Association - the connection or relation of ideas, feelings, sensations, etc.; correlation of elements of perception, reasoning, or the like.
This is how dogs learn, action/reaction or association.
A great example of this happened over the weekend. Almost every morning we share peanut butter Perfect Bars with Elsa and Riggs. Elsa has been eating these for several years now but for Riggs, the Perfect Bar is a fairly new treat. Over several years Elsa has occasionally asked to lick the wrapper clean and every once in a while she has scored an extra piece that was hiding down in the wrapper corner. The extra tid bit that she has gotten a couple of times keeps her wanting to lick the wrapper.
It was evident over the weekend as we sat out on the deck enjoying our coffee and Perfect Bars that Elsa was hoping for an extra bit. My husband allowed her to lick the wrapper and she did so with enthusiasm;; The kind of enthusiasm that clearly shows she thought there might be more. When Riggs was offered the wrapper to lick he did not do so with the same gusto. He licked it and pulled away with a face like “it’s gone idiot.” He did not have the same association to licking the wrapper that Elsa did. He has yet to score that extra bit that would keep him trying and licking for more. Gone was gone to Riggs, not Elsa.
How about socks? When I put socks on, Elsa keeps a close eye but Riggs goes crazy. Over the years Elsa has learned that socks can mean the gym or a walk; so she watches for more clues as to what is really going on. Riggs being fairly new thinks that socks mean a walk. Socks have meant a walk more than me going out so he associates socks to fun.
Associations often happen by accident and they can be the cause of a many behavior issues. Many people don’t even realize that an association has been established until someone on the outside looks in to see what’s going on.
“Why will my dog not come into the living room anymore? “ I was asked by a very worried guardian. His dog had been coming in the living room at night to enjoy down time with him for years; when all of a sudden he stopped coming in and stood fearfully on the outside of the room. Looking around the room for clues I spotted a screen that was leaning up against the wall. “What happened to this screen?” I asked. The owner told me he had come home and found the screen on the floor one evening. That night his dog had greeted him at the door like always and then gone straight up to bed. I leaned over and touched the screen which caused the dog who had been standing outside of the living room to shrink and run away. This is what happened and your dog is now afraid to come into the living room because the screen fell off when he was in the room.
Association is very powerful; it can works both ways, good and bad. As we understand the capacity of association for dogs we can better communicate with them. Association is why I hate pinch/prong collars (along with the pain inflicted) and we will never greet a dog who is wearing one. When a dog approaches another dog with interest or excitement and they begin to pull; the dog receives a pinch which is then associated ti whatever the dog was doing at the time of the infliction. This is why many dogs who have leash aggression, have leash aggression. Dog approaching = painful pinch.
I could go on an on about association. Right now as I sit writing, both Riggs and Elsa are relaxing. But if I should push my chair even the slightest bit, they will both be on their feet. Chair moving means Mom is moving somewhere.
When you are training, educating, trying to figure out a behavior that your dog is doing or attempting to unravel a seeming brain freeze with your dog, think association.