A dog is not just a static set of "drives" and conditioned responses, but rather are cognitive creatures that learn, innovate, solve problems, plan missions, attach to parents, and are capable of complex and human-like behavior such as empathy.
But the old wolf theories still abound as dogs are largely seen as purely instinctive machines to be trained. As such, we often hear of a dog's prey drive -- a catch-all phrase that is used to describe every aspect of canine behavior, as though the search for food alone and the honing of predatory skills is the singular motivator behind all that dogs do. When they destroy a nice toy that is seen as fitness training for predation. When they bite our hands, chase the cat, rough-house during play, have excessive energy, etc, these are all seen as motivated by prey drives. The word "drive" is often used in regards to operating a motor vehicle. Drivers drive a car. A drive is simply an emotion -- a word taken from its original Greek to mean "evoke motion" -- "e"motion.
Since these mysterious creatures are natural-born hunter-killers, we are told to provide outlets for these hard-wired instincts, lest we stifle their nature and somehow cause a fault in their neural wiring.
Following this logic, we are told to provide outlets for expression -- if a dog wants to chase a squirrel, then let them chase until they can chase no more. The logic being that expressions of the behavior will eliminate the behavior. No further consideration is given to the fact that practicing such exercises reinforces that behavior, and as such, contributes to that unfettered drive to become more intensive over time. Even less talk is made about self-control and how wolves in the wild would never allow such drives to be left uncontrolled and are, instead, well-disciplined by a parenting dog.
If a dog is adamant about jumping and biting our clothes, the solution is to get a tug and allow them to jump and bite to their heart's content. Or another solution is to bait and redirect the dog into doing tricks for treats. Again, a partial telling of strict operant conditioning theories based on incorrectly perceived wolf behavior. And a push-back to what is seen as the dark side of conditioning -- the use of harsh punishment to force a dog into submission, which is another flawed theory based in the same belief that dogs are machines to be beaten and forced into proper functioning.
These overly-simplistic redirection therapies are founded upon the widely disseminated "all-positive" theories originally developed by the United States Navy to train bottlenose dolphins and sea lions to search for mines and retrieve equipment from the water. This philosophy has been widely embraced by dog trainers and TV personalities who are more interested in ratings and social media "likes" than they are the truth as it exists in the average domestic, dog-owning home. These personalities adorn themselves with adjectives such as "progressive" or "science-based." As though all of the other more troublesome complexities of animal cognition that have yet to be fully researched are somehow "not science", or more accurately, not knowledge. Or that areas of animal cognition where only empirical observation prevail are also not scientific, therefore not valid. This logic follows that the observable universe is only valid when observed within the strict, sterile confines of a university laboratory. It must stand to reason then that the sky is not blue, as observation might suggest, but is rather a form of light radiation as processed by a spectometer, and as such, is processed by the human brain as it receives electric data-streams from the retina. A blue sky, therefore, is not knowledge and is less valid. Of course, both are correct. And one does not invalidate the other.
Even in the military's dolphin program, little consideration was given to the dolphin's dynamic social connections to other members of its pod. Such excessive details were likely not part of their program's focus -- at least not until the Association for the Accreditation of Animal Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) got involved to halt some of the more controversial practices regarding health and stress to the dolphins during and after their work periods were over. Instead, the military's primary interest was to train these machines to do machine-like things.
If only animals were that simple. The scale of complexity that underlies the mind and matter of animals far exceeds what will ever be known and understood by humanity -- how dogs feel when they step outside and are hit with a wall of several million different discernible scents is not currently appreciated as a relevant form of intelligence. Instead, that is a bothersome detail to be ignored as unimportant. Other complexities such as how dogs find social security in boundary-based attachments to parenting figures is often ignored all together. All are pesky details that get in the way of television ratings and quick "how-to" dog training articles.
Intelligence in all its many forms must be given equal voice when we interface with the complexities of life. To assume that a dog's behavior is only predicated on a set of dry associations is the height of human arrogance. We must humble ourselves to the details of complex things lest become victims of unassumed consequences.
For more information about depth of dogs, order Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior, and learn to see dog behavior in a new way.
Aaron McDonald is a Canine Behaviorist and Canine Cognitive Theorist (a field that doesn't officially exist yet). He can be reached at www.threedimensionaldog.com or