I just read about a study where researchers ran experiments trying to find out if an owner’s reaction to something influenced the dog’s reaction to the object. They used “a 50 centimeter tall and 34 centimeter wide electric fan, with plastic green ribbons attached to it. This object was selected because it evokes a cautious reaction in most dogs, neither very positive (approaching directly and touching) nor very negative (running in the opposite direction or strong stress such as trembling, or hiding.)
The dogs were exposed to the fan under different circumstances (with their owner giving a positive reaction to the fan, with their owner giving a negative reaction to the fan; with a stranger doing the same things), and “…when a positive message was being conveyed, significantly more dogs interacted with the fan if the owner, rather than the stranger was the informant. These results are similar to those in infant studies.” So the “opinion” of the known and trusted owner is of more value than the “opinion” of the stranger. It makes sense that in an uncertain situation the known person would be more reassuring than the unknown one.
The conclusion that interested me was “The results from this study indicate that dogs are able to distinguish the informant’s emotional message.” This is why if I present a new thing to Chico as a happy experience, he’s much, much, much more likely to accept it as non-threatening. So being proactive, pointing things out to him before he has a chance of forming his own opinion about them (usually that the whatever it is is scary and thus dangerous), gives me a chance to introduce new things with a positive slant on them, reducing the chances of some kind of Chico-explosion.
Now, how to tune up my senses so I can see and hear things before Chico does?
Here’s a link to the article I read which describes the study: http://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=2370