Question for SPARCS

Via Twitter, I posed this question to the SPARCS conference. Of course it got lost in the shuffle but I am surprised that such a  question didn’t come up given that the phenomenon of hierarchy is the number one feature of the canine mind.

If dominance is an instinct, yet malleable to context (and thus a function of relationships), and is evolutionarily stable due to being energy efficient, and if cooperation likewise evolved by virtue of being energy efficient, how then can dominance persist if instinct is malleable to conditions and behavior is a function of energy efficiency?

This is another fundamental internal contradiction at the root of modern Dogdom. In the consensus view of dogs and social structure the same metric of energy efficiency is being used to justify two conflicting drives, dominance to control access to resources, cooperation to increase access to resources. Both can’t be energy efficient and co-exist in the dog’s mind since cooperation would immediately displace dominance. This self-defeating logic loop reveals that thoughts are being projected into the minds of interactants in order to account for the phenomenon of hierarchy. The current consensus is tautological with energy efficiency tacked on as an adjunct rather than being applied as a bedrock principle. On the other hand a flow interpretation of behavior (as opposed to a gene/thought-centric interpretation) can readily accommodate the phenomenon of hierarchy and cooperation within the same paradigm and without any internal contradiction.  There is hierarchy due to friction, there is cooperation as a return to flow, only now moving in a more complex manner, i.e. evolution. Genes and thoughts derive from this.


Published June 23, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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13 responses to “Question for SPARCS”

  1. Jamey Smythe says:

    Very nice. Your blog writings are helping me to understand more about NDT. I am getting to the point of seeing why some dog trainers’ techniques work even though all the human thought processes that are continually attributed to the dog have nothing to do with why there techniques do work. Dogs are not children thankfully. My dog is not going to grow up and try to rule the world or be a mass murderer if I do a bad job of raising him!
    I can’t see yet where NDT will work for someone that doesn’t care about having a relationship with their dog. They just want a “good” dog.

    Thanks very much,

  2. rip says:

    Good point how dogs have developed bond with man unique among animals. Many reasons of course related to dog’s function and value as helper, but also perhaps how dogs are uniquely able to accommodate or adapt to the human “paradox.” This relates to the idea of friction and flow, the contradiction, the negative as the gateway to the positive. It reaffirms for me the juvenile inutility and insult of “pure positive” training which tries to impose a unilateral training model on all dogs, disregarding both the canine nature and nature itself in the name of a human conceit.

  3. Martin says:

    One question that I have has is I understand how wolves need to be able to feel where the other members of their wolf hunting party are when they are engaged in hunting a moose. I can also see how dogs hunting with humans would create similar teamwork. That is one of the goals of NDT: to be on the same team based on a common object of attraction. It is at this point where I start to have two questions. The first is: Why don’t wolves “get along” when they are in the pack and not hunting? I believe you said that the conflict creates the stress for the wolves that builds up and releases when hunting large prey. Why doesn’t the “good feeling” of being on the hunt translate over to when they are not hunting. I would think the stress would not be necessary. If they get along when not hunting a moose and then they see a moose that is even better! They would go from feeling good to feeling really good! This relates to my next question. In training if I am trying to create a hunt experience we can be in the flow when we are “hunting” but how does that carry over when we are not hunting? How can the dog’s good feeling carry over and be aligned with the owner and the wolf can’t seem to carry over that feeling like the dog? Also is that thought process conducive to dog training? Am I trying to create a good feeling for the dog that carries over to non-hunting periods? ( I suppose a dog and wolf are always hunting and that makes it hard for the dog because if I have no food, bite toy, etc. then things are not moving fast enough for the dog and then there problems) This would be akin to a person feeling good and is then able to bear things that are difficult. I think I am missing something with the thought process I have for NDT and the ability for the dog to not collapse.

  4. Kevin Behan says:

    Great question and it addresses why the original title of my book was “Born Wild, Train To Be Free.” First of all, dogs are the Group phase of the wolf makeup more than they are of the Pack Instinct phase. It turns out that this isn’t strictly genetic, but rather a function of genetic timing as to when smell relative to vision come on line during infancy. Wolf cubs orient by smell for several weeks before their vision kicks in, and thus have a distinct threshold between what they perceive by smell versus what they perceive by sight. Whereas for infant dogs sight and smell turn on simultaneously as they begin to orient and therefore even as adults are more able to “feel by sight,” in other words, apprehend the essence (motion of p-cog) within the form of another being, they have a propensity to be in the moment rather than be fixated on physical memory that is triggered by the sight of the form of a thing. For this reason I say dogs have a higher emotional capacity than wolves. Therefore in moments that are not in the flow, it’s easier for the dog to hold onto the feeling of flow and thus be much more sociable and adaptable. That said when I first was influenced by German dog trainers, I kept hearing “too much pack instinct” which meant there had been too much overbearing handling when dog was young and so its adaptability was lowered. I noticed that such dogs were more body sensitive and far more visual, always scanning to the horizon whereas the more sensual dogs were as nasal as they were tactile, they didn’t notice stuff on the horizon, feeling more grounded into their handler and what was going on at hand. So dogs are more able to carry over from one context to the other, because their physical memory can serve as an emotional counterbalance (rather than pain memories) and they feel sensual by the presence of others (essence within form), but for wolves they go by the sight–>physical memory and then they project a negative experience (form as interruption of flow). If dogs are overly stimulated/frightened when young, then their pack instincts are unduly emphasized and they are more wolf-life in their social ways. For wolves, the hunt and the pack are two distinct energy states and they cannot connect that they need each other in the hunt, but again, it’s not that dogs connect the dots linearly, it’s as you say, they “carry over the feeling” of flow far more readily.

  5. b... says:

    I found the explanation of the inter-hunt tension among wolves creating the unresolved stress to be used in a hunt very sensible. It seems like wolves would need to be much more ‘sharp’/instinct-driven/easily-knocked-off-balance/’reactive’ than dogs as a matter of survival. A wolf, or wild dog, would presumably need to be more attuned to predatory presence and take advantage of every hunting opportunity for the sake of sustenance. If domesticated dogs are more cooperative/social, they, on the other hand, would presumably be in a better position to take advantage of a relationship with the most accomplished hunter in nature – the human. Could we say that they could “hold on to that “good feeling” longer because they had the ‘luxury’ to do so, being part of a group that included humans?

  6. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, hyper-vigilance is essential in the wild, thus imprisoning its denizens in instinct, whereas a naive openness to novel social inputs is the hallmark of a domesticated mind and allows a dog to live free among us. If wolves had as much drive as dogs, they would unduly pressure healthy prey animals, and conversely, if a domesticated dog could somehow be grafted into a wolf pack, their latent instincts would become activated by “the Charge” and their minds would degrade back to feral.

  7. Nellie Thompson says:

    I like Martin’s comments and the related questions and comments. They hit at the heart of NDT to me.

    I interpret the trajectory of Udell’s and Lord’s works, both presenters at SPARCS 2014 Conference, to support the efficacy and importance of NDT. In particular, I think that their research findings reinforce the value of the 5 NDT Core Exercises in the extremely important process of developing dogs’ natural attraction to human beings, that is, building a reliable foundation. My reading of their work: They report amongst other things that the process of socialization, especially during critical periods, strongly influences how attracted and attentive dogs are to humans. How well dogs read and respond to human body movements and intentions parallels the social-cooperative relational process. The manner that the individual dog is “socialized/treated” by humans is crucial and perhaps more critical than even the domestication process in regard to attraction. An individual “well-socialized” wolf may even perform better at tasks requiring focus on the human better than a poorly socialized fearful dog.

    As applied to dog training, it would suggest that the relationship with the human comes before other skill training (traditional learning) and the relationship impacts the quality of later skill training. NDT Core Exercises develop the relationship and repair deficits in the human-dog relationship, especially, the dogs’ ability to read/communicate with humans. Teaching obedience skills is genuinely secondary and will be unreliable without the Core attraction as Kevin Behan postulated.

    I am confused in regard to comments above on sensory development of wolf pups compared to canine pups. I believe that Lord’s study found that wolf and canine pups developed their senses at roughly at the same time. The difference related to sensory development is the timing of their relative “critical period of socialization” where they explore their environment with little inhibition. Lord, K. (2013) A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) Vol 119(2) Ethology, Pp. 110-120. “Evolutionary biologist Dr. Kathryn Lord studied how seven wolf pups and 43 dogs reacted to smells, sounds and visual stimuli. She discovered both animals develop their senses at the same time. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts studied the development …the sense of smell at two weeks; hearing at four weeks; and vision by six weeks, on average.” Monique Udell reprinted Lord’s diagrams on sensory development in her 2014 book chapter. p. 233 of Chapter 10
A Dog’s-Eye View of Canine Cognition Monique A. R. Udell, Kathryn Lord, Erica N. Feuerbacher and Clive D. L. Wynne. They are good visuals and available to view at no cost at:

    Commentary: “two subspecies enter what’s called the ‘critical period of socialisation’ at different stages.…This means that when wolves begin exploring their world they are still blind and deaf. By the time a wolf pup’s sight and hearing has fully developed, they are closer to the end of their socialisation window so their levels of fear are heightened. Dr Lord says, ‘No one knew this about wolves, that when they begin exploring they are blind and deaf and rely primarily on smell at this stage. This is very exciting….’ From UK article cited above.

  8. Kevin Behan says:

    Thanks for revising my garbling of that research. Yes it depends on when the socialization window closes, and then the sight of a thing for wolves becomes more shocking given that their orientation till that point depended on smell. In other words, the deeper flow memories are formed before visual stimuli are imprinted. At any rate, since smell is the social sense, imports essence directly to the viscera, the capacity to combine sight and smell into one feeling would be critical to an outgoing temperament.

  9. Nellie Thompson says:

    ADDENDUM: These lines from Udell in Chapter 10 of the 2014 Book are too important and exciting to pass by: (1) “The Two Stage Hypothesis predicts that for canids to perform well on traditional human-guided tasks (like following a human point) [Mine: Thoughts of the ‘Ready’] both relevant lifetime experiences with humans, including socialization to humans during the critical period for social development, and opportunity to associate human body parts [Mine: Thoughts of physical center of gravity] with certain outcomes (such as food being provided by human hands, a human throwing or kicking a ball, etc.) are required.” p. 227 This is exciting in my opinion because Udell proposes an alternative hypothesis that really takes into account that dogs read human bodies, the Two Stage Hypothesis. The emphasis prior to NDT was more on humans reading dogs. Reading dogs is tremendously important but so is the other side of the coin, dogs reading us. What I have not read from Udell is a detailed functional definition of “socialization”. “Socialization” brings to mind memories of puppy class, i.e., some basic skill training like “sit” interspersed with moments when the puppy students are passed from person to person or let loose to fall all over one another and lots of toys, a bit of bedlam. My “socialization” preference would be NDT ‘place’, ‘safety crating’ etc.

    (2) Pure attraction of dog to handler. “…while it is entirely possible that dogs have a predisposition to attend to the actions of its social companions, it appears that individuals (be they dog or wolf) must first learn to recognize that humans are indeed companions worth watching and then, continue to learn about the relationship between human actions and salient outcomes throughout their lives….much of why canines learn about human actions occurs naturally within their home environment without conscious effort by people….” p. 228 The push and other Core Exercises appear to make my dog feel that I am more “worth watching”. Strong attraction to me was absent earlier, she is now developing it “through out” her life span. There is hope for the reliable foundational relationship to rekindle.

  10. b... says:

    I haven’t read Udell’s work, but that’s an interesting point about socialization. The modern training world seems to have fixated on the “critical” nature of socialization and misconstrued the natural process to justify a sort of shock-and-awe approach to it.

    Owners are bombarded with calls to “socialize” and stimulate early and often, lest they end up with a wild beast. Hence the preponderance of puppy classes and playgroups, as mentioned above. Dogs are encouraged to have “friends” and to be exposed to X number of people/dogs/new stimuli before the end of their socialization window (or the related “fear periods” that some have ascribed to specific ages). The net effect ends up looking more like social devastation than socialization.

    Slowly some are beginning to put 2 + 2 together and recognize the deleterious effect of all this hyper-stimulation. A couple of articles have popped up warning against dog parks for example, but behaviorists still most often seem to blame “poor socialization” during the puppy stage for social dysfunction (aggression/fear). It’s ironic that what they’re advocating is actually bound to produce a dog “imprisoned… in instinct”, making it more like its wild counterparts.

    NDT (the book) was warning against such an approach over 20 years ago, and advising to carefully build a puppy’s social and emotional capacity by strengthening the bond with owner and exercising prey drive while recognizing their limits (see logs on a fire analogy in Chapters 10 & 11). This measured approach is dismissed by many as dangerous (beware of “deprivation”, we’re told).

    Interestingly, there seems to be an analogous movement bubbling up on the human developmental side. As an offshoot of the anti-bullying movement, more parents are looking at methods like home schooling (critics would cite “deprivation” here as well) that focus on building a foundation (drive) for self-confidence (overcoming resistance). Gradually some are recognizing that young humans, like dogs, don’t necessarily benefit from being subjected to pressurized socialization.

  11. b... says:

    As others have pointed out, efforts to engage learning theorists and behaviorists in order to shed light on the common thread in most of the mysteries they’re trying to solve may be a futile exercise because accepting this sort of understanding largely dismantles the foundation of their theories, and in some cases, renders their career’s work irrelevant. Can’t say I blame them. Unfortunately, the more institutionalized and ‘scientific’ it becomes, the more myopic the point of view.

    Gradually some will ‘discover’ similar conclusions and couch them in terms of their existing theories (one of this year’s SPARCS talks: “The influence of owner/handler personality on the behavior of dogs – James Serpell, PhD”… uh, ‘Your Dog is Your Mirror’ (2012), anyone?). And others will incorporate NDT training techniques outlined 10-20 years ago as new ‘tools’ into their control/reward systems.

    The truth is that most owners are ambivalent about competing philosophies and are just looking for a way to understand and manage their dog, and many are eager to learn how to connect to dogs on a more profound level than teaching them 1001 tricks. With all the psycho-behaviorist noise out there, they just have no idea how.

  12. Roger says:

    Kevin, you write that getting your dog engaged is sniffing/smelling is important because it grounds the dog. The research presented by Lord suggests its important as a fundamental method of sensory perception too, that is, a link back to the “puppy mind.” I understand the theory but I do not know how to help my dog, Bear, get back to utilizing his nose more than his eyes and ears. I do not think that your 5 Core Exercises really address this issue. Please tell me how to apply this piece to the dog beside me.”

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    The core exercises address the issue of smell over sight because they open the dog’s body/mind as an emotional pipe and he’s able to get that charge out of his body and the juices flowing again, then they naturally begin to orient by smell. Their body begins to feel more sensual and they crave to ingest, with smell being the purest and safest form of ingestion. Feeling sensual in their body, they crave physical contact with the object of their attraction (which is a deeper motive below the compulsion to bring its p-cog to ground) and this initiates the biofeedback/auto-tuning dynamic (Heart) so the dog works to mirror the object of attraction, which then makes the other dog feel safe to engage in turn. He learns to hold back to pull in the other dog rather than having to project force onto it. Until that happens with other dogs, in the interim, the owner plays the role of the other dog and induces physical sensuality by practicing the core exercises, using other dogs as a trigger. Trust this addresses your question.

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