Conflict pain and the dog beneath the desk

conflict pain

“A friend was sitting at her desk, her beloved lab at her feet. Suddenly, the dog yelped and looked up at her. This happened several more times, the dog’s gaze becoming increasingly more accusatory. Finally, he got up and left the room.

Later, she learned the dog had a pinched nerve in his neck. She wondered aloud to the vet about the dog repeatedly looking up at her each time he felt a jolt of pain. Was he asking for help? No, thought the vet, he was looking for the source of the pain and you were the only thing close enough to be hurting him. He didn’t understand the pain from was within.

There’s even a term for this experience: The misattribution of arousal.”


KB: This phenomenon means that the mainstream theories of canine cognition are wrong. “Misattribution of arousal” means that a dog doesn’t distinguish between what’s going on internally versus what’s going on externally. (If you have a stomach ache, do you think someone is doing it to you? Of course we don’t THINK someone is, but deep down in our preverbal animal mind, we might likewise INSTINCTIVELY misattribute the source and find ourselves becoming cranky with our caregiver for no apparent reason.) Furthermore, this means that a dog perceives something happening internally as if he is being acted on by an external force. This is why a dog turns around to inspect his own elimination. The more he strains, the more he is driven to investigate since he perceives the force that has acted on him to be greater, and the fundamental impulse in response to being acted on by an external force is to ascertain its precise source. Only by this can a dog counteract the force in order to remain in equilibrium. So what the person misinterpreted as an increasingly accusatory gaze by the dog under the desk, was a sharpening of the dog’s focus on her eyes as the source of the force that was acting on it, i.e. the pain. In “Natural Dog Training” I used the term attribute-to-the-negative rather than misattribute because the latter implies there’s something quirky or flawed about the dog’s mental process; which would be like saying a lightening bolt mistakenly hit a golfer who was out on the course during a thunderstorm. The woman at the desk was attracting the dog’s fear just like the golfer caught out in the open attracted the surge of electricity. We’re really talking here about the architecture of  the animal mind and it always attributes intensity to a “negative” which behaviorally translates into seeking out eyes as the source of any force that’s acting on it.

This example also demonstrates that being the object of another being’s attention is perceived by the dog as being exactly the same as being acted on by an external force. And in the evolutionary scheme of things, this is a highly accurate mechanism for instilling hyper-vigilance in animals so that they are more likely to survive, and, so that they are better able to bring a prey to ground without injury. It doesn’t matter to nature in the evolutionary scheme of things whether they are mistaken or not, just that animals are cautious about dealing with the eyes of other beings. Thus in every frame of reference, the negative-equals-access-to-the-positive. This requires the least amount of genetic code to anatomically and behaviorally articulate. So first the negative must be determined and then the positive can be pursued. Thus it is the negative which determines behavior (and it corresponds to the p-cog as-a-point) not the positive.

Why the eyes as the negative? Because sure enough the eyes telegraph an individual’s capacity to configure its body and direct its force by exerting itself against its own physical center-of-gravity. The eyes lead to the p-cog. The eyes are the source of force. (See Sensei Miyagi’s admonitions to Daniel-san in the “Karate Kid”). An animal can feel another animal’s p-cog and therefore what they are about to do and how they are about to do it by focusing on their eyes. Misattribution? On the contrary, it sounds pretty accurate to me. We just have to get our human thoughts out of the way.


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Published April 30, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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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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