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Rethinking Rejection

Angelica Steinker discusses rejection and how dog trainers can turn a “no” into a “yes,” making any situation a win-win for all parties

© Can Stock Photo Inc./grkistock

© Can Stock Photo Inc./damedeeso

ot having a date for the prom, or being the last person picked for a sports team are situations that can trigger feelings of rejection in humans. Just like dogs, we humans are social. Because social beings rely on groups for survival, being excluded can literally, in the worst case scenario, mean death. As a result, being isolated from a group is a highly aversive experience for social beings. Mammalian brain research shows that the brain processes emotional trauma in the same way it does physical trauma. This means, if a being experiences something deeply upsetting, the body reacts as if it has been injured. Pain, whether based on a physical, or purely psychological injury, creates fear, Consent testing enables pet professionals to ascertain which can create panic. I theorize that dogs and whether an animal is saying humans, both being social species, share a dislike of “yes or “no” - by leaning into his owner’s hand, this rejection (both physical and psychological) and a dog is saying “yes” to the contact preference for acceptance. As professional behavior consultants and trainthe rejection is an excellent way of annulling its effects. When we ers, when a client is noncompliant with our recommendations, or are aware of our tendency to do battle with rejection, it is easier when a dog displays growling, snapping or biting behaviors, it is to find a path to acceptance. Rejection is actually only informanot uncommon for us to feel something akin to rejection. Biolog- tion, not a death threat. ically, our first inclination might be to argue. We want to fight the Still, we all struggle with rejection because it is deeply linked feelings of rejection. We may have thoughts like, “I am an excelto our survival. The appeasing dog continues to face-dive despite lent, skilled and knowledgeable trainer. Why does my client not the human target’s frantic attempts to stop the behavior. The dog value this?” A more appropriate thought, however, may be, “This may perceive the lack of human contact as a form of rejection, client may not be ready for what I am sharing.” Depersonalizing which may, in turn, trigger more anxiety and feed the Through play, dogs are able actual behavior. Teaching this dog to slow down his to learn to read other dogs’ greetings through self-control games and alternative body language, and whether all parties are agreeing to behaviors is a good way to help. continue the play As social species, both domesticated dogs and humans are battling evolution emotionally. Our survival instincts tell us to avoid rejection, at any cost, as it may equal expulsion from the group and thus, ostracism, or even death. However, freedom of choice and modern life requires humans to say “no” to each other, which can lead to one or both people feeling rejected. For dogs that do not live with other dogs and are left home alone, separation-related distress behaviors may be the result of social isolation. Feelings of rejection can lead to fear and panic, potentially resulting in destructive behaviors or house soiling. Just as dogs can be trained to be home alone by associating good things with their owner’s absence, humans can learn to value the information that is gained from being rejected. A potential client who comments they are not hiring you because you “only


BARKS from the Guild/March 2017

BARKS from the Guild March 2017  
BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...