Anatomy of a Discussion on Dominance

Generally the discussions I get into on/line don’t go anywhere. When I make a point it is typically ignored. This is easy to do because for one thing there are too many points of contention in play at once which mean one can radiate off in a tangential direction and evade the logical consequences of their position. Secondly, the terms in play are heavily freighted with acquired meaning, and unless one apprehends that, they feel no need to understand what my energetic terms articulate. But for some reason the following discussion unfolded along a logical progression eventually arriving at a place where a meaningful dialogue could have begun. The discussion was prompted by Mark Bekoff’s article on dominance on the Psychology Today blog site and I’ve removed all names other than my own and one entry by Roger Abrantes since we both make public pronouncements on the nature of dogs. I’ve added some commentary between some of the entries to make points that would have otherwise sidetracked the conversation.

Writer A: I read and enjoyed this article very much. In an attempt to promote a specific training philosophy many in the Dog Training Profession have unilaterally decided that there isn’t something called dominance. I often see posts lambasting other professionals for daring to use the term. I agree using the idea of dominance as an excuse to abuse animals is wrong, however to deny its existence is wrong and dangerous. For real understanding and learning to happen it is crucial to accept what the natural world continues to tell us.

(This entry is telling because it indicates that much of the debate over terminology is consumed with the politics of dog training, rather than what is going on in the actual behavior. )

Writer B: “People also want to believe such a thing doesn’t occur in human groups. A dangerous belief.”

Writer A: I find in the dog world folks are quick to accept dominance in humans, but want to deny it in canines. People are just weird. That is a professional opinion.LOL!!!

(When talking about dominance which is presumably an instinct, we always find this linkage to animal with human within a moral frame of reference. In my mind this is because the distinction between emotion/instinct, feelings/thoughts hasn’t been made and so the distinction between animal and human is blurred as well. The word dominance automatically makes such distinctions impossible.)

Writer C: Roger Abrantes did a similar article – explaining that dominance is a behaviour rather than a “state of mind” – which is where the problems lay with the idea of dominance – this idea that the dog is always after increasing social status and constantly needs to be put in their place. As with all movements – we may need to go to the extreme, by denying dominance first, before we can find the correct place to position the term in Modern training circles. I agree with Coppinger however – I don’t want my pet dog to be thinking it terms of dominance.

Kevin Behan: In my opinion, dominance is a thought and thus does indeed exist in humans. But if it is an instinct shared with animals, then why is the social structure of wolves different from foxes, cats, coyotes, etc.?

Roger Abrantes: You got it absolutely right, Writer A! Thanks.

Writer D: I love the comments section where Bekoff quotes Mech: “This misinterpretation and total misinformation like Kelley’s has plagued me for years now.” Behan and his puppet Kelley have been talking our of their asses RE dominance for years now and insist on misusing real science to sell their quackery.

(My theory has nothing to do with with whether or not Dr. Mech has seen a little, or a lot of what is termed dominance in wolves, or whether wolves are being observed in captivity or in the wild, or whether or not wolves live in nuclear or extended family groups. Whenever I ran across Lee making that point I thought it was interesting but peripheral and perhaps a matter of ethological hairs being split. Whatever Mech observed and whatever rate it was observed at, was emotional friction because energy wasn’t flowing smoothly into order. Mech did not identify the self-organizing principle in the days when he used the linear notion of a dominance hierarchy, and he has not identified the self-organizing principle when he characterizes wolf societies as a fluid hierarchy of resource control within extended families. The concept of a fluid situational awareness is modern behaviorism attempting to keep up with emergence theory even though it’s a self-contradiction in terms. Words do matter.)

Writer E: Cool, thanks for posting this! The word has been so poisoned that most of the time it is used incorrectly or when used correctly, the listener/reader will misinterpret it. With that, I do believe very careful use of the word is important, which is why I try to avoid it. When they say dominance is used in humans….for some reason the word….Bully…..comes to mind. Of course not all dominance is bad, so dominance is not synomonous to bullying. Although some dominance can be bullying. Oh, the complexity of the word dominance and how some people have twisted it.

(The term dominance is hopelessly complex and will be endlessly twisted when applied to animal behavior because it is invested with human thought.  It will always run to a self-defeating logic loop because you cannot use a human concept to articulate a self-organizing energy system. Since the animal mind works according to the laws of nature, emotion being its physical embodiment, the only solution is a new term as part of a lexicon that delineates friction from order in terms of an energy system.)

Writer A: Writer E: It is the same as dominant doesn’t have anything to do with aggression. However, there are times when aggressive behavior is utilized to secure ones position as it relates to a circumstance or situation. As the article states dominance is often situational and based on control of resources in many cases. A animal or person that uses aggression (bullying) a lot is generally the most insecure in the group (psychologically speaking) and wastes much energy (personal resources) on establishing and maintaining the appearance of control. However, when push comes to shove the bully often crashes hard as they’ve wasted much energy during times when it wasn’t really required.

(So writer A is implying, if not overtly positing, that dominance and aggression can be linked psychologically within the mind of the dog, that there’s some kind of logical interface between these two behaviors atop a platform of rationality. However we have to remember that earlier Writer A held that dominance is a behavior and not a state of mind. Somehow without explication they are now linked psychologically. If dominance is unrelated to aggression, how then can the dominance instinct fail to inhibit the aggressive possibility since it is at the same time held to limit aggressive impulses and is unrelated to aggression? Dominance must be a higher cognitive function than an aggressive impulse, which then means that it’s losing its credibility as a universal feature of animal behavior.)

Kevin Behan: If words have definitions, and then if we’re going to say there is such a thing as “situational dominance,” then there is no such thing as dominance because by definition, there is a deeper dynamic that causes behavior to vary depending on the situation. The term “situational dominance” inherently contradicts itself.

Writer A: Kevin, you may be correct. However, in reviewing the article it does appear that the author is stating in his experience dominance can be fluid. It may be (my thinking out loud) that dominant is both a state of being and a series of behaviors leading to a successful outcome that increases the likelihood of survival for an individual, thus increasing the chances his genetic makeup will carry-on past his death.

(Here comes the circular logic that can be found in every book on behavioral theory and which is always used to justify the argument for this kind of evolutionary logic. Things are just the way they are otherwise they couldn’t have evolved. An authority figure says it’s fluid and so it must be fluid. An instinct can be universal and fluid from situation to situation, with no dynamic made clear for this variability other than it has to be this way in order to increase the genetic fitness of the individual and pass on its genes. It’s a self-fulfilling line of reasoning. This logical error arises from conflating why-are-things-the-way-they-are, with how-do-things-work. For example, physicists don’t ask—Why is there electricity?—as they investigate the nature of electricity, rather they study HOW electricity works. So once you assume that genetic replication is the lynchpin to evolution, then every belief about behavior is predetermined and you will not be able to detect how something that seems self-evident only seems that way because it is being supported by hidden assumptions that have never see the scientific light of day. )

Writer F: I am not quite sure when dominance became the “D” Word? I’m glad you posted this article. You beat me to the punch! A lot of reward-based trainers AVOID using this term and I think that is just as problematic as overusing the term (or using the term “dominance” incorrectly). Again…thanks.

(The hidden assumption here brings us to a false dichotomy, if it isn’t dominance, then it must be positive, and if it isn’t positive, then it must be dominance. Whereas I’m arguing against the notion of dominance (social by instinct) and the idea of reciprocity (social by learning). I’m arguing that dogs are social by nature, i.e. through the principle of emotional conductivity. )

Kevin Behan: (To writer A) That’s the point that I’m trying to make, if it is fluid, then it can’t possibly be dominance. For example, an army which in a totalitarian state is indeed a dominance hierarchy, does not tolerate such fluidity. There is a chain of command and that’s it. The same with a true dominance hierarchy as found in a hard core prison community. In a true dominance hierarchy, fear is the moderating influence and thus a dominance hierarchy cannot possibly be the basis of social cooperation.

Writer A: I don’t necessarily agree that fear is a driving force for dominance in the literal sense. It can be that a leader of a group in which the whole is well fed and protected holds a position of dominance that is handed to him/her by the masses. Being important to the survival of a group through sound leadership based in fairness can create an element of dominance. A good leader often allows others in a group to have areas in which they are in control. They hand over control (situationally) to another individual. I think folks don’t like the word dominant as it often doesn’t describe their status in life; they are usually subordinate to others on regular basis in a negative way.

(When people subconsciously project human concepts into animal behavior, they subconsciously assume that others are doing so as well and so they think the argument against dominance cannot be scientific but is political or moral. The concept of fairness cannot be a component of a self-organizing dynamic, but rather a derivative of it once cognition is high enough so as to compare moments to other moments, or relative points of view. We should also note that in human affairs fairness is very often a moral or political tool used to club others over the head. There is no fairness in nature.)

Kevin Behan: The problem I see with the notion of sound leadership being based in fairness and situational control, is that then one will need to ascribe a complex psychology through high cognitive function to the network of relationships and complex interactions that characterize a wolf pack’s social life, and such a complex psychology immediately negates the term instinct. Also you’re hinting at a bubble-up dynamic and this means a self-organizing system which is also antithetical to the notion of dominance. Also, wolves show “submissive/appeasement” displays when approaching the fenced-in bison at Wolf Park in Indiana, so any model that attempts to explain behavior must define the consistency between such disparate contexts and between two different species. I do indeed agree that the modern positive movement shies away from the dominance term due to political correctness, but that isn’t my objection. My point is that dominance doesn’t make sense because it is not comprehensive or fluid enough to accommodate the evidence.

Writer A Perhaps Kevin, it is the evidence you are reviewing that is missing the obvious. I find that from one researcher to the next the “evidence” shown is different. This may be a subject still in need of much more research and study. When many great minds can barely identify any area of agreement means that there is still so much to learn. Until I find stronger evidence (in my personal opinion) to contrary I am going to stay with my initial statement, but am always willing to hear arguments that may sway my position. I also believe that Wolves function in very complex and dynamic groupings. In speaking to your statement on wolves showing submissive behaviors towards, what is historically their prey appears to be misinterpreted. One of the key things I learned from a self-defense specialist is to show weakness or submission to a potential threat (and in other cases one’s target); this draws the opponent in and they will often let their guard down, thus making them an easier target. Perhaps, even though in captivity the wolves are practicing a tactic (innate behavior) used for survival. Isn’t it in the end all about survival? Of course, this is just my very novice opinion.

(Writer A is beginning to sense a gap in their reasoning. At this point I expected Dr. Abrantes to come to the rescue since he earlier applauded A for getting the theory “exactly right.”)

Kevin Behan The most important criteria for any theory is what is the most logical interpretation of the evidence. So again we come to a conundrum because if the “submissive” wolf is practicing a tactical psychology toward the bison, then the “submissive” wolf is also practicing a tactical psychology toward the “superior” wolf. Therefore there is no respect for the leader or regard for fairness, but rather tactical advantage, which again brings us to an inherent contradiction as to how the same instinct could account for two completely different scenarios.

Writer G: The whole thing about insecurity was nicely put, Writer A. As for Kevin’s comment, I had been taught that dominance is entirely a dynamic relationship between two individuals, ever changing. So to call it “situational dominance” is simply redundant. As it relates to dogs, I generally think of the relationship between human and dog as that of a parent and child — the parent is the dominant individual in the relationship, providing resources and security and boundaries (and love!) with the dog (child) secure and happy in the knowledge that it is taken care of by us bigger-brained humans, rather than us needing to be protected by the dog. To reverse that relationship usually ends up in stressed out dogs with behavior problems:-(

Kevin Behan: The problem with the parent/child metaphor is that it begs the question, why is it that only wolves stay together in extended family groups, whereas for example foxes don’t? Since all canines as well as other predators start out in the parent/offspring modality, why is there only room for the young when it comes to wolves?

Writer A Perhaps it’s a matter of the type of resources required or utilized for survival. The wolf has evolved to be a big game hunter, which takes more than one to accomplish the task of bringing down a large animal and thus social groupings developed to support this evolutionary process. Where as the fox, lives on smaller game and is capable of killing the meal itself. So, sharing territorial resources has no benefit for them.

Kevin Behan Yes, I believe that the wolf’s evolution as a big game hunter, of species that are physically superior to itself, proves to be the most logical interpretation of the evidence. This therefore means that hunting comes first, and then a specialized social life follows. It’s a bubble-up self-organizing system with the relationship between predator and prey more fundamental than the relationship between parent and offspring so that what we misinterpret as dominance and submission, are in reality the predator and prey roles embedded as temperament traits. The synchronized activity in the hunt, begets the canine social organization and specialized style of rearing the young. This also best explains the relationship between man and dog, which is why virtually every breed is named after something to do with the hunt, and how dogs are able to live and work with mankind in ways no other animal is capable of.

(Oddly just as we’ve arrived at the beginning of a synthesis, we’re abruptly arrived at the end of the discussion. Could it be that when we’re talking about animals, we’re subconsciously dealing with emotion, and when we’re talking about dogs, we’re likewise dealing with feelings? In other words we need to see dominance in animals because we still fear the nature of emotion. So in this discussion I probably haven’t made many friends or influenced any academics, but I did get one like! And to paraphrase Lee, we’ll just have to change the world one Like at a time. Like–to–Like (but only opposites can connect) that’s how nature works. Keep On Pushing!)

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Published February 24, 2012 by Kevin Behan
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17 responses to “Anatomy of a Discussion on Dominance”

  1. Joanne Frame says:

    “Oddly just as we’ve arrived at the beginning of a synthesis, we’re abruptly arrived at the end of the discussion.” – At the risk of sounding like I’ve missed the point completely it seems me that line represents a metaphor for the prey-predator dynamic in action – the group have arrived at the beginning of a synthesis, there is no ‘attraction’, nothing to ‘ground the energy’, sparring becomes pointless?! I know its more complex than that because we are talking about human beings….:-)

  2. kbehan says:

    I didn’t think about it like that, interesting to plug it into the dynamic, and then yes it seems we couldn’t get a wave going to amplify the understanding with further synthesis of even more evidence. But what I meant was that the writers’ logic led her to understand an important point, but then it must have provoked cognitive dissonance and so that was as far as they were willing to go.

  3. Joanne Frame says:

    It is true that we are only ready to take on new views when we feel safe enough to let go of our old beliefs that the new belief is challenging. I have spoken to dog enthusiast friends of mine about different ideas – NDT, raw feeding, not neutering….. – and I can almost see the point at which I hit a blank, because there is such an investment in their opposing way of thinking. I have learnt that I have to accept that they have a reason to hold onto thieir view. I also do the same when I am considering things I don’t want to change. One of the principles of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – ‘people are doing the best that they can with the resources they have available to them’. Another one which seems apt to mention here, meant to be applied in a therpay context, but seems to apply for NDT – (people) are not their behaviours, accept the person, change the behaviour. I think its fascinating to try and join these different mindsets up, but that might only be me!

  4. kbehan says:

    Those are good points and I know exactly what you mean by “hit a blank” which is why I feel when we’re talking about the evidence on dogs, we’re really not talking about the evidence on dogs. That blank state is when a state of cognitive dissonance is occurring in their mind, two incompatible beliefs are rubbing up against each other and rather than face that impasse (which actually is an infusion of new energy) they tune it out in order to restore the compartments in which everything has been neatly assigned. They instinctively recognized that they were about to take a leap into the unknown. In my next book I have a chapter entitled “Trust The Confusion” and its theme is that if we allow ourselves to be confused rather than the intellect immediately trying to maintain control by keeping everything compartmentalized, sooner or later the resolution of the confusion will emerge into a higher synthesis of the evidence and we’ll know this by going into a state of resonance. Confusion will always beget resonance, thus we should trust it. I also wonder if the medical downside to tuning out that new energy is the Alzheimer syndrome. So confusion may seem bad but I feel it’s well worth it.
    I’m not sure I agree that people are necessarily doing the best with resources they have available, some of course are, but sometimes the others need a little push.

  5. Kevin: Generally the discussions I get into on/line don’t go anywhere. When I make a point it is typically ignored. This is easy to do because for one thing there are too many points of contention in play at once which mean one can radiate off in a tangential direction and evade the logical consequences of their position. Secondly, the terms in play are heavily freighted with acquired meaning, and unless one apprehends that, they feel no need to understand what my energetic terms articulate.

    There are a number of issues at play here, in my opinion.

    One is, you’re right. Online discussions generally go nowhere, or rather they amplify conflict and create noise which prevents understanding. Each side tends to dig in on their own positions when those positions are challenged. (That’s why I chose to take some of the air out of their positions by giving in, i.e., acting submissive.)

    Two, there are a number of reasons our points are being ignored (or more specifically, your points, since mine are almost always derived from yours). I was simply trying to get Abrantes and others to concede my point that the language on dominance needs to be changed because it’s anthropomorphic. I couldn’t get anyone to even entertain that idea, let alone grudgingly admit that it’s true. (They all know it’s true — again, except Abrantes — but then the cognitive dissonance, or some other fear stifles their ability to acknowledge that.) Meanwhile, my feeling was if we could just get an admission on that one point, that might open the door to entertaining further ideas. (This, I think, goes directly to your statement that the “terms in play are heavily freighted with acquired meaning.”)

    Third, what I saw in the discussion was several scientists showing a willingness to open up to some of your positions. But I don’t think what prevented that from happening was that they felt “no need to understand” what your energetic terms articulate. It was that, as far as they’re concerned, your terms are incongruous and lacking in foundation. There’s no formal structure to them, at least in their minds.

    I think, if we’re going to get any traction on your grand unified theory of biology, evolution, animal behavior, etc., we need new tactics. We need cooperation from the inside. I get the sense that Bekoff and others are more than willing to cooperate. They all seem to feel that there might be something important to what you’re saying (all except Abrantes). And I think you/we need their help to open the door.

    Noam Chomsky said that becoming a scientist is a process of passing through gates of academic obedience, and that these gates are designed to filter out new ideas. As is almost always the case, Chomsky is right. So if that’s true, what can we do about it? Do we keep pounding on the gates, or do we acquiesce in some way?

    There has been a huge expansion in the field of dognitive science in recent years. And it’s not going to contract any time soon. I think anyone with any insights into canine behavior (and no one is more qualified in that area than you are) is welcome, as long as the gates seem to stay securely in place and the foundations aren’t rocked too much.

    Give them a bone or two, and I think they might begin to follow you anywhere (you Pied Piper, you…).


  6. Note: Merriam Webster definition of Pied Piper

    1) a charismatic person who attracts followers


  7. Russell says:

    I know what you’re saying LCK but for me, NDT is not a cult following a pied piper. I see myself as a skeptic, I’m just struggling to find a hole in the argument. I’m happy to question prevailing dogma because there are holes in both behaviourism and dominance theories, but people have such an investment in the system they can’t let it go. I also believe there are scientific foundations for much of NDT that could be incorporated in order to become accepted by the scientific community. I think computer modelling, similar to boid flock studies, could demonstrate hunting patterns and emergence of social behaviour, following simple rules (attraction/hunger, repulsion/balance) – Descartes with feeling! The behaviours at the edge of chaos will look like play, mating, hunting – all of life.

  8. Hey Russell,

    I should have known that the “Pied Piper” thing would be misunderstood by some people.

    That was said with great affection and respect for Kevin. It wasn’t meant in any way to imply that he’s a “cult leader.” I’m sorry you got that impression.

    My image of the Pied Piper is someone who’s just kind of doing his own thing, just hanging out, playing his music, and yet his music somehow has the effect of drawing people and animals toward him. That’s Kevin.

    There’s actually a paper out there — suggested by a dog trainer in Spain, and written in code by two Spanish computer scientists — showing that a simple computer model, giving wolf pack members only two rules, successfully imitates pack behavior while hunting.

    So you’re absolutely right that science is, can, and should be, moving in Kevin’s direction.


  9. Oh, and I’m also a skeptic. In fact I’ve disagreed with nearly everything Kevin has said, at least initially. But testing his theories, by using his exercises, has always been something of a mind-blowing experience.


  10. kbehan says:

    I have very wise counsel available here, and for sure, I’ve always believed that NDT has been accepted by others solely on its merits so it’s gratifying to hear from both Russell and Lee in this regard.
    My inclination is to never give an inch and I can see how this can be self-defeating at times, but then again “networking” ironically, has never worked out for me and so it’s hard to imagine walking through the front door into the behavioral mainstream, instead it looks like it’s going to have to be a guerrilla insurrectionist movement, one like at a time. I remember before “Natural Dog Training” came out in ’92 I was implored not to say anything negative about the AKC or neutering. Now we see a willingness to question those orthodoxies. Kerasote is now going around lecturing about the pitfalls of neutering, and yet in his best selling book, “Merles Door” he trashed NDT as the epitome of the old corrosive notion of master/slave dynamic between dog and man. I doubt he read the book but just word searched for the term Master. Had he read it, he would have found the argument for keeping a dog whole twenty years before he was able to find religion and what I actually meant by the term Master, you know, owner understanding and working with the nature of his dog as Matisse was a master of his medium. So it’s been my experience that I end up taking the heat, and it’s not that I don’t get the credit because nobody but me needs to care about that, but that what has been cherry picked off the vine or makes its way out through osmosis, is then used against NDT theory, the eye contact exercise for example. With YDIYM a major publisher said that if I would only say dogs think a little, they could have bought the project and pushed it out there, but again, how do you say that once in a while the sun goes around the earth and still be saying anything truthful. That said, the academic folks I’ve had direct, albeit marginal contact with have always been very respectful and likewise, I respect their intellects and the rigors of the educational process they’ve been through. (From my point of view that’s the problem, they’ve been educated too well on how to see animals.) It was very generous and a bit risky for Marc Bekoff to blurb my book so I’m grateful that he was able to focus on what he found resonance with, rather than grade it against a pass/fail mainstream standard. I think Abrantes should expect a little hand-to-hand theoretical combat if he’s going to label the opposite position “nonsense” so there’s going to be a lot more to be said in that regard. But by all means I’m not offended (for one thing I don’t think he’s ever heard of NDT enough to take it seriously and even if he has I still like his pluck). It’s funny, he talks about life being too short to be contentious, but then to paraphrase his title it reads “Oh Yeah, Take that,…. You Want a Piece of This, Bring it!!!”
    So that’s my overview as to how things now stand and for me the growing realization is that the most important people in the behavioral marketplace aren’t the academic gatekeepers but rather the skeptical inquirers who make their way here and fairly judge what’s being said on its own merits and at whatever level of experience they may be ready to take in. In the meantime we’ll see when it’s the time is right to flip and flop polarities. Keep me posted.

  11. Joanne Frame says:

    ‘Your points about cognitive dissonance drew me to a quote in YDiYM in the chapter ‘Unresolved emotion’ that I am re-reading at the moment. ‘Unresolved emotion can get out the only way it went in……It’s at this point that the thought process of a human makes a critical distinction, in the matter of choice’. As I understand it that is what is happening when a human meets cognitive dissonance. When I read that I thought humans had the advantage, but the more I become aware of my in-built programming, and how it has sometimes led me to make choices that haven’t worked for me, I’m not so sure 🙂

    Trust the confusion’ sounds similar to words that a counsellor friend gives to me periodically ‘be comfortable with uncertainty’. It also reminds me of a statement that I have read many times attributed to Albert Einstein, that we can’t solve a problem while we’re in the same level of thinking that created it.

    Looking forward to your next book 🙂

  12. kbehan says:

    In order to apprehend the “essence” of something, we have to precipitate away all the charged forms it has acquired in our mind. (This I believe is why dreams cut through to the core of things in their inscrutable way.) So when two diametrically opposed thoughts or values run into each other, our choice is to either sit with it or tune it out and revert back to compartmentalization so that we can keep them separated by being contained in their familiar form. We then begin to foretell when these two thoughts or values are beginning to approach each other again due to events or external circumstances, and then that preliminary stuff is tuned out as well. This way we keep our mind in stasis and will concoct more and more elaborate rationales to prevent the two thoughts or values from meeting again. Of course the whole edifice of compartmentalization grows shakier and shakier the longer it goes on, making more and more boxes to keep stuff in and separate from other stuff, which for example is what’s going on with the theory of dominance to explain the behavior of animals. This is why when you mention certain things about dogs and energy, you meet with the blankness because they can tell that if they let this thing in, all the boxes will start to get tippy. The other option is to stay present with the discomfort of that state of dissonance which means that we’re allowing our emotional core to become activated and get involved and this is what eventually will reveal the essence of what we’re dealing with. Eventually these two values which at first provoked sparks in our head (two thoughts of the same form are just like two dogs that are exactly alike and so they have to blow off some steam in order to become different, i.e. complementary) will be felt to have a subtle distinction between them and this is what then allows for a more refined resolution of the impasse to bubble up to the surface of our awareness into a new value. This new value is a synthesis of the two that were previously self-annihilating due to their form, but are now held in terms of essence, which is a holistic view of how things are interconnected. {This is why animals trust their sense of smell over vision, the latter being form sensitive, the former being about essence held within form.} Then with this new value in our mind life goes on until it too runs into its annihilating counterpart due to external events or circumstances triggering a “box” in storage, which then again presents us with a chance to either tune out the discomfort, or once again let it sink in and down until eventually a new value of resolution comes up into our mind. When we reject the old compartmentalized way of our mind, we will feel confused because we don’t have things packed up in their neat and highly organized boxes and we fear that emotion released will wash us away. But we really could trust it because it will infallibly lead us to things ultimately making “sense.” So our mind which was patterned a certain way when we weren’t conscious enough to be aware that we were being imprinted, has this opportunity to clear itself when confused and install a new format with things linked essentially rather than abstractly. We can never know when that moment of resolution is going to come, but it always does if you trust the confusion.

  13. Kevin: “Of course the whole edifice of compartmentalization grows shakier and shakier the longer it goes on, making more and more boxes to keep stuff in and separate from other stuff, which for example is what’s going on with the theory of dominance to explain the behavior of animals. This is why when you mention certain things about dogs and energy, you meet with the blankness because they can tell that if they let this thing in, all the boxes will start to get tippy.”

    Call it cognitive dissonance, call it inertia, the question isn’t what’s stopping the mainstream from moving forward, it’s what’s stopping us.


  14. cliff says:


    A friend who used to run a big-city newspaper taught me a rule that journalists apply to their writing: break your text into short paragraphs— even if the thought has not necessarily changed. Makes for easier reading.

    Also learned the motto of the City News Bureau, which may prove very useful to some of the more…unconvinced, um, scientists in this discussion: “If your mother says she loves you…check it out.”

  15. I’m seeing a future where Kevin has his own dognitive science lab, say at Cornell (where he could work in association with Steve Strogatz), or better yet, at the Santa Fe Institute (though Ithaca is a quicker drive).

    The Institute of Noetic Sciences is mainly concerned with medicine, but they might be another place open to Kevin’s ideas.


  16. Sang says:

    I like that idea Lee.

  17. b... says:

    “I’ve always believed that NDT has been accepted by others solely on its merits”

    This is the only logical conclusion, as this acceptance offers no social, financial, professional, or other outward benefit that I can detect.

    Having surveyed the online efforts to engage the animal behavior “experts” and witnessed their resistance to critical thinking, my impression is that these dinosaurs embrace the stability of the pulpit far more intensely than the fluidity of scientific inquiry.

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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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