog puts them smack into Defence. The emotional mode of your dog has turned from pleasure to pain and they will do what it takes to move back toward pleasure. That means engaging Social mode and working with you.

That might be acceptable in specific situations of an emergency nature, such as fast moving vehicles near to where you are. But more often than not, this type of temporary external inhibition comes with a jack in the box type of baggage.

You see, since the signal we have sent to our dog is not contingent on what they where doing, but on how we where feeling - ineffective and frustrated - our dog is not able to link the signal to an action. Added to this is that due to our frustrated adrenal state we forget to reward our dog for doing the right thing, instead we take a punitive position and exclaim jubilantly that the dog can do what we want. This means that the dog cannot learn anything other than to watch out for us, we might just get antsy.

Since this type of inhibition does not facilitate learning, it means that if we constantly use this type of action to change the behaviour of our dog, we must increase the intensity of the inhibiting stimulus. This can lead to, on one side, a flattened dog or on the other end of the spectrum a hardened dog. Either of which is not beneficial for either dog or household. In this example, inhibition does not equal punishment. Punishment is a stimulus that serves to reduce a behaviour occurrence to the point of elimination. Closing the door as the dog rushes toward it punishes the rushing behaviour and replaces it with a waiting behaviour, when done correctly.

Since a temporary external inhibition does act upon our dogs behaviour in a favourable way - the problem goes away - it does appear to work. However, it does not work systematically and permanently. Whilst useful in the case of an emergency, it cannot be relied upon to affect the behaviour of our dog permanently.

Timing the applied punisher so that it comes just prior to the action and shortly after your "No" will enable you to use the slightest amount of force necessary but still be able to punish an undesired behaviour. Instead of having to pull sharply and forcefully on your dogs lead you can reduce the applied force to communicate the same principle and punish the behaviour.

#behaviour #punish #punishment #reward #inhibition #stimulus #externalinhibition

Featured Posts