Perspective Taking?


The Whole Dog Journal in the link above provides an excellent summation of a series of experiments which purport to show that dogs are capable of adjusting their behavior by virtue of being aware of another beings’ point of view. I’ve written about this research before but the subject keeps popping up in the news and elsewhere and so I think it’s worth a revisit. I also feel that my earlier treatment was too theoretical and that there’s an easier way to say it. To get right to the point:

                                                                   People don’t give dogs attention in the dark.

In one of these experiments a dog is given the chance to steal food that is displayed in full light. On another instance the food is hidden in darkness. Sometimes the human in the room is cast in light, sometimes cloaked in darkness. The premise being explored is whether or not a dog can be aware of what a person who has admonished the dog to “leave-it,” can see or can’t see. It turns out that it didn’t matter whether or not the person was illuminated, but the lighted status of the food was critical. When the food was in the dark the dog was much bolder than when the food was illuminated. The interpretation offered is that a dog can tell what the person guarding the food can see or not see and then adjust its behavior accordingly.

In a variation of this experiment, this time involving two balls, the dog is commanded to fetch a ball but can choose between a ball the person can see as opposed to one that is shielded from the person’s view by a partition. Here again what the human could see proved decisive as the dog chose the ball visible to the person rather than the one blocked from their view. This seemingly indicates that the dog is aware that the person is requesting a specific ball versus one out of sight and therefore, in the dog’s grasp of the situation, out of the person’s mind.

WDJ: “(It’s possible that,) just like humans, dogs use a person’s gaze to determine what that person does or does not know. This type of learning is considered to be a higher-level cognitive process because it requires “perspective-taking”– meaning that the dog is able to view a situation through the perspective of the human, and can then make decisions according to what that individual is aware of. The import of this type of thinking is that it reveals at least a rudimentary “theory of mind” – the ability to consider what another individual knows or may be thinking.”

I agree that these experiments demonstrate a capacity that is indeed an evolutionary precursor of T-o-M, but it’s also a precursor to perspective-taking as well. I believe these experiments (as well as the everyday things that dogs do) reveal something far more fundamental than a cognitive capacity, to wit: an emotional capacity predicated on “emotional projection,” a faculty of the body/mind that tracks the disposition of force.

First, note that these candidate dogs are recruited from highly motivated dog owners and therefore have most likely received a lot of training, particularly house training. And more importantly as stated at the outset, dogs don’t receive attention from their owners in the dark. In darkness humans have a very limited capacity to project force. We are basically immobilized whereas dogs can zoom about the night with abandon. Dogs that have been raised, and especially trained, and especially trained to “Leave-It,” “Off,” “No,” by humans, become quite aware where and when their owners can project force and they also note —- via the universal template around which all learning occurs, i.e. the-negative-equals-access-to-the-positive (in other words the eyes grant access to the body or any other emotional ground, that a transfer of force follows a specific direction, from the eyes and then to an object that the gaze is focused on. Even when a dog is not focusing directly on the eyes, he’s nevertheless well aware of their presence because a person’s gaze is the precursor to where they will direct their force and thus serves as the marker of direction of transfer. Attention is where one focuses one’s tension and it inscribes an energetic template on any given experience.

A line-of-sight is like a search light, a beam that can sweep an area in a wide angle broadcast of peripheral vision, or can fine tune down to a laser-like pin point application. An animal is highly sensitized to areas of exposure created by the floodlight of human attention that might swivel about the surroundings or bear down in a tight focused beam. Dogs, like all animals, are highly aware of the pressure zones and the “shadows” created by where and when and for how intently a human looks, as for example we see puppies sneak off behind a couch to eliminate in privacy. For example I only worry about garbage being pillaged by a neighborhood dog if I put it out at night. During the day it’s not going to happen. I’ve known client dogs who would only escape from the yard when let out at night. And if the owners didn’t summon them within five minutes, chances were they were gone. Such dogs aren’t perspective taking, they’re finding a force-free zone, a gap in containment system when the search lights are off or trained in a different direction. Human attention defines an emotional topography delineated by hot spots and tension free zones and dogs that live with humans become keenly attuned to our range and frequency of projection. Dogs readily feel that our human capacity to project force falls off in the dark and so their emotional impression of us is different in the dark versus in the light.

A dog never rationally understands that he is not to eat food. For example, I never teach my puppies not to steal food off the counter. I raise them in such a way that food on the counter doesn’t appear to them to be food. It’s neither an object of connection or contention, it has no charge, it is neutral, therefore there’s no force to be neutralized by getting it. So when an owner is training a dog to not steal things, he is actually projecting force on the object. He is reinforcing the dog’s attraction to said object because it is becoming “charged” with tension via their attention. He is thereby sensitizing the dog to gaps in the surveillance net as in when he’s not there, or when he’s not able to project force.

The evolution of the animal mind developed as a function of the capacity to project force, both in terms of projecting force (predator capturing prey) or in absorbing force (prey evading capture). For example, as human weaponry increased the human capacity to project force, the flight distances of animals relative to human beings increased accordingly. And in areas where whitetail deer are hunted heavily, their flight distance changes at dawn on the first day of hunting season. Are they perspective-taking the point of view of a hunter? No, they are responding to the seasonal fluctuations in the capacity of humans to project force. Likewise when I was very young I tried to shoot one of the crows that were always hawking around the back of my father’s kennel. I hid a .22 rifle under my coat and yet the instant I came into view they immediately took flight. I even tested their acuity by hiding a shovel under my coat and found that I could once again approach to the normal distance and get under the tree they were mad-dogging in. Humbled and in awe, I quickly learned the error of my ways. Was it psychic on the part of the crow, or does a person’s body language change proportionate to the amount of force one can project? I don’t know. I suspect both since I feel there is an emotional component to quantum effects so that individuals can become emotionally and therefore magically entangled with others and their surroundings. 

Dogs feel what an owner is looking at because a focal gaze is a projection of force. If we look, or touch, or get excited about something, dogs feel this charge and feel that it was transferred to the object we were focusing on. It becomes attractive to the dog. This does not require a dog to comprehend the owner’s perspective. His perceptual field becomes carved into paths of resistance and he then begins to operate in the shadows if that’s the nature of his training.

My point is that a primordial function of the emotional mind is the capacity to apprehend the direction and object of force based on the phenomenon of emotional projection. The “negative,” the eyes, is the source of force and this is a basic thermodynamic template that all animals are innately aware of and all learning crystallizes around. If a tree falls down in the forest, any animal so disturbed will find some negative, a break in the continuum, something reflective, to attribute as the source of the force they experienced. I believe that this is indeed a precursor to perspective taking and T-o-M, but it is qualitatively different. The distinction is the difference between a group mind driven by a systems logic, versus an individuated mind driven by human reason. In other words a dog’s capacity to attune to a person’s gaze is dependent on how the gaze makes the dog feel as opposed to how it makes a dog think about that person’s point of view.

WDJ: “An additional finding of this study was that the dogs were capable of this distinction only in the present, at the time that the owner’s view was blocked. When the researchers tested dogs’ ability to remember what the owner had been able to see in the past, such as a toy being placed in a certain location, the dogs failed at that task.”

In other words the dog needs the human’s gaze in-the-moment because this is how he assigns the negative-as-access-to-positive direction of flow. So my argument is not a behaviorist/learning interpretation of the dog’s variable strategies when food is in the light or the dark but rather that there is an underlying template upon which all behavior and learning is predicated. In the two ball experiment dogs proved unable to remember that a ball had been blocked from the person’s view. They weren’t able to compare one point of view in time that they held in the past, with a new point of view in the present and my theory is that if one doesn’t have such a concept of time, then one also doesn’t have a concept of one’s perspective relative to another’s perspective as these are the same thing.

Everyone who drives a car is intimately familiar with this phenomenon of the surroundings carved into paths of resistance by the trajectories of force. We can thus ask for ourselves, is our capacity to drive a car coherently dependent on perspective-taking or emotional projection?

When we are driving a car we are being informed by our animal, aka, emotional, aka, our group mind; and are thereby driven by a systems logic. For example, imagine driving down the highway and a car is approaching your vehicle head-on in your lane. Is it necessary or even adaptive to be able to compare relative points of view? No, that would be a dangerous waste of time, and in the evolutionary scheme of things, a dangerous waste of precious mental resources dedicated to a superfluous cognitive capacity. Let’s imagine driving 50mph and the oncoming vehicle is also driving 50mph. All one needs to know is that the collective speed in the system is 100mph in order to compute the moment of impact. It really doesn’t matter if you are doing 30 and the other car is going 70, or 60/40, 25/75 and so on. One drivers’ perspective relative to the others’ perspective is inconsequential. The road is partitioned into paths of resistance and we intuit source of force and direction of flow so that one need not discern another being’s perspective to discern whether one is or is not the object of force in any given frame of reference. The rate of increase in the size of the car looming closer and closer in the windshield is all that matters, even if the car is stationary and you are doing 100mph or vice versa.

We could also consider the car riding dog that lunges at cars going past. Does the dog understand that the car going by is not actually moving at 80 mph but really at 40 since the car he’s riding in is going 40? Does he understand that a car that is passing by and pulling away at a 5mph rate of increase is actually doing 45 mph rather than 5? In other words does he only lunge at cars moving past his window at a threshold rate, with the specific speed that each vehicle contributes being completely irrelevant to his perception of these different events? Of course not. If a car was parked motionless on the side of the road facing as if it was oncoming, and his car speeds by at 80mph, I believe he would lunge at it since it was moving close enough to his window and at the necessary rate of acceleration.   

Finally, the author of this piece immediately recognizes the conundrum these interpretations would cause for modern Dogdom:

WDJ: “The bottom line: These studies show us that dogs may be sneaky, but neither the studies nor the results say anything at all about whether the dogs feel guilt when they sneak a bite of food they’ve been told to leave alone.”

But if dogs can perspective-take, and if they can comprehend iniquity as the Range experiment purportedly revealed, and if they have been taught that taking food displeases their owner, then they should also be able to grasp the inequity of having stolen the food and feeling guilty about it about upsetting the person responsible for their very welfare. But of course behaviorism doesn’t want to go there because this would undo the last thirty five years of exhorting dog owners not to punish a dog that seemingly looks guilty. Once again we find that the cognitive approach always runs into itself through self-contradicting logic loops because it fails to understand the group mind systems’ logic that is the underlying template to animal behavior and their unique manner of learning.

The dogs being tested in these experiments have “attention-surplus-disorder,” they live with highly motivated humans in dog-centric households. They have been raised in the canine catechism of “No-Bite,” “Leave-It,” “Off,” “No-Jump,” “No,” and have thus become highly sensitized to a human’s capacity to project force so that they are constantly mapping low and high pressure zones.

The problem with interpretations of these experiments is that the experts immediately turn to human thinking to account for the intelligence displayed by the test subject animal. It's the default setting of the human intellect, the knee jerk reflex of the rational mind. My argument is that it will prove more informative to find the commonality with our own animal nature because we do indeed share the same capacity for emotional projection as do animals. And since the human intellect doesn't want to share the limelight with its accompanying human nature, I encourage the reader to not leave interpretations to the "experts." Become your own expert. After all, when it comes to the animal mind, everybody has one.   

Published June 12, 2016 by Kevin Behan
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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.