Abrantes on Stress and Emotional Bonding

Roger Abrantes: “Bottom line: we need to be nuanced about stress. Events causing healthy stress responses are necessary for enhancing attention to details, formation of memory, creation of bonds, and learning—and too much stress or for too long works against it.”



For a nuanced treatment of stress Abrantes might be interested in my theory of stress as emotional counterweight to “pure” emotion.

An immediate-moment manner of analysis led me in the 1980’s to see stress as the equal/opposite to emotion, and how stress serves as an emotional record of an animal’s experiences. Qualitatively, in other words in the specific manner by which it was acquired, stress is a physical record that enables an animal to be guided by its past experiences. However these specifics simultaneously project the past onto the moment and this is only adaptive to a point, i.e. in successfully avoiding pain and fear. However this can also project a trauma forward and fabricate something innocuous into a nonexistent threat. This is maladaptive as every owner of a reactive dog knows all too well. So the problem with the Qualitative experience of stress is that while it enables the dog to avoid previous unpleasantries, it doesn’t equip it to successfully adapt to new sources of resistance.

On the other hand, Quantitatively, stress can serve as a lump sum emotional ballast so that when processed by the hunger circuitry it thereby becomes an emotional counterbalance to what the dog is attracted to and this then elicits a flow memory from the emotional data bank of experience, i.e. its “puppy mind.” Now the dog is informed how to couple its energies to this source of resistance by way of “mirroring.” In this manner it can adapt to its nuanced qualities without reliving its own trauma/fear memories. This is how new information, aka a feeling, comes into being. In my view, this mirroring which generates an out-of-body like state of emotional suspension is the real purpose of mirror neurons rather than the cognitive aspects that have mistakenly been attributed to them. It is this emotional coupling by way of stress as emotional counter ballast that allows for emotional bonding so that the past is put aside and a new connection is made. An immediate-moment manner of analysis of canine behavior brought me to this nuanced view of stress decades before the findings of epigenetics and the understanding of stress affecting genetic expression. Stress as an emotional counterweight is the mechanics of bonding. Stress as the equal and opposite to emotion is the source of  collectivized, complex and adaptive behavior.

Here’s a simple rule. If stress knocks the individual out of balance, it’s bad. If in contrast stress leads to grounding, i.e. processed through the hunger circuitry, then it is good. In the former instincts and/or old habits are in charge, in the latter, a dog goes by feel.

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Published November 25, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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6 responses to “Abrantes on Stress and Emotional Bonding”

  1. rip says:


    “If stress knocks the individual out of balance, it’s bad. If in contrast stress leads to grounding, i.e. processed through the hunger circuitry, then it is good.”

    I’m always trying to identify the line at which educable stress meets overload. But what would be a good visual image for “grounding”? “Hunger circuitry”? You mean using food, working in states of hunger?

    Thanks — Rip

  2. b. says:

    How does reverting to “puppy mind” instruct “mirroring” response? A puppy is an emotional mirror?

  3. b. says:

    Dr. Bessel van der Kolk offers a more explicit functional mechanism of stress discharged through cooperative work:

    “people talk a lot about stress hormones. Our stress hormones are sort of the source of all evil. That’s definitely not true. The stress hormones are good for you. You secrete stress hormones in order to give you the energy to cope under extreme situations. So it gives you that energy to stay up all night with your sick kid or to shovel snow in Minnesota and Boston and stuff like that.

    What goes wrong is, if you’re kept from using your stress hormones, if somebody ties you down, if somebody holds you down, if somebody keeps you imprisoned, the stress hormones keep going up, but you cannot discharge it with action. Then the stress hormones really start wreaking havoc with your own internal system.

    But as long as you move, you are going to be fine. As we know, after these hurricanes and these terrible things, people get very active and they like to help and they like to do things and they enjoy doing it because it discharges their energy.”


  4. Kevin Behan says:

    Taking food is certainly the simplest indicator that the dog’s temperament remains on/line, but that said, given that stress is a repository, the stuff of the “emotional battery” we need not be limited by this simple metric. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring a dog past overload given its limited capacity (this is why I believe it’s acceptable to shut down a state of nervousness) bearing in mind that the trainer has the dog on a long term track toward a heightening of its emotional capacity (the capacity to turn stress back into flow, i.e. Drive). For this reason I emphasize the core exercises so that at some point a dog can reach back into the emotional data banks of stress, and resolve some previous overload. In other words, the process of healing doesn’t have to be in that particular moment, (especially when we’re dealing with a damaged dog who is always in overload mode, and so as trainers we have to attract that damaged energy, i.e. “stuffed acceleration”) and so even a previous overload can end up assimilated as but a “spike” in an overall wave pattern (that may take the training program months to finally achieve), and now this spike simply modulates behavior, gives it nuance and accords to the dog a greatly heightened capacity. It’s no longer an overload but arouses the latent hunger circuitry which is always at the root of any state of attraction, merely buried by a balance predominance. To help the shut down dog gain mastery over his balance circuitry I advocate “box challenges” and this then rekindles its hunger arousal under the most trying of circumstances that previously completely shut him down. No matter how stressed out a dog may be, he always has the innate capacity and inner reserve to overcome a balance challenge. Trust this is clear and appreciate the question.

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    A puppy is the purest expression of Temperament before it has been burdened with resistance. We could also say that its emotional battery is not yet formatted and so for this reason it can’t yet process complex stimuli. So as an expression of pure Temperament (manifesting the universal code underwriting all animal consciousness) a puppy is a social “stem cell” able to decouple its “self” from all previous attachments and built up history and then manifest the equal/opposite phase of the locomotive rhythm in compatico with the object of attraction. So if the other being is collecting, the puppy will project. If the other being is projecting, the puppy will collect. It reconstitutes its “self” as a mirror of the other being, like a stem cell regenerating into whatever cell in the particular organ it finds itself.

  6. Alan says:

    Very informative, but also very confusing to read! Had to read it twice haha!

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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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