Point Three



Resource Holding Potential


Animal Behavior Desk Reference – A Dictionary of Animal Behavior Ecology and Evolution 2nd ed – Barrows (CRC 2005)

  1. An individual organism’s potential for obtaining, or retaining, a resource based on its fighting ability [coined by Parker 1974 in Maynard Smith 1976, 44].
  2. An individual organism’s potential for obtaining, or retaining, a resource based on one or more relevant attributes, which include fighting ability, physical position with regard to the resource, posturing, size, strength, timing of its relevant behavior, vocalization quality, and weaponry (Parker and Rubenstein 1981, 221, 223–224).

Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition – Miklosi (Oxford 2007)

  1. The chances of winning any contest can be also conceptualized in terms of the resource-holding potential of the participants (Parker 1974). The resource-holding potential is determined by fighting ability, information about the disputed resource, and motivation to invest in the contest.


These are wonderful descriptions and I don’t quibble about filing them under the heading Resource Holding Potential, RHP. Yet they have no explanatory power.

I began carefully considering dog behavior in the seventies, and shortly thereafter was introduced to the German working dog ethological “multi drive” system (play drive, fight drive, prey drive, defense drive, sex drive, food drive, pack drive, etc., etc.). It was a wonderful description of all the varied things that dogs do, and which are heavily influenced by the individual dog’s genetics, however it always ran into itself and overlapped here and there and in order to square off the various inconsistencies and bring a behavior to a point, its adherents would always have to resort to a human psychology. (Meanwhile in apparently another wing of behaviorism, Karen London, is writing that the term prey drive is inaccurate and the notion of drive itself has been discredited. But here we are again with RHP.) At any rate, eventually I came to believe that all these various drives were in fact many “refractions” of one underlying drive, the variants emerging when a particular temperament hits a particular form of resistance. I used to call it fighting drive, but in the eighties I came to prefer the term “Drive-to-Make-Contact.” (Emotion + Stress + Feelings = Drive-to-Make-Contact).

Now putting my model for the canine mind aside, one must always remember that something is going on inside the dog, and one should immediately be suspicious if that something can only be described it in human intellectual, rational terms, as in a psychology of: “If I do this then that–or this–will—or will not–happen—or maybe not—I’ll have to wait and see and then adjust accordingly.” That kind of vague wishy washy supposition-ing is the intellectual glue keeping the above description of RHP together.

Bear in mind that this RHP “definition” is an amazingly complex bit of behavioral script in social-system making, one which invariably invokes a ToM, mental capacity arguably far more sophisticated than for example, the human eye. And yet unlike the discussion of the evolution of the human eye, the concept is being accepted without identifying any precursors. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the capacity to communicate intent to a rival, would have had to have evolved in tandem with the equal/opposite suite of traits, mental capacities and display behaviors so that said rivals are capable of receiving the intended message and are then able to act in a complementary manner so that signals don’t get crossed and blow the whole thing up. The signal of the signaler has to find a ready audience in the individual receiving the signal in order for this capacity to evolve. One half of the communication equation can’t evolve without the other half evolving at the same stage of development, neither lagging nor outstripping it, and while also yielding an immediate benefit in some way eons before it arrives at the full blown expression of cost/benefit analysis and reporting of results via display behaviors as modern canine cognitive theorists are asking us to accept. It doesn’t do an individual any good to defer to an inferior that it could have bested and it would prove dangerous to defer to a physically superior individual by displays of vulnerability if that superior doesn’t recognize the signals of deference and be inspired to act accordingly. What if at the beginning of the evolutionary process an individual submits and then is injured or killed because the superior interprets the submission as weakness, or as being wounded and hence as an invitation to be attacked?

So where is the step by step progression of the RHP behavioral module? Instead we are only offered human psychological treatments, fully formed, fully evolved in order to explain what’s being held as a primal organizing principle of canine social life, and which as a matter of fact predates by many epochs the invention of language and the evolution of abstract thought.

Interestingly, if we were just to ask: What is the greatest resource for wolves (large dangerous prey) then the body language between prey and predator would provides these precursors (for example Monty Sloan at Indiana Wolf Park has exhibited photos of wolves displaying vulnerability–i.e. intense display of prey vibratory behavior—when approaching the fenced in Bison) and a model would follow that is hierarchal, fluidly adaptable to circumstances, resonant with the evolution from the wolf into the domesticated dog, demonstrable in the capacity for dogs to work with and live intimately in man’s world, and which explains all the things that dogs do from riding in cars, howling at sirens to patiently sitting for an errant morsel at toddler’s high chair and without inserting thoughts into a bubble hovering over their heads. In NDT the emotional dynamic that step-by-step evolves into a complex social structure is in fact provided: (prey/predator–>male/female–>parent/offspring–>peer-to-peer) with the benefits demonstrable for each participant in any given interaction. How wolves communicate with their prey, is the same dynamic by which they communicate with each other, and a dog with a human as well.

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Published July 23, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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13 responses to “Point Three”

  1. Elektrik Skeptik says:

    Nice story that had nothing to do with the published research.

    You can believe in anything. That your magnetic chakras manifest in emotional jaberwokies in the canine 5th dimension, that’s fine. When you misrepresent the work of others and pretend what you think is science then there is a problem.

    You are also wrong by saying RPH requires ToM. It doesn’t take any ToM to see an opponent is larger. Or for me to gauge my Judo/Tennis/ect opponent is better.

    Finally, we can apply genetic algorithms to demonstrate that your opinion re: evolution transmitter/receiver is false.

  2. kbehan says:

    So are you saying there is a math module running an algorithm inside the dog? And as to the size of an opponent, indeed that does not require theory of mind, that is resistance relative to attraction.

  3. In “Bystander effects and the structure of dominance hierarchies,” (2013), Lee Alan Dugatkin writes:

    “The bystander effect, which we shall be focusing on here, refers to the case in which an individual changes its estimation of the fighting abilities of others based on what it observes. Given that fighting costs can often be significant during animal contests (Archer, 1988; Abbott and Dill, 1985; Enquist et al., 1990; Huntingford and Turner, 1987) selection should, whenever possible, favor any assessment that curtails such costs. Despite their potential importance, bystander effects have not been the subject of a great deal of empirical work, although they have been demonstrated in chickens (Chase, 1982a,b, 1985; Coultier et al., 1996), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss; Johnsson and Akerman, 1998) and fighting fish (Betta splendens; Oliveira et al., 1998).”

    Putting dogs and wolves aside, how do trout and fighting fish (not to mention insects, who are also brought into Dugatkin’s discussion) estimate the fighting abilities of others?

  4. Sorry, I misread the date on the Dugatkin article. The article was written in 2000 and published in 2001, not 2013.

  5. Elektrik Skeptik says:

    “So are you saying there is a math module running an algorithm inside the dog? ”

    Are you really this ignorant? Do you think there is a math module inside a die? Or a coin? Do you think radioactive material is running Poisson “math modules”? You proved Science of Dogs’ observation true; you distort what I people write.

  6. Elektrik Skeptik says:

    The correct response – for you – would be: I don’t have the math/science knowledge or skills to understand how GAs apply, can you explain?

  7. Martin says:

    Elektrik Skeptik, I do not want to take this thread too far of course but it would be helpful to me if you could post a link to a training methodology/information that you feel is effective. I assume you are the same person as the Unknown Scientist and on your site you do have a link to the Academy for Dog Trainers. http://academyfordogtrainers.com/blog/
    The site has information on not using dominance methods and appears to favor a clicker training approach.
    I also saw your post on your site of the Cesar Milan clip. I have heard of Cesar Milan obviously but I have not seen many of his shows. When I first got my dog I tried the dominance route because my dog is very “aggressive” towards dog, cats, squirrels, etc. I guess it would be simple to say she has a lot of prey drive. After abandoning dominance training I ordered a video from Leerburg “How to Train Your Dog with Markers” http://leerburg.com/obediencedvds.htm
    and I read as much as I could about positive rewards. I also started playing tug with my dog. The problem I had was twofold. I could find very little about how to draw my dog to me in the face of high distraction. I tried the highest food value treats possible. In fact trying to give food to my dog when she sees a cat repulses her. If you put the food right in her face she will turn away as if the food is getting in the way of her getting to the cat. Also what I found was that my goal wasn’t to teach my dog specific tasks. I was trying to get the dog to “work with me” for lack of better phrasing. So it became frustrating to find information that was only talking about getting my dog to sit, lie down, etc. I do not know how positive the Leerburg “Marker” video is considered in the training world but there was also the problem that some positive trainers would say “well sometimes you need to correct a dog”. I do not remember who right now but I can find out if it important. This made no sense to me. Why do I have to correct my dog if being positive works. This made as much sense to me as dominance training when it was said that you need to correct your dog hard but careful because too hard and some dogs could be pushed to be more aggressive. Which is it ? These are the questions I was left with. I had corrected my dog as hard as I was going to correct her and positive training was not working out either. I now use NDT methods and find that I am able to come up with questions I have about my dog and can then modify my training to work out some solutions. Mr. Behan has given my dog and I some basic techniques that give me foothold into having my dog wan to work with me instead of racing after everything else. I am not a scientist so if you can post some information either here or on your site that would allow me to understand how a scientific approach would apply training that would allow me to connect what you are saying to some of the behaviors dog owners face and by seeing the mechanics of how the behavior is worked with allows me to understand what you are saying about dogs.

    Also I had one other question that I often think about in terms of positive training which is possibly a misunderstanding of what positive training truly is. I will use the Judo opponent as a starting point. So Judo or martial arts often can involve an element of pain or at the very least being uncomfortable and for many that is part of the thrill or excitement. If it was super easy it really wouldn’t feel like you were getting anywhere. I often wonder that if dogs think/feel like us then can’t there be contexts where being uncomfortable is motivating and enjoyable for the dog? I guess an obvious example would be when a dog is wrestling with the decoy in a bite suit. So if that is enjoyable can’t uncomfortable moments be incorporated into training because the dog think/feels like us. What if we take it a step further and say that in a championship Judo match the crowd, the opponent all start to blend into one emotional moment. Is it possible that dogs feel that way all the time? What about the Cesar Milan dog? Do you think the dog feels miserable? If I understand correctly that is what we are debating. Does the dog say to itself this is horrible I’m getting pulled around by my throat or is there just a loss of self so to speak and the feelings are so intense that all there is attraction to the other dog and a miserable feeling of being unable to get there. It does not seem impossible to me that the dog can be consumed in an emotional state all the time. I think people feel like that sometimes. Anyway, this goes back to wanting to know how you think about dog training because it would help me understand where you are coming from.

  8. kbehan says:

    Please explain, what is going on inside the dog?

  9. Josh D says:

    I have to admit – I always find these interactions fraught with misunderstanding and assumption and find them frustrating to read quite often from both perspectives. From the great deal that I have read of NDT and Mr Behans work – he seems to be putting forward a framework for consciousness and behavior in animals. Without a doubt there is lots of scientific analysis done on animal behavior but less so (that I am aware of) that can nail down the underpinnings of conciousness (although there has been some very interesting research as of late). Less of the prevaling research (that I have come across) seems to take into account the affective mind of the subject and more so the congnitive mind. Panskepp and his colleagues seem to be an exception. In Panskepp’s “Archaeology of Mind” Dr Panskepp proposes 7 emotional neurological centers as cross-generational means of learning and communication – utilizing areas of the brain that pre date other communication centers. Surely tapping into these primitive aspects of behavior/mind aren’t impossibly far fetched are they?

    I can say without a doubt that Mr Behan certainly has an uncanny grasp of how to interact with dogs to get a desired result. It seems to me that he is looking for science to back up his real life experience.

    Never-the-less all the stone throwing doesn’t diminish his ability to rehabilitate problem dogs and understand canine behavior (labeled snake oil in the linked article).

    As far as his attempt to use existing science to back up his theories – it must be taken on a contingent basis. We often don’t have the authors engaging in conversation with Mr Behan, nor to we have specific research aimed at his theories. We only have the slices over perceived overlap between his theory and existing research.

    Flame on


  10. Elektrik Skeptik says:

    Martin. Wrong assumption and I have to wonder about your reading skills did you see the name? For that reason I have no Idea what videos or links you refer to.

    I’m just here because the “skeptic/pseudoscience” tags brought me to Science of Dogs site, though even my meager knowledge of animal cognition exceeds what is presented here.

    Frankly I’m not invested in this discussion – a quick perusal reminds me the homeopathy garbage rhetoric or psychics; today it’s dogs and tomorrow I’ll be on some other site with a quack using “energy” to sell bracelets or promise ‘energy’ healing. As every skeptic knows, anyone who resorts to ‘energy’ is not telling the truth.

  11. Martin says:

    Elektrik Skeptic, thanks for clearing that up. I will direct my questions directly to the Science of Dogs Site.

  12. salman says:

    Thanks a lot for the article . Its really healpful . Will stay tune for more 🙂 .

  13. kbehan says:

    Unknowingly you are making my point. To say an algorithm explains the step by step progression of how RHP evolved, means you are treating the mind of the dog exactly as if it is a die, a coin or a piece of radioactive material. While there may very well be an algorithm that can duplicate Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, that doesn’t explain anything. Beethoven’s mind wasn’t running an algorithm, and something indeed was going on in his mind. So if you are applying GAs to this discussion, then follow through; what’s going on inside the dog’s mind? Without doing so your reply is just a dodge.

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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.
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