In my last blog “why must love hurt?” I mentioned a psychological state called “learned helplessness”. I must confess to have become quiet inquisitive and intrigued about this, constantly looking for examples of it either taught inadvertently or purposely.
What is learned helplessness?
Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.
Learned helplessness not only occurs in animals but in humans too. For example a teenage boy asks a girl out, she says no, he asks another she also knocks him back he may be persistent or he may fall into “learned helplessness” and never want to approach a girl for a date again. Academically someone may struggle with the first few answers in a Math test and then just give up; even although they could easily answer some of the questions they have also become helpless in answering. These are examples of inadvertently taught “learned helplessness”.
While I was discussing this topic with my mother she said she herself suffered from this. My mother was raised in the late 40s & 50s when things were a whole lot different, women tended not to work instead they raised the kids whilst men went out to work, my mother was in such a family, six brothers and a twin sister ( the girls came last) and very poor. My grandfather worked three jobs to put food on the table, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs. A no frills generation, you worked for what you had and if you had no money you went without. This came at a price, my grandfather was a cantankerous, crabby & disagreeable man, he had little time for his kids, and children should be seen and not heard. Not really a good role model for so many kids! He likely wasn’t always like this but as more and more children appeared on the scene he became worse & worse. The short of it he was abusive, physically in the sense if you crossed the line you got a smack in the face, and emotionally abusive in he would regularly call my mother stupid and no good for nothing at the age of five. The stories she tells of her childhood are so bi polar, stories of summer days playing in the river care free up to no good with her siblings, listening to the rock n roll up and coming on the radio with her mother (a very good natured woman!) to one of doom and dread when my granddad was in the picture. My mother learned at a very young age if you question authority you get physically harmed, so what’s the option? She learned to ask nothing, ask for nothing and avoid anything that could result in such confrontations. Learned helplessness! The bizarre thing however is in her teenage years and even to this day, if my mother is challenged, specifically by men she becomes very reactive. Even worse if they use the trigger words “are you stupid!”, however if her father said these things to her she would scuttle off and feel completely powerless and voiceless to respond. I can remember when I did my first math test I got a shocking mark, I was petrified to tell my mum and I was ashamed of my lack of talent, when I told my mum she simply asked “did you try your best?” I answered “yes” and she said “well I’m proud of you; all we can do is our best!” I’m thankful she didn’t turn out like her father & my math improved!
Why do I tell this on a dog blog? I’m hoping that the empathy you feel for a human in this position can stir the same feelings when I relate to a dog. Please do not be so frivolous to believe that dogs don’t suffer or experience the spectrum of emotions that we do. Just because they manifest in a different way does not mean they don’t feel them. We turn away from things that are making us uncomfortable, so do dogs. We cower if someone big threatens us, so do dogs. We widen our eyes with fear, so do dogs. Our facial expressions clearly display our emotions, so does a dog. We try to avoid everything to avoid being physically or emotional harmed, so do dogs. If our threats and signals do not work we will defend ourselves, guess what so does a dog! Then take all these signals and the subject being threatened is a weaker or smaller person they cannot defend themselves effectively, then they become helpless, exactly what a dog does!
My grand fathers intentions I am sure were to create a well behaved & “balanced” child, what he had no regard for was the spill out effect this had, he indeed achieved a child that never questioned him, was seen and not heard & done exactly what he wanted. What he didn’t have was a bond of trust. My mother didn’t do things because she wanted please him, she done them because she had to!
Before reading on think to yourself “Am I willing to achieve control at any cost?” or “I don’t want control; I would like to have a dog that does what I ask (most of the time) because he/she wants to”. If you answered with the first you may as well really pay attention to what you will achieve and see if it’s really worth it.
I have put a link to a video below, warning some people may find this distressing. Watch it before reading my analysis, and then after you have read the section below…watch it again.
This dog is apparently showing aggression, look at his eyes, do they look like a petrified animal? Or an animal that wants to get his own way? Note the muzzle, yes for safety reasons dogs with a bite history should in certain circumstances be muzzled but the dog is about to be challenged, he now has no defence when his signals are ignored. It’s comparable to grizzly bear in a ring with a toothless collie. The dog looks away from CM, what do we do when we want something to go away? CM then moves closer (ignoring leave me alone) and takes the dog by the leash. The dog is obviously tense but look how he is leaning away, a state of avoidance, which for the record should never be violated. CM then pushes the dogs bum down to get the dog to sit……look at his eyes still…wider and wider. Now at 11 seconds CM puts his right-hand on the dogs shoulder and then a sudden pressure, dog reacts (defence mechanism kicking in) the dog then tries again to move away, he is brought back again and the bum push. Before moving on think about this, if you were afraid of something restricted in moving away and tied up so you couldn’t fight back how would you feel? Panicked?
Moving on, we now have a strange lesson in body language influencing fear…..pull the dogs tail out from under him because this creates fear; now let’s just think outside the box for a moment. If you were scared of say a wasp, and someone put two fingers either side your mouth and turned your lips into a smile do you think that would help? The body responds to fear, involuntary responses, such as sweating, shaking, crying, heavy breathing right? Now try shaking and see if you immediately feel fearful……thought not. Is it the tail that is the dogs’ biggest concern here?
Again the right hand on the dogs shoulder and guess what the dog tries again to defend himself because all other signals are being ignored, he again tries to move away growling (a warning much like you or I telling someone to bugger off) please note the position of the stair in the background, we see the owner, now back to dog, the dog has moved quite a bit away, look at the stair now. If this dog didn’t have a muzzle on him, he would have achieved space as CM would be hurtling full speed to nearest A&E. So is it fair to say that CM is ignoring what every professional must do, observation of subject!
“The more he fights the more he relieves pent up energy” ok, the more the defenceless, muzzled dog tries to make you go away with clear body language he is ignored, he tries to move away, he is ignored, he tries to fight back, he can’t….is it then fair to say that he obviously tire? Adrenaline in surges really tires the body.
41 seconds we are told “you need to know when to stop” personally I’d say that was on entering room! CM then proceeds to touch the dog (talk about ignoring your own advice) can you still see the dog moving back and CM still advances, at this stage the dog is running out of options. A good dictator knows this is the best time to exert authority for a complete take over, catch them when they are vulnerable.
Listen as he pins the dog to the floor against a wall with no alternative “Put him on his side so he can relax, when they are on their side this way there is a sense of relaxation, a sense of trust, vulnerability, where they just totally surrender and give up” I think we can remove the word relaxation, this doesn’t look like a spa treatment. Let’s remove trust also; I can see no way this animal this animal would ever have CM in his circle of trusted mates. Vulnerable, think we can use that, open to physical or emotional harm (Oxford Dictionary) well surrender and give up that’s a foregone conclusion.
Then the dog panics, one last try, he just wants to get up, guess what? He cant. Still look at his face does he look more or less fearful than he did at the beginning?
So is this relaxation or is this “learned helplessness”?
Thanks for your time. Remain positive! The power of positivity X
To be continued…….