By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
A while back I wrote a piece called Emotional Projection. The scientifically oriented article focused on possible sources of projection. Unfortunately, the somewhat long description didn't discuss how to actually use projection to change emotions, thus, change dog behaviour. The goal of this article is to give you a few tips on how to make changes in your human-dog relationships via all theories we've discussed so far.
Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Carl Young, and other psychologists refer to projection as a defence mechanism. The process by which people deny their impulses, feeling, desires, or emotions and project them onto others in order to disassociate themselves from the threatening unconscious idea. In our case, dogs are the victims of our projections. To stop the transference process, individuals must recognise it at a conscious level. Not an easy task when your partner doesn't talk.
Emotional Projection Cycle
To change undesirable dog behaviour into desirable behaviour, we must first identify the projection placed on the dog. I'll give you an example to help conceptualise the projection process in your head. Imagine Fido has a human-dog aggression (or fear) issue. Fido exhibits typical aggressive behaviours towards unfamiliar people: growls, bares teeth, raises hackles, and huffs. You get angry when Fido exhibits these behaviours because you find them totally unreasonable. When this happens, you punish Fido, tell the stranger you're sorry, and leave the encounter feeling embarrassed and frustrated.
To address the issue, we first need to mirror back the anger towards the person and bring the emotion into view. The first mirroring question could be Why does Fido's behaviour make you feel so angry? Why do you find his behaviour inappropriate? Why do you feel embarrassed about the problem? The same questions could apply to a human-fear behaviour problem; in that case, we would change the emotion within the question and ask Why do you feel scared?
Once the emotion is brought to consciousness, the problem can be addressed; not surprisingly, Fido will start to decrease his aggressive responses towards unfamiliar people. Why would Fido's behaviour problem improve? Because he would no longer see your aggressive response (tensing-up, moving slowly, freezing), smell your reaction (low seratonine), experience tension on his leash (pulling, jerking), or hear you talk loud, yell, or scream.
I've discussed many theories in the past on how to change dog behaviour. To the right, you will find a simple circular process diagram which will help you identify and address the behaviour problem. Projection is about reclaiming you emotions which don't belong to your dog, or other people. It might be difficult to understand at first, but simply keep in mind the blue circle represents the human-dog relationship. Inside the blue circle we see two types of projection, and from the outside of the circle we see how different theories improve or hinder the human-dog relationship. The yellow region is where the symbolic mirror should be placed.
Emotional Projection Tips
1. When you find yourself in situations likely to trigger undesirable dog behaviour, observe which details elicit an emotional response.
2. Once the emotion is identified, ask yourself why am I so upset about this situation? and listen closely to what you inner voice will answer.
3. Address the emotion, or seek someone qualified to help you work through it.
4. Use different learning theories to tech new behaviours to your dog. Be creative, fun, and think outside the box.
Wherever you find yourself on the image, you can change its direction because relationships are fluid interactions of positive and negative emotions. Simply place an imaginary mirror between the dog and yourself (the yewllow oval between the inner red and green circular arrows) to reclaim your emotions. When emotions are addressed, the learning process can occur, thus, improve your dog's behaviour. It might seem hard to step back and look at the situation in order to reclaim your emotions, but after a few trials you will become more and more experienced.
- Chance, P. (2009). Learning and Behaviour, Active Learning Edition, Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth
- Jarvis, M. (2004). Psychodynamic Psychology: Classical theory and contemporary research. London Great Britain: Thomson Learning.
- Jung, C., Von Franz, M.L., Henderson, J., Jacobi, J. and Jaffé, A. (1964). Man and His Symbols. London, Great Britain: Dell Publishing.
- The Brain From Top to Bottom. Retrieved April 22, 2015 from http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/