The Emotional Sink
Dr Sarah Heath is a specialist veterinary behaviourist based in the UK and was the headline speaker at a Delta Institute conference held last week. She is a fantastic speaker who helps owners and vets better understand the emotional motivations and resultant behavioural responses of their pets and patients.
The Secret Seven
Jaak Panksepp is a human neuroscientist who identified seven emotional behavioural circuits; frustration, fear/anxiety, panic/grief, social play, lust, seeking/desire and care. These circuits originate from deep primitive brain structures such as the amygdala and the hypothalamus, common to most vertebrate species [ie fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals] before they split to go on their own evolutionary byways.
The Behavioural Response
Dr Heath has developed a new form of terminology to describe the behaviour of a pet when it experiences a negative emotional response to a trigger or stimulus. By helping identify and giving equal weight to each of the four possible behaviours [avoidance, repulsion, inhibition and appeasement] she hopes to improve prevention, management and treatment of clinical behavioural problems as well as improving the emotional health and welfare of all animals.
Dr Heath developed the concept of the “emotional sink” to help vets and owners better understand the concepts of emotional intelligence, stability, capacity and resilience and the displacement behaviours [normal behaviours in abnormal context] which warn that a pet’s emotional arousal level is close to capacity.
An individuals’ emotional capacity or sink size is influenced by genetics, early learning and life experience. Displacement behaviours such as a stretch, yawn, lick, chew, shaking like wet are analogous to water draining through the overflow hole at the top of the sink. Water from the taps can be either positive [cold] or negative [hot] or a mix of emotional stimulation. Pets can also self-manage the level of emotional arousal via “drainage” behaviours such as sleep, grooming or chewing.
By design emotional overflow or extreme behavioural responses are more likely if the dog has low emotional capacity [small sink], the tap[s] are on full bore, there was a high level of residual emotion/water in the sink or owners do not recognise or act on the warning signs
of impending overflow.