Be The Owner

“Dogs Are People, Too”


Resist the siren song. It sounds benevolent on the surface, but once dogs are granted personhood, and once you accept the designation as a dog’s guardian rather than its owner, then someone else will eventually be in control of how you raise and train a dog. In fact, even the idea that one can go out and purchase a dog will be thrown into question. (One can’t purchase people to keep as pets.)

This author is in a conundrum of his own making. Forty years ago I didn’t need Cat Scans or MRI machines, I didn’t even know what the caudate nucleus was, and yet I discovered that dogs are emotional beings capable of love. I wasn’t limited by the “constraints of behaviorism” because I wasn’t projecting human thoughts (survival, dominance, submission, territoriality, possessiveness, guilt, jealousy, anger, hate, etc., etc..) onto what dogs were doing. I was studying how emotion, a flow dynamic, moved through the many to weave them into one emotion-as-energy system. In other words, love, i.e. syncopated emotional energy, is a fundamental organizing principle of the canine nature. In other-other words, the nature of nature is to nurture. That’s the only statement logically consistent with nature as a flow system. (See the Constructal Law) One does not need an MRI scan or behavioral science to not want animals to suffer, to want to train dogs to be as happy as they can be, and to regard dogs as the emotional beings they are. This awareness comes naturally. Our heart already knows.

(This is the greatest irony. Modern behaviorism is scanning the dog’s brain to find what dogs have in common with us. But what we have in common will not be found in the caudate nucleus or any other structure within the brain, otherwise we could live with apes or chimps which have a brain much closer to ours. What we have in common with dogs is not our personhood, but our Heart.)

Dogs are not stupid people. Dogs go by feel. They feel what we feel and this is how they know. A person on the other hand can choose to not go by feel. A person can set themselves apart (temporarily) from the flow dynamic. Trust your heart. Your heart knows how to flow. And if you don’t want someone to tell you how to feel, don’t let them take your dog away by making him/her a person with you as their custodial guardian. Master the Medium, Be the Owner.


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Published October 6, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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23 responses to “Be The Owner”

  1. Trisha Selbach says:

    Yet another article that scares me for all the above reasons Kevin mentioned and more. What next?

  2. Carol says:


  3. Isn’t there a strange irony here? If dogs are persons, wouldn’t they have to give written or verbal consent to take part in a scientific study, especially one involving an fMRI machine?

  4. kbehan says:

    The ironies and inherent contradictions will prove never ending. At the risk of sounding preachy, my argument is that if we want a better society, we should strive to live by heart. I think it’s put this way, “Be the change you want in the world” as opposed to empowering authorities to impose it. Extending personhood status to a dog will prove a never ending spiral because it will prove impossible to delineate the line between person and non-person, thus we will be granting external authorities unlimited license to impose control in unintended and unimagined areas of influence.

  5. Scott says:

    Hi Kevin-

    I usually don’t chime in so sorry for the novel:

    This article is scary and funny at the same time. Does the author REALLY expect people to buy in to his argument? Unfortunately, there are probably hundreds of thousands of people that would say, “yeah, this guy is right, my dog deserves to be the person he really is underneath all that fur.” I can see it now, consent forms with a space for the dog to leave a paw print for a signature. By his logic, all the dog would have to do is “choose” to step on the consent form that happens to be lying on the floor in the waiting room. That, along with wording that they read to the dog reviewing the limits of confidentiality where if the dog shows any signs of suicidal or homicidal ideation, then the practitioner is required by law to call the authorities. Then we will have State-run canine psychiatric facilities where they will sedate the dog with antipsychotics and antidepressants, coupled with canine group therapy and some bullcrap treatment plan with a followup for outpatient counseling. All the while the dog will be expected to talk about his mother and how she deprived him of the nipple that was rightfully his to nurse on. And then the human will be forced into court for a custody battle because he or she apparently cannot adequately care for the dog they call “person”.

    Okay, so that was a little out there but, I digress…the article seems at least in part to be covertly presented as a moral issue. And my subsequent question would be, “since when do dogs ‘know’ or possess morals?” They don’t. And no neuroscientist can prove that – although humans are good at spinning data to serve an agenda. The idea itself of ownership is an intellectual construct that seems delusory to me. Do we as humans, as mammalian animals, by virtue of conscious awareness, have proprietary rights to any thing (as in, a noun) or idea (which is derived from language and words = symbols)? In a system apparently created by the mind and output through what we call behavior, yes, we are convinced we do have that right (and people are actually sued over this stuff!). But as you say often Kevin, “thinking IS the box.” And as long as we are behaving (acting, talking, thinking, affecting) from that mode of mind, then we will never see or feel the world (i.e., nature and the universe) as it is. Therefore, look at the last 50-100 years and how progressively neurotic we have become about this and that, material and immaterial.

    It is my opinion that human beings evolve to behave either out of value/purpose and/or fear/panic – and who could blame us for it, we’re human. And when I say behave, I mean everything that we experience underneath the skin (i.e. thinking, feeling, perceiving, sensing, valuing, moralizing, etc.) as well as what we do outside the skin (i.e. talking, walking, moving, emoting, etc.). And what I mean by fear is that most of us live our lives with a deep sense of wanting to be in control (whether we want to admit that or not). And here I think it is important to distinguish between control over our physical bodies and the tangible world around us and control over the world that resides in the mind (which is not tangible in my opinion). It is the latter, control from a mind-perspective, where we become delusioned by what we think is reality. Hence, we CAN call a dog a person and we CAN say that a dog has the rights of “person.” But there’s a difference between what we can literally say or think and what is actually real – and whether or not we buy in to it. But how would we know if we are stuck in this box we call the mind?

    When it comes to the topic of the article you posted about, my ultimate question is for all of us, not just the author or anyone who supports his ideas: what are we really afraid of? What is it that is driving us farther and farther away from nature, or in this case, the dog? I cannot see how more rules and regulations are going to make the life of a dog, or the human, that much better, especially when said rules are ungrounded by bad science.

    Thanks for the space to rant!

  6. Chris Fowler says:

    This is fun! I think these debates are great. Dogs DO have emotions! This would be big news, had we not been
    aware of it for years.
    If I am not mistaken, the ‘3’ brains of mammals have been examined and studied in depth for years. We already know
    the similarities we have with other mammals via the reptilian and paleomammalian brains. And we know the difference
    arises in the neomammalian brain. It is my understanding that those extra layers in the neocortex are the ones that make
    ALL the difference. As Temple Grandin states in her book” Animals in Translation”, “So you have your lizard brain to breath
    and sleep, your dog brain to form wolf packs, and your human brain to write books about it”.
    I guess I missed the big news in the article. Anyone who has ever owned a dog ‘knows’ they have emotions. I fail to see
    how this revelation bridges the leap from a crated working K9 in the back of a police cruiser to a uniformed K9 sitting up
    in the passenger seat eating donuts and sipping coffee.

  7. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    Appears like you are on a currently hot topic!

  8. Josh D says:

    Similar to Chris’ comment above… All the testing and fMRI images “prove” is that humans are more animal that we’re willing to admit. It’s that stupid neocortex screwing up the works as usual!

  9. joanne frame says:

    Or they could equally call the report ‘people are (the same as) dogs’ 😉

  10. joanne frame says:

    And another thing 😉 “If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.” interesting that the author doesn’t suggest neutering and spaying as a ‘basic right of self-determination’ 🙂

  11. Annie says:

    I knew we’d have some great comments after this one….personally, I felt that the article was poorly written and rather naive;
    just wanted to share some “heart facts”; there is more evidence being shown these days that the brain is actually regulated by the heart, and that there are more nerve fibers going for the heart to the brain than the other way around, and the heart beats on its own, without innervation from the brain. The nerve fibers between the heart and the brain connect with the amygdala, the thalmus and even the prefrontal cortex, thus connecting the emotions with the senses.” (Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not in Your Head- Carla Hannaford, PhD.)

  12. Ann F says:

    I have no objection to being the owner, and many objections to seeing dogs as people. Had an idea: Could we be dogists?? A dogist: someone who studies dogs, loves dogs, trains dogs, dreams about dogs, thinks generously and openly about dogs, plays with dogs, works with dogs, assumes responsibility for them, and lets them live by their nature?

  13. kbehan says:

    A “doggist” as you’ve defined it is probably the best kind of “ist” one could be, but I do want to affirm the definition that the dog is the property of the owner. Not only is this the best prescription for the evolution of enlightened dog handling, and also it is not a statement of demeaning the truth of a dog’s nature (a dog has a group mind), but it is the best way for society to hold an owner responsible for the behavior of their dog. When I used to be a dog warden, people who let their dogs roam and cause mayhem would play the “my dog is a person” card, as if it had a mind of its own and therefore given their dog’s special capacities and talents they couldn’t be expected to control it. It was their intellectual means of wiggling out of their responsibility to keep their dog out of the farmer’s chickens, their neighbors garbage, or chasing joggers/bikers/cars down the road. But because I was working from a colonial era rule book of animal husbandry, we still have a “fence viewer” on the town rolls whose responsibility is to check on the soundness of livestock fencing because if YOUR cows get out, it’s everyone’s problem, I could hold them accountable and preserve a civil community of dog-loving and dog-less households alike. As society technologically removes itself from nature, we can lose sight of the natural wisdom embedded in some of these old civil codes of conduct.

  14. Ann F says:

    Didn’t mean to disagree in the slightest. From the local paper, police log: “Loose pit bull reported to have killed a neighbor’s chickens on Gunn Road, second such incident. Owner spoken to.” “Report of dog in West Chestnut Hill Road neighborhood repeatedly getting loose and killing chickens. Referred to animal control officer.” That is irresponsible ownership!

    It’s just that I had a flash of inspiration of a new word (not to replace other useful, time-tested words). If there are physicists, economists, why not doggists? (Thanks for the second g.) A community kind of word. Not the single owner, but the group of dog-minded, truly dog-loving people.

  15. kbehan says:

    You are completely right. My mission in dogdom will be complete when there’s a doggist branch of physics.

  16. Very interesting! This helped clarify for me why referring to a dog owner as a ‘guardian’ always made me wince inside.

    No matter that it was said in a kindly, well-intentioned way. Those same kindly, well-intentioned people all neuter their dogs and expect us to do so as well.

    The only thing I might add is that the word ‘guardian’ used to refer to a dog owner feels to me like the pc term ‘partner’ to refer to a wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend. Apparently referring to someone as male or female is not so popular any more. Some people even get angry if you don’t say ‘partner.’

    These are the same people who say ‘guardian,’ which now makes sense; if dog and owner are both persons, there is no polarity.

    Is this part of the attempt by those who are fragmented to neuter any living being whose vitality and wholeness they can’t tolerate? Apparently so!

    Great point that being an owner implies responsibility for the dog’s behavior. Also that were dogs designated to have personhood, their upbringing would be institutionalized – determined by people intolerant of aliveness – scary!

    Thanks, Kevin, for initiating this enlightening discussion!

  17. Martin says:

    Here is an interesting interview that I caught some of in the car with Gregory Burns who worked with the dogs in the MRI.

    One thing that stuck out was at 43:25 a caller calls in about her dog with PTSD. The outcome of that interaction on air seems to be that these memories are burned in never to be healed and the best we can do is to “inhibit them” or “decondition”. I am sure both Mr. Burns and the caller wish it to be otherwise. With NDT I believe the mindset is really different concerning this fact. Although the memory is there we are changing what that memory means and more accurately what that memory feels like.

    Beyond that, what is striking is that our collective consciousness seems to believe differently when we put our thoughts into musical form.
    We can hear Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam:

    Gonna rise up
    Burning black holes in dark memories
    Gonna rise up
    Turning mistakes into gold

    …..and countless other besides him.

    Yet it seems we let our brains tell us otherwise but……I think Faith Middleton and the audience should also hear things from a NDT prospective.

  18. kbehan says:

    I can’t speak to the capacity of the human to heal, but I believe a dog can heal anything since their heart is the entire basis of their mind. What works in our favor is that the deepest physical memories are of weightlessness in the womb and the flow of nursing after birth, and so these lay beneath any pain or fear memories that are later acquired through emotional experience in the world. It’s fascinating how artists and musicians reveal this in their work. Indeed the potential always exists that the intensity of life can “burn” through “dark memories” and return the heart to flow.

  19. b... says:

    I think the human’s capacity to heal (compared to all other animals) is impeded by the uniquely human possession of ego. Perhaps it moderates the heart-gut/little brain connection when the signal goes through the mind/big brain or something like that. Or perhaps it’s a different pathway, like when ego turns fear into evil, another uniquely human product. Perhaps in song there’s too much flow for its disruptive ways to take hold.

    If we were all constantly singing and dancing, who knows what our world would look like. Ok, that sounds goofy.

  20. Sundog Fitz says:

    If we are dog OWNERS, then would it follow that military dogs are indeed equipment?

  21. kbehan says:

    Great observation and it puts the matter into clear relief. In the military when the handler becomes the owner after the dog’s tour of service (typically for the nominal sum of a dollar) then the dog can be repatriated and live out his days as a member of the handler’s family. Whereas in the old days when the dog was under the dominion of the state, it was euthanized after service. An owner rather than an overseer is far more likely put the dog’s welfare first.

  22. Kevin Behan says:

    Great article. I’ll take concordance. And Gail Fisher is very good on these matters.

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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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