I recently became involved in a discussion on a Facebook Dog forum. Although these probably aren’t a good way to make friends and influence people I nevertheless persist in order to practice interfacing my way of seeing dogs (emotion) with the other way of seeing dogs (thinking). And who knows, perhaps some reader will begin to see that the emperor has no clothes and will find their way here for a fuller discussion of the above.
The discussion revolved around a study purporting to prove that dominance hierarchies exist, and that they are best ascertained by studying submissive rather than aggressive displays. The photo above is from that study. Bear in mind that in the new formulation of a dominance hierarchy there is no such thing as an inherent drive to be dominant as a character trait of an individual, but apparently there can be an innate impulse in an individual to display submission given that according to this study it’s exhibited far more often so as to indicate an inborn compulsivity. In counterpoint I said that the beagle on the right was displaying fear, not submission because the latter requires projecting thoughts into its head, i.e. a me-relative-to-you…and a this-present-moment-relative-to that-future-moment psychological construct. If any protection dog trainer were to be presented with this kind of body language in a candidate dog, they too would say it was exhibiting fear. The moderator said that no, context is everything. But it’s far more parsimonious to say fear than submission, and if the statistical analysis that supposedly confirms social structure as a dominance hierarchy is predicated on such an assumption, then the conclusions that follow are self-fulfilling affirmations of the prior set of preconceptions. The statistics are meaningless because the analysis of same is meaningless.
However before these points could be developed the moderator closed the thread. She probably thought the discussion was becoming repetitive because folks were simply restating their original points rather than making new ones. However I feel that myself and the Loam Wolf were asking legitimate questions which they chose to avoid by repeating themselves that statistics trumps all other points. Basically their position comes down to the beagle on the right is displaying submission to the beagle on the left because an esteemed phalanx of experts declare it to be so.
Human beings can think dominant or submissive thoughts: “If I act strong then maybe you’ll act weak.” But to project these into the minds of dogs leads to many incongruities which will ultimately factor out into serious mistakes in dealing with the kind of problem behaviors that can result from such interactions. The unconscious bias of those who argue that submission and dominance are not thoughts, and apparently are not inborn instincts, and to say otherwise is to reduce animal behavior to that of machinery, reveals that one is presuming that if dogs aren’t thinking like humans that they are therefore insensate, unconscious, instinctive robots. That’s the hidden bias that the cognitive side of the argument is unaware they’re harboring. Finally, the moderator claimed that it doesn’t really matter what we label the interaction, or the resulting social structure that results from a matrix of such interactions between all the parties to a group, because these terms are simply serving as handy placeholders and descriptors so as to put everyone on the same page. Again, that’s a misconception. The words-don’t-matter argument ends up up in self-annihilating logic loops (dominance is a thought and an instinct) as does the context-is-everything argument.
If you find such discussions of interest, I would enjoy meeting you at the upcoming NDT Conference in Portland Maine. Below I offer a barebones logic stream whereby we can recast the above picture into its true emotional meaning and which I look forward to fleshing out in both theory and practice in Portland.
(1) When stimulated an animal wants to move. Emotion = Motion. Motive = Movement (2) Moving well relative to that which compels an animal into motion, is the basis of feeling good. (3) If an animal cannot feel how to move well relative to the object that emotionally compels him to move, he feels ill-at-ease and can become problematic. (4) Feeling good or feeling-ill-at-ease is attributed to the object that compelled the individual into motion. (5) There is a precise mechanics to moving well, therefore there is a precise mechanics for feeling good. Natural Dog Training is about changing “bad” feelings into good feelings through the mechanics of moving well, hence the five core exercises.
The beagles above are each emotionally stimulated by the other. Both are compelled to move. They have a physical problem, not a psychological one. The beagle on the left although still in static mode, nevertheless feels more at ease because he can feel better how to move relative to the beagle on the right. Note how his body language is perfectly mirroring the other dogs’ demeanor and deportment, and that he’s not quite in a hard, fixated state as his body is slightly curved rather than head on. The beagle on the right is far more tense, his jowls pursed as he’s trying to push out and keep any more stimulation from getting into his body/mind. Nevertheless, if the two dogs can interact through an elaboration of this mirroring phenomenon so that they can move (leg lifting would facilitate this which is probably the next move for the beagle on the left) then they each solve the locomotive problem of the other and they will begin to become social. Our task as trainers and owners is to understand the mechanics of how a dog learns to move well and then facilitate the process of mirroring. This means teaching a dog how to mirror its owner as a first step in this process of rehabilitation through the precise mechanics of locomotion. The New York Giants don’t learn the plays against the Dallas Cowboys when they meet on the field. First they practice the moves amongst themselves. Don’t put your dog into the game before you teach him the plays. Come to Portland Maine and learn the plays of canine teamwork.