Something’s Up Your Nose…So What?


Lili’s vet referred us to the other kind of Vet, a former Marine, who trains dogs using Japanese, because it becomes the secret code between dog & owner, avoiding that Robert De Niro, head-tilting, “Are you talkin’ to me?” beat between command & response. Like the dog trainer icons on TV, our guy teaches that owners must become the Leader of the (Wolf) Pack, always “walking point” or “taking the con,” in situations where a dog may sense a power vacuum and decide to make a command decision, as to who may or may not pass without a hassle. The dog owner must get the dog to understand, “I’m in charge here. If I say ‘friend,’ don’t you act out ‘foe.'” But constant vigilance is exhausting, so would-be pack leaders adopt labor-saving tactics. The first: Let sleeping dogs lie. The second: Watch for signs of arousal, and prepare to react. Lili’s long, fine back hair stands up like a porcupine’s spines when she is aroused, cuing her designated pack leader to take charge and either permit or disallow a display of aggression.

The parallel response sequence for humans is, first, to acknowledge aggressive arousal. Next, to identify its source; and then to decide whether the situation merits an aggressive response. New fMRI research shows that when the brain’s alarm center (amygdala) is “lit up,” it prevents blood flow to the problem-solving & memory center (hippocampus) and to the “look-before-you-leap” center (pre-frontal cortex). Just by naming the irritant (“Fear!” or “Intrusion!”), the flow of blood can be changed, to help a human to avoid a reflexive acting out of anger and to start working out an alternative response. In other words, we humans would do well to ackowledge our “inner wolf,” to get savvy about the warning signs of its arousal, and then to engage in the parlor game of “What just got up my nose?”

The alternative is to become a werewolf: to be overtaken by unacknowledged (therefore alien-seeming) aggressive impulses, to act them out impulsively, and later to protest, “I don’t know what got into me! That (antisocial behavior) is just not who I am! I’m a better person than that!”

Oh, really? I suggest spending more time observing what stirs up the neighborhood dogs, and less time rejoicing in humans’ degrees of genetic separation from them.

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Filed under aggression happens, gets right up my nose, leading a pack, secret code

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