Being In Sync

Recently tried to present my interpretation of “calming signals” to a group on Facebook that represented that they were a forum interesting in discussing what’s going on in calming signals. There was much magical thinking going on such as: “Dogs are good at calming signals because they had to be good at calming signals since they live as a group.” It turned out that only psychological theories are to be discussed and incredibly they believe that when a dog is issuing a threat, it’s in reality part of the calming repertoire of signals rather than an indication of insecurity. The fact that a so-called “threat display” will actually trigger an aggressive response when encountering a dog that is predisposed toward aggression and that a “threat display” can only “threaten” a dog that is NOT predisposed toward aggression, doesn’t seem to factor into the psychology. A display of fear actually attracts the very fear that the dog is afraid of but that doesn’t matter in the long, long natural scheme of things because at least an aggressive encounter will release the emotion the fear in that particular dog is trying to hold back. Whereas my theory is that what is being misinterpreted as a signal, be it voluntary or involuntary, is in reality part of an emotional mirroring process that is predicated on the internal dynamics of emotion and its principle of movement, rather than cognition or instinct. One half of the emotional mirroring process is the phenomenon of synchronization, the other half is the phenomenon of alignment. If dogs align and synchronize, then they get along because the emotion of both is moving, and this is what is really going on in the phenomenon that has been mislabeled “calming signals” and which is intimately affiliated with social behavior. The calming signal people think that alignment and synchronization are mysterious forces that fall outside the scope of science.

“(Medical Xpress)—Humans have a tendency to spontaneously synchronize their movements. For example, the footsteps of two friends walking together may synchronize, although neither individual is consciously aware that it is happening. Similarly, the clapping hands of an audience will naturally fall into synch. Although this type of synchronous body movement has been observed widely, its neurological mechanism and its role in social interactions remain obscure. In a new study, led by cognitive neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), researchers found that body-movement synchronization between two participants increases following a short session of cooperative training, suggesting that our ability to synchronize body movements is a measurable indicator of social interaction.”

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Note that when people walk together, they are already in alignment thus increasing the opportunity for synchronization. So if your dog is having trouble being in sync, work on alignment. And if your dog has trouble being in alignment, work on being in sync. That’s the beauty of the pushing exercise, once resistance is out of the way (which is why dogs issue “threat displays” in interactions) then it’s easy for the dog to get to being in alignment and in sync. Animals have an innate urge to be in sync and in alignment with the emotional context of their surroundings because this increases their emotional capacity. They can convert fear into flow when aligned and in sync with others, (this is why starling murmurations are restorative). In this way they can affiliate with others and collectivize their emotional energies so as to increase their chances of survival, reproduction, but most of all, make new energy (turn stress into flow).

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Published December 19, 2012 by Kevin Behan
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17 responses to “Being In Sync”

  1. Russell says:

    Could you elaborate on how a dog behaves if he is “having trouble being in sync”? Are there typical problems that indicate which exercises are going to be more beneficial? And is syncing and aligning the same as the flipping part of flipping and flopping?

  2. kbehan says:

    Yes all the flipping and flopping is part of the same flow dynamic that can be likewise described in terms of syncing and aligning, or in Constructal terms: turbulent and laminar. The frequency of the flips and flops is the synchronization part, and the actual body position is trying to get into alignment. By way of immediate-moment logic we can “look within” the individual and see if-the-brain to gut connection is interrupted due to the intensity of the situation, if so then it goes into internal turbulence and will directly address the other dog in order to restore the laminar flow within itself, (reconnect the brain to the gut), and this then forces the other individual into an internal laminar problem being that it is now the focus of the other dog’s attention, and so this one-on-one blocking action creates an internal motive within each individual to align with the other in order to restore a laminar flow within their own body/mind. I think this all then ties in perfectly with Perception Control theory. They’re not trying to calm the other, they’re trying to calm themselves by restoring internal flow. All the external flipping and flopping between the two of them ultimately factors out into a common focus on an object-of-attention (an object-of-resistance high enough to absorb their collective energies, in other words a large dangerous prey animal) around which they are now collectively going to try to sync up and align with, just as they accomplished with each other. When the intensity, the frequency of all their moves, becomes so great that the prey animal itself becomes disconnected in the brain-to-gut connection within its own body/mind, it will act like a frightened prey animal and run, and now the original oral impulse that each individual began life with, is reconstituted in its primal infancy and they feel free to sink their teeth into their quarry. It is an incredibly simple dynamic, yet which factors out an incredibly intricate ebb and flow of life, ultimately improving the configuration so that life, with all its interrelated flow systems, evolves.
    From the individual’s point of view, it feels as if it is willing all that happens to happen, by virtue of how much energy it can focus on some point within its body, (the subliminal beam of attention) and then the feedback it receives in terms of emotional conductivity. There’s no theory of mind mental activity going on, Nature is far more sublime than the human story telling that is our current narrative about the animal mind.

  3. Christine says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful

  4. kbehan says:

    I don’t think I answered the part about having “trouble being in sync.” Basically all problem behavior can be an attempt to get the energy of another moving because they aren’t aligned and in sync, which is the natural impulse of animals and why dogs tend to do better off/lead in interactions rather than on. So humping is an attempt to get back in sync, I’ll have to think more to see if there’s a greater catalogue with one relative to the other, it’s just that the two possibilities are how emotional “momentum” is transferred so if one or the other isn’t engaged then the dog is having trouble.

  5. Russell says:

    That’s really useful. I’ve been trying to tie this back into other descriptions. So alignment is magnetic, and sync is fluctuation in magnetic which leads to flow of energy, but could also be seen as flow of electricity? So could problem in sync lead to static build up (sparky behaviour) as well as magnetic build up (humping). There might be some phase relationship here too, I should brush up on my EM knowledge.

  6. kbehan says:

    Alignment would definitely be magnetic, and I suppose spinning would be an example of an oscillating magnetic field as in an electric motor where the dynamic is constantly flipping polarity in order to keep the armature spinning and thus doing its work. So they are related just as is electricity and magnetism. And when two dogs aren’t in sync and forced together, then it’s like touching the positive polarity to the positive pole of two wires (or negative to negative), whereas avoidance would be an alignment problem as in pushing the north pole to the north pole of another magnet. It’s a rich area for exploration.

  7. kbehan says:

    We can also think of alignment and synchronization as an electrical and magnetic relationship this way. Emotion is like a current having a rate of flow just like electricity. If the rate of flow isn’t high enough for the conductive state of that particular alignment, then turbulent or the being in sync problem kicks in. This is the case when a dog forges in heeling. Output (heeling by handler’s side) isn’t keeping up with input (degree of stimulation), and so the dog looks to spin out in front of the handler. But as the configuration gets aligned at higher and higher rates of flow, then it’s like an armature spinning so that the turbulence is adding more energy to a highly conductive state of alignment, so that turns, stops and starts, heighten the pleasure for the dog in heeling, i.e. a state of alignment. The configuration becomes like a river raging, but staying within its banks and so the flow of the system is characterized by both laminar (alignment) and turbulence (synchronization). The river way is fully conducting all the energy. (We can see this in the starling murmuration as well. All members are aligned around a general axis of travel, but the flock fluctuates periodically and they all adjust to remain in sync.)

  8. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    TWAS CHRISTMAS EVE AND NELLIE ROLLED IN THE MANURE. Progress made. We have a new herd of cows in our barnyard and they are better for Nellie because they are more in sync and align. It is amazing.

    The story is that barn “sirens” have always called to Nellie, our 1870s bank barn is the greatest attraction for her. Once again, Nellie wormed her way through a narrow gap in the fence, the result of rain softened soil. Off she gallops to the barn with me following way behind. The young herd of springers calmly get up from their straw beds or leave the feeder and gather at the east end of the paved barn lot. They form a star shape with their heads facing outward looking at her and later me. She does not bark at them or chase to break up the herd. Nellie goes in the bottom of the barn rolls in the manured straw and tastes. With the old herd, the story was much different. Nellie would have been barking and in hot pursuit of individual cows, cow-dog races to exhaustion.

    Chaos ensues when Nellie sights barn cats. They run, they jump, and they hide. Nellie is very into this gaming in the bottom of the barn. I join in, that is, trying to catch her so that all cats can escape up the stairs to the safety of the hay mow. A local farmer who stopped in with a Christmas gift enjoys the show. The amazing part is that the herd remains calm through it all and steadfastly looks on chewing their cud. Nellie does not even try to disturb them.

    Eventually, all cats are safe in the mow, Nellie tires, and jumps into Attraction #2, my dad’s little Tacoma truck. He and she ride in the truck to the back of the farm to go on walks in the fields and woods. They align. In the fields and the woods there are moments when Nellie and I are in sync and aligned but it is fragile. The distraction of a squirrel, a bird or a deer disrupts it. Ironically, a trespassing hunter, on the other hand, forges us into an aligned mutually protective team. Nellie becomes my partner, warning of their presence by her body language, that is, herding me away. Or, barking to keep them at bay as they emerge from an unmarked blind to let me get away then coming directly to me on command, an efficient arc run to the truck by us both.

    How do I make sense of this? This cow herd seems less “pet-like”, less domesticated. Nellie does not rattle them. They are young but big and peer out at her with large “prey” eyes and she gets the message. The star formation is sight to behold, they do not break rank and they are all healthy and strong. If I had not been so rattled, I would have taken a photo to post. This is the second time I have seen their star formation as Nellie is good at finding gaps in the fence. Nellie’s manure roll and tasting, may be the ingesting of cow essence that satisfies her animal nature. She is eating them up in a way, sinking her teeth and body in them. The herd and Nellie seem in sync and tolerant of their respective places. I am grateful.

    Cat chaos, prey and predator moves. She gets in sync with them like a wolf to a moose. Her body will align with theirs and she attempts to crawl into small spaces or even climb the steep narrow stairs to the mow. They do not turn around and act like predators. Seeking brave cat to put in dog proof cage.

    I do not know what to say about our time together with unknown hunters. It is a jolt to me to see a guy with a gun on our land. It triggers “flight” and Nellie gets it. Cross species understood “e*motion”.

    Merry Christmas to all! Comments and interpretations always appreciated.

  9. kbehan says:

    If the prey doesn’t act like a prey, then the predator can’t act like a predator. You can see the same thing going on at Wolf Park when they let the wolves into the fenced field with the Bison. Since the Bison aren’t free to run, there’s no charge and the wolves approach them sheepishly, they have flipped polarity. Then when we’re free to hide when in the forest, the charge is intense, the same flight response you experienced to hunter, is what would unnerve the Bison when free to flow on the plains. So the whole of evolutionary history is going on in your barn between dog and menagerie, on a snowy Christmas eve.

  10. b... says:

    I hadn’t seen this before… As Christine noted above, this summary is so rich and moving, I hope others will discover it…

  11. Joanne Frame says:

    Thanks b.. for the link to this former post. Kevin, can you elaborate on “But as the configuration gets aligned at higher and higher rates of flow….. so that turns, stops and starts, heighten the pleasure for the dog in heeling, i.e. a state of alignment”
    what are the processes between handler and dog that enable heightening of the pleasure for the dog in heeling? I am struggling to grasp the concept as described. For example…would simply stops, starts, changes in direction before the dog strays off alignment be enough to establish heeling as attractive to the dog or is there more to it?

  12. Kevin Behan says:

    When a dog is motivated to be in alignment with you, then the turns and speed changes become opportunities to be more in sync, require more intense effort to keep up and so the experience of Drive is getting stronger. Into this mix one can add pushing, barking, bite and carry to heighten that feeling of Drive, even corrections, so that the dog becomes more and more exhilarated by the intensity of the heeling. Trust this addresses your question.

  13. joanne frame says:

    Yes it does, thanks Kevin. The key was “when a dog is motivated to be in alignment with you” it takes many iterations and angles of view for things to sink in…..for me! There’s something about where’s the motivation in me that I’m working on

  14. b... says:

    This reminds me of a point made elsewhere about complexity building emotional capacity (hope that’s an accurate paraphrase).

    When I see handlers trying to “build drive” through simple repetition and intensity of a chase-bite exercise, they seem to be overlooking this piece, and the complexity of actual working/hunting behaviors. Perhaps this (lack of emotional bandwidth) is the problem with dog sports for the manic participants it sometimes creates. And also for the unstable subjects of amateur DIY protection training.

    I think of this as the distinction between NDT and most other “training in drive” methods… This focus on “drive” without accounting for the complex pro-social system within which it actually becomes useful under pressure.

  15. Kevin Behan says:

    Very well said, thanks. I think one of the saving graces of old school dog training was that it was very focused on complexity, I remember teaching my fathers GSD “Rommel” to sit at a piano, pound the keys and howl. I thought the more he knew what to do the better he was trained. Meanwhile however Rommel also received bite work, I taught him to drive cattle into the barn, he roamed the farm and killed woodchucks and so given all this he was able to integrate all the interruptions into the overall flow system, and so he became incredibly strong. He was a whole male who greeted all the dogs coming in, never got into a fight, even took a puncture bite to the neck without reciprocating, but would fight when all other options were exhausted. (I should also note that he spent the first year of his life free wheeling in the Canadian woods which is why his original owner wanted to get rid of him, but wherein his Temperament found a full expression and development.) My critique at the time became: why leave it up to the dog to figure it out? and for that we need a model. That was the quest from whence NDT emerged. First build a foundation, i.e. the core exercises, and then pile the rest on.

  16. b... says:

    Thanks, that’s a great story and helps put things into perspective.

    Perhaps in light of modern techniques, it’s worth making a distinction between true working dogs and performing (sports, etc.) dogs.

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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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