People with generalized social-phobia that have been trained to pay attention to non-threatening positive material and ignore threatening material, showed significantly greater reductions in self-reported, behavioral, and physiological measures of anxiety than did participants from the attend to threat and control conditions.
Training your dog to shift their attention from a threat may help to improve aggression
However, according to the research, it appears that the real benefit is not in focusing on something non-threatening, so much as disengaging from the threat. This is where the deliberate shifting of attention becomes important.
It makes sense. Functional areas of the brain expand or shrink as a result of how frequently and how intensely they are used. Phobias and anxieties become worse the more a sufferer focuses on it. By telling the brain something is no longer important because thinking of something else helps make this shifting easier. Our economical brain repurposes the neurons to be used to work on what the brain is more regularly being used for.
There are often multiple things going on in our lives at the same time. But what we pay attention to, is what will become more developed in our minds. For example, a woman might be trying to solve a word puzzle, while there is jazz music in the background. The woman is focused, thinking about the music she hears and listens to the instruments and rhythms closely. Her neural networks are optimizing, making her better at understanding music and hearing subtleties within a melody. But if she is focusing on the puzzle, regardless if the music is playing, those neural networks are optimizing, making her a better puzzle solver. Or, she might actually be focusing on the pain her arthritic hands are causing her, making the pain more intense, easier to feel, and harder to ignore.
Attention training might improve emotional regulation in your dog
In research on humans, attention training to reduce vigilance and responsiveness to social threat showed decreased stress. This suggests that it’s possible to lower reactivity simply by manipulating attention prior to perceiving the threat. Because mammals brains are so similar, we can take borrow this practice of training our dog to shift their attention to help our aggressive dogs.
In addition, the benefits of training your dog to pay attention, could extend to greater emotional regulation of behavior because it is a form of practicing self-control. And this can only benefit us when we are re-training our aggressive dog to look at his or her triggers differently.