Do Dogs Understand Fairness?

One reason NDT is hard to propagate is that it requires seeing the evidence through an unfamiliar lens, what I call an immediate-moment manner of analysis. Some mistakenly think the shift required is metaphysical, others think it’s mechanical. Some say my interpretations are too simplistic, and then at another juncture they say it’s too complicated. (I favor the expression; “Nature is intricately simple and simply intricate.”) Additionally the NDT perspective with its “group mind” and systems logic (based on mechanical laws of motion and principles of thermodynamics as instituted through the mechanics of movement) challenges traditional views of the Self, identity, emotion, cognition and intelligence. NDT proposes to extend the notion of Self to include anything that a dog is emotionally attracted to, and which thus induces the phenomenon of “emotional projection,” i.e. projecting a feeling for the body’s center-of-gravity (p-cog) into the form of that which is emotionally relevant, i.e. anything that can disturb a state of equilibrium. (A stimulus stimulates, i.e. displaces the individual from a state of stasis.) A group mind arises from this as the object of projection now contains an “e-cog” or emotional center-of-gravity, a “point” that belongs to the subject as much as it does to the object. The subject must now connect these two points—through a transfer of force (the projection of the p-cog always precedes a transfer of force, either via projection or collection)—in order to reacquire a state of emotional equilibrium and reinstate a feeling of well-being. (Inversely this exchange of points becomes true for the object as well since the subject through a projection of a force is going to disturb its sense of equilibrium and make itself emotionally relevant and thus the object of a reciprocating act of emotional projection. Hence a systems logic that renders a group mind.)



In this “inequity aversion” experiment two dogs were taught to give paw and were then rewarded unequally. One dog, the little black one on the right, was always given a treat for his performance. The bigger Border Collie dog, the subject of the experiment, was initially given a treat for giving paw but then, while the companion dog continued to get his treat, was not given a treat for performing correctly. The subject dog ultimately quits offering his paw. Interestingly when the subject dog was tested by himself he continuously and compulsively offered his paw even though he wasn’t being rewarded. What then is different from the subject dog’s point of view when in the presence of the companion dog?

The systems’ logic of the group dynamic.

An immediate-moment interpretation begins with the understanding that a dog doesn’t distinguish between emotional and physical equilibrium. This is because whenever stimulated (emotionally engaged) a dog wants to move, and equally, whenever knocked off balance a dog also wants to move, and so a shifting of weight is universal to both conditions. (At this point I won’t make the case why this linkage is more adaptive than making a distinction between the two other than to point out that it makes the phenomenon of emotional projection compulsory and thereby ensures that behavior renders a network of emotional affiliations between living beings.) In other words, from the dog’s point of view, a stimulus knocks it off balance and literally accelerates it into motion. There’s no difference in a dog’s mind between an internal emotional affect and an external force acting on its body. The shifting of weight is at the baseline of anything a dog can learn since learning is a function of movement, and all movements begin with a shifting of weight. (The breath is coupled to this feeling of displacement.)

The second vital link to understanding the group logic is to recognize that as an object-of-attraction, a treat cannot absorb the combined energies of the two dogs. In other words, each dog doesn’t have a “200 volt problem” (the degree to which each individual is displaced by the stimulation of food), they each have a “400 volt problem” since they are emotionally coupled to each other via emotional projection. The food morsel isn’t big enough, hard enough, or resist enough to ground out “400 volts” of combined attraction and therefore they will have to emotionally ionize to fit into the same frame of reference. Energy of attraction has to go somewhere. This is akin to the wolf pack working flawlessly together when the prey is alive and resisting because the prey can absorb their combined energies, and the feat of hunting conducts the full measure of each individuals’ locomotive impulse. Hunting a prey animal conducts and absorbs the combined energies of the group. Then, as soon as the prey is dead on the ground, the pack descends into a tense, hair bristling, teeth baring positioning over the carcass. The only difference between the two contexts is the absorptive and conductive properties of a running prey versus a motionless body. So just as the pack can’t all fit into the same frame of reference when the prey is inert, but can when the prey is running and/or fighting back, the subject dog can fit in the same frame with the human who is asking for the paw and so can sustain the behavior dozens of times, but when another dog is added to the dynamic the absorptive/conductive value of giving paw for food is no longer sufficient for the amount of load in the system. This deficit becomes paramount for the subject dog once the flow of food is cut off.

A third vital component in the group dynamic is direction of flow. The human in the experiment establishes a direction of flow, a path of resistance with food traveling from human to dog. So in the absence of the companion dog, within the mind of the subject dog this basic primal conduit (around which the animal mind is configured) is never challenged. When tested alone the subject dog relentlessly paws on even when there is no return on his effort because the path is unambiguous. But when a companion dog is introduced, the path becomes bifurcated and imperceptible. This is why in a multi-dog household, if one calls one dog their other dog is most likely to come to them as well. In fact it’s a special and lengthy training process to have two separate flow streams cohabiting coherently in a dog’s mind.

There are a few tremors preceding a telltale clue at second # 31. As the tester extends food to the companion dog, the subject dog projects into her hand moving forward as he has been conditioned to do. Then as she deviates toward the other dog, this causes the subject dog to abruptly turn its head away from the sight in order to avoid the sensations of collapse from not receiving the food when it has so whole heartedly projected itself in the human and then is left hanging. The act of giving paw means placing the body in an unbalanced position, but then in that instance the “ground” fails to rise up to meet his paw (and mouth). The more he wanted the food, which is a lot, the greater the sensations of collapse. And as those sensations of collapse begin to stack up the dog now feels as if he is the object of a force (the hand of the tester directed toward him seeking his raised paw) and so he shuffles his feet and begins to back up to reduce the rising sensations of pressure in his head. (This is the same thing being experienced by a ball chasing dog when the ball isn’t thrown soon enough.) In the final frame of the set of pictures above, when the tester extends her hand for the subject dog’s paw, he completely avoids her hand because it now constitutes a predatory aspect of collapse. (This sensation would be amplified if the dog has ever been corrected by a human, i.e. as the object of attention/tension—force— it triggers physical memories of corrections.)

The subject dog doesn’t refuse to give paw out of an understanding of fairness (and wouldn’t anger be the more primitive and hence more likely response to a comprehension of inequity?). Rather he’s trying to fit himself into this new group dynamic. All behavior represents a transfer of force, and all movements begin with a shifting of weight, and as he meets with resistance he begins to run through the tried and true playbook. He shuffles from side to side, he licks his lips and then finally he flips altogether from projecting to collecting, i.e. backing up to absorb the force being directed at him. He’s not refusing to work, he’s simply exhausted all his options and is becoming confused. Eventually he will become fully ionized so that he becomes the polar opposite of his companion and the confusion will dissolve.






Note how the locomotive rhythm is being expressed differently in both dogs. The subject dog is feeling repulsed by the extended hand of the tester. Meanwhile the companion dog is extending his paw forward. They have become emotionally ionized. The companion dog is extending his paw for the same reason, and in equal/opposite form, that the subject dog is in withdrawal. Interpreting the subject dog’s behavior as due to a sense of fairness would be like interpreting the companion dog’s behavior of extending its paw when it’s not his turn as due to a sense of entitlement. Since the companion dog is occupying the projection phase of the locomotive wave by being pulled forward, the subject dog is being pushed into the collecting phase.

The researchers are correct that we’re seeing here the rudimentary basis of moral behavior. But they’re missing the all important phenomenon of emotional projection.

The problem for the human intellect in interpreting these experiments is to not to tell a story, in this case one that is composed of three distinct beings, each one supposedly driven by a narrative, rational outside/in perspective, informed by an intentional state, wherein what is happening out there, a who-did-what-to-who-and-when sequence of events that causes what is felt inside. The group mind in contrast is an inside/out perspective, as in what I feel in here causes what happens out there to happen. When a human gives a dog a treat for giving paw, the dog doesn’t record this narratively as two separate entities in some kind of discourse, as in: “If I give my paw then she gives me a cookie.” An inside/out perspective runs like this, “I lick my lips, shift my weight and through this internal focus on my p-cog that then renders a movement in complementary form to the object I’m attracted to, literally Will the food into my mouth. I move the human by the force of concentration I can subliminally bring to bear on my p-cog just as I am able to move my own body.” The dog extends its paw as a function of an internal focus on its p-cog and sure enough the human hand extends and pops food into its mouth. The dog feels that the human is an extension of his own body because he can map his locomotive rhythm onto her form and movements. But when the subject dog sees the companion dog being given food the amount of emotional momentum he feels for the movement of Range’s hand is perceived of as an actual force and when he can’t ground it out with the food, then it pushes against him rather than him experiencing the hand with food being pulled toward him. He can’t map his locomotive rhythm onto the dog and human’s movements in that particular context. So the energy of Pull becomes an energy of Push and so he begins to shift from the physical memories encoded according to a Pull, to the physical memories encoded according to a Push. Thus the subject dog shifts from projecting force outward—giving paw—-to absorbing force inward—lip licking, foot shuffling and backing up.

Everything a dog knows of the world, and how to interact with others comes through movement. Movement is a transfer of force and all movement begins with an internal apprehension of the body’s physical center-of-gravity, the seed of the inside/out perspective around which the animal mind crystalizes. When the locomotive rhythm is mapped onto complex objects-of-resistance (things that have a mind of their own) then a group dynamic impresses a unitary wave form onto each component so that if one is UP, the other becomes DOWN and they align around a basic direction of flow. Then they must synchronize and we next observe a further elaboration of emotional polarization with one becoming Active, the other Reactive. One is Direct, the other becomes Indirect. In this experiment we observed the subject dog shift from UP to DOWN, and then from Active and Direct, to Reactive and Indirect. He’s becoming the equal and opposite to the companion dog. They’re becoming a group. So I do agree with the spirit of the experiment that they are uncovering the essential component of the moral apprehension in humans, it’s just that they’re barking up the wrong cognitive tree. It’s the c-o-g in cognition that’s being projected emotionally and informing the good social graces of the subject dog. The subject dog isn’t thinking what to do, he is feeling it. It isn’t cognitive. It’s emotional.





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Published May 12, 2016 by Kevin Behan
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2 responses to “Do Dogs Understand Fairness?”

  1. nicholas johnson says:

    Brilliant, I love reading your angles on how dogs see things. Unique and superbly enquiring

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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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