Are Dogs Harder to Train Than They Used to Be?
Originally published in slightly different form on November 15, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com.
“In recent years, there has been a massive introduction of equipment that emits electromagnetic fields in an enormous range of new frequencies, modulations and intensities. Since living organisms have only recently found themselves immersed in this new and increasingly ubiquitous environment, they have not had an opportunity to adapt to it.” — Allan Frey, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1993.
Puppy ADHD or Electromagnetic Fields?
A few weeks ago I was speaking to a client of mine about some of the problems he’s been having with his bearded collie pup. This man is very smart. He’s a semi-retired college professor, and has raised several dogs of this breed over the last thirty years.
He asked me, in all earnestness, why I thought this new pup seemed so hard to control.
“I love this dog to pieces,” he said. “He’s such a good boy most of the time. But I honestly don’t remember things being this difficult with my other dogs. Why is that?”
“I think know what you mean,” I said.
Then I explained that about five years ago I began noticing that clients were coming to me with behavioral problems that I’d never seen or heard of before in young puppies: severe aggression, full-blown separation anxiety (the kind that doesn’t go away in 2 or 3 days), and an inability to settle down that went beyond what was normal in puppies.
What was going on?
It was around this time that I also first heard some dog trainers refer to a puppy’s lack of attention skills as “puppy ADHD.” I’d also read that some symptoms of ADHD in children can be exacerbated by electronic devices.
Walking His Dog Past a Power Station
Add to this cluster of oddities and coincidences the question that came from another client of mine, again about 5 years ago.
This dog owner had an overly energetic Jack Russell terrier pup, and he emailed me one day to complain that whenever they went on walks, and reached a certain block, the dog would become highly agitated, as if his normal energy spiked from 7 straight past to 11 or higher.
Hmmm, I though, then asked: “Is there a power station nearby?”
“Yeah,” he said, surprised that I would have guessed such an odd, unexpected thing. “There’s a sub-station on the corner.“
“Try walking him on a different block and see if that helps.”
It turned out that the dog’s strange energy shift only showed itself when he was walked in close proximity to that power station.
Is there any scientific foundation for the idea that electromagnetic frequencies, microwaves, radio waves, etc., can cause behavioral changes in dogs and other animals? Actually, there is.
Nerve Cells and Electromagnetic Fields
Every cell in the body has its own electromagnetic frequency, a specific vibratory rate that’s essential for optimal health and cell division, etc. Nerve cells in particular are very easily affected by electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which travel at the speed of light. While it’s true that there are trillions of cells in the human body, if EMFs, microwaves, radio waves, etc. in the environment are increasing exponentially (which they seem to be), how does that affect us and our dogs?
In 1960 neurobiologist Allan Frey was part of Cornell University’s General Electric Advanced Electronics Center. He became curious about the impact on the nervous system of electromagnetic fields, and found that EMFs had significant biological effects, one being that they seemed to “dissolve” the blood/brain barrier.
For instance, if you inject a mouse with a fluorescent dye its entire body and all of the organs fluoresce, all except for the brain. That’s because the brain protects itself from possible contaminants in the bloodstream via the blood/brain barrier. But Dr. Frey found that, when you injected the dye into the bloodstream of rats and then exposed them to very weak pulsed microwave signals, within a few minutes, their brains also began to fluoresce. Two other labs followed suit, using other techniques, and showed similar effects of EMFs on the blood/brain barrier.
In the 1970s Frey did research to determine if EMFs have an effect on specific parts of the brain that are involved in learning, memory, mood, and behavior. He (and other researchers) found that EMFs had significant effects on parts of the brain involved in producing and regulating opiates, dopamine, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), melatonin, and their substrates (such as tyrosine), all of which either regulate or are involved in learning, mood, behavior, and memory.
Research was also done showing that EMFs, even in small amounts, could change the effects of drugs. Antipsychotics, sedatives, and anti-opiates such as Haliperidol, Librium, and naloxone and others were either significantly weakened or strengthened by the presence of EMFs.
They also found that EMFs could be traced back as a root cause of aggression and anxiety in animals. And all of this was research was done before the huge proliferation of EMFs we have around us today.
Other, more recent research, shows that rats who’ve been conditioned to respond to certain cues fail to do so a significant percentage of the time after being subjected to low-level EMFs.
1950s vs 2020s
When I was a kid, growing up in the late 1950s, in the suburban sprawl of Southern California, we had 7 TV stations. My grandparents, living in rural Idaho, had 2. There was no FM radio. The only other source of radio or EMFs came from our neighbor, who was a ham radio enthusiast, and from the local power company, who provided a small amount of electricity (by today’s standards) to our home, which was only used to run the lights, the water heater, the refrigerator, and our black-and-white television set.
As I’m writing this right now, I have electricity running to my computer, to the speakers on my desk, my WiFi connector, my external hard disk, my HD-TV, my lights, my refrigerator, microwave, my stereo, the chargers for my land line phone and cell phone, and my air-conditioner. I also have remote controls for the TV, stereo, and air-conditioner. And I probably have far fewer electric or electronic devices in my home than most people.
I’m not suggesting that we go back to the dark ages. Nor am I unequivocally stating that the dogs I mentioned earlier are all being affected by EMFs, microwaves or radio signals. I don’t know for a fact that that’s true. But that’s my hunch.
So what I am doing is presenting this as a possible explanation for why some of my clients can’t figure out why their new puppy is so hard to control when their other dogs, who were raised in an earlier time (10—20 years ago!), when the environment wasn’t quite so awash in electromagnetic energies of all kinds, were so much easier to train.
Too Many Dog Trainers?
Here’s another interesting fact that may enter into the equation. It may not; but it’s something to think about. When I started out as a dog trainer in New York City a little over 20 years ago, there were maybe 9 or 10 of us plying our trade. Now there are probably 50 or more. Back then there were two puppy schools in Manhattan. Now there are at least a dozen.
Is that simply because there are more dog owners?
That’s possible. It’s also quite probable that some of these trainers decided to take up that profession after seeing “The Dog Whisperer” on the National Geographic Channel. But even Cesar Millan’s popularity could be traced back to this idea that dogs are becoming harder to train and harder to control than they used to be simply because there is so much more electromagnetic energy pinging around in the environment, and impinging on our dogs’ nervous systems, than there used to be.
By the way, when I told my client with the bearded collie pup my theory about EMFs he gave me a long look and said, “I think you’re right. I swear, sometimes I can feel myself being inundated by all these frequencies.”
Remember those guys you used to see in the movies and on TV (and occasionally on the streets of New York)? The ones with the funny hats made of aluminum foil? It’s possible we could all be like that in a few years, just out of sheer necessity, if not madness.
So could our dogs.
“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”
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