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We hear a lot about activating SEEKING in the dog training world.

What do you think it means?

 

Simply put, SEEKING is the emotional term behind the release of dopamine. It urges us to pursue whatever it is we need, want or enjoy. SEEKING, like any other raw affect/emotion, should not be mistaken for the behaviors that are triggered by the emotion, rather it is the urge to engage in that behavior. And thus, SEEKING drives us to behave in ways that result in something beneficial, be it food or drink, safety or shelter, a solution to a problem, fun, a mate, comfort and CARE, to name just a few. Anticipation, motivation, expectation and exploration are all characteristic of the SEEKING System.

There is a cycle to the whole dopamine release, which is made up of the appetitive phase and the consummatory phase. During the appetitive phase, dompamine release is highest, while during the release of dopamine slows during consummation only to increase again thereafter. However, the brain is quite capable of multitasking and can anticipate good things even during consummation, in which case dopamine release may not decline. 

 

The interesting thing to understand about SEEKING is that it never stops. Without SEEKING, life wouldn't be possible. Even though the SEEKING System is located in the lower part of the limbic system, it is incredibly powerful with its dopamine pathways that reach not only other emotional systems but extend all the way upwards into the cortical brain. 

So, back to the question of activating SEEKING. Since SEEKING never stops, it is not something that needs to be activated. However, we can manipulate the SEEKING System ... either increase arousal (increase dopamine release) or reward for calmness (lower dopamine release). Here is a word of caution, though: while excessively low dopamine levels are linked to depression, excessively high levels are linked to manic behaviors, such as OCD, ADHD, even schizophrenia. And so it is best to always keep in mind that every time we manipulate behaviors, we also manipulate dopamine levels.

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