Fear and Safety

Remember the first time you sat on a bike before being launched down the drive, or the first time sitting behind the wheel of a car, or horror of horrors, looking down from the diving board on your very first jump into the deep end? Scary stuff… at first. So how were these feats which at first seemed overwhelming, ultimately subsumed into a feeling of safety? I ask because owners of fearful dogs are confronted with this very question.

In the scenarios above, what were we actually afraid of, what specifically is a state of fear? A proper answer couldn’t involve human thoughts since fear existed many eons before the evolution of human verbal expression. Therefore we can’t invoke a chronologically rooted narrative as in: I was afraid of jumping off the diving board because I might get water up my nose, or I was afraid of crashing the car and getting yelled at, or I was afraid of skinning my knee if I couldn’t stay on the bike. These may describe ones’ thoughts about their fear, articulated in terms of future consequences, but they don’t actually embody the underlying fear because fear evolved in primitive organisms well before such life forms were able to think about future consequences.

Secondly, how did that fear eventually go away, what was it replaced by: what eventually led to the feeling that bike riding, driving a car and cannonballing into the pool from as high as one could make the board catapult their body, was an exhilaratingly positive experience? Was it by focusing on the positive and by coming to believe that the world was an inherently safe place, or was it by mastering “the negative?”

Meanwhile what does the marketplace of ideas have to say on the subject of fearful dogs? I’ve copied the following from a dog training site that posits the premise that a foundation of positivity is the basis of trust and a feeling of safety. It lists three fundamental steps:

“1 Help the dog be safe and feel safe.”

“2 Use desensitization and counterconditioning to change the dog’s emotional response to triggers.”

“3 Use positive reinforcement to teach the dog behaviors.”

“Keeping a dog safe ( item #1) can consist of the following things.”

▪Creating a hiding place for the dog if they are scared of you or any member of your family

▪Looking away from the dog if eye contact scares her

▪Setting up indoor gates and “airlocks” to prevent the dog from accidental contact with family members, visitors, or other animals

▪Setting up an indoor potty area if the dog is afraid of the outdoors or leashes or doorways or traffic noises or…..

▪Blocking windows or using window film

▪Playing white noise or non-dramatic music to mask scary sounds (only if the dog isn’t scared of the music itself)

▪Disabling your doorbell

▪Simply not having people over

▪Ignoring the dog▪Blocking windows or using window film

▪Playing white noise or non-dramatic music to mask scary sounds (only if the dog isn’t scared of the music itself)

▪Disabling your doorbell

▪Simply not having people over

▪Ignoring the dog

▪Comforting the dog (assuming you are not scary to her) when she is afraid

▪Protecting your dog from the advances of scary strangers (or even friends)

▪Being directive with veterinary staff about the dog’s needs

▪Exercising the dog in the yard instead of taking her for walks (if she’s not afraid in the yard)

▪Driving her to remote areas for walks (assuming she’s not scared of leashes, you, or riding in the car)

“If some of these things seem really hard, well, they are. Having a fearful dog is much more work and takes more emotional stamina than is widely known.”

I agree with the author to the extent that it’s better to isolate the dog than giving it the freedom to react badly, but seriously, tinting the windows and indoor potty zones? This crosses over into enabling fear and furthermore misapprehends the nature of fear.

The article goes on to argue in points #2 and #3 that fearful states are emotionally neutralized by desensitization and giving the dog counter actions to take. And here again we can retrace our own steps and ask, when we looked down from the scary diving board did we next hop off and go shoot basketballs to change our emotional affective signature?

Also if a dog is so afraid that one has to tint the windows, then therefore it is constantly “over-threshold” and one might as well start getting the dog working through problems because there is no safe place for such a dog unless you’re going to add to the list renting a decommissioned NORAD silo for the duration of the dog’s rehab.

We could begin by noting that one didn’t come to enjoy bike riding, car driving or cliff diving by becoming desensitized or counter conditioned. Rather, one acquires a feeling of safety by confronting and learning to control the negative. Mastering the negative makes one feel safe. A negative is that which can interrupt “flow.” Once one can sustain a feeling of flow by turning interrupts into guardrails, then one is able to hop in the car and enjoy whizzing along and taking in the pretty flowers and the smell of fresh mowed lawn because at any instant one is fully prepared to hit the brakes if around the next bend there happens to be a deer in the road, a cop running radar or a car stalled in our lane. We don’t become desensitized or counter responsive to negatives, rather we integrate them into our feeling of flow. They become guardrails and it is mastery of these negatives that confer the sense of safety when driving a car.

No matter how positive ones’ views of the world may be, that doesn’t help one become calm in an intense situation, a race car driver doesn’t learn how to be calm taking a turn at 180 mph by cultivating a feeling of positivity. A race car driver learns how to push through their fear so that they are able to feel what’s going on in the car, the traction of the tires on the road, power from the engine, smoothness of the transmission, and most especially, a feeling for the center of gravity constantly shifting through the system due to forces of acceleration. And so while yes certain positive things have to happen as preliminary to enjoying jumping off the diving board; knowing how to swim would be a good prerequisite, nevertheless one doesn’t become desensitized to the fear of falling, instead one becomes AROUSED by it. A state of arousal neutralizes the fear of falling by turning it into the pleasure of flow. The rapid rate of acceleration which previously felt overwhelming becomes thrilling. Turning sensitivity to arousal is a function of one’s emotional response to resistance.

For example, entering high school I was borderline agoraphobic and I realized that playing football was my only way of integrating myself into high school society. I could see no other way forward given an inability to engage normally. The resistance was too great. However everything about football felt like an interrupt rather than a guardrail, the helmet, the pads, the people. Now on one level I was choosing voluntarily to play football. But on a deeper level I didn’t feel there was a choice. I knew I had to do it. There was no way out if I was going to have anyone to talk to in the cafeteria. And as a matter of fact football kept getting worse and worse until it couldn’t get any worse. It was until late in my Junior year that I began to love football, even getting hit during a game.

As a 99 lb weakling freshman, I was terrified of my teammates and I didn’t even dare to entertain the monsters who inhabited the other side of the line of scrimmage. I could not fathom my teammates who actually looked forward to game day. Fortunately I never made the travel squad since my job was to be cannon fodder in practice and at home games I became a master of invisibility so coach never caught my eye when looking down to the end of the bench. But by the end of my Junior year, by now a strapping 125 lb. weakling (my nickname was “Stick”), I found myself in a game due to a string of injuries. I entered the game in a numbing daze, I couldn’t feel my legs or arms. Yet once I heard that first cheer from the crowd when I tripped up a running back by a spasmodic flailing of gangly arms reaching out from under a pile of bodies I managed to collectively trip by getting in everyone’s way, all of a sudden all the terror turned into exhilaration. In one instant I got the point of football and this immediately led to a profound emotional bond with my teammates. Nothing about my teammates changed, I changed. Nothing about the game of football changed to accommodate me. Something in me shifted to accommodate the game of football. The ball became my new center of gravity.

What does mastering the negative look like in dog training? When frightened, will your dog nonetheless look you in the eye while sitting squarely and give you a deep throated, full bodied, metered bark? If you point to a toy on the ground will he leap on it and with a full mouth and calm grip prance about with his tail flagging high? If you want to rub his belly will he flip over onto his back and begin to groan in pleasure? If you show him a treat will he push through the resistance you make in your other hand with all his might? Will he do any and all of this no-matter-what? If so then he’s learning how to master the negative and sooner or later all that fear will go away because all fear is, is the collapse of a state of attraction. The above exercises increase a dog’s arousal to the experience of resistance because it causes a dog to give up his focus on preserving his bodily equilibrium and this then shifts him into a group modality. When a social being is connected to a group, interrupts become guardrails.

Overcoming resistance is what I learned in football. Once I began to crave the cheer of the crowd and the smiles of my teammates I began to want that ball more than I was afraid of being hit. I wanted to get my hands on that ball more than I wanted to live. My hunger for the ball began to displace my fear of falling, which is all failing at anything really represents. (And let me tell you, all that repressed emotion came out in a gusher, “Way to Go STICK!!!)

So if you live with a fearful dog, it’s okay if once in a while your dog gets a skinned knee or water goes up its nose, and don’t order window tint and try to blot out the outside world. It’s the cheer of the crowd your dog craves when he brings the prey back to the den. Your dog just has to want that damn ball!

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Published June 19, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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32 responses to “Fear and Safety”

  1. Leah says:

    Beautifully written. If more people understood this concept, we’d all be a lot happier not only as dog owners, but as human beings. And we’d be able to turn reactive dogs into active dogs. Getting ourselves free of window films and other barriers!

  2. Julie Forlizzo says:

    I was once told by a behaviorist that when a dog experiences pain (he was referring to the electric collar), the dog will develop an unnatural fear of death. Do dogs fear death? Why are wolves in the wild so aware of their environment, and is it fear that keeps them alert? I realize house pets and wild wolves may be apples and oranges, but are they both concerned with staying away from danger? Is it an innate characteristic?

  3. joanne frame says:

    Thankyou for this really ‘open’ post Kevin. As I read it it resonated with stuff I’ve been thinking about. You said ‘nothing about my teammates changed. I changed. nothing about the game of football changed to accommodate me.’ You used the example to put forward your argument for the NDT philosophy in handling the fear in a dog. The example you are reflecting on however is the HUMAN’S approach to the fear of the dog…and you are using a logical rational argument to suggest an alternative. But few humans’ approach, on anything, is based on a logical rational view. To quote an NLP presupposition ‘people make the best choice they can at the time’ . I rationally know that your principles are TRUE. I know that and yet I still struggle to apply and get the results that (i think) I want, and part of that is uncovering the barriers in me! I can’t help feeling (i want to apologise for this next bit but know I shouldn’t…!) that the argument you are using for persuading others of how fear is overcome in a dog is ignoring your own advice.
    if you consider that how a person handles a dog is based on their own beliefs, including their fears, that primal feeling that came before thought, then logical rational argument can’t, by your own argument, be totally effective. In a way, the dog handler of the material you cite, IS mastering the negative…not letting her dogs in ‘awful’ situations. The downside is, like my approach to not being able to guarantee a recall with my dogs and not letting them off in open spaces…while its controlling the negative…It’s not supporting flow. Hmmmm not sure I’ve done a good job if explaining what I’m trying to say here. I’ll see what comes back!…reminding me if another NLP presupposition that seems pertinent here ‘the meaning of the communication is not simply what you intend but also the response you get’

  4. Kim says:

    Great article and I fully agree. The fastest way past fear is through the fear.

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    I appreciate the struggle it takes to articulate the kind of thing you’re driving at, but feel free to elaborate as I’m not quite sure what the inconsistency is as you see it. Very interesting question and I know it’s coming from a good place so look forward to your elaboration, thanks,

  6. Kevin Behan says:

    I don’t think the dog develops a sense of impending mortality, I think that electricity being a disembodied force, makes the dog more uncertain of his balance and footing, therefore more in need of assigning a predator to the stimulation, and most especially if it’s applied in a crude way. Todays’ trainer is much more sophisticated, but I still think it puts a burden on its balance circuitry, most especially if the dog is already too electric to begin with.

  7. Kevin Behan says:

    That’s a good way to put it, thanks,

  8. Joanne Frame says:

    I’ll try and explain further – Thankyou for you patience. (underline doesn’t work so I have used CAPITALS to emphasise tow main points – apologies if it looks a bit aggressive!)
    I am addressing in particular what I see as part of your work in TRYING TO INCREASE THE UNDERSTANDING ON YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON THE NATURE OF THE DOG. As an example, this post is putting the advice of one dog owner under your microscope and challenging the recommendations of how to deal with a fearful dog. You provide a very thorough example of how you overcame your fear of football to meet a need to connect, to socialise with people at your school. You describe very well the reason for making the effort, the fear involved in the process and the ‘lightbulb’ moment when you finally ‘felt’ differently about football and the fear changed to connection and a sense of flow (I hope my paraphrasing is still covering what you were describing). Your argument includes the logic that fear can not be removed by thought, because the state of fear existed eons before the evolution of human expression. And that overcoming the fear is achieved by working through the fear, as one of your other commenters put it so succintly.

    Playing devil’s advocate, I am considering the position of the people that don’t think like you, people who deal with the dog’s nature differently from you, the example here is the writer that you quote on how to deal with fearful dogs. How that person believes the dog should be treated will be based on the writer’s view of the world, their beliefs and values. When I read the examples given, I hear a person that wants to keep the dog free from any discomfort and anxiety. The method by which this is to be achieved? by avoiding all such situations and giving them other ‘nice’ things or distracting things instead, protecting them. It seems logical to presume that the writer’s belief about how to deal with fearful dogs reflects how they feel about fear themselves – that fear is a bad thing and to be avoided at all costs, which could be extrapolated to be described as a fear of fear (?!) To requote you, fear is not logical, it’s a state that existed before the evolution of human expression. (I believe a lot of us humans go around our daily lives with a general noise level of fear that we are not fully aware of, in many cases it drives how we live without us being fully conscious of it). So, if we have, if this writer has, a fear of fear at the unconscious level, and you’re saying that fear is not removed by cognitive thought, then I am suggesting, IRONICALLY YOUR LOGICAL ARGUMENT WON’T HELP THE WRITER, AND PEOPLE WITH SIMILAR BELIEFS BECAUSE THEIR BELIEF IS FEAR-BASED. I don’t know if this will help or hinder my explanation but I remember a quote Sunny made in Indiana that has stuck with me and seems pertinent to what I am trying to say…”If you get it you got it”, ie ‘if you have had that experience then you understand that experience’, the opposite presumably is – if you haven’t had that experience, then you won’t be able to understand it’ My apologies for giving anyone a headache

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    Now I get your point. So the question is how might one construct an argument that could influence the mind set of someone who is afraid of fear since rational argument can’t reach them which would be helpful for me to do if I want to reach others that are of a different mindset than mine? I don’t know but I think stories are helpful if someone can place themselves within the experience. Otherwise I would like to say that fear is a choice, we may not see we have a choice, but on a very deep and heroic level so to speak, there is a choice. This is why it’s important to understand the nature of fear, it’s a rapid cascade of sensations when a state of attraction collapses. So because it’s not elemental, therefore it’s possible to become a neutral observer of said collapse, and it’s also possible to maintain a focus on the underlying attractor which exists deeper than the fear while experiencing these intense sensations. Unfortunately, at the moment fear is being presented as a prime emotion that is irreducible, and also as an instinct so that there is no possibility of choice. The most important prime mover in a complex emotional being, and the glue of social cohesion and connection, is Rage. Rage changes the definition of a “negative” in one’s mind so that it can be apprehended as a guardrail, as an enabler of flow, rather than as an interrupt. So what is disturbing in the treatment of the dog as a helpless victim that must be cocooned in a shrink wrapped bubble of positivity so that it can metamorphosis into a beautiful social butterfly is that it denies the true nature of the dog. Fearful dogs actively choose to be afraid, not in a cognitive manipulative way, not to be difficult, but because they can’t feel flow. In a way they’re not being given that choice. Their Rage on the other hand is how they could be able to feel flow, which is why left to their own demise eventually their fear comes out in some “angry” way when the circumstances are right and they can’t hold it back any longer. This is also why the positive camp is okay with drugging fearful dogs because they are trying to insulate them from feeling their Rage, this is what the guilt paradigm is all about on every level. Becoming comfortable with Rage allows one to have a choice in regards to fear, to become a calm observer of the collapse, and then to recast a negative into an access-to-the-positive construct, i.e. flow. Furthermore it allows the social individual to become discriminatory and fine grained in the application of Rage, paradoxically as it may appear, granting ultimate impulse control under the most difficult circumstances, most especially those that used to induce fear.

  10. Sam says:

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post.

    I’ve read that flooding doesn’t work with dogs (or other animals) – that they might shut down instead or lash out. So how would you help a dog face and work through fear without overwhelming him?

    If I may also ask, what practical exercises would you recommend for a 2.5 year-old border collie who is a little too alert to the environment – scanning – and downright terrified of fireworks?

  11. Joanne Frame says:

    Thankyou for understanding me! and thankyou for the further elaboration, which helps my understanding. The idea of story-telling has been something that has occurred to me for engaging people in my work as well. I think there it is a lot of potential in that approach. I have to say I still find it difficult to allow rage in myself to be acceptable (so I will project that onto my dogs) and I think many people will be similar- intellectually it makes sense, and how you describe it makes sense. And I do have angry outbursts, but I still judge against them, following up with guilt and remorse.

  12. Kevin Behan says:

    Shutting down is hard to deal with. But were he to lash out, if done in a skillful way, that can easily be harnessed into healing. The safest way is to use hunger, fasting the dog if necessary so that the fear is “digested” when the food is given. Secondly, the easiest way for a dog to process fear, which is always due to the sensations inherent in falling, is to give him balance challenges that a dog is innately equipped to solve. Thought experiment, if a highly fearful dog were to find itself thrown into the water, would it freeze, or swim? No matter how fearful a dog might be For example taking a dog to a playground and setting up struggles for him to get up on a platform of some sort. This works because the antidote to fear is to fight for what one wants, and the easiest way to induce a want is to create a balance challenge and the dog fights to reacquire what it wants most, a secure grip on reality. Another form of expressing fear healthfully is to incite barking. Let me provide its basis. Your dog is looking for a predator. A dog looks for a predator in order to find an Object for its fear. Panic for example is the absence of an object as an attractor. Without an object, a dog can’t discern a source of force. Without a source of force, a dog can’t generate a counter force to restore equilibrium, hence the panic. This is why fireworks are so terrifying, most especially susceptible being “friendly” dogs. What I would do to prepare your dog for fireworks is to have a helper play boogey man in the woods, skulking about at a distance with your hope being for your dog to start growling/barking and then you start loving her up for generating a counter force. Additionally if you teach your dog the core exercises and are able to get her to do so during fireworks, that would be great. Get bubble wrap to practice against that kind of staccato-plastic-popping predator noise. Also, during these noise sessions, start to maw your dog and try to get her to use her jaws and mouth you by grabbing her folds and pushing her to a point of anger/arousal. Then post her up and while someone uses low grade scary sound, stalk her to become the object of her fear, and see if you can then go to her and induce making and then ultimately get her to push/bark/bite-carry/belly rub/collect to fully process that noise by countering it and bringing it to “ground.” Good luck.

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    Interesting, so maybe you are “running away” from your Rage? The difference between Rage and anger/guilt, is that the latter is time-goal-person driven, the former is truth driven. The latter is precipitated by sensations of collapse in the chest, the former is characterized by a welling up of energy to the chest. The latter is a load/overload enervating phenomenon. The former is a steady state energizing phenomenon. Anger will get you quicker to Rage than guilt, so very important to not indulge in judgment against it, that will prevent you from harnessing it by becoming a silent observer to the collapse sensations. If you recall from your physics, light is the sequential collapse of electric and magnetic fields, each recapitulating the other, on and on. So by becoming comfortable with the sensations of collapse, as we do when we come to enjoy jumping off the diving board, the emotion and feelings that are buried by the anger will become stronger and one’s emotional capacity increases until they can’t be made angry.

  14. Joanne Frame says:

    Interesting = I was equating anger with rage – I’m not sure I’ve ever felt rage. I’ll hae to look out for it

  15. Kevin Behan says:

    Trust me, we all have Rage.

  16. Stephen Mace says:

    The underlying assumption applied in this discussion is that dogs experience fear or that their behavior responses are sourced from fear. This is absolutely NOT TRUE! Dogs are instinctual predators and, as such, all of their behaviors will be sourced from prey drive. Prey drive behavior is triggered within the pack structure and also as the pack encounters stimulus that is external or foreign to the pack structure. These are all the behaviors that people bring their dogs to trainers for in order to achieve command & control over them in a modern domestic setting. Through selective breeding, you can shape the dog’s prey drive behavior action to be specific for the work desired. Some dogs can have a high prey drive while others can have a medium or even low prey drive.

  17. Joanne Frame says:

    I don’t doubt you – but I’m not sure how to recognise it…I will have to nurture the anger to introduce myself to the hidden rage

  18. Kevin Behan says:

    Appreciate your thoughtful comment and enjoy such discussions of theory. I presume you’re not familiar with my model so I will add that the first theorist to suggest that all canine behavior is a function of prey drive is yours truly— “Natural Dog Training” 1992. Also, my underlying assumption, which might not be clear from this article is that all behavior, even fear, is sourced from an underlying state of attraction, and that the dynamics of this are universal to all species. From this perspective, I would qualify that the prey drive not be regarded as an instinct, although indeed there is such a thing as a prey instinct. In my model instincts are triggered by sensations affiliated with a collapse of a state of attraction and when this is intense enough, it triggers a prey instinct, a state in which a dog cannot take inputs (as opposed to prey drive). I would further add that the prey drive precedes pack structure which is why we can on rare occasion observe deer to play with each other, and even with dogs, through the prey drive sequence of motor actions. I have observed this on occasion, and talked to others who have as well, and You Tube of course is full of these. Again this speaks to its universality across the bandwidth of animal consciousness. In my model, prey drive is predicated on emotion so that a “preyful essence” is basis of all emotional states of attraction, in meat eaters as well as in plant eating species. If we consider evolution to be the emergence of the complex from the simple, even single celled organisms are making-prey, ingesting nutrients, hunting for algae, bacterium etc. And the simplest and earliest interaction between two single celled organisms was one ingesting the other. (symbiogenesis posits that organisms evolved by one ingesting the other and incorporating its DNA into its genome, rather than by random mutations) I believe this evolved into symbiotic affiliative relationships, multi-cellular organisms, ultimately, male/female sexual reproduction, then parent-offspring and then finally social peer-to-peer systems. My theory is that as animals “hungered” for larger prey, they began to affiliate with other like hungered organisms and form cohesive collectivized units. This increases their “emotional capacity” the ability to turn rates of change into information, i.e. social structure. However this was driven by the prey species becoming more and more defensive and collectivized under the pressure of being hunted. At any rate, my logic is that the hunt begat the pack, not the other way around. In regards to selective breeding, I propose that we’re not really selecting for variable prey drive per se, by which I mean that one breed has more prey drive than another. More specifically we are selecting for “prey threshold,” in other words the size of the prey to be hunted. This in my view is what fundamentally differentiates one breed from another. Thus while a spaniel might be intimidated by man work and one might say he lacks prey drive, at the same time a guard breed of dog is quickly frustrated by chasing small prey and a huntsman might say that “dog won’t hunt.” A bird dog can hunt all day, a terrier can rat all day and so thermodynamically speaking, the resistance that is overcome, the amount of work that can be done, is the same as a hard hitting police dog. Furthermore, the well bred spaniel returns the kill to the hunter with a soft mouth and is not upset by loud gunfire, so here we observe prey drive versus prey instinct because the essence of the former is impulse control, whereas the latter represents a collapse of a state of attraction into the reflex to bite (or panic if that’s not possible) that is uncontrollable in the problem dog. A cat for example manifests some degree of prey drive in returning the kill to its young, so this soft mouth in dogs didn’t evolve out of thin air, however it’s just that their prey threshold is too low in cats and so their drive can’t be sustained and carried forward into working with humans. Whereas even field dogs evolved from wolves, as all breeds did, and thus have a very high prey drive since wolves hunt large dangerous prey that one individual can’t overcome on its own. They also hunt small prey collectively, which again is reflective of a high prey drive, simply manifesting in this context via a low-prey threshold orientation. In the overall I do indeed agree that the prey instinct is the grist for most of behavioral remediation mill in the family dog training marketplace.

  19. Kevin Behan says:

    If you don’t judge against the anger, or the guilt, the underlying stuff will percolate to the surface and you can become aware of it.

  20. Stephen Mace says:

    I appreciate your response. I also study dog behavior. To extend on what I first wrote is to say that I believe dogs do not have or experience emotions. I will also suggest that prey drive action which is the action we humans often call “aggressive” is the observable manifestation of the prey drive instinct stimulated by the prey. What triggers the prey drive action is by sight, sound, smell,or taste (or any combination of) the dog then triggers on the prey. Generically I have observed prey drive action is triggered when a stimulus is demonstrating dominant and or unstable communication. This can be in the pack structure or when encountering a stimulus foreign to the pack. A pack can be made up of humans and dogs, and many other things in the modern domestic environment.

    The analysis of dog behavior therefore should be devoid of any hint of the humanization of dog behavior in order to factually discuss, modify, train and even breed dogs. What attracted me to your blog was that you were talking about dogs and fear. Fear is a common descriptor and is a primary reason for the slippery slope the pet industry is now on concerning the training, treatment, and care of dogs. A common example of humanizing the analysis of dog behavior is when dog owners say that their 2 dogs are “playing”. I think anyone would agree that there is emotion packed into the active word “play”. Observing that behavior, I label “play” as “sparring”, taking the emotion out of it. Another common example of a humanization of dog behavior is to suggest that a dog “likes” or “dislikes” anything. The things that people suggest their dogs “like” or “dislike” are really things or stimuli that trigger the dog’s prey drive response action to one level of stimulation vs. another.

    In your description of your model you are mixing human emotional words with what should be just observable fact about the interaction of the dogs. Please prove to me that dogs have emotion and I will modify my theories. I can certainly show with real dogs or explain it to you logically that they do not. An example of the slippery slope caused by the humanization of dog behavior is happening now in our state courts. I am often in court on the criminal level defending dogs being charged and labeled as dangerous. Unfortunately the humanization of the analysis of dog behavior has crept into the law such that the dangerous dog statutes of most of the states in the US assume dogs make emotional decisions. The classic line in most state dangerous dog statutes is that the dog did the deed (biting a companion animal or human) unprovoked. This is absolute nonsense as prey drive action is instinct and therefore by definition ALWAYS provoked. A human can do things out of emotion and the observable behavior looks unprovoked. Humanizing dog behavior is the reason dogs are easily labeled dangerous and work against the average dog owner. It also seemingly works against certain dog breeds or more truthfully dogs with high prey drives. High means the prey drive action triggers with high frequency and high intensity. These are the 2 components I study when exposing dogs to stimuli. Intensity is related to how damaging is the result of the dog’s mouth on the stimulus or prey.

  21. Kevin Behan says:

    I’m not usually categorized by my critics as being of the humanizing camp, I’m regularly thrashed for being at the opposite Descartes’ spectrum of mechanist. But I am neither and I think I’ve made the case that my definition of fear does not have anything to do with human psychology. I treat emotion as energy, and it operates according to principles of physics. So it’s not that we have to humanize animals to talk of emotion and behavior, rather we have to search for the animal in the human to find the commonality, one which has been confirmed by the latest neurological research. Simply put, emotion is animal energy, the human animal included. Therefore in my model it’s not anthropomorphic to speak of emotion. It is simply a virtual force of attraction. In my model it’s not possible that a dog either likes or dislikes something, I use a term of emotional conductivity to explain differential emotional responses to various stimuli and contexts. That said, emotion as attraction renders a different interpretation for play, than play (or sparring for that matter) but I’ll leave that for a further discussion. We seem to have certain points of agreement, for example I too don’t believe anything is unprovoked, and I fear the same slippery slope of the law attempting to personify animals. I do challenge the notion that the prey drive is the same as instinct as if this were true, it would not be possible for dogs to herd sheep with full intensity and yet not focus on one to bite, and yet do bite the one that confronts the dog, and listen to the sheep herder to come off the bite once the point is made, that’s what I mean about Prey Drive being receptive to inputs. Prey instinct can’t do that. I would ask you therefore to offer a definition of emotion and fear, and why you consider it to be a psychology that is reserved for the human mind.

  22. Stephen Mace says:

    I say everything to you respectfully and hope I have not insulted you in any way in this discussion. You offer an interesting model, however, your model does utilize some of the same words and definitions as used in human psychology. Dogs lack the frontal lobe and certainly do not experience complex or executive level functioning. I cannot give you a definition for emotion and fear because I do not believe dogs experience it. They are pack animals and pack up for survival and not emotional reasons. I go with the motto “there are NO bad dogs in nature”.

    The herding dog’s prey drive action is perfected through selective breeding and exhibits an inhibited action when exposed to the stimulus. This is also perfected with “well bred” retrievers or bird dogs, as the hunter does not want the game to be mauled by the dog. Selective breeding by man is what creates these working dogs.

  23. Kevin Behan says:

    I do appreciate that you are commenting in the spirit of a good debate and also from the vantage of informed clinical experience. This format is very constraining so things appear to be terse and brusque when that is not the intention so I read your responses in light of that, and I hope I come across in kind.
    So I would counter that a sheep herding dog is not inhibited. I rely on Manfred Heinz as an ultimate authority here, and he selected for an uninhibited bite in his pups, this gives him the raw material to work with and whenever he singles out a sheep to be grabbed, the dog strikes with a full mouth bite on its neck until commanded to let go. Similarly, when border collies get loose in NZ/Australia, they are known to maraud and kill sheep, and when one bite trains one, one also finds that they aren’t lacking the final sequence to prey instinct, rather a more complex flow pattern has been built upon the more primordial one. When loose in the wild and a primordial hunger and “charge” takes over, this channeled behavior quickly falls apart. All that selective breeding and training gone in less than a week. I also don’t believe that man created anything through selective breeding, if this were so then we could breed a cat or chimp to be a working companion but this will prove impossible. My theory is that domestication didn’t create the dog, but rather amplified the simplest part of the wolf.

    The soft mouth is also not a function of inhibition, but rather a recognition of Self in another, exactly analogous to how immune system, and the jaw muscles, discriminate between Self and non-Self. I won’t go into this in further depth but to say that positing one dog as a self-contained cognate relative to other self-contained cognates, as if each have their own individuated motives, is by definition a human psychological treatment. My argument is that unless one is using an energy logic, then one is using a human psychological one, and this would include the notion of survival. In my view this is a thought, a cognitive awareness of a future consequence and therefore can not be a player in the mind of an animal. My model proposes a principle of conductivity as explanation for complex systems behavior, and I base the notions of emotion, stress and fear on this principle rather than a human rationale. Calling survival an instinct merely belays the problem off to a gene, but this is obscuring the problem rather than addressing it. Just as electrical energy runs to ground, not for any reason of replication, genes also are about “grounding” energy, they replicate according to energetic principles, not the rationale of replication. For example, when we see self-replicating mineral crystals, we recognize that it is a principle of energy that dictates which ones prevail and which ones are consumed in the process, there is no drive to replicate or competition between them.

  24. Stephen Mace says:

    I am not familiar with Wilfred Heinz or his work. Can you provide or point me to a source of information on him?

  25. Kevin Behan says:

    Here’s the definitive site on his work, carried on by Ellen Nickelsberg,


  26. b... says:

    Perhaps it would elucidate things if emotion is defined as the currency for exchange of energy between two animals. I don’t know if that definition is strictly concordant with NDT theory, but that’s how I think of it in order to understand how it can apply at the most primal level.

    Most think of “emotion” as what might also be called feeling, which might be defined as the visceral sensation (and in cognitive beings, also attached to story, or an idea, since they have the benefit of language) that one experiences when they’re triggered by a stimulus.

    Looking at it from the neurochemical point of view, if you consider that even amoeba produce serotonin, for example… and you agree that serotonin is a chemical marker of the capacity for emotion, as it affects mood in more complex animals, and since behaviorists attribute behavior to its effects… then you might surmise that even very basic organisms experience emotion. Such a notion is outside the realm of psychology. Granted the neurochemical model of behavior is limiting, but I think you could make this argument if that’s your thing.

  27. b... says:

    ^that should read: “and *if* you agree that serotonin…”

  28. Kevin Behan says:

    I never got around to writing an article in rebuttal to LGB’s “I Mammal” thesis that social structure depends on dominance impulses, which individually manifest as a desire to maintain a pleasurable blend of neurochemicals. In her book she writes of Locusts being endowed with Serotonin and how it’s affiliated with hunger. Well thanks to Couzins’ research at Princeton on collectivized behavior, through the mystery of many missing locusts in his controlled experiments, he discovered that when locusts get hungry, they try to eat each other, this causes them to want to flee each other, and so we have two impulses, attraction plus momentum, in other words; hunger plus balance. This then causes them to organize into a swarm and they are thereby collectively whisked away to where there is abundant food and then the self-organizing impulse of cannibalism dissipates as they disperse to consume all the crops rather than each other. Therefore the more logical and parsimonious interpretation of social behavior is that neurochemicals are in service to hunger and balance so as to implement a principle of conductivity that ultimately factors out into complex, hierarchal social behavior. This has been misinterpreted as a dominance principle that is then seen as verified by the action of neurochemicals. Is one locust trying to dominate or eat the other? Is one dog trying to dominate or ingest the other, and if the latter, are not hormones/neurochemicals the mechanism of deflecting from the ingestive to the collective impulse through a sensualizing impulse, i.e. “animal magnetism?”

  29. b... says:

    Are you proposing that the drive for increased “status” (“dominance”) and the resultant “happy chemicals” in humans that LGB writes about is a function of hunger, like with the locusts? That sort of competitive framework, and the need for social validation, seems to me to be a product of fear (balance concern).

  30. Kevin Behan says:

    Don’t forget that hunger and balance always work together, it’s like magnetism and electricity, can’t have one without the other since displacement of hunger/balance continuum is what generates emotion. In humans there is such a thing as status due to an awareness of future consequences, for animals, it’s the flow quotient that emerges from the balance/hunger ratio. So in a group, balance serves as a tuning metric that sorts individuals out into a flow configuration. This has been misinterpreted as competition that leads to social status. When there’s a fear of disconnection, indeed, that is the balance concern. In the group hunt, hunger stronger than balance. In the pack, balance stronger than hunger. But it is the group which creates the bonds that reduce the aggression, not the pack.

  31. Pat says:

    My dog has an issue that has me stumped. She can be relaxed and okay outside the agility ring, but, inside, she panics and just runs in circle, I cease to exist. She is very sensitive to my emotions, which I work very hard at staying calm. I can’t help having some adrenalin, it is a little bit necessary to be successful in the agility ring. She used to panic in class, but has finally calmed down there, as long as people don’t get too close to her. I am careful to keep myself between her and the judge, but there are bar setters sitting there, and they may look at her, which is a bad thing to her. I am trying to train her to accept people touching her, and finally, approaching her. What would you suggest?

  32. Kevin Behan says:

    Forget about trying to be calm, that has nothing to do with her problem. The original “kink” is still there (which is why people can’t get too close) and it is transferring into the agility ring because “the charge” is trying to come out and your expert management system in other situations is keeping it from finding a release. But this is apparently not possible in the ring so all that held back energy is coming out. She’s panicked because she doesn’t have an OBJECT that can absorb and conduct the intensity of the Charge. So what you need to do is master the core exercises, solve the people problem and then return to the ring and work on the core exercises rather than the actual exercises. Then you and the bite toy will become the object that can absorb and conduct the charge, and she will associate the other people and the plastic/metal reflective objects as part of the feeling of flow.

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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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