Domestication and Natural Dog Training

For my entire career NDT has been swimming against the tide of consensus that held that the nature of the domesticated dog is due to its contact with man and to such a degree that dogs were considered to have become an adjunct of human culture. Theorists initially believed that it was pointless to study the dog in order to understand the animal mind because it was so far removed from nature by the hand of man. Humans had supposedly selected for docility, submissiveness, a desire to please and willingness to take direction from a pack leader. This then morphed later into the consensus belief that dogs also had acquired an ability to track human gestures and displays simply given a long history of proximity to humans and a tautological Neo-Darwinian logic (i.e. those proto-dogs that understood human gestures survived and those that didn’t, didn’t.). Meanwhile as a police and protection dog trainer, I learned that none of this made sense, which brought me to understanding emotion as a force of attraction and an immediate-moment manner of analysis. This revealed a flow dynamic which informed my book “Natural Dog Training.” I believe there is no other articulation of flow in canine behavior published before, or for that matter, since.

From “Natural Dog Training” (original edition, William Morrow, 1992)

p.24: What is particularly special about wolves is the teamwork displayed in their manner of stalking, herding, and killing an animal of prey that is much larger than themselves.”

{Note I did not say that what is special about wolves is their high cognition or a hierarchy of rank.}

p.26 “I view the dog as a product of nature.”

{Note the dog is not a product of human artifice.}

p. 26: “The premise that the dog is linked to the wolf is nothing new. What is newly being presented here is the ideas that sociability is a by-product of, and is dependent, on, the prey instinct. .… Killing large animals makes advanced social living possible.. Dogs are socially flexible because the prey instinct in wolves evolved to be flexible….And when I talk about flexibility, I don’t just mean the individual’s ability to react to change; I mean that all the members adjust to change AS A GROUP.”

p. 30 “(Man) was selecting for the flexible prey instinct! He was fanning the flame of something already baking in nature’s oven. As the dog evolved to adapt his prey instinct to man’s ways—which was inevitable, for he was already socially flexible given his preadaptation to group life—the prey instinct was fine-tuned even further to a precise tolerance through eons of history and right up into the modern era.”

In the seventies I realized that looking through the lens of the immediate-moment, i.e. resisting the intellectual reflex to project human thoughts into complex behavior, I was seeing inside an instinct, and thus able to parse apart behaviors and discover its one-to-one correlates otherwise hidden inside the dog’s mind. When one is the “helper” in police work, one quite literally becomes the dog’s prey. And this revealed a universal operating system of animal consciousness, common to all species of animals, not just the dog. The dog was our electron microscope, a particle accelerator, opening a window into nature unavailable through any other means. The immediate-moment manner of analysis allowed me to put all my judgments, opinions and dogmas aside to the best of my emotional capacity at the time, and let the dog teach me what was going on inside his mind.
Despite overwhelming resistance from the consensus, Natural Dog Training has been ahead of the curve on the matter of neutering, domestication, encouraging the prey drive with letting dogs win the tug, the thermodynamic nature of learning, behavior and social structure, but most of all on the nature of the dog. So as modern science confirms the special relationship between dog and wolf in its account of domestication, as modern training increasingly shifts its techniques to a prey-making based model, next will come the primacy of the hunt over pack life, and finally, the notion of emotional capacity rather than high cognition. The consensus on dogs has been wrong at every juncture. So in the meantime, my suggestion, don’t bank on consensus. Let your dog become your teacher.

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Published February 1, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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5 responses to “Domestication and Natural Dog Training”

  1. Joyce Miller says:

    You wrote: “Let your dog become your teacher. ” Fortunately, that is what my mother taught me in the early 1950s. My mother really understood dogs and she loved them. We had Boxers, and thanks to one of those deals that the dog had to be bred and a puppy returned to the breeder, my mother got into breeding and showing Boxers. And we had lots of Boxers. My mother taught me how to read the dogs, how to let them be my teacher, and she never worried when I was out somewhere with one of our dogs. One of those Boxers liked to follow me to school, and I could look out the window and my dog was right there watching (regardless of which window on which side of the building I looked out of).

    I really appreciate your work, Kevin, and what you teach us all about being with dogs. Thank you.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    It was helpful speaking with you the other day. I enjoy the blog and am in the middle of Natural Dog Training. It gives me a lot of hope for me and my dog, Edmund. Thank you and I hope to be able to work with you.

  3. b... says:

    “Human Interaction as Environmental Enrichment for Pair-Housed Wolves and Wolf–Dog Crosses”

  4. Neil says:

    In my opinion, studying the behavior of dogs must be categorized by two. Its either if a dog is from the wild or domesticated. However, such classification must not be strictly followed or based upon since we can view the domesticated behavior of dogs as a new form of animal instinct. The classification may only be considered when one strictly wants to study the natural behavior of dogs as most commonly present in the past. 🙂

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    Please explain how the behavior of domesticated dogs is a new form of animal instinct.

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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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