Review of “Your Dog Is Your Mirror”

When I wrote “Your Dog Is Your Mirror” I tried to anticipate critiques and “preload” a rebuttal into my argument. Unfortunately from my point of view, but fortunately for the readers’ that would have made the book too long and have even changed its focus. It turns out one can’t write defensively, the main thing is to anticipate those questions that are necessary to getting the main point across; which in “Your Mirror” is that emotion is the basis of a group consciousness, this is why emotion is infectious and why it can’t be controlled, all of the intricacies of which is reflected in the emotional relationship between man and dog. Since emotion is the basis of a group consciousness and to which dogs are exquisitely adapted given that they have been uniquely shaped by their evolution and domestication, a dog provides a special window into how its owner, the prime component of the group mind in a domestic household, is processing emotion. This then brings us to the beauty of the internet which allows me to respond in real time to critical reviews. Yes, I’m indulging myself for the cathartic value, but I trust that the exercise is worthwhile as it affords the chance to springboard off the points being made to make points that space did not permit in “Your Mirror” and to help flesh things out given the very likely probability that I could have said things better.

One particular review is written by Pamela S. Hogle and I think this is a good example of an emotional charge being triggered by the book and which precludes the possibility of a clear critical examination. Exhibit A, the irrational double standard she applies to my book. Again, I welcome criticism and skepticism as the burden of making a credible argument is mine since I’m the one calling for a new paradigm, but an emotional charge makes this reviewer blind to words on the page. If you would like to read the review in its entirety without my commentary the link is below. This is followed by my point-by-point response. I am also going to email this review of the review to Ms. Hogle and invite her to respond here to the points I’m making.


PSH: “The marketing and jacket copy for Your Dog Is Your Mirror talk about the human-dog connection and tout the author’s rejection of the dominance-focused training model he learned from his father. They also swoon over the author’s amazing insights. Sadly, the book does not live up to its marketing.”

{Doesn’t every book jacket swoon over the amazing insights of its author?}


PSH: “While Behan has rejected a dominance-focused force training approach (except for Schutzhund training), he does not propose an alternate method of training or address training methodology much at all.”

{Right, that’s what books on dog training are for. The title says the book is about how a dog is an emotional mirror to its owner. It is not entitled; “How To Train Your Dog To Be Your Mirror” which of course, you don’t have to. I also don’t understand the Schutzhund reference she makes.}

PSH:  “The bulk of the book is given over to a novel and bizarre theory that Behan devised at the age of 23, having (according to him) read and rejected everything that biology and behavioral science—and his father, a leading dog trainer of the time—had to say about dog behavior and training.

{KB: Until she can explain how there can be two diametrically opposed training models that nevertheless enjoy equal market share, what qualifies as bizarre? Hogle should not be so quick to dismiss my theory as bizarre because in order to do so, she must first define emotion and since there is room for argument on the matter, there should be a willingness to entertain counter and competing arguments about the nature of emotion. Criticism is fair, but to be intellectually honest, until someone can define emotion (which in my model is a virtual force of attraction) without referencing the human conception of time, they cannot dismiss a counter argument out of hand by arbitrarily labeling it as bizarre. To date, what substitutes as a definition is the  Panskepps’ neuro-chemistry schema, but this is just an insight into the machinery, the neurological nuts and bolts of the brain, and doesn’t encompass everything else that’s in play internally and externally in an emotional experience. This is why it can’t account for variability across the animal kingdom. From my perspective, the claim that animals think is bizarre since this is the default finding of the human intellect. I can understand why people think dogs think because dogs are indeed intelligent, so I’m not going to call the concept bizarre, but the evidence doesn’t support projecting time contextual thoughts into the heads of animals. Dogs feel what we feel is not only more parsimonious and comprehensive as an explanation, but will prove to be far more sublime.}

PSH: “One morning, as he was letting the dogs his father boarded out of their kennels, he had the epiphany that “None of the dogs were entertaining any intention whatsoever, even though many looked as if they had the specific intent and goal of getting outside, and some appeared to understand what I expected of them … I now knew there was no intention in anything a dog might do.”

{KB: Not quite right, the epiphany that behavior is a function of attraction and not intention occurred in 1978 and resulted from many years prior to that of observation of anomalies and outright contradictions to the conventional thinking and science on dogs. The theory itself then took several subsequent decades of observation, testing and work to flesh out into a whole model.}

PSH: “Instead, he posits, everything a dog does is a reflection of the owner’s emotions, both present and past, conscious and unconscious, and in fact, could be a reaction to any experience the owner has ever had.”

{ KB: Yes as this is the only logical conclusion of the evidence, and is a conservative notion once one understands the full implication of emotion being universal to all sentient beings, which is a premise that the reviewer no doubt shares, but then denies the logical implications of the belief. Emotion is energy; the sum total of all neurological, physiological and anatomical forces within the individual and which allows him to entrain with other emotional beings. Emotion is not a thought or an instinct. And since energy is always conserved, thus the animal mind is first and foremost an emotional battery wherein every emotional experience is indelibly imprinted and many examples of physical memory are provided in the book. The book is not entitled, “One Thousand Examples of Physical Memory.”}

PSH:  “He even explains away the idea that a dog could ever feel aggression toward him (or anyone), stating instead that “when a dog went to bite me, I could see that the dog didn’t intend to hurt me, dominate me, or defend himself or his territory … there was something positive about me the dog was attracted to. The dog had no goal: he was simply attracted to me with a force of desire that for some reason was blocked, hence the aggression.” He does not, however, tell readers what he might have been feeling that could have triggered the dog’s behavior.”

{KB: Here’s an example of nitpicking every word in piecemeal fashion and then perceiving a meaning which wasn’t intended or implied in order to knock it down, which at the same time causes her to miss the obvious meaning were the words taken in their overall. I didn’t “explain away that a dog couldn’t BE aggressive toward me, (By the way what does “feeling aggressive” mean?) I’m trying to make only one point at a time, to wit, that even an act of aggression is a function of attraction and that emotion is always focused on something positive. Usually aggression chalked up to an intention or an instinct (a distinction without a difference) and I did go on to define aggression as “blocked attraction” in the hopes that the reader could extrapolate from this definition that blocked attraction could have a negative consequence, as for example if someone frees the check on a coiled back (blocked energy) spring, they might want to get out of its way or they could get hurt even though of course the spring had no intention of hurting them, they were simply the object of its attraction. When writing a book an economy of words is essential otherwise the sheer weight of words can change its emphasis and prove confusing to the developing thesis. The reviewer should have concentrated on the notion that even aggression which we think of as a negative intention, is nevertheless a function of attraction, and therefore were we to reduce the pressure by understanding how stress (energy held back) can be converted back into pure emotion, we can solve behavioral problems. It would have required a lengthy digression to write further on the nature of aggression and would have changed the feel of the chapter away from its concentration on the notion of attraction.

Hogle also reveals a simplistic view of emotion and then believes I am arguing reductionism-in-absurdium when she thinks I’m saying that whether a dog wants to bite me is dependent on what I’m feeling in that specific moment. In other words, I can be in an airy/fairy mood and move like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. When boarded in a commercial boarding kennel with a hundred other excited/stressed out dogs, a dog is placed into a hyper-excited/stressed modality and on one level it doesn’t matter what I’m feeling per se for if my finger were to stray through the wire mesh. However, on a higher level it does indeed matter what’s going on in my mind (which isn’t just the brain) because by not being “in my head” but rather being attuned to what I was feeling in my body, i.e. the dog was exhibiting more energy than I felt safe around, is WHY I DIDN”T GET BITTEN. Whereas if I was daydreaming and not being present, or more so if I was in denial of that internal emotional milieu, I might have THOUGHT, “I can handle any dog.” Or “How could that dog that was friendly to me this morning now want to bite me?” Or “All dogs love me.”) When one thinks in denial of feeling, that’s when bad things happen and being bitten would return one to an emotional state of awareness. If the reviewer were willing to let a little information into her mind so as to grasp the argument, the subtlety and nuance would have become clearer to her. It’s unreasonable to expect that each point has to be nailed down exhaustively, space simply doesn’t permit. One has to actively work at trying to understand the author’s argument before they are capable of knocking it down.}

PSH: “Behan rejects any notion that a dog can form intentions or even think. In fact, he utterly rejects the idea of dogs as individuals. Therefore, the canine perspective is completely absent from this book; Behan simply denies that it exists. A dog is “not an individuated consciousness, endowed with her own will that’s empowered by personal volition and informed by a self-contained sense of self or ego,” he writes. He adds that no animals can think, claiming instead that their entire consciousness is formed by something he calls a “networked intelligence,” defined as “a higher faculty of intelligence that in animal consciousness completely supersedes the brain.” That would appear to rule out instinct, too, as a driver of canine behavior. Behan explains any dog’s behavior, no matter how complex, as a function of what its owner is feeling.”

{KB: The only reasonable interpretation of canine evolution, behavior, learning and the domestic dog’s capacity to adapt to human culture, is that they feel what we feel. The only logical interpretation of animal consciousness is that they do not see their self as a self relative to other selves. This is probably why lone wolves risk death by approaching a wolf pack, and why social animals die of loneliness. No animal is an island. Because emotion is a universal operating system of animal consciousness, as Darwin said, “We are all netted” and so every animal is connected to every other animal. It doesn’t view itself as separate from its surroundings. This IS the canine perspective and what we are supposed to learn from the dogs with which we live. So far science has been focusing on genes as the means of connectedness because it’s the only way to entertain inheritance, but by definition if genes are the smallest unit of information, since all animals have fundamentally different genomes and cannot share genetic material, they are not in fact connected so the genetic theory becomes a contradiction in Darwinian terms. Understanding emotion and how that composes an animal’s sense of its self is what has been missing from the discussion and shows how animals communicate across the species line, the most amazing example of which is the dog/human emotional bond.

Does the reviewer really believe that her dog has its own “individuated consciousness” that would mean it should be able to think for itself, that it has a separate destiny and therefore should be allowed to go its own way if their paths are meant to diverge? If this were true, then it would be inhumane to keep a dog as a pet just as it would be inhumane to keep a child as a pet. Or is she saying that dogs are just stupid people too? }

PSH: “Despite having worked with, in his own estimation, several thousand dogs, Behan provides few examples to illustrate his theories. The anecdotes he does give are “as told to him” by training clients, not behaviors he personally witnessed.”

{KB: If the reviewer would listen to dog owners carefully, she could quickly amass her own catalogue of hundreds upon hundreds of stories. So unless I witness a behavior for myself, an eyewitness account has no credibility? Finally, I give examples of my own dogs so the personal testimonial angle is in fact covered. Each story in the book was chosen to illustrate a specific point; the book is not just a collection of stories in some random order.}

PSH: “Nonetheless, he feels confident enough in his theories to determine that one client’s dog reportedly habitually left a bit of food in his bowl because the dog’s owner always leaves some food on her plate; the dog is connecting with whatever emotional issue causes the owner to do so. Another client’s dog is aggressive toward children because, Behan discovers, the owner feels lasting pain and guilt over having “not been there” for her daughters when they were young, many years earlier.”

{KB: Of course I’m confident in my theory. That’s why I wrote a book.}

“Much of the book is a sort of memoir and retelling of his “discoveries” about dog consciousness; there is also considerable psycho-analysis of the humans who own the dogs he trains. The book does not address multiple-dog households where each dog has a very different personality and behaviors, nor does it explain how to apply Behan’s theory to dogs who live and interact with multiple humans. There is no index and no references, making it hard to find specific information.”

{KB: Does she fault Cesar’s book for its memoir approach. I wouldn’t mind reading Dunbar’s personal narrative. I like to absorb physics and history by reading the biographies of the players rather than just the straight science or history. So this is an unfair criticism. However that there is no index is a fair point, it had to be omitted due to time constraints for the publisher, but really and truly, this is nit picking.}

PSH: “While I agree with the author that emotion is a primary driver of dog (as well as human) behavior, I strongly disagree that it is the dog owner’s emotion that is solely responsible for the dog’s behavior.”

{KB: If she believes that emotion is a primary drive of dog and human behavior, then everything she’s said above she just now contradicted. The only way emotion can be a primary driver of two completely different species, if it is a universal platform for a trans-species communication and connection. Thus it’s irrelevant to object that an owner’s emotion is solely responsible for the dog’s behavior. Emotion is responsible, not the owner. Emotion creates a field of energy in which both owner and dog participate and tap into. The owner holds the most emotional charge and thus determines the nature of the relationship. A simple thought experiment: if a child were to be raised by wolves in the wild, the emotional charge would now fall outside the scope of the human’s physical memory since the human wouldn’t determine the flow pattern of how emotion works in that system. The realities of life in the wild would.

What’s missing from this review is any comprehension of the idea of emotional capacity, it’s something the reviewer might have pondered as she read the book.}

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Published August 23, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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4 responses to “Review of “Your Dog Is Your Mirror””

  1. Scott says:

    You better watch out, she has two (count ’em, two!) masters degrees in “science journalism and human-canine life sciences!” Based on her “reviews” of other dog books, I’d say her credibility is out the window. I too am curious where the charge is originating from in her comments.

  2. Annie says:

    I visited the belladog website; Ms. Hogan’s entire presentation of articles, blogs, & photos, (centerfold dogs in bikinis, passionate pleas for the poor misunderstood Pit Bull, fashions for petowners, featured artists), is based on an AESTHETIC,( look no further than the title of the site) and more to do with the Personification of Dog, as far as I can see. Having used NDT techniques with my dog, and seeing Kevin’s theories succeed in practice, I would encourage as many dog owners as possible to educate themselves in this technique and not simply accept what is mainstream. Yet, in order to reach the mainstream, Kevin needed to make his book more reader-friendly, a balance between his theory and personally meaningful and emotional experiences, which was the best way to target a large and diverse audience.

    I think that his book is wonderful, in terms of introducing a theory; and it encouraged me to be more observant of my dog’s -and my own- behavior. I don’t consider it a reference book at all. Although I refer to it often!

    We’re talking apples and oranges here. Or should I say, Kibble vs. Raw Moose Meat?

  3. Annie says:

    Apologies to Ms. Hogle: I misspelled her name

  4. Cliff says:

    This seems a problem of theory v. application. The results are proven with us on a daily basis, and i invite Ms. Hogle to contact me directly to discuss the same.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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