“How Dogs Work” Part Two


Whenever Coppinger inquires into the nature of the dog, conventional thinking and cherished romantic notions are quick to fall by the wayside. In “Work”  Coppinger has pushed the limits of the current paradigm to its breaking point, which is why it is a seminal book. Yet at the same time, the power of his argument ends up begging a far more fundamental question. I’m writing the following post to ask and answer this deeper question and in the process this will draw distinctions between my argument and Coppinger’s. Nevertheless I don’t want to present a critical tone. “Work” is a ground breaking book and interestingly there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of it in dogdom. I wonder why. Given the strictures of the current paradigm I appreciate Coppinger’s step-by-step progression and I also find his candor particularly refreshing. “Work” allows us to integrate thermodynamics and the laws of motion with the domain of behavior and cognition.

In his earlier book “Dogs” Coppinger makes a compelling case for the domestication of the dog resulting from the invention of villages and the inevitable village dump. In the dump scenario, when disturbed by the advance of a human, the most approachable of any given set of wolves would prove to be the last to leave and the first to return. In this way the suite of neurochemicals associated with the trait of approachability were inadvertently being selected for since these more approachable wolves would end up getting more to eat. Eventually, and a Russian fox breeding experiment reveals that it wouldn’t take much time, the “village dog” emerges. However, since selecting for the trait of approachability so readily produced a proto-fox-dog in the Russian breeding experiment, where then are the fox-dogs? The village dump has now been around for millennia and so Coppinger’s argument begs the question: why did only the wolf produce a domesticated version as opposed to coyotes, not to mention bears, raccoons and o’possums? There must therefore be something unique about wolves, apart from the trait of approachability, or which possibly underwrites the trait of approachability, and which made the wolf amenable to the village dump process of selection. This furthermore means that a legacy of scavenging and a state of dependency on humans can’t be what makes a dog a dog.

Likewise in “How Dogs Work” Coppinger makes a compelling case for the overwhelming influence of shape. Coppinger’s thesis is that the shape of the parts that make an organism determine the shape of the organism, determine the shape of its movements and ultimately, the shape of the mind that directs its movements. Genes don’t encode for the mind that makes the movements, rather, the mind is shaped by the shape of the “machinery” because it forms in accommodation to the range of movements available to it as it interacts with the world. Intrinsic rules of one part, adjust and adapt in order to accommodate the intrinsic rules of other parts, even the vast complex matrix of neuronal interconnections in the brain that are built up through experience develop in accommodation with these experiences. And from these interactions a new form of information as to how to interact with the external world emerges and produces new behavioral shapes. Therefore, certain behaviors that Dogdom has traditionally seen as the essence of intelligence, such as cooperative hunting, or as the quintessence of the dog, playfulness, barking, humping, giving paw, are according to Coppinger emergent shapes that are not genetically directed, have not been winnowed into shape by natural selection, but rather, emerge in a manner that makes them unrelated to the substrate from which they have arisen. These behaviors have no discrete explanation according to classic biological processes.

As in “Dogs,” the thesis of “Work” begs a more fundamental question: What is the shape of a movement, even of an emergent behavior such as a play bow, humping or giving paw? All movements have a shape, emergent behaviors as well, so is there one form to which all these other shapes are consonant with and so therefore due to a common shape, even emergent behaviors are related to the simpler substrate patterns from which they are purported to have emerged unscathed. Is there a “master shape” that all movements and therefore all minds have in common? And if there is a master shape—-is what makes a dog quintessentially a dog—-a function of this master shape? And hence, paradoxically, the capacity to effect the master shape under a variety of circumstances is in fact what makes a dog a dog, singular in the animal kingdom and yet paradoxically, is a uniqueness that is due to a general principle universal to all animals. This master shape and its functionality would therefore be revealed by the peculiarities for what dogs are especially known: playfulness, barking, howling, herding, humping, circling to lie down, make a bed, eliminate or search a grid, and most importantly; a readiness to perform specific tasks in conjunction with humans. In other words, is this master shape how-dogs-work?

Consider the phenomenon of play. In ethology play presents a problem.

“The fundamental problem for ethologists studying play behavior is, as we’ve said, that it doesn’t appear to have an obvious function. If that is right, it poses a profound challenge to the fundamental ethological premise that behaviors are products of natural selection. Remember that the logic of the Darwinian story of evolution is that selection favors individuals who move and act in a particular way because the functional effect of the behavior is to confer a selective advantage: it enables the animal to live long enough to produce successful offspring. We expect to be able to observe (or infer) and measure some immediate benefit: a foraging activity leads to the acquiring of calories that provide energy to drive the machine; a hazard-avoidance motor pattern reduces an imminent threat or risk to life; a reproductive act culminates in the successful fertilization of an egg. When you look at playing dogs, you do often see behaviors that resemble (parts of) the adaptive motor patterns that are associated with these functional activities. Chasing and biting, for instance, are commonly seen. But in play the functional goal of the motor pattern isn’t attained: a dog that chews up a slipper gains no caloric benefit from doing it. So what is the benefit of play? Why would any young animal expend a considerable— sometimes an extraordinary— amount of energy in playing if there is no adaptive payback in life? Could play behaviors have arisen for reasons other than as adaptive products of natural selection?”

Coppinger then goes on to show how the conventional interpretations of the beneficial aspects of play such as bonding, mental enhancement, reproductive advantage, don’t hold up to scrutiny. Coppinger concludes from a study of the play bow:

“In short, the “playing” animal is in conflict about its next move— and the play bow in fact looks just like a combination of multiple conflicting behavioral shapes. The lowered front end of a play bow is essentially identical to the posture of a canid moving toward prey in EYE > STALK; the raised hind quarters and rear legs are readied for quick flight. Like barking, we think that the shape of the play bow is a result of the animal being in two motivational states at once: it is moving toward a prey object but unable to transition into the normal next step of the predatory sequence. So we don’t believe that a play bow sequence is a special adaptive (let alone intentional) signal at all. We submit that it is an emergent effect of a dog (or wolf) simultaneously displaying two motor-pattern components when it is in multiple and conflicting states. The informational uncertainty of this emergent combinatory event could well attract the attention of a receiver and increase the chances that it would engage in some way with the sender. When it is directed to conspecifics this could facilitate a social interaction that looks like play. If this is the right way to think about the so-called play bow, however, it shouldn’t be interpreted as an adaptive signal generated by natural selection to initiate play. Nor should it encourage us to conclude that play as a whole is also adaptive.”

So, what then is the shape of two dogs playing, or in fact, of any given movement? Better asked—-What is the shape of moving well? Let us return to thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is the movement of heat, force, mass and energy. Until the Constructal law (as detailed by its discoverer Adrian Bejan in “Design In Nature”) the movement of heat, force, mass and energy was merely discussed in terms of quantitative analysis given the fact that energy always moves from a pole of high concentration to one of lesser concentration, it moves from that which can project heat, force, energy, to that which can absorb heat, force, energy. One pole has energy to give, one pole has energy to receive. Before Bejan no one cared how it got there, just how much arrived and what work might be done along the way. But as Bejan puts it, that’s like saying someone travelled from Paris to Milan without specifying how they travelled, by plane, car, train, bike? Since Bejan was designing circuit boards with conductive grids to move heat away from the machine as efficiently as possible, he had to care quite a bit about the precise path heat had to travel and in so doing he discovered a fundamental principle when he realized that he solved the problem the same way nature always does, via the Constructal law. This law reveals the precise structure of the most efficient movement—-a branching, vascularizing architecture that connects a point to an area and an area to a point so as to move more force, mass and energy farther and faster with less and less effort. This minimizes loss to the various resistances that impede movement. This is a universal “design” for all configurations whether they be animate or inanimate, whether there are naturally occurring or man made because this is the only configuration which can persist given the realities of thermodynamics and nature’s law of construction.

Furthermore, Bejan discovered that an animal’s organs in their size and internal placement evolved to their particular specification in deference to its “Locomotive Rhythm,” the particular style of flying, running or swimming that moved the most amount of mass, further and faster with the least expenditure of energy. The shape of this movement determines the size, functionality and internal configuration of the body’s organs. So Coppinger’s thesis of shape being all encompassing is consistent with the Constructal law and this linkage is a huge advancement in the discussion on dogs given that we now have two front line scientists from different disciplines advocating for thermodynamics as the most important filter for the evolution of behavior.

My theory is that the locomotive rhythm is in fact the master wave because it is how an animal moves well and moving well towards something one wants, or away from something one fears, is the best an animal can do in any given set of circumstances. It’s therefore the basis of an animal’s sense of well-being since its mind evolves as a function of the shape of its movements. These shapes formulate its construct of reality and a sense-of-self, i.e. how various  movements affect its integrity. The mind is shaped by the locomotive rhythm, a wave, the most powerful wave an organism can generate.

The only way an organism can move, especially mammals given that their body plan is bilaterally symmetrical, is to make a wave. A horse running, a bird flying, even a protozoa flagellating, are all wave making. Minor movements are subsets of this major movement since the functionality of any movement is to return an organism to a state of well-being and homeostasis. (Interestingly, bilateral symmetry evolved either simultaneously, or perhaps even before the evolution of a centralized nervous system. There can’t be one without the other. So the evolution of the nervous system was shaped by the mandate of the body having to generate a wave action in order to propel the organism in accordance with the Constructal Law.) And as the mammalian mind evolved over the millennia in response to how the body moves, and since the optimal shape is a wave form, specifically the Locomotive Rhythm, then the mind itself is a function of a wave, and objects come to mind as a function of a wave.

The locomotive rhythm is a wave composed of two phases. The projection phase is when force is projected through all four legs being extended outwards. The collection phase is when all four legs are retracted so as to gather force back into the body in preparation for the next stride. At the peak of these two phases is a beat of physical suspension when all four feet are off the ground. In order to execute a perfect locomotive rhythm and attain and sustain a state of physical suspension (how an individual  recognizes a perfect locomotive rhythm) both the projection and collection phase have to be perfectly symmetrical. Collection must precisely match projection as otherwise ground is neither covered efficiently or the body in motion becomes physically unstable. Uneven ground or obstacles require varying these phases in order to find the best possible rhythm that most closely approximates the optimal gait. It may be that the individual has to stagger step or extend a stride by momentarily decoupling projection from collection in order to successfully navigate the ground that needs to be covered. Decoupling one phase from the other in order to negotiate a situation is the essence of locomotive adaptability, which by logical extension is therefore the essence of behavioral plasticity since the shape of the body and the shapes of its movements shape the development of the mind. The wave form varies in order to accommodate obstacles in the surroundings and so the mind must likewise fabricate a wave form in order to accommodate stimuli in the surroundings.

So if one takes the most important points of Coppinger’s book which focuses on how complex behavior emerges from simple rule based actions, with the shape of movement being all encompassing over every aspect of mind and manner, and merges this with the Constructal Law which precisely details the wave form and how the mind, body and evolutionary processes are in service to this wave, and finally the NDT principle of emotional conductivity (Emotion as a function of attraction …. then becoming Unresolved Emotion due to the influence of resistance ….. and then becoming Resolved Emotion through collectivized behavior, E—>UE—>RE) ….. we can thereby follow the thermodynamic principle of “Work” to its logical extension and understand the true basis of play, sexuality, personality, hunting, collectivized group activity, all of which are a function of the master shape to which all body forms are encoded to fulfill because in service to achieving this rhythm they will end up constantly improving the flow of heat, force, mass and energy. Understanding that physical shapes determine physical movements and therefore mental processes, we can use the principles of thermodynamics to probe Input (perception)—-Throughput (processing)—-and Output (performance) on the most fundamental level of its very architecture.

In thermodynamics energy moves from a pole or place of high concentration, to a pole or place of lesser concentration, in short, from warm to cool. Behaviorally, there is one simple rule that renders two prime emotional values. Emotion moves from a pole of high concentration (-) — a predatory aspect —-> to a pole of lesser concentration   ——> (+) —a preyful aspect.

A stimulus that cannot be accelerated and/or projects force (-), thus interrupts the flow of emotion and we can categorize such objects as “predator energy”. Predatory aspects have momentum “to give.” Thus if a rock rolls down a hill toward an animal, it perceives the rock as if it is a predator advancing toward him. The animal need not entertain the concept of danger, or the cognitive idea from Plato’s cave of a predator, just how much momentum his body and mind can absorb without collapsing an emotional state of attraction.

In contrast that which can be accelerated, is “prey energy.” Preyful aspects have momentum to absorb. If a predator stares at a rabbit, and the rabbit runs, it has been emotionally accelerated and can absorb the predator’s momentum. So if an individual avoids that which cannot be accelerated, and consumes that which can, then one has a simple program for not running into trees, avoiding predators, staying out to the path of rolling boulders and eating anything that can be accelerated and tastes good. And since achieving the locomotive rhythm is each and every organisms’ auto-tuning feedback metric for adjudging its surroundings, this additionally means that moving in sync and in alignment with emotionally relevant objects that can be accelerated but can’t be eaten is even more satisfying (according to the Constructal law, incorporating objects of resistance into the configuration is the source of evolutionary progress) than consuming said object. In other words: Input—>Throughput—>Output can be summed up with a simple rule: If you can’t eat ‘em, join ‘em.

This also means that objects are assayed in terms of their capacity to match one’s inborn locomotive rhythm. Objects would arise in the mind, the mental process of objectification, as a function of their resistance to the locomotive rhythm. So each object would fundamentally be a statement of its conductivity, i.e. how easy it is to sync up with it. For example, a goose would be inherently drawn to another goose because their body shape, the object as a function of resistance to its sense of flow, proves conducive to aligning and synchronizing with it since the shape (and hence the movements this shape can generate) is a statement of its own locomotive rhythm. This means that in addition to an early imprinting process, a compulsion to mirror the movements of its fellow geese will emerge later in life. Hence birds of a feather are drawn together and have an intrinsic basis for self-organization and in a matter that is evolutionarily rewarded since more mass is going to be moved farther and faster as opposed to singular action. While this may be emergent, it is still a function of the simple underlying principle of emotional conductivity of force moving toward that which can absorb it. The complex behaviors are directly related to the substrate and are evolutionarily adaptive even though they serve no discrete adaptive purpose in the short term, for example, tens of thousands of starlings expending vast amounts of energy in a murmuration for no obvious return. Nevertheless their behavior is adaptive because it reveals that their minds are organized in accordance with the thermodynamic mandate to move more mass faster and farther with less and less energy. The herd, the pack, the flock, the swarm, physically manifest the Constructal law as a branching configuration that saturates and vascularizes its surroundings. In this vein we can recall the National Geographic documentary which detailed how reintroduction of wolves changed the course of a river in just six years.

Below this network level of adaptability, how else is wave making adaptive? First, as per the Constructal Law a wave-like manner of movement optimizes the reduction of resistances so that movement is efficient, the individual can move their body farther and faster and with less expenditure of energy. Furthermore, since moving as fast as possible toward something one wants or as fast as possible away from something one fears—-is the optimal response for life’s most graphic moments, this means that as mentioned earlier, a wave function is a the foundation for an organismal, homeostatic sense of well-being. It becomes an auto-tuning feedback dynamic for assigning emotional values to things and making sense of the world without a high-level cognitive construct of data.

Secondly wave making is predictive, it is a modeling program. Since waves are periodic, and since a wave function imprint is the basis of the mind’s architecture, therefore where an individual finds themselves on a wave (peak or trough, ascending or descending) can serve to adjudge where another stimulus happens to be on a wave since every object comes to mind in terms of a wave. Thus the mind has an inborn capacity to predict where forms in motion are going to be. (In a thermodynamic interpretation of behavior, information is form-in-motion, hence to understand the nature of information I prefer the term: “Informotion.” ) When one watches two dogs at play, which in toto unfolds along the template of a circle, the slower dog quickly learns to cut off the faster dog at a point along the circle’s circumference. He doesn’t figure it out, he feels it, the calculus of momentum is built into an emotional state just as the geometry of a social configuration is built into a feeling. (Again in this vein, temperament, the predictive faculty of wave-making, should be renamed “Temperamotion.”)

Third, there is an order of adaptability many magnitudes greater than these preceding two benefits, and which emerges from them. Wave-Coupling.

Wave-Coupling is the gateway to FREE ENERGY, the ultimate gold standard in any behavior’s adaptive value. Coppinger specifically profiles this phenomenon in a discussion of the iconic V formation of migrating geese. Because geese are large birds and soaring is not a viable strategy for their migratory needs, they learn to draft slightly off to one side of a forward goose so as to significantly decrease the resistance they face. The V emerges as the simple consequence of this thermodynamic, aerodynamic consideration. By coupling their collective wave forms together, they capture and harness free energy drafting in each other’s wake and thus move their big bodies farther and faster and with far less expenditure of energy.

However, to conclude that this thermodynamic reality doesn’t carry a real social overtone I believe is in error. I’ve seen a flock of geese circle around and around a lake bedeviled with tricky winds, trying to land in formation. Around them other wild fowl were dropping in easily one-by-one whereas this large flock of geese didn’t decompose but instead circled round and round, honking in a progressively agitated manner, apparently because they felt compelled to land as if they were a jumbo jet with a 200 foot wingspan. I believe this social imprint would carry over into many other ways their minds process informotion.

Now with these three adaptive values in mind, let us return to the phenomenon of play.

Coppinger concludes:

“Play behavior in and of itself, on our view, is not an intrinsic behavioral property of dogs or other mammals— not a special evolutionary outcome shaped by direct selection as a way to practice adult behavior, or as a mechanism to provide pleasure, or a means of reinforcing the domestic bond between dogs and humans. Rather, we think, the seemingly mysterious and ‘protean’ nature of play in mammals like the dog is a fortuitous emergent consequence of the development and interaction of other behavioral systems. It arises from the random combination and recombination of fragmentary components of behavior that appear during juvenile metamorphosis— an emergent “by-product” that comes about from the interplay between simple, fragmentary behaviors turning on and off at overlapping times in development.”

Random? In “NDT” I likewise argued that cubs aren’t playing in practice for the hunt (for one thing deer when they feel safe, play like dogs so therefore they would have to be practicing to be the hunted.) Since the brain with its vast matrix of interconnected neurons is shaped by the shape of the movements the body makes, and the optimal movement is a wave, the mind that emerges must also be a wave function, not a random emergent process. The mind would develop to be attuned to its species specific locomotive rhythm, the optimal wave form that minimizes the resistances impeding efficient movement. Thus objects that are emotionally relevant are adjudged according to their impact on an animal’s capacity to move well. (Try herding a straggling chicken into the confined space of a coop before she’s ready to call it a day.) This means that objects are formulated in the mind, the input from the senses is organized into a specific shape, in terms of a wave function. Objects obtain relevance and value in terms of their coherence with wave propagation. Objects are composed of predatory aspects which resist, if not interrupt and collapse the wave form, (i.e. an emotional state of attraction). And/or they are composed of preyful aspects which absorb and conduct the wave form. The simple rule being, can I be in contact/proximity with this object and still move well? Moving well means food, safety, pleasure, sensual, tactile affiliation, well-being. Not being able to move well means danger, compression, fear, disconnection, collapse of homeostasis. My theory is that all motor patterns revolve around this central dynamic of moving well. Indeed shape is everything.

So while the play bow is not intentional, and while it is also a state of conflict (albeit a positive versus a negative state of contrasting) because the way forward for the playful dog isn’t 100% clear, nevertheless it is not the emergent result of a random coupling of motor patterns diametrically opposed to each other. The play bowing dog isn’t in conflict about going forward versus going backwards. Rather, adapting one’s body to the shape of the wave that another animal’s body makes, just as the body in motion adapts to vagaries of the terrain, IS the basis of adaptability. Wave coupling is the basis of moving well when dealing with resistance.

Coppinger shows a picture of a dog with a sheep killing history, performing a play bow before a sheep that apparently won’t budge. Obviously the sheep killing dog isn’t intending play (less obviously perhaps neither does a sheep killing dog intend to kill a sheep). However what behaviorism and the cognitive school of interpretation call a play bow, I call “collecting.” The “play bow” is the collecting phase of the locomotive rhythm, decoupled from its complementary phase of projection. The sheep in this picture is doing the projecting (due to the phenomenon of emotional momentum as a function of the physical memory of motion), and this leaves it to the dog to perform the collecting phase in order to incorporate the object-of-resistance into its locomotive rhythm, in other words to reset its metric of its well-being and reacquire the wave form that is its predictor of ultimate success.

This interpretation addresses three questions: What is going on inside the mind of the dog, and why would such a behavior have the tendency to promote play in others, and why do human observers find play endearing?

The play bow is not emergent in the sense of not being related to the substrate. If the dog were chasing the sheep, which in Coppinger’s model would activate the Bite sequence, by running at full speed, he would be performing a very strong wave form, his optimal locomotive rhythm. So the form of a sheep in motion constitutes full locomotive rhythm and the exhilaration of incorporating all resistances (changes in terrain and direction of sheep) and subsuming these into the locomotive rhythm. The “bow” is the collecting phase decoupled from the projecting phase in order to incorporate an object of resistance into the locomotive rhythm that in this instance the dog’s can’t express because for some reason this particular sheep refuses to run. While the dog is focused on the sheep’s predatory aspect (eyes as source of force) it is simultaneously holding this IN CONJUNCTION with its preyful aspect (bulbous body plan and hence suggestive of the full locomotive rhythm) and so we observe a positive state of contrasting. The dog looks expectantly happy, an observer would misinterpret this to be an invitation to play were he not to know the dog’s history. But in the NDT model, even between two playful dogs, we don’t interpret the bow as an invitation to play. When the predatory aspect can be felt in tandem with the preyful aspect, then the individual recognizes their “self” in that object of attraction/resistance. I don’t mean “self” cognitively, only that the object of attraction responds in perfect mirror fashion according to Newton’s third law of motion, i.e. every action provokes an equal and opposite reaction. The laws of motion, the operating system of emotion, allow the individual on a deep architectural level to find commonality with objects in the world because when an object of attraction responds in this way on a feedback loop, reciprocating with the right kind of shape, the dog feels he can manipulate the object into its locomotive rhythm by fine tuning his own output.

NDT always strives toward a thermodynamic explanation (as well as the laws of motion) as the most parsimonious approach to this intelligent aspect to sentience. So to accommodate the motionless sheep, the dog opts for the equal/opposite phase of the locomotive rhythm, the collecting phase in order to incorporate the sheep, in his mind, into his locomotive rhythm. Collecting is integral to locomotion, the dog is bringing both phases into a perfect point of balance, the fulcrum being the eyes of the sheep. The dog is not in conflict about going forward. If he can’t eat ‘im, he’s inclined to join ‘im.

How does a dog know to decouple? Consider a dog coming to a fallen tree blocking a trail. He wants to get to the other side and while the height is high, it’s doable. The dog is in a state of conflict because the way forward isn’t 100% clear, but the resistance he’s encountering, the height to overcome (-), is amplifying rather than dampening his state of attraction for what he wants on the other side. He’s in a positive state of emotional contrasting, the resistance between where he is and where he wants to be, AROUSES him even more to get to the other side. So the dog will collect himself by gathering his weight on his hind end, focusing his gaze on a leverage point somewhere on the blowdown, in order to vault over his forelegs as springboards. When the degree of muscle tension in his hind end is greater than the perception of resistance, he launches. The dog responds to the resistance to his capacity to move well by exaggerating one aspect of the wave form over its complementary phase.

The dog that is collecting onto his hindquarters is not on the one hand looking to retreat and the other hand to go forward, as in the Coppinger interpretation of the play bow. Rather the dog is is isolating on the collection phase of the master wave, the locomotive rhythm. The particular body shape of a play bow is the locomotive rhythm adapting itself to an obstacle of resistance. The body is molding itself to fit with the complementary phase of the locomotive wave. Wave-making and wave-coupling is what I have heretofore referred to as mirroring.

How does a dog map the collecting phase from an environmental value such as a tree blocking a trail, to a temperamental value, such as another animal refusing to budge? Tug-of-war is one very powerful way this bridge is created wherein collecting is accorded a high strategical value in the mind of a dog. Not coincidentally, dogs love to play tug because this is such an important component of wave-coupling.

The play bow as wave-coupling has an equal/opposite inverse expression as when an owner approaches their dog and he yawns and does the “Down-Dog” yoga pose. The dog is perceiving the advance of his human as a wave moving toward him, and he collects himself to absorb that emotional momentum, like a swimmer gathering to dive through a wall of surf to get to the calm water on the other side of the churn.

The shape of a play bow or a Down-Dog wave form has an emotional effect on an observer because when a dog shifts his focus from projecting his force forward, to collecting his force onto his hind end, his wave-like body mechanics and facial expressions will transmit a discrete emotional signal that means the emotional momentum of the observer can be absorbed. Since all mammals have the same mental process of objectification in terms of a wave form, they would therefore feel encouraged to engage because the dog in a collecting state is quite likely melting the state of tension every emotional being walks about in, and amplified by a stimulus. By subliminally focusing force on his hind end, with the forelegs as springboards, this translates into lowering and minimizing his head (predatory aspect), and this reduces the feeling of pressure in an observer. And by simultaneously maximizing his hind end, which is an animal’s preyful aspect, (one can move well toward an individual who is moving away) the play bower is absorbing emotional momentum and now an observer can feel that the way forward is clear and which might incline him to engage. (Remember that any object that can come to mind, is a function of resistance to the locomotive rhythm and in order to return to a state of well-being, the object needs to be brought into concordance with the locomotive rhythm. So there is an automatic and autonomic state of attraction with anything that is emotionally relevant (i.e. can stimulate and disturb equilibrium), and this is followed by an inherent motive to accelerate the object of attraction so that the locomotive rhythm can be reacquired.) Furthermore, when an individual exhibits the 3rd law of motion, then they are safe to incorporate into the sense-of-self because they can be induced, through feedback, to conform to the locomotive rhythm. Hence they become emotionally conductive.

The third law of motion as an intrinsic rule of emotion also conforms to the Constructal law because in this way, individuals diversify according to a branching architecture of personality development, and which will then lead to a branching architecture of collectivized movements. They will not vary at random  Thus a group arises and moves systematically through a region, vascularizing their surroundings with their coordinated movements. We call this territoriality.

This returns us to the notion of emotion as a modeling program. The wave mechanics of mental processing means that at a safe distance and well before actual physical contact is made, an observer can project and compute how an interaction is going to unfold. No need for a high risk trial and error since the wave form can preemptively predict success or failure in advance of in-close physical contact.

Whereas like most behaviorists, Coppinger links emotion to high cognition and intention as opposed to a simple state of attraction and so intrinsic rules, accommodation and  emergence would seem therefore to be the whole story. In a discussion of rat pups huddling for warmth:

“Several researchers carried out computer simulations that utilized these rules, and successfully modeled rat huddling with abstract agents. Nothing more needed to be said about the rat pups’ emotional state, intentions, or anything else— two simple rules alone generated the grouping behavior, and adding a third rule into the simulation, to model development, changed it appropriately.”

But taking emotion out of the equation obscures the systems logic of wave-making and wave-coupling, the way by which every configuration improves itself, a dynamic which is really running the show and which is highly adaptive according to the thermodynamics by which configurations improve themselves. In “NDT” 1992 I articulated all this as the harmonic pathways of learning, i.e. waves coupled in phase to amplify force. Emergent means immediate moment. Rule driven means attraction. Harmonic pathways of learning encapsulates these concepts and more and doesn’t rely on cognitive constructs.

The immediate-moment manner of analysis does not interpret two interactants trying to figure out how to interact, but rather, trying to feel how to map their locomotive rhythm onto objects of resistance, each other . (Remember resistance is an impediment that must be incorporated into the locomotive rhythm in order to sustain a feeling of movement, i.e. well-being. If we know that Output is some form of a wave, then Input and Throughput must also be functioning in terms of a wave as the wave form is the essence of adaptability. Wave-functionality is how the animal mind construes sensory inputs into meaningful shapes.) They are trying to merge into one wave form in order to move well and reacquire a state of emotional equilibrium (displaced whenever stimulated) so as to reestablish a feeling of well-being. If they are successful, we observe two beings merging into one wave form manifested by their collectivized actions.

In point of fact there is no intrinsic rule specifying LOST—-RETRIEVE—-EYE——STALK—-CHASE—-STAY-NEXT-TO-PREY And then to encircle the prey: REMAIN-EQUIDISTANT-FROM-PACKMATES. There is no command module stating do-this and then-do-that. While these new interpretations are insightful and helpful in removing the old cognitive interpretation and calling into question the gene-centric approach (and I might add inadvertently demonstrating that all behavior is a function of attraction), what is happening inside the mind of an animal IS an emotional state, one that doesn’t derive its intelligence from a sentient awareness of its placement within a situation, a cognitive construct of reality, an intention, but rather by a feeling for the wave function that every stimulus arrives in the mind as a formulation thereof. Each individual’s feeling is a slice of an overall template, a section of a circle, a wave function, and which can best be articulated and discussed in terms of attraction, resistance and an emotional charge that accrues and not only overcomes resistance, but intrinsically inspires an individual to incorporate an object of resistance into the configuration. If you can’t eat ‘em, join ‘em.

Wave coupling is adaptive because it satisfies the criteria of every level of adaptive success, an individual moves faster and farther if it can mold uneven terrain and obstacles into a smooth locomotive rhythm, it if can coherently deal with force, both its capacity to absorb and project it, socially wave-coupling amplifies the many into one combined force that can do more work, and the network is satisfied because objects of resistance are incorporated into configurations thereby improving the network wide flow pattern.

The extent to which one aspect of the wave-making dynamic can be decoupled and then re-coupled as a complement to an object of resistance, IS the essence of adaptability. This is adaptive on every level of selection, from the individual, to the social unit, to the network. Dogs are the masters of de-coupling one phase of the master shape from another and then re-coupling in order to make a bigger wave. Since this post is so long, I’ll leave a discussion of barking, howling, humping for later, but I trust you can already see that these quintessential doggy behaviors are dramatic examples of wave coupling as well, most especially howling, the dog literally making a sound wave to resonate with another. Free energy from wave-coupling; that’s how the dog emerged from the wild. That’s the shape of domestication.


(BTW: In terms of training practicality, the Five Core Exercises are concerned with strengthening the Wave-Coupling faculty.)

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Published January 7, 2016 by Kevin Behan
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10 responses to ““How Dogs Work” Part Two”

  1. Jamey says:

    Well written, thanks very much. I am starting to get an understanding of NDT. I have been able to work some into real world dog interaction. When do you have time to work on dogs? This is so well thought out.

  2. I second that! You’re getting closer and closer to a new understanding that will change the landscape entirely. (A trophic cascade of ideas?)

    By the way, I’ve been corresponding with a university student in Sweden. She’s fascinated with Natural Dog Training and the 5 Core Exercises. The upshot is that she’s doing some preliminary work on testing how well NDT treats PTSD in dogs against how behaviorism fares. She’s at Gothenberg University.

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    Thanks for taking the time to read such a long article. I’m glad it’s starting to add up. As I like to say, it’s so simple it’s hard to get. The best time for me to write is in the early morning before it’s time for the dogs. But I must note that being physical with the dogs is the perfect antidote/complement to being mental with the computer.

  4. Kevin Behan says:

    Excellent. I think the next generation of scientists are going to be open to questioning these long standing assumptions that we’ve been challenging all these years. Keep us posted!

  5. Willem says:

    Thrilling. Bit by bit I understand the picture of the “network” on a deeper and deeper level.

  6. b... says:


    The book’s alignment with your theory is refreshing and encouraging. Of course the profundity of what you’ve laid here is at least an order of magnitude beyond the advancement that Coppinger has uncovered so it may take a proportionate length of time for it to permeate the behavioral community. Some may suspend their belief of emotion as a mystical system disembodied from the laws of physics long enough to appreciate the connection, but that doesn’t take away from how fascinating it is to see the pieces unfold here and observe in real life. Bravo.

  7. Sheri says:

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful integration of all these emerging ideas! I love everything you’re doing, but this has been my favorite article ever. The increased ability of my thinking to flow because of it feels really good.

    This explains so many things that I think about and work on I’d probably run out of comment room trying to list them. But one thing of special importance is how much this elucidates the work of Emmi Pikler, as brought to us by Magda Gerber, author of Your Self-Confident Baby.

    For Emmi, one of the foundations of self-confidence in babies is the ability to engage in unrestricted movement and for us not to “help” them move by propping them up, “walking” them in our hands, putting them in walkers and infant seats, etc.

    A second important tenant is in allowing children to confront and overcome resistance rather than removing resistance from their life.

    So illuminating. Thank-you!

  8. b... says:

    Kevin, could you elaborate a little bit on this statement?: “Tug-of-war is one very powerful way this bridge is created wherein collecting is accorded a high strategical value in the mind of a dog.”

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    When a dog plays tug-of-war he is investing all his energy into the collecting phase, the bucking back is like reverse thrusters, the engine running full out in reverse. The success of this imprint in infancy I believe allows the dog to invest a lot of energy in his play bow. However, the question becomes does the hind end arousal state win out over the tense shoulder state, and when an owner over does the tug they end up reinforcing the tense shoulder state rather than the arousal state so smoke eventually starts coming out the dog’s ears. Basically the system was designed to run full throttle in forward rather than reverse motion.

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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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