I have written about association often; it is after all how dogs learn. But we humans also deal with association. As the temperatures started to drop here in SoCal I got excited about wearing cold weather clothes. I am a northerner at heart and love the cold so when I get to pull out the woolies; it makes me happy. But I wasn't too happy to see my vest this year. I like vests best because they keep your body warm but aren't so warm that you die here in SoCal. So I pulled out my green vest, the one that I wore pretty much the whole trip last December from CA to CT. The memories went swirling in my head and I quickly stuck it back in the closet. I most definitely had a negative association to it.
I told my husband that I couldn't wear it. I told him "I just can't, it's got too many bad memories on it." He knows how much I love vests so when I gave the tarnished vest to Good Will he secretly ordered me a new one in a different style and color and I love it. He's amazing. This whole situation is very similar to dogs. Of course we can discuss association among ourselves or with our self even but dogs cannot. If a negative association is created we must re-establish a new association.
Elsa has been stung in our yard several times. The guy that lives behind us has a huge beehive in his yard right over our fence. He has chosen to just cover the tree trunk with a bag to try to rid the bees from his property which has not worked at all. They are very busy bees and just create a new opening to the trunk. So Elsa has a very negative association to bees which I will leave in tack. It is good that she is now afraid of them and steers clear if she sees one.
Dogs can have a negative association to pretty much anything. Let's use a raised hand for an example. I've had to re-train a few dogs with this association. It is most definitely a negative and it is caused by being hit mostly. Associations can be caused by many different things because it can happen suddenly and without cause. Maybe a dog walked into a wall when you lifted your arm up and now he has a negative association. Perhaps a loud, startling sound was heard when you raised your arm. It can be anything but lets say it was from being hit. You can either go through life trying not to lift your arm or have anyone raise their hand around your dog or you can re-associate.
To counter condition you must put another meaning onto raised arms. This must be done very, very slowly. Sort of associating without your dog knowing it. You would start with your arm just out in front or even lower, whatever level which does not trigger a negative response. Then you work from there. You can associate a ball throw, treats, playing or anything else that your dog would consider positive to it. As you raise your arm higher and higher you must make sure that there is no negative response occurring before getting higher.
Some associations can be very difficult or sometimes impossible to re-associate. Only with a great deal of work will you know if it is doable or not. Sometimes a response is so ingrained, creating such a fearful response that it cannot be undone. Then you must deal with it the best you can. But, that said almost all negative associations can be fixed. Often a cause cannot be figured out so you deal with what is in front of you.
Associations require thought. You must think about what your dog will think about a situation. Not what you think, what your dog thinks. There are ways to change the way they think and that too is a lot of work. But it is good work, helping your dog through issues is never a waste of time.
For me it was best to toss the vest, it just brought up too many bad memories that I didn't want to re-associate it. But that is a human thing.