The Black Dog Syndrome

How often have we heard, my dog hates black dogs, or people are worried my dog is not friendly because he’s big and black?
Talking with black dog guardians brings this issue to light.
Photo Bear by Sheila Waller

When one of my prominently black dogs was young and muscular, people and dogs would tend to step back and leave her space,  the butch muscled  look probably didn’t help.
Looking at the history of survival, coat colour and the journey to domestication, could it be a genetic down load that instinctively causes this reaction, in some but not all dogs/people.

Thinking about the natural world, how many backgrounds are black? We don’t have black sand or fields or woods.
Looking back in time most animals coat colours would reflect their habitat, they would blend in, be they prey or predator, they would need cover to survive.

Synaesthesia.  The ability to join senses.

I put the “Black dog” question on my timeline a while back, and the  suggestion was made that maybe dogs can smell colour, if that’s the case, is this an aversive scent? 
Something to think about.
Some people experience synaesthesia of two or more senses and our sense of smell is not a patch on our dogs olfactory system.

Different Blacks?
Many collies are predominantly black, but don’t seem to have the same effect, as other black dogs, could that be because of the way they move, or that there are a good number to be seen on a regular basis?
Rarely seen completely black at the head, and that would be seen first, when travelling towards.
Could different blacks elicit different responses?
Hair colour is the pigmentation of hair follicles due to two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Generally, if more eumelanin is present, the colour of the hair is darker, if less eumelanin is present, the hair is lighter
Dr. van Haeringen Laboratorium B.V.  (genetics in practice)

Green Dogs
Thinking of colour and camouflage for hunting/hiding and past survival needs, we don’t have green dogs either, but that could reflect how their predators or prey see colour.
Another thought on black, having looked at green, is from what we know, most animals don’t see all colours, so maybe it is just black catches the eye, draws them in, makes them stand out, hides features that show them clearly, difficult to define facial expression,  harder for an artist to capture expression too.
Today in the natural world we have the Arctic fox and Arctic wolf that blend in with the snow, many other examples can be found in the natural world, coat colours changing with the seasons.
Looking at the history of survival, coat colour and the journey to domestication, I think man chose black not nature. 

The Arctic Wolf

Their all very individual.
Looking into the differences in the olfactory, visual and auditory systems of dogs that are selectively bred for various tasks,  there are marked differences, compared to dogs bred to be companions, as one would expect, so that then raises the question, how thorough and varied has the research been into how dogs see colour?
Was it a vast number of breeds and types? 
Dogs with and without visual streak?
Dogs bred to use their noses against dogs bred to use their eyes?
Or just dogs in general?  Could this make a difference to the research outcome? 
Could there be any variation, that could make some react more than others to black?Who knows?
How dogs see in colour from research done.

Animal Shelters/Sanctuaries
Added to the “Black Dog/Cat” superstition and myths, animal shelters/sanctuaries find black dogs and cats are often overlooked, they don’t stand out, they blend in with the background, but that’s looking through human eyes.
Wonder if colour blind people are more likely to notice black dogs in a shelter (just a thought)
Their characters are missed, because their facial features and expressions are less clear, its not so easy to see the eyes.
They don’t photograph so well for promotion.
Black dogs have a place in folklore as being bad luck, I’m thinking there are many dogs that have a black dog best friend they walk with or are family members,  just as they may have their own family cat, but woe betide any other cat that crosses their path.

Interesting article by Kristin Urban  Black dog mythology

When I grow up, I’m going to be a “big black dog” 

Black cats have a place in mythology too, article by Franny Syufi

Black dogs used to describe the overwhelming weight/pressure that depression can cause.  Health Organisation
I had a black dog, his name was depression

Black dog (ghost)
Black dog (ghost) – Wikipedia


Triggered dogs

Part 1

With behavioural and fitness businesses booming, I would hope there is a sharing of knowledge, so a complete package of canine body and mind could be put in place.
After all, there’s a whole dog, muscle and mind thrown in with reactivity, these two subjects should go hand in glove.

Loaded and ready

Looking at muscle and mind.
Dogs that have lived, or started out, largely in a reactive state, seeming to be doing daily work outs of isometric stress held muscles and then the changes in muscle as the stressed behaviour, reactivity improves.
With behavioural and fitness businesses booming, I would hope there is a sharing of knowledge. After all, there’s a whole dog, muscle and mind thrown in with reactivity

What I have noticed in some reactive/trigger happy  dogs, is pretty hard muscle packs that you can recognise, there’s similarities in other reactive dogs you meet.
They are on high alert, putting the triggered, reactivity into practice often. compared to dogs that relax in environments, and are working fit muscled, using those muscles only when movement is required.

Warm Ups.
Working sensibly with our dogs on fitness of any kind, we would warm up the muscles, in doing so we would be stretching and softening the fascia, ready to start work. Dogs that are reactive/triggered throw the body into tense action, possibly many times in each day, without any warm up at all, the whole system regularly flooded with stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

This is something I’ve seen for myself with more than one dog.
As very trigger happy, reactive dogs improve, settle, begin to relax and accept what used to trigger, along with the world,  the bouts of intense muscle pumping lessens or stop altogether, so that muscle starts to soften, as does the dogs shape over time, from the hard outlined of the dog that was constantly on red alert

Accepting and being comfortable with what used to trigger, doesn’t affect them all the same way.
The extra sparkle that went with the muscled self, sometimes seems to disappear too. I had thought this may be for other reasons and not connected, but in general conversations with trigger happy/reactive dog parents, when I’ve mentioned these changes, others have experienced the same, although nothing researched as I can find on this specific subject.

As the triggering side of behaviour improves, there’s sometimes a knock on effect in confidence.
One would expect more confidence, but it often goes the other way.
Its as if, as they stop so much triggering off, they start noticing more in and around the environment, they become a little more sensitive to things they never bothered about or noticed before, while they have lived on red alert, or in shout first ask questions later mode.
At this point I will add that I am sensitive to the dogs in my care, I’m pro active, have almost grown eyes in the back of my head, aware of space, aware of environments and come down times after life has bitten us all on the bum, life happens all the same.

This is different from the teenage stages often experienced, where some dogs go through various stages, some showing spooky cautiousness or teenage “bring it on” challenging behaviour, that’s no different from two legged teens, the age of stressed parents, where dogs are given up to shelters and two legged parents wonder where they went wrong.

One of my many questions has been, with all the chemical flooding that is happening in these dogs, how are these hormones that are pumping round in the system affecting their health?
What effect are they having on internal organs?
Will the muscles and joints be more vulnerable to damage later?

In this modern world of canine research and behaviour does any info exits on this specific subject, the muscle and mental, build and breakdown, when confidence seems to be lost. Those behavioural changes that have come along with their more untriggered selves, and what implications does this have on their health and mental state in the future. 
(Not the reactivity, that’s a different subject, they are who they are probably for many different reasons)

There has been so much interest in the last 12,15 years in various canine massage courses, and the last 6 or more years fitness has really taken off, a lot of that I feel is unfortunately for commercial gain, with designer equipment.

Muscle Tension
Experienced dog guardians often notice that their dogs suffer muscle stiffness after a reactive episode.
Watching some dogs in competition that are tense, there is a defined  back arch that can be clearly seen, not all stressed/tense dogs hold themselves this way, but this is quite a noticeable outline when you see it.

I think some things we notice and think about but never get to discuss with others, or maybe we do but it just gets dismissed.
Noticing similarity in muscle build in reactive dogs (observation over many years) I have just decided this must go on to my DDL. “Dig deeper list”

I’ve had sound advise that fascia is now thought as, or more important than muscle.
Fascia is a network of connective tissue that surrounds body organs, muscles, groups of muscles, nerves, etc.  a dense maze of collagen fibres, these fibres provide structure and support for internal body parts.

Chronic stress causes the fibres to thicken in an attempt to protect the underlying muscle. Poor posture lack of flexibility and repetitive movements, such as reactive, trigger happy dogs practise, pull the fascia into ingrained patterns.
With Fascia that has thickened, hardened and has impaired gliding ability,  a tight connective tissue chain can distort the skeleton so that wear in the joints occur and the balance is disturbed.


Fascia and the horse.
Dr. Vibeke Sødring Elbrønd 
In 1936  Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University in Montreal, defined two types of “stress” eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress).Both eustress and distress release cortisol. Once the alarm to release cortisol has sounded, the body becomes mobilized and ready for action but there has to be a physical release of fight or flight. Otherwise, cortisol levels build up in the blood.

Eustress creates a kind of “fun, excited, anticipatory, party time” heightened state of arousal, with cortisol levels then returning to normal.
Distress, which was designed to insure survival, fight, flight, freeze doesn’t provide an outlet, cortisol levels can take seconds to flood the system but days to leave, causing repeated triggering reaction to stack up.

When reactivity is triggered, the hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, sets off an alarm system in the body, through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts the adrenal glands, located at the top of the kidneys, to release a surge of hormones.

Adrenaline increases the heart rate, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream. Cortisol also suppresses the digestive system , and dulls the immune system, basically knocks out any non essentials, to free up all energy for fight or flight
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop,  body and mind return to normal, but when stressors are always present, fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes.
Stress hormones cause blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to the muscles to add strength ready to take action.

With behavioural and fitness businesses booming, I would hope there is a sharing of knowledge, so a complete package of canine body and mind could be put in place. After all, there’s a whole dog, muscle and mind thrown in with reactivity, these two subjects should go hand in glove.


Standing up for the head collar.

We have all no doubt come across people that just want a quick fix, but others have a very valid reason to choose the head collar.

Iris Maxfield

I’ve read a few trainers posts this last year, that include a mention of head collars, usually just a few words, but their implication, is that a head collar is worn because the handler has not put the time and commitment in to train.

We have all no doubt come across people who just want a quick fix, but others have a very valid reason to choose the head collar.
In the phase of training we are travelling through now, it only takes one person of standing to suggest that all who use head collars are lazy trainers, and just like many people believe, if its written in the news papers, seen on TV or some one got it published in a book, it must be true.

This is in defence of the head collar used appropriately.

Just wearing a head collar is enough to calm some lead reactive dogs, the head collar allows you to gently redirect your dog, so they don’t fixate on triggers, if you can gently redirect before your dog reacts, you stand a better chance of persuading them to move away or do something more appropriate, depending on the given situation.

The head collar helps to encourage turning away, in itself a calming signal to any dog trigger they may have started to fix on.

There are so many different designs, and it is important to find the right make and model to fit the individual comfortably.
Not all designs close around the nose, some are stitched, just like a horses head collar, some are designed like a figure of eight, and on some the lead attachment is higher up near the top of the head.
Don’t just knock the head collar, because you have not had a dog that needed the benefit of wearing one.

If you don’t know all the designs, then the criticism is coming after watching from the next field, so not a clear view.

A flat collar is not so innocent.

The flat collar can also be a second trigger, the throat is very vulnerable, its a place where if attacked, a good bite can cause a a large and fast blood loss, that will weaken and bring down.
Even historic paintings have images of dogs used for guarding livestock, that have broad leather collars with spikes, to protect their throats in case of attack by wolves or bears.

Anyone who’s grabbed a collar of dogs sizing each other up, will have experienced this act as a trigger to fly. no wonder pressure on the collar can be a second trigger to a dog already in a heightened state.

However much we are proactive, careful, grow eyes in the back of our heads, work to keep our reactive dogs under threshold, un triggered and in the space they need, life happens, and we need to manage that in the best way we can.

Dogs have seven cervical vertebrae in the neck, the spinal cord passes through the column in the centre of each vertebrae, this cord carries messages from the brain to the rest of the body, when dogs pull or lunge against a collar, as a triggered dog might, they can cause a lot of damage.

“Eye and ear problems may also be related to pulling on the leash” writes Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM. “My experience is that pulling decreases the energy and lymphatic flow to the head, which leads to ear and eye conditions.
Most people do not know that leashes and collars can cause so many problems.

Laryngeal paralysis, By Dr. Becker 
“In my experience, cervical or neck trauma is the most common reason for acquired laryngeal paralysis, and it can often be traced to an acute leash accident involving the neck. Perhaps a dog was tied outside, took off running, got to the end of the leash or rope and didn’t realise it, and choked.
Just a single episode of severe acute trauma to the neck, even if it happened years ago, can cause laryngeal paralysis.

The incident may not have even seemed like a big deal at the time. The dog may have coughed for a day or two afterwards. He may have even coughed up some blood, but otherwise seemed fine” https://youtu.be/tXkV2R_pu4Y

The neck and cervical spinal is one of the most important channels in the body, containing that spinal cord for supply to the whole of the body, it is where the front leg nerves originate from, when these nerves are damaged, it can cause tingling in the paws, because of the irritation dogs will lick or chew their paws.
It is also the channel where the nerves controlling the internal organ function pass through.

A dog that lunges or takes off and hits the end of the lead can get a whiplash effect that can manifest in problems later down the line.
The collar pushes on the throat exactly in the area of the thyroid gland, he thyroid gland governs the metabolism of every cell, it can affect the whole body, this gland gets traumatised every time a dog pulls or lunges against the collar, the thyroid can become inflamed and consequently destroyed, leading to hypothyroidism.

In all honesty, if down the line a dog has thyroid problems, how many of us would think the collar could be guilty?

While harnesses are recommended, its important to ensure a good fit, one that rest on the dogs throat could cause just as much damage, too low on the shoulders can interfere with the dogs action, too close to the armpits can cause rubbing and soreness.
A well fitting harness with front lead attachment, is the type most often recommended for reactive/trigger happy dogs, BUT however proactive and on the ball you are, a dog that is truly triggered, then has a head that can dart in all directions and in seconds can have worked up to blowing a fuse.

A combination of front fastening harness and head collar or collar is more sensible, but which combination will depend on the individual, and their level and speed of triggering.

A few years back a friend was walking her two large well behaved gentle dogs through the village where she lives, when a goat shot out from a drive way across the road in front of her, now who could of predicted that? 
One dog shot back in shock one shot to the side out in the road, she sustained a shoulder injury that has proved a long term issue, it knocked her confidence just knowing if a car had come along at that moment, her dog would have been hit, because of the weak shoulders she now walks them on head collars, this gives her back the confidence to walk them through the village to the off lead walks they love so much.

So there is another reason a head collar my be chosen, she is definitely not a lazy trainer.

Labels in dog training

‘Labels’ seem to be the dog training ‘in topic’ at the moment.

If labels are put on the outside of the packaging, to give an idea of what is in the box fragile, flammable etc.
Is it really so difficult, to ask for a list of the individual contents.

The subject of ‘labels’ has come up a lot this year. In a podcast I listened to recently, the male being interviewed accused people of using labels to excuse there lack of training. Its to cover their embarrassment apparently.

No mention of different emotional states, history, or people that are probably working hard to improve the confidence and well-being of their dogs (most behaviours come back to confidence) People still need within their training or life circles to have a way to describe an emotional state or a behaviour they are working with.

Probably having chosen an umbrella word that give most people an idea of what they’re saying. Maybe they haven’t heard the latest ‘in’ tag words.

I think that teachers and trainers need to include to educate, but they can also exclude and divide with a few cutting words.
Rather than the ‘Labels’ war that’s doing the rounds, I feel there should be more discussion on, the best questions to asked to sort out the ingredients.
Otherwise it’s excluding those that need the help/guidance, and causes a kind of class divide, ‘if the words don’t fit you don’t belong here’

If the label really doesn’t fit, then help them find a more appropriate one. Don’t crush them or make them feel stupid or ignorant.
I don’t think anyone should be made to feel like they haven’t swallowed the right dictionary.
It’s not hard to ask, could you break that down for me? Describe what happens and in what situations?
There’s a ton of possible questions depending on the ‘label’ that could help put the light on.
But caution is needed here, now we have this behaviour broken down, dissected and we understand whats going on, well I suppose it needs ‘labelling’

It would be a good thing to have more groups, where different opinions can be put forward on subjects raised. Discussed in an open and honest manor, where people can share their different points of view on a subject, while remaining able to agree to disagree in a civil manor.

I rather feel so many people follow, going with the loudest voices and don’t question or share different opinions for fear of being squashed, but by doing this louder voices that have an army of followers, don’t get to hear other opinions either.

Brain to gut/gut to brain

Poop Eating Dogs (coprophagia)
Gut Brain Axis

One dog sent me searching in the direction of the gut brain connection.
The conversation that goes on between the two, brain to gut, gut to brain, they seem to go hand in glove.
There is a lot of research out there under the heading of the second brain
which could mean a whole lot of help for nervous or reactive dogs.

One dog sent me searching in the direction of the gut brain connection.
The conversation that goes on between the two, brain to gut, gut to brain.
They seem to go hand in glove.
There is a lot of research out there under the heading of the second brain
which could mean a whole lot of help for nervous or reactive dogs.

If the oesophagus, small and large intestines, are lined with tissue containing neurons soaked in the same neurotransmitters as the brain, and research has shown that 95% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is to be found in these gut tissues, then to condition the gut could surely help, and may well have a knock on effect on the state of mind.

A few years back I drove friends nuts, looking into the gut brain link and repeatedly reporting on my findings.
This was for one dog in particular I was working with, that lacked confidence in many areas of his life, his first year was not as I’d planned it to be. That may have had some knock on effect, or it could just be who he was as an individual  (we all like to have reasons we can put into words)  I just could not find a way to help him.

In my search I came across different papers on the gut brain link, and how what happens in the gut can affect mood and emotion.
So the journey began, with working from the inside out, hoping that improving the gut bacteria, would help the messaging between gut and brain, and put his head in a better place.

Prebiotics are a a sort of dietary fiber, inulin, that is used as food for gut bacteria.
Probiotics contain live organisms usually specific strains of bacteria that add to the population of healthy microbes.
Synbiotics. When a food contains both pre and probiotics the combination is called synbiotic.

Worth giving synbiotics a go I thought.
I put him on a sensitive gut formula diet, he showed no signs of a sensitive gut, but if I was to see a difference, I decided I should go the whole hog.
I added pre/probiotics supplements, then started to culture goats milk kefir (probiotic) to add to the diet.Within a couple of months I could see a difference, a few months more and the difference in him was noticed, and remarked on by people that only saw him at venues we travelled to. Being such a worried little man, there were life events in his first year, that would have had an impact on him, and needed addressing, but with his renewed confidence, we were armed to tackle these.

Over the coming months I had some emails and FB messages, from friends who had noticed the difference in him (so it wasn’t just me) wanting to know about the pre/probiotics I was adding to his food, the interest was because of dogs of their own they thought may benefit.
I’m privileged to have witnessed this change with one of my own dogs, rather than to have read about somebody else’s dog. It’s not a magic cure for all dogs, but worth digging into, for any dog with emotional or behavioural issues.
He is who he is, and I recognise and respect his limits,  as I keep telling him, he’d hate the crowd crush at Crufts.

Gut Brain Axis (simplified)
Gut bacteria make chemicals that communicate with the brain through nerves and hormones. The connection between the gut and brain is called the Gut-Brain Axis.
The gut is full of bacteria, working away like a little factory,  making the chemicals that communicate with the brain, but it depends on what bacteria is in the gut, as to what chemicals are being made, and what messages are being sent, calm, happy and serene, stressed, anxious or depressed.   

The brain in the head may do the thinking, being aware of the environment and possible threat, or fun to be had,  but the gut brain can influence the emotions that arise in the head brain.
It was not until the 19th century,  that the enteric nervous system (ENS) was discovered, it’s a widely distributed network of neurons spread throughout two layers of gut tissue. It is part of the autonomic nervous system. 
Research with both animals and humans are finding important connections between gut bacteria and the brain that influence emotions, including psychological disorders and mental illness, there are studies that link the gut to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s too.

Gut instincts
Dopamine is associated with pleasure and the reward system in the brain, it also acts as a signalling molecule in the gut, coordinating contractions of muscles in the colon. Serotonin is also sending signals via the ENS, known as the “feel good” molecule involved in preventing depression, regulating sleep, appetite and body temperature.
There’s more evidence of links between the two brains in our response to stress, “butterflies” in the stomach, is the result of the fight flight response, diverting blood away from the gut to the muscles in preparation for action. A good reason for losing appetite when you or your four footed friend are stressed.

Poo Eating Dogs Nature knows best
The dog that started me on this search was and still is a mega poo eater.
Looking into pre and probiotics, and the history of FMT transplants, and the way nature has of looking after nature, I think it’s safe to consider that dogs that are attracted to poo eating, are most probably just self medicating to balance their gut microbiome, especially when we look into the fecal microbiota transplantation treatments of today.
While I endeavor to “pick up” I don’t freak out at not beating him to the spoils, which I may add is never his own produce.

All the rage now.
Plain poop to us, dogs have inside information, taught by nature.

Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is being developed as a technique to transfer slightly processed faeces from a healthy donor to a recipient. The aim of the procedure is to establish a healthy diverse microbiome within the gut.

An ancient Chinese researcher Ge Hong first used what he called  Yellow soup, he used this to treat patients with severe diarrhea, administered orally,  as one can imagine although effective, it wasn’t popular,  and this method of treatment died out.

Camel faeces were used by German soldiers in  world war II, to treat bacterial dysentery, so quite a history of recycling.
In 1958 a paper was published  by Eiseman et al, reporting on his FMT treatment of patients with antibiotic associated diarrhea, treatment delivered by retention enemas. The patients recovered almost immediately

Despite the volume of evidence,  it was only in 1978 that the value of FMT was widely recognized.  In over 95% of cases treated the cure was quick and permanent. Current modifications to the technique include the use of a stool banks, and the use of frozen feces rather than fresh (obviously not where the saying “fresh is best” came from)

Following the recognition of FMT, its applications are being currently explored in many fields of therapy, including both chronic intestinal and extra-intestinal conditions, which may be caused or contributed to by alterations in the gut microbiome, and may be restored by renewal of normal gut flora patterns.

An interesting read, nature knows best although I don’t intend joining in, I’ll stick with the kefir.




Gifted dogs & filters.

Looking at the process of what happens when scent or sight takes over and the dog appears to ignore all else.

Once upon a time, anyone who wanted help training their dog had no choice but to find a dog obedience club. Now there is access to an overload of choice incorporating science-based training and welfare awareness. Many different breeds, cross-breeds an rescues are being encouraged to join in with dog club and group activities and eventually dipping their toes in the competition ring. These activities are a great way of maintaining or improving the dog’s physical condition, while expanding opportunities for mental stimulation, play and enriched bonding.

Different breeds and cross breeds can have strong, instinctive inbred traits that can make training more challenging, and I think we need an increased understanding of what those challenges may be and look for ways to help them.

Most data and research we have has been set up for the better understanding of conditions in people, however we are now on the edge of exciting times with more research, including MRI, now specifically designed to better understand our canine friends.

Whenever I have hit a problem with a dog, I’ve tried to look at what makes that dog as an individual tick. One dog took me travelling through the world of feral dogs, another led on a journey of the gut-brain link, right now I’m looking into what floats the boat of a nose on four legs.

But it’s not the case of looking at one sense. Everything is linked, even in my search of the link between the olfactory and auditory senses, I have been waylaid by research that comes up on sound sensitivity.

Most people that teach, work with all sorts of people and all sorts of dogs, and a thorough understanding of how one sense can affects another sense must give us a better understanding of some of the training challenges our gifted dogs are working with.

There’s a wealth of hidden knowledge experience and access to research papers out there that can help to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together.

I have been searching for the process of what happens when scent or sight takes over and the dog appears to ignore all else.

Within each sensory system we are processing an enormous amount of data all the time. We pay attention to only a small proportion of that information, this is known as selective filtering or selective attention, and gating. (NOT selective as in deliberately ignoring)

I’ve been offered many leads to investigate but most research has been done with humans, mice and monkeys, there is now more interest in the canine world, hopefully this will lead to better understanding in the future for dogs genetically geared to a preference to use their noses or their sight.  

Much of the research has been set up for greater understanding of schizophrenia and autism. How the Brain filters out unimportant details 

Although there are several parts of the brain involved, the part of the brain that is involved with selective filtering is where all of these senses intersect (Daniel Huss 2015). This area is the thalamus, this is also thought to be involved in consciousness. In addition to connections from the thalamus to the cerebral cortex, there are also connections from the cortex to the thalamus, this can be explained by selective filtering.

When the cortex receives priority information, it signals back to a part of the thalamus known as the reticular nucleus, the structure uses the neurotransmitter GABA to inhibit transmission of other irrelevant signals from the thalamus to the cortex.

I’m hoping that better understanding of selective filtering/gating may help us fine tune training plans so that we can interrupt at the start of the filtering process. This is assuming we can recognise the signs early enough, but that’s the hard bit as it is usually a split second.

Scent and Smells can trigger strong emotions and memories
Due to the brain’s anatomy incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb has a direct connection to the amygdala and hippocampus areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory. We can trigger strong emotional responses through scent, often used as an illustration are the scent of a particular flower at funerals. Do dogs have the same responses to scents of veterinary clinics, scent of stress from the handler or other dogs?
Interestingly, auditory (sound) visual and tactile (touch) information does not pass through these areas. (Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience 2014 Ann-Lise Saive. Jean-Pierre Royet and Janet Plailly) Surprising considering how easily music triggers emotions. Source

At the national eye institute in Maryland, Kerry McAlonan and colleagues, experimented with Macaque monkeys. Their results showed quick surges of activity in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) that relays information to the cortex, and a split second later a drop in activity in the TRN a satellite structure, known to turn off information during sleep. The team believe that when paying attention, the TRN glances at the images coming through the thalamus and selectively turns on or off relays to pass on only the bits that deserve attention. Robert Wurtz co-author on the paper says “If the thalamus is the gateway to the cortex, the TRN is the gate keeper”  
A 1950s experiment with cats also points to an attention filter and possible block. (Hernandez-peon. Scherrer and Jouvet study on attention. P123-126 google books.)

Visual Filter, Sensory Gating
As you read, your mind homes in on each word and blots out the rest of the page. This roving spot of attention tames the flood of visual information that hundreds of thousands of nerves fibers attached to the back of your eye’s retina stream into the brain. (Devin Powell)  In 1984 the co-discoverer of DNA, Frances Crick, suggested the thalamus could play a part in this process, once thought only to connect the eyes to the cortex, it could contain a searchlight that filters what we pay attention to. Source
“Sensory gating describes neurological processes of filtering out redundant or unnecessary stimuli in the brain from all possible environmental stimuli. Also referred to as gating. Sensory gating prevents an overload of irrelevant information in the higher cortical centers of the brain” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_gating

Sight Hounds and visual streak
Sight hounds are thought of as independent thinkers, because of mostly working at a distance. A study done by Paul McGreevey, Alison Harman and Grassi TD noticed that only dogs with long noses have a visual streak, this is a horizontally aligned area in the retina lined up with ganglion cells. Dogs with short noses such as Pugs, Pekes, and Boxers have their ganglion cells densely packed in one spot “areacentralis”.

Not something one thinks about when it comes to olfaction, but the deeper you look the more you find. I’ve come across different studies that have suggested that a higher fat diet aids olfaction. Useful to know if you are hoping to keep your dog’s nose with you and not on the floor.
“Corn oil has lots of polyunsaturated fats, similar to what you’d find in a lot of nuts and common grocery store seed oils,” said Wakshlag. “Past data from elsewhere suggest that these polyunsaturated fats might enhance the sense of smell, and it looks like that may be true for detection dogs. It could be that fat somehow improves nose-signalling structures or reduces body temperature or both. But lowering protein also played a part in improving olfaction.” Source
We also know from experience that high fat treats trigger a great interest from the dogs, and that most dried dog food are sprayed in fat to evoke appetite.

Whistles as a breakthrough?
One can understand the long-established early whistle training used with gun dogs to breakthrough. (Breakthrough is a term I remember an old gamekeeper used to use). It seems widely accepted that a whistle became the tool of choice for distance training, because there was a need for minimal verbal noise during hunting or shooting. Nothing scarier to a wild animal than the sound of a human voice. In addition, dog’s ears are more tuned to the higher frequencies of whistles than they are to voices.·

Would attaching an antecedent verbal cue to a high pitch whistle, (breakthrough sound) have an impact in other scenarios, much the same as adding a performance cue to a training cue, with the dog that gets distracted by scent or vision in the competition ring?  Would the brain then start to register that antecedent cue and mentally arrive back with us in the real world?With some dogs a squeaky may work, obviously in training away from other dogs.

This is the questioning I wanted to look at, think about and dissect. The advantages to a whistle are that the tone doesn’t vary.  To be honest I’ve never been a whistle user, BUT I’m open minded and searching. We have clickers that give clear information, they don’t vary in sound, or bring emotion into the equation. 

Sound being caused by air vibrations, the more vibrations per second the higher the sound and the higher the frequency. If whistles have a clear distinctive, consistent high frequency sound that the auditory system is sensitive to, could we use whistle training with high reward association, and then attach the antecedent verbal cue in the same way that we would attach a performance cue to a training cue.
Could that whistle cue help a dog, that appears to have selective hearing when olfaction or visual disruption takes over? We accept working with muscle memory, and mental memory associations.