In Search of Distinctions

The OC School argues that learning theory based on reinforcement completely encompasses everything being said in Natural Dog Training. Meanwhile my complaint with OC is that while it is highly descriptive and in ways insightful, this is because in my view a lot of “charge” is removed from someone's mind when they observe what’s going through a strict clinical approach which if I’m summing it properly is to wit: what reinforces behavior is a reinforcement and what doesn’t isn’t. However it seems to me (and correct me if I'm in error) that this is circular reasoning akin to Darwinism’s survival of the fittest credo as critiqued in “The American Scholar.” "Who survives? Those that are the fittest. Who are the fittest? Those that survive."

So in the interest of drawing distinctions between Natural Dog Training and current theories of learning, I want to pose the following question: What does OC say about the following: If a dog is stimulated by something within its sphere of perception, for example a dog perks its ear and watches someone a hundred yards away through a window, but doesn’t actually become “stimulated” so that soon its head is resting between its paws, and thus the dog hasn't done anything, interacted with anything, nothing has affected it in any way, and therefore nothing of any reinforcement value can be said to have occurred, has in fact nothing happened? In other words, is it possible that something has changed within the dog even though no reinforcement has happened?
Published October 19, 2009 by Kevin Behan

22 responses to “In Search of Distinctions”

  1. I could be wrong but I think behaviorists would say that the unconditioned stimulus of seeing someone outside, at such a distance, has no effect on learning, therefore it’s irrelevant what the dog experiences internally, and would probably be completely unrelated to learning theory. It would only be relevant if could be determined (how I don’t know) that “latent learning” took place at some indeterminate time in the future.


  2. Russell says:

    A better model of behaviour than OC does exist, and I believe it can explain a lot of the things that are being discussed within NDT.

    “Perceptual Control Theory is about what it is to have a desire, about the relationship of desires to actions and their consequences. It’s about how making a decision or having a desire gets turned into just those actions which will have effects in the real world that result in an outcome that matches the decision or satisfies the desire, even if the action required differs from one instance to another.” (William Powers)

  3. kbehan says:

    Thanks, this sounds compelling. I’ll do some research and try to see where my ideas might intersect or diverge.

  4. Shanty says:

    I like the explanation of that theory – I’m curious what Kevin’s research will uncover.

  5. kbehan says:

    Would this mean therefore that they acknowledge there is learning without reinforcement?

  6. Russell says:

    Learning is a result of the reorganisation that occurs when trying to reduce an error signal. It closely parallels natural selection but within an individual. The error signal is the difference between a perception and the desired perception. Actions result from the attempt to bring consistency to perceptions.

    “… any system based on the control of behavior through the use of rewards (or, of course, punishments) contains the seeds of its own destruction. There may be a temporary period, lasting even for many generations, during which some exciting new system concept so appeals to people that they will struggle to live within its principles, but if those principles include incentives, which is to say arbitrary deprivation or withholding at the whim of human beings, inexorable reorganization will destroy the system from within: nature intervenes with the message, “No! That
    feels bad. Change!”

    —William T. Powers (1973)

  7. I haven’t had time to read this whole article, but my quick assessment is that Powers’s theory is on the right track, but it’s still a little off. For one thing he says that the Skinnerian idea of cause and effect (learning by consequences is) is flawed, but his (Powell’s) theory of perceptual control is still thought-centric (in my view) in that it suggests that animal behavior is about the animal learning how to “control his environment” (which would require a sense of self, etc.) rather than being about the animal finding the most satisfying flow of his own energy as part of an energy exchange with the environment. I could be wrong about how the rest of the theory is structured, but that’s a phrase that popped out at me while scanning this:


  8. The link I posted earlier is just one chapter from a book by Gary Csizko, published by MIT Press. It’s titled, “The Things We Do: Using the Lessons of Bernard and Darwin to Understand the What, How, and Why of Our Behavior.”

    Powell’s perceptual control theory my not be about controlling the environment, per se. It seems to be about controlling our perceptions based on our goals. In that respect some of it might dovetail quite nicely with Kevin’s theory, except that it still seems to involve choices based on some form of thought rather than on the flow of energy.

    Gary Cziko is Professor and AT&T Technology Fellow in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

    The Bernard he mentions in the title is Claude Bernard, a 19th Century physiologist.


  9. Sorry, Gary Cziko, not Csizko.

  10. Russell says:

    “the truth is that because a dog’s sense of its body is directly related to a feeling that connects it to its surroundings, we have identified a perfect platform for an auto-tuning/feedback dynamic that lends intelligence to how animals respond to the world” – Kevin Behan

    I do believe Kevin is talking about PCT right here. A lot of the terminology in NDT “resonates” with a neural feedback control model.

  11. kbehan says:

    “… any system based on the control of behavior through the use of rewards (or, of course, punishments) contains the seeds of its own destruction. There may be a temporary period, lasting even for many generations, during which some exciting new system concept so appeals to people that they will struggle to live within its principles, but if those principles include incentives, which is to say arbitrary deprivation or withholding at the whim of human beings, inexorable reorganization will destroy the system from within: nature intervenes with the message, “No! That
    feels bad. Change!”

    —William T. Powers (1973)

    I feel there will be many distinctions to be made, but this is a beautiful statement.

  12. kbehan says:

    This is where I am going as well. I see emotion as a universal operating system, so that the auto-tuning/feedback loop is not self-contained according to any individual or genetic parameters. What I like is the concept that internal regulation mirrors evolution, I would go so far as to say that the phenomenon of animal learning is exactly the same as evolution albeit on the hyper-hyper fast track.

  13. kbehan says:

    There are some compelling parallels. What I am curious about is does PCT offer an architecture for perception and for a feeling, and does it make a distinction between emotion and instinct?

  14. Russell says:

    There are these articles, amongst many others

    I think part of your work, Kevin, provides us with the “perceptual” glasses through which we glimpse how a dog senses its world. Such as in “Why do dogs bark at strangers”. Dogs know us through a feeling, they don’t think of us as a Being. But these perceptions still can be regarded as inputs to a control system. The outer behavioural manifestation of the control system could be barking, or running for a toy, or “submissive” urination … same behaviour different action. The controller is however controlling its perceptions, or maintaining an emotional balance.

    You also I think provide us with the unseen control variables. Where most of us only see behaviours, you talk about the balance and hunger circuitry.

    Powers has stated that a feeling or emotion is the result of a blocked desire. To understand the emotion/feeling, one has to know more about the desire (goal) being blocked.

  15. kbehan says:

    I am very excited about this theory. It may provide a way to directly connect an energy theory of animal behavior to scientific, quantitative analysis. I can’t do such work myself, my hope is that these cutting edge researchers discover a parallel and can translate what I’m saying into the scientific method as they practice it. I look forward to reading these articles and have posted an entry in regards to the newspaper article from Princeton you cited above.

  16. April Hannon says:

    Hi Kevin, just curious what made you want to find out so badly how dogs worked?And why were you so disatisfied with the methods you were using before?And one more thing, had you ever heard of ”energy and dogs” in the way you approach it, before you theorized NDT? thanks

  17. kbehan says:

    I mentioned earlier that my mind was never “domesticated” when I was younger. I’m writing about what I mean by this, but for now what I mean is that I never took anything for granted and unless what I read or was told felt like the feeling of resonance I experienced when I was on my own in the woods, I never accepted it. I had some dreams that alerted me to things, and then one day I recognized that all behavior is a function of attraction, which as it turns out means energy. I didn’t use the term until much later. At first I thought I was building a better theoretical mousetrap to prove to the world that my father’s ideas on dogs were right, but as it turned out that was not to be. I think my need to know reflected a deep urge to connect with my father, but it ended up connecting me to nature.

  18. April Hannon says:

    I was thinking about how you say dogs experience the world through physical memories, I realize how important a puppyhood is for a dog, but do you think humans also rely heavily on physical memories in the way they experience the world? One thing that really seems to hold true for humans and dogs is the fact that we are very much connected to the environment around us whether or not we know it or not, but I beleive we have the ability to change even if the environment does not, while a dog must stay the same if the environment does not change.Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems we are shaped more than we know by circumstances,experiences,and memories.

  19. kbehan says:

    The human animal experiences through physical memory exactly the same as any other animal. I also believe that we always see through a filter, our only choice is which one. We can either see what we need to see, or what we want to see, the distinction being dependent on our relationship to our physical memory. Physical memory can affect us in terms of its specifics, its qualities, and so then we see according to our past and go by habits of mind and reflexes. We see what we need to see. But we can also use physical memory as a lump, sum quantitative value and this can allow us to decode the energetic signature of the immediate moment and then go by feel; and now we see what we want to see. Either way you are right that we are connected to the environment whether we know it or not.
    We can also see in the behavior of dogs however that seeing what one wants to see, makes the environment conform to the strength of the individual’s desire. So when a dog is aroused, it sees a preyful aspect in its surroundings and it acts on it and the environment responds in a gratifying way. Whereas a sensitized dog in that exact same circumstance focuses on a predatory aspect and the environment returns a signal that confirms its sensitivity. I remember as a boy helping out in my father’s kennel opening the drop gates to let dogs in or out. I was struck by the observation that the dogs that were spooked out by being boarded, would dash in and out the sluice way and their fear of the gate as an evil monster only grew in their minds with every ingress and egress. While over the course of a long stay they got better at dashing in and out, they never got over it. You could see them always watching the gate overhead out of the corner of their eye. Whereas the dogs that were having the time of their lives, even if they ran headlong into the gate if I dropped it accidentally nevertheless it didn’t bother them in the least once the pain of the shock passed. The former kind of dog was seeing what it needed to see; the latter was focused on what it wanted to see.

  20. kbehan says:

    (The above comment got delayed in a queue.)
    I agree that everything is an input, but I want to be more specific and say that it is also an “emotionally ionizing event” that accrues and displaces the emotional continuum of every other being as well, at least over the long term as animals chafe against each other (and actually the paired-photon experiment in quantum mechanics suggests an immediate moment means of displacement as well). What I mean is that an input impacting an individual has a scope beyond the limits of the individual and whatever set of goals they might have or be capable of entertaining, because emotion is not a self-contained phenomenon.
    Since I don’t yet understand PCT, I offer the following as what might be a significant point of distinction. The bottom line of any desire is not strictly speaking a goal, but rather the Desire within each and every individual to be in resonance with its external surroundings. It over-arches everything. This isn’t static but is dynamic because of course the external surroundings are always changing. What’s happening is that the interactions between animals, is capturing the potential energy inherent in change, and converting its episodic nature into a periodic, predictable rhythm of change, what we recognize as the phenomenon of personality. Another way of saying this is that environmental energy is being captured as emotional energy, and then converted into social energy as a means of harnessing it so as to render even more energy. This is why in any grouping of canines the personalities always end up complementing themselves, and in defiance of reinforcement learning theory.
    This also means that the internal workings of any and all individuals is in service to the network as a whole, rather than to any perceived interest that the individual is possible of entertaining (or any given species’ genome is capable of encompassing). In other words, simply by attaining goals and working from a standard of self-gratification, an individual can still accrue a mounting sense of alienation because they’re not necessarily adding new energy to the network, which is the true standard of resonance. So a child grows emotionally by overcoming challenges, whereas they become more narcissistic, dissatisfied and emotionally stunted by the simple attainment of pleasures.
    The beginning of the resolution of this compulsion-to-be-resonant is that emotion is composed from one part arousal (hunger) and one part vulnerability (balance) so that the body/mind is a displaceable medium. Therefore any stimulus displaces the body/mind with the degree of displacement by a change in the surroundings thereby creating a commensurate pull of attraction toward the source of that change. In order to consummate this pull and equalize that force, resonance with the object and within the context must be achieved. (Resonance is perceived by an animal as a feeling of weightlessness.) And in order to achieve this, unresolved emotion as a physical memory of resistance that is carried within, is then projected onto the form-of-the-object-of-attraction and this then renders a feeling that then computes an action. If through these actions the individual becomes the emotional counterbalance to the object of attraction, a state of resonance is achieved and the system gains new energy beyond what it needs to maintain stasis. The network is always expanding toward more elaborate expressions of complexity. (Since dogs are the most network-enabled animal on earth, I believe is why their emotional and working relationship with man is constantly expanding.)
    A network-wide perspective also means that every feeling perfectly dovetails every other feeling since feelings exist in service to the overall network rather than conforming to the particulars of any individual’s internal needs. So for example, deer will never evolve to look up for danger even though for millions of years they have been preyed upon from above because that would violate the network’s need for predators to enjoy success by dropping down on the necks of deer for an easy kill (and now modern day bow hunters). Their instincts lock them into a specific environmental niche for the benefit of the network. Since these instincts maintain stasis, deer survive.
    What this then means is that at the level of animal consciousness, since resonance is predicated on attaining an emotional counterbalance with objects-of-attraction that offer more and more resistance, the idea of choice and control is also not a self-contained phenomenon. Dog A can’t achieve resonance unless it facilitates dog B achieving resonance. Both dog A and dog B must simultaneously “choose” to absorb and conduct the emotional energy of the other otherwise they end up with more emotional charge than before and feel more and more disconnected and dissonance. So the energy that ties the two together is in control, not the capacity of the individual to regulate what’s going on. I’m saying that the neurology and physiology of every animal’s makeup is in service to a network consciousness above and beyond any specie’s genetic mandates. In a way, I may be saying exactly the same as PCT however, unless one makes a distinction between emotion and instinct, feelings and thoughts, I don’t believe it is being made explicit that there exists a network consciousness overarching all behavioral outputs. So I think I’m expanding the concept of a “control system” and I am certainly interested in a PCT critique of the above, (hopefully it’s not too dense) thank you.

  21. Russell says:

    I think what you describe is related to the description of crowd movement in PCT (but obviously at a greater level of complexity!). Its about the emergence of swarm intelligence from the collective behaviour of populations of simple agents interacting locally with each other. There must be some sort of sympathetic resonance of individual feedback controllers when interacting that lead to this co-ordinating effect to be observed.

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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.