I kind of mentioned it in the post, but 2ifbifrost made a great reply elaborating on it. I’m sure you’ll see it, but I’ll reblog it in a moment, too.
Essentially, if the dog is becoming stressed by silence or requires a NRM to keep from shutting down, the handler is probably asking their dog to make an intuitive leap beyond the dog’s abilities. That’s usually caused by lumping or adding criteria without building a strong foundation behaviour. For example, if I’m trying to teach my dog to move to a perch, he may become stressed if I try to send him from 5 feet away if we’ve only practised from 2 feet previously. When he isn’t sure what to do, he may offer some default behaviours (sit, down, heel position, etc.), and if I dismiss each one with an NRM, he should eventually try moving to the perch despite it being so far away. Essentially, using an NRM causes the dog to try and dismiss what behaviours they think have a high probability of being reinforced in that situation and try less reinforcing behaviours.
Concerning the dog in the example, I think her trainer was just used to more confident or enthusiastic dogs, so they were used to asking for bigger jumps in criteria than this dog could offer. Evidence for this is when the author states, “I also started to show her what I wanted by gently guiding her with my hands if she was confused, rather than making her guess.” If the author had been providing clear criteria to the dog, there shouldn’t have been a need to physically guide her. The best trainers (not just dog trainers, but all trainers and teachers) can break down behaviours into such tiny fragments that their animal partners seem to never, or almost never, miss the target behaviour. The animal feels comfortable offering tiny adjustments to their behaviour in rapid succession, so there’s always something to be reinforced.* If a trainer waits for too much behaviour before reinforcing, it can be demotivating and stressful for the animal, and that’s when NRMs tend to come into play.
I also think it has to do with individual dogs. Some dogs are super confident and are happy to make large intuitive jumps even if they’re likely to be wrong. Those dogs are pretty unlikely to become stressed if they’re not being reinforced; they’re happy to just keep trying different behaviours until one pays out. Softer or less confident dogs find lumping more difficult, so use of a NRM can be helpful in those situations. (But again, it’s not as good for the dog or trainer as just slitting more in the first place.)
Anyway, sorry, I got on a bit of a tangent. I hope that answers your question, but please let me know if not.
*And I’m going to add here, this shouldn’t be frantic behaviour, like some dogs offer sits, downs, spins, barking, begging, etc. within a few seconds. These should be tiny movements, like a slight shifting in weight or shuffle of a foot, just to see where the trainer is guiding them.
I would definitely never ever ever say that dogs are emotionless or thoughtless! They’re extremely capable of emotion and thought! We’re only just starting to delve into the depths of canine cognition and we’ve even found that dogs are cognitively on par with a 2 year old child! But we’ve barely even scratched the surface!
However, we do need to be careful about anthropomorphising our dogs:
1. “The Guilty Look”
Dogs are incredibly capable of reading human body language - they’ve pretty much evolved to pick up the most subtlest of signals we give out - That’s why, when an owner stumbles upon their puppy’s mess on the floor and goes over to scold it, the dog will shrink back and throw out appeasement signals. It’s not “guilt” it’s just them responding by trying to avoid conflict and responding to the aggressive or confrontational body language/voice tone.
During the study, owners were asked to leave the room after ordering their dogs not to eat a tasty treat. While the owner was away, Horowitz gave some of the dogs this forbidden treat before asking the owners back into the room. In some trials the owners were told that their dog had eaten the forbidden treat; in others, they were told their dog had behaved properly and left the treat alone. What the owners were told, however, often did not correlate with reality.
Whether the dogs’ demeanour included elements of the “guilty look” had little to do with whether the dogs had actually eaten the forbidden treat or not. Dogs looked most “guilty” if they were admonished by their owners for eating the treat. In fact, dogs that had been obedient and had not eaten the treat, but were scolded by their (misinformed) owners, looked more “guilty” than those that had, in fact, eaten the treat. Thus the dog’s guilty look is a response to the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily indicative of any appreciation of its own misdeeds.
Obviously, more research needs to be done here, but at the moment we’ve concluded that the “guilty look” is a result of human error and anthropomorphism, rather than what the dog is really feeling. Which is why I hate “dog shaming” and those “guilty dog” videos - those owners are towering over their dogs demanding “DID YOU DO THIS? OH BAD DOG!” and the dog is cowering away from this angry person. It’s horrible :(
2. “The Smile”
Yes! Dogs do smile! But not like this:
This dog is not happy - ears pressed down and back, squinty eyes, tight lips - this is a fear grimace!
This dog is also not smiling - eyes wide, ears back, mouth pulled back, short panting - looking at the context, most dogs don’t like baths - so no surprises here - fear grimace.
I made a post about this a while back on fyeahanimaltraining
Fear Grimace: (Often called fear grimace, but also seen in excited dogs) Tense jaw muscles. Mouth pulled at corners back exposing molars or all teeth. Visible creases at corners of mouth, forehead - fear, tension, excitement. Looks like an exaggerated or forced smile.
Smile: Relaxed jaw muscles, tongue exposed. No visible creases on face, forehead.(x)
This is a smile - tongue lolling, relaxed mouth, soft eyes, natural ear carriage - This my dog after racing around fetching her ball and playing so she was very happy (note: I do not use that martingale collar on her anymore) :D
Dogs can definitely smile, but, again, not the way humans do!
I hope that clears up a few things!
There is still so much more research to be done, which is why I’m so excited to get involved in this field!
But dogs are amazing! And we’re only just discovering just how emotionally and mentally complex and wonderful they really are!