Review of Neil Sattin's DVD Review

Since I’m of course interested in how the marketplace receives Neil Sattin’s DVD treatment of Natural Dog Training, below is a link to a recent review which I’m excerpting at length in this article.

Here is the link to Reno Mostly Dogs Review of Natural Dog Training

The purpose of this article is to review the review in the hopes of making the point of Natural Dog Training more vivid. I believe the review is thoughtful and tries to be fair, not too cynical, but ultimately misses the point because the reviewer isn’t willing or able to question first principles. I’ve placed excerpts of the review behind asterisks and in quotes followed by my response.

**”One of the enduring arguments in our marriage is how Greg takes a simple thing and turns it into something complicated. In Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals ($65.00,, Neil Sattin follows a similar pattern. This two-DVD set starts with the premise that by being “the moose” to your dog, you can utilize his natural prey drive to your benefit. He also takes basic Positive Reinforcement training and adds several unnecessary steps to create a well-trained dog.

Is dog behavior really so simple, do we have dogs all figured out? For example, could this reviewer explain what’s going on inside a dog that sits enthusiastically for a treat? It may not turn out to be so simple.

When I give a seminar, the behaviorists see me do something like getting a shy dog to push into me for food, and say “oh that’s positive reinforcement”. The dominance proponents see me do something like getting an aggressive dog that’s tense and rigid and ready to blow, roll over on its back for a tummy rub and say, “Right, that’s asserting your dominance”. But by the end of the seminar most of the audience can see that I’m making a profound distinction between both of these paradigms and that what I’m doing has nothing to do with progressive learning theories or a dominance hierarchy. The fact is that the shy dog has become aroused by what’s negative about me, and the stiff dog isn’t acting submissive, but is learning to manipulate me by choosing to feel good. Both dogs are becoming grounded and therefore their energy is moving and so they are beginning to soften. Meanwhile in the marketplace, the progressive trainers criticize me for being too negative and the dominance proponents say I’m being too touchy-feely and new-age.

The distinctions I’m making are subtle perhaps, and in some ways beyond the scope of an introductory practical tutorial on how to train a dog. On the other hand I begin a seminar with a two hour lecture as preface to the practical demonstration and such an approach isn’t feasible in a dog training video aimed at the average dog owner. The average dog owner doesn’t want to learn theory in a video just as the average computer user doesn’t want to learn computer theory; they just want to know how to train the dog and how to use a computer. And they’re willing to question first principles because they’re not attached to conventional wisdom and probably because conventional wisdom and modern theories have already failed them.

**”Being “the moose” means that the handler plays the role of prey or predator to the dog, like a moose in flight or fight (and they can be fearsome fighters, tap dancing like frenzied grape stompers). Having lived in Alaska (Sattin lives in Maine) for more than 40 years combined, we’ve seen numerous moose-dog encounters, and the actual range of behaviors is too broad to be useful as a training paradigm. The idea is fascinating, but reading the dogs’ body language as Sattin preys upon them actually evidences a play response.”

Here we find the classic separation that the human intellect makes between the-forms-of-things, as in the concept that what’s going on within a pack of wolves is fundamentally different between what’s going on between wolves and other species of animals, especially large, dangerous prey animals. For example I believe it would be possible for a moose to induce a play response from a wolf; owners see such behaviors all the times between their dogs and horses, or goats and so on. If a moose were somehow so inclined it could easily train wolves to heel, sit, down, stay and come-when-summoned and this is because all behavior is a function of attraction, and this force of attraction that constantly elaborates between predator and prey “polarities” is the basis of complex social energy. This is why wolves play amongst themselves with the exact same behaviors that they exhibit in hunting prey. And when wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana are turned out into the field with buffalo they approach them and then exhibit “submissiveness”. So if there is an inseparable gap between species so that the “actual range of behaviors is too broad to be useful as a training paradigm” how is such inter-species communication possible?

Finally, in police and protection training, the interface between prey and predator as the organizing principle to canine behavior becomes much more vivid and easy to see than is available to the average pet dog trainer training family dogs, yet not any the more relevant.

** “The actual training begins with teaching you to elicit a “pushing” posture from your dog to help him realize you are controlling his energy.”

The purpose of pushing is not to control the energy, but to attract the dog’s energy; energy that the dog has learned to hold back from its owner because this energy is “designed” by evolution to be held in reserve for critical moments, and the prevailing training paradigms are not teaching owners how to attract this energy. It is the energy itself that controls the dog because the dog wants to feel good by continuing to experience the flow of its emotion. By the owner becoming the object of attraction in terms of triggering and releasing reserve energy, this gives the owner emotional leverage and the opportunity to shape the energy into heel, sit, down, etc., just as prey does when it refuses to roll over and be dead, the wolves, heel, sit, lay down and stay for hours, dart in and dart out in synchrony, maneuver in coordinated fashion, all in response to their feeling of attraction to the prey that embodies so much resistance. The advantage to learning at this peak energy state is that the dog learns how to heel, sit, down, stay, recall when in a critical moment. If one becomes the object of attraction, one has emotional leverage and can then exert control, if control is a word we need to use.

** “Sounds simple, right? The “pushing” looks a little like your dog is trying to mount your arm while you support his throat/chest in one hand and feed (or “Zing!”) him some yummy food with the other. The body posture the human must assume to attract the dog to his “prey” is like a Tai Chi posture: knees bent, body bent over at the waist slightly, and a backwards walk. There are numerous issues with the pushing technique:

Achieving what Sattin calls a prey body posture can be physically demanding for anyone with knee or back issues. (We’ve worked with people who were blind, in wheelchairs, frail, or simply just small relative to their dog.)”

Dogs can be secured to elastic bungees or saplings so that they are still driving forward without any taxation on the body of the trainer. People in wheelchairs can also do the pushing exercise to the extent to which they feel comfortable. Small kids do not need to do it. Once the dog is trained, he listens to small kids he’s bonded to, naturally. This is what makes working with energy so powerful. But if someone is physically incapacitated so that they can’t do physical work with their dog, then perhaps it is true that they will have to limit themselves to modern learning theory. But at the same time I would guess they would also be advised to select a dog of an energy level that would suit them and could be trained with a minimum of physical exertion in the first place.

** “The position he takes as prey is actually a loose, wiggly, curvy body posture associated with playful body language.”

What the reviewer perceives as playful body language is actually preyful body language. There is no such thing as play per se. Play is inhibited prey-making. This is why wolves play before they hunt. They are exciting the prey-making impulse and when the energy gets more intense then the intra-species pleasure circuits can handle, they then spin off and go hunting so that this aroused energy can be fully consummated via the inter-species pleasure circuits.

** “If you have a dog who jumps up a lot, this would likely make the behavior worse.”

Only according to mainstream learning theory; whereas in practical reality it doesn’t work out this way. And if there is a discrepancy between theory and actual results, then maybe something’s wrong with the theory. In fact, it’s the owners teaching puppies not to jump that are producing so many dogs that are obsessive about jumping up on people. Dogs jump up in order to make contact. When they feel secure in their connection, and they gain such a feeling of security by virtue of all their energy able to be in invested in someone, then they don’t feel the need to jump up in order to make contact. They feel connected on sight.

** “Pushing is ultimately a secondary reinforcer (like a clicker, whistle or verbal “Yes!”) – an unnecessarily complex one, which also has the significant disadvantage of being impossible to use at a distance (unlike a clicker, whistle, or “Yes!”).”

Such terms as primary and secondary and tertiary reinforcements are useful descriptions to a point, but they don’t do anything to elucidate what’s going on inside a dog. If we want to talk about primary and primal, the number one motive of all animal behavior is to resolve unresolved energy. Therefore pushing and other behaviors that overcome resistance are dealing with a primary motive and are not reinforcements whatsoever. When an animal moves unresolved energy, it doesn’t matter to them what the consequences are, the simple biomechanical reality is that it feels relief by such movement even when it puts it at risk of death.

Also, I have no problem with clicker training if it’s based on top of the drive mechanism. NDT is simply saying that dogs are not learning machines; they are feeling beings and feelings evolved in order to turn emotion into drive so that it can overcome resistance. Any being that helps a dog overcome resistance, becomes an emotional counterbalance to that dog and this is the basis of an emotional bond.

** “His approach is refreshing (as compared to many dog trainers on television), in that he treats the dog respectfully and kindly while trying to achieve results. The dogs obviously enjoy working with Sattin and do learn the basics he teaches. He doesn’t get caught up in the unfounded dominance paradigm, so he can concentrate on eliciting cooperation instead of using coercion. And, at least for the first disc, he uses only a flat woven collar. Sadly, he later recommends physically manipulating a dog, if necessary (it never is) and using a slip (aka choke chain) or pinch (or prong) collar, both of which are punishment tools.”

The old paradigm, into which modern “positive” dog training falls, sees collars and corrections as necessarily negative. But dogs don’t perceive things this way. Anything that adds energy to the system, even things that seem at first to be negative, end up being perceived by the dog as a positive. For example: when a successful entrepreneur recounts their business career, from the long term perspective looking back, even the failures which seemed overwhelmingly negative at the time, are now perceived as positive building blocks to the ultimate success. And if they were particularly skilled in business, in situations which others might perceive of as a block, they were able to perceive as an opportunity. Therefore they became aroused by adversity and saw it as an exciting challenge rather than seeing it as an impending failure. This is likewise true of a dog in drive. What behaviorism construes as a “negative” the dog perceives as an energizing positive. The fact of life on planet earth is learning how to deal with negatives. Natural Dog Training teaches a dog how to be in conflict, without being in conflict. The negative becomes defined as access to the positive.

** “These imply a lack of awareness of both a common behavioral response (opposition reflex) and the availability of better tools (no-pull harnesses and head halters).”

The pushing technique is the purest expression of harnessing the opposition reflex in order to access the latent reserve energy; whereas I can’t imagine any greater a violation of the opposition reflex then clamping down on a dog’s muzzle with a head halter. That’s like putting a stopper in a flask of gas held over a Bunsen burner. It sensitizes the dog’s muzzle because it becomes a choke point for energy. A dog uses his mouth and jaws to move energy just as a child uses their hands and gestures to express energy.

** “Sattin teaches “tug” and “fetch-tug” as a reinforcer and uses it in some creative and interesting ways. There are many benefits to teaching your dog how to tug properly, including relationship building, improving self-control, and just being great exercise.”

Bear in mind that ten or twenty years ago, these same progressive trainers and behaviorists were telling owners to never play with tug toys, as according to learning theory, it was encouraging dogs to bite.

** “Several of his explanations are hard to follow, such as why you want to be the moose and how he resolves the dog’s excess energy through the human.”

For the purposes of an introductory and practical tutorial, I thought this point was made quite clearly in the videos.

** “There are some leaps of logic that don’t track well with the modern science of dog behavior, like being a predator, which should kick in the dog’s fight or flight response – neither of which are conducive to training.”

The predator aspect is a necessary activator of unresolved emotion (reserve energy) —and it doesn’t necessarily have to kick in the fight/flight response, although it can indeed do so. For example, Mohammed Ali did not climb into the prize ring out of a fight/flight reflex. He was driven to make contact by overcoming the resistance his opponent offered. Fight drive, which is the highest expression of the drive-to-make-contact, and which in humans is manifested in everything from competitive sports to the dedication required in the full expression of an artistic talent, has nothing to do with the fight/flight response. It is how the drive-to-make-contact elaborates into the highest expressions of social and cooperative behavior.

The predatory aspect is physically manifested by the eyes. In regards to training and in addition to triggering the emotional battery, the predatory aspect reflects emotion projected onto the object of attraction back from the “projectee” to the “projector.” Without this process of energy reflecting back and forth, emotion couldn’t elaborate into a feeling and complex social structures couldn’t then self-organize. So the predatory aspect does prove conducive to training if the dog doesn’t perceive its owner as an impossible object of resistance. This is the purpose of pushing, to reduce the inhibiting effect of an owner’s predatory aspect on a dog’s capacity to evolve a feeling that can overcome resistance and states of conflict and evolve into cooperative behavior.

** “There is an accepted jargon to describe the nuts and bolts of dog training that is generally used by experienced trainers to facilitate understanding, whether that trainer is old school, military, agility, clicker or lure-reward trainer.”

The problem with accepted jargon is that it cannot depict what’s going on inside the dog without resorting to thoughts and so it is therefore of no value if one wants to explore the mind of the dog which is an energy circuit. For example, classical mechanics is useless in describing what’s going on energetically within the atom. Therefore NDT has had to invent its own terminology which is also completely in accord with the way people intuitively talk of emotion as energy, (wired, animal magnetism, galvanized, charged, etc., etc.)

** “He appears unfamiliar with this language and often uses common terminology incorrectly; redirection roughly means “don’t do that, but do this instead.” This probably won’t be a problem for a person unfamiliar with dog training, but can cause a few misunderstandings when trying to translate to an experienced trainer.”

Strictly speaking, Natural Dog Training doesn’t employ such terms as redirection or distraction. I suspect Neil was trying to put things into common parlance so that the ground felt more familiar to the average dog owner. In point of fact, NDT is not about redirecting, desensitizing, substitution or distraction; it is about channeling the dog’s energy into the handler.

** “When Sattin gets to some basic obedience on disc 2 (which is titled “Mastering Obedience” – a clear over-reach), he starts with a wooden box. We often use similar tools (a piece of carpeting, dog cot, or even an agility pause table), but Sattin leaves it to the DVD set purchaser to build his or her own box; this seems like an unnecessary hurdle and additional complication. The worst omission, however, is that none of his materials deals with the issues that drive most dog owners to find a dog trainer in the first place: house training, jumping up, barking, chewing, mouthing, and more.”

I believe Neil was quite clear in his DVDs. All the so-called problems in raising and training a dog, from a dog’s point of view, ultimately boil down to one problem, what to do with its energy. If this underlying issue isn’t addressed then one ends up sticking fingers into ever springing leaks in the crumbling levee. So as an introduction to NDT, I think it’s completely reasonable that Neil focused on foundation principles that if addressed, take the emotional freight off these other subsidiary issues. Of course there would be nothing wrong with subsequent editions to deal with these lesser matters directly but this nevertheless falls outside the scope of an introductory DVD.

** “Overall, this is a somewhat interesting approach to dog training, but one that adds little more than some new language.”

The DVD reformulates basic training into an energy model. This has never been said before.

** “This could be a useful addition to any trainer’s library with a few new variations on existing tools, particularly alternative uses for “pushing” as a motivational or energizing technique. But it’s not recommended for the layperson.”

I am intrigued as to what could possibly be an alternative to pushing but then why would the reviewer be interested in an alternative technique if the operational premise behind the pushing technique is held to be wanting. I’m still waiting for the alternative to the bite toy that behaviorism and progressive dog trainers used to advise against thirty and twenty years ago. In ten years from now if the pushing technique is allowed to be co-opted by the current models, it will be recommended just as the bite toy is being encouraged now.

** “How to choose a dog trainer: Professional trainers use humane methods that are safe for both the dogs and their people. Good trainers stay current in their field by educating themselves through readings, seminars, and conferences, as well as having excellent teaching and communication skills.”

To stay current the reviewer might want to read “Natural Dog Training” originally published in 1992 wherein the operational premise of the energy theory is set forward in greater detail and in terms of mainstream theory.
“Professionals are members of educational organizations. Competent instructors want students to ask questions and are kind toward both students and their dogs. Experienced trainers know that there are no guarantees, but will ensure client satisfaction. And training should be fun for dog and human alike!”

Such a spirit of inquiry could begin by questioning first premises, such as dogs learn via operant and classical conditioning. The truth is that since I’ve been in the dog business, I’ve seen an exponential increase in rates of aggression and incidences of aggression in breeds of dogs that were once bomb proof, and this corresponds with a concurrent increase in the organization of thought that is happening under the current modern orthodoxy. We still kill millions of dogs each year even though there is an almost universal compliance with neutering and early training and selective breeding for so called “friendliness.” In the interest of learning something new about dogs, I would think the reviewer would have been willing to approach a new idea with a little more intellectual curiosity.

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Published September 21, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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35 responses to “Review of Neil Sattin's DVD Review”

  1. April Hannon says:

    Very great review of the review Kevin. Are Neil Sattin’s DVD’s available for public purchase? I think that anyone can and will if they truly have a desire learn natural dog training, and help their dogs. That is what I’m am doing right now.

  2. AmandaKoh says:

    I am soooo glad you have the energy for this, Kevin. There is so much I want to say in response to that review, but I only have so much energy for it. You’ve opened my eyes so much, and they are still opening… I am still learning, but I already understand how important your energy model is, and I feel sorry for people who have such a “haze” of misinformation in them, that they allow something so eloquent and simple as Neil’s DVD to pass by them without being more open to its message. They DID see that the dogs were “happy” at least… and I do believe the tides will turn. Keep doing what you are doing……. it’s coming.

    And btw – GREAT analogy when you mentioned “sticking fingers into ever springing leaks”:

    “All the so-called problems in raising and training a dog, from a dog’s point of view, ultimately boil down to one problem, what to do with its energy. If this underlying issue isn’t addressed then one ends up sticking fingers into ever springing leaks in the crumbling levee.”

    Beautiful. 🙂

  3. Angelique says:

    April, they are available at

  4. I notice that good trainers really need to prove themselves. For example, when I watch Attila Suzukalek with Fly, or Susan Garrett running an agility course for the United States teams, or a service dog working effectively, or a search and rescue dog actually find a victim, then I am willing to believe pretty much anything the trainer says (as it applies to their dog anyway). I need to see the results. So, I don’t see the value of abstract discussions like this one. Far more powerful for me would be to see the results.

    When I first started training, my teacher (Leslie Whitney, also a world class agility competitor) had all these border collies, and they’d walk into class, and she’d tell them to go do something, and they’d always just do it. They would fly around the course like it was the most fun thing in the world. I didn’t have to wonder if she was right or wrong about anything, I also didn’t wonder about the theory, she always started by explaining exactly the behavior science reason behind everything she was doing. How could I possibly become a great trainer without understanding the theoretical underpinnings for how I make a training decision regarding my dogs’ behaviors?

    What dog sports are you involved with Neil? Rally, Obedience, agility, flyball, or service dog activities? Services like search and rescue? Therapy dog? Service dog? Schutzhund? French ring sport? Or rehabilitating and placing rescue dogs? Whatever it is, I think that’s where we test, and prove, our methods as trainers, and that is where we build our credentials. It’s not easy. It takes years of training and preparation and having the right combination of dogs and activities and time! It’s a lot like the music industry. It’s not enough just to make a recording, however great your recording may be! (I don’t know, I haven’t reviewed it, but if it calls for prong collar then I have a bias against that). Your next step is to prove the method and build the audience for it via the accepted methods in this field: proof, measuring/comparing the performance of your dogs against the performance of other dogs trained via other methods. That’s why competitive dog sports exist: so that all competitors become better at understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different techniques.

  5. Jen Higgins says:

    I want to thank Kevin and Neil for all their hard work. Although my foundation is in Clicker Training, I sought out methods of dog training that discussed dog behaviour in terms of emotion and energy, something that is sorely lacking in the overly scientific view of operant conditioning. I can’t wait to get Neil’s video and begin to utilise NDT techniques in my own practice.

    I appreciate that Kevin felt that he needed to respond to the review and (in essence) defend his methods – but in my experience some +R trainers won’t accept anything that isn’t scientifically tested (by someone more important than them or that has a PhD of some kind), and attempting to get them to try something that falls out of this scope is like hitting your head against a brick wall.
    So be it, that is their way – I’ll stick to mine – I search out other dog training techniques in order to learn, develop and hopefully improve.

    As for the last comment about Trainers needing to prove themselves – I had to chuckle, that’s one thing that I would avoid in a dog trainer – I would much prefer to see a dog trainer improve them-self.

  6. Sang says:

    I agree, the most powerful thing is to see the results. But if you don’t actually go to see the results, then how can you judge the content of the discussion? Have you seen any of the dogs Neil has worked with to see if these methods work? Have you seen some of the truly traumatized dogs Kevin has dealt with and made whole again?

    Because that’s the thing. Comparing one training method versus another in the form of competition and dog sports has no bearing on the validity or superiority of one training method versus another. Not within the context of this discussion. Because based on that premise, if a dominance based trainer could get better results in competition than a positive one, then it would be concluded that dominance training is superior. And yet, we’ve all come to understand that dominance theory is flawed. So in a schutzhund competition, if a dog I trained using dominance based methods, outscored and beat your dog you trained with positive methods, but you totally disagreed with the way I trained my dog, would you be interested in what I have to tell you? Probably not. And that’s what I see here. It’s not about proving the validity of this methodology, so much as it is one person’s discomfort with a training paradigm that is not in complete alignment with their own. It is actually the same mentality that dominance trainers had about the new school of positive reinforcement trainers before it was popularized.

    Once again, I see someone claiming the superiority of their methodology, without fully understanding the reasoning of another. It’s interesting that within that context, +R and operant conditioning trainers have become the new dominance trainers, in their inability to see anything other than what they already know.

    I agree that we should and need to look at things as scientifically as possible. Lest we forget however that science has been known to be wrong, and that scientific studies of behavior often miss the real discovery, usually proving a predisposed theory rather than actually looking for something new or unknown.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that without so called “abstract” discussions such as this one, nothing ever changes. Sure, I could just accept what other trainers with a lot of credentials tell me as fact. But does that mean they are right about everything? By constantly looking at dogs through their lens of operant conditioning or dominance, can they discover anything truly new or unique?

    So what I say is that these abstract discussions are not irrelevant or pointless. In fact, they are the very opposite of that. These kinds of discussions are incredibly important for one purpose, to question all the things we believe we already know. It’s when we stop asking questions, and stop having these discussions, when we stop evolving and learning.

  7. kbehan says:

    I have a lot of experience, which I suppose is an immodest way of saying I’ve made every mistake in the book. I like to think of myself as a police dog trainer, but perhaps I’ve learned more from grooming dogs, cleaning kennels and catching stray dogs on dog warden calls with my father. I am also equipped with an infallible compass, all my instincts related to dogs are wrong. So whatever my instinct says I should do, I’ve trained myself to consider the opposite. I appreciate what other experts have to say and admire the accomplishments of great trainers, but our greatest teachers on dogs as creatures of the immediate-moment, will always be dogs themselves, not to mention deer, cats and very young children.

  8. In response to Jenny Ruth Yasi, I would that when it comes to teaching obedience, or agility, or search-and-rescue, 85% of the credit goes to the dog and only 15% goes to the trainer or their training philosophy. That’s because most of what the dog “learns” for those types of obedience is already part of his DNA.

    It’s only when you get into the process of undoing emotional damage in dogs with behavioral problems that you can see where the flaws are in dominance theory and learning theory.

    This is the 21st Century. Dogs have evolved since Skinner’s day, and they’ll continue to evolve. In fact, speaking of evolution, behaviorism is based on certain Darwinian principles that are now being called into question by evolutionary scientists. So in a sense, the “modern” trainer who uses behaviorism is using a 19th Century science on a 21st Century dog.

    There was an article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine that shows why Kevin says about learning from dogs and young kids is important.

    When teachers use behavioral science techniques to teach impulse control in pre-kindergarten children, it backfires. The kids are not only less able to control their impulses, they’re less flexible about learning new things in general. But when they’re allowed to engage in imaginative play, their ability to control their impulses, not to mention learn new things, grows exponentially. Despite that, the teacher who used the behavioral science techniques is still convinced that if she were just to try again and be more exact about when and how she reinforces behaviors, she’ll be successful.

    Training isn’t just about getting a dog to sit. It’s about the whole dog. Yes, using positive reinforcement is generally better than using force. But neither method reaches the heart of the dog the way Natural Dog Training does.


  9. My point wasn’t to say one method is better or worse than another, but just the sort of evidence that I like to see in video (I’d like to see some U tube clips that demonstrate canine learning). Neil will get lots of reviews (hopefully!) and it won’t just be from people who know him and have worked with him directly, it will be people with the same sort of questions that I have. I like to see the dog learning. I look across a whole horizon of dog activities, sure I have probably learned more from picking up dog shit and getting burrs out of tails and feeding a pack of dogs. I totally believe and understand that training the dog isn’t just about teaching him to sit, but rather fulfillment of a dog’s whole capacity, as much as possible, body, spirit, mind. I seek information from many sources, and Jen Higgins, why do you need to insult people? I have studied with quite a variety of teachers, and learn something from everyone, not just from Natural Dog Training. So, my mind is quite open to new ideas and points of view and approaches. I see a schutzhund trainer & watch the dog’s WHOLE performance, not just that the dog heels perfectly, but does he pant and drool a bit anxiously? So I see the whole dog and guess, oho, is that shock collar training? It is visible that even though the dog performed the behaviors perfectly, the dog was obviously stressing, performing in order to avoid a shock. And so we see these sorts of things in competition (though personally, I have never seen a punishment trained dogs perform better than a reinforcement trained dogs. Maybe it happens, I haven’t seen that yet) When we evaluate performance obviously it isn’t merely a score that matters, but how the dog is developing (getting better or worse?). This is how professional trainers test our work. Well except Cesar Millan, who has built his (sick) empire on marketing and promotion. Perhaps if he’d tested himself in competition, and was more focused on making contributions to the field than on building his brand, he might have become a better trainer and made better contributions to the field.

  10. I also need to say to Lee Charles Kelley that’s I’ve been a substitute teacher for over a decade, and I provide pet assisted therapy in a pediatric psychiatric hospital, weekly for the past three years, so I see how people use behavior science research to help wounded children recover and *thrive* .

    I also have worked with several formerly feral dogs, with dogs who have severe phobias (storm, noise, and separation),with dogs who are fear aggressive or resource guarders, with a dog who was kept locked in a cage for his first two years of life, with a hurricane Katrina rescue who was traumatized, so these are the very places where learning theory is most helpful! It would be very difficult to help a dog recover without some sort of understanding of how dogs learn.

    Behavior science is the scientific study of how animals learn. It has nothing to do with Darwin, except that it is a science — that means, the major hypotheses are provable and proven. Findings in behavior science have led to psychiatric hospitals and schools and dog training and animal training today that is far more humane and compassionate as well as more effective. Diss it at your own risk.

  11. Alec says:

    I also agree that mentioning a few instances in which dogs were rehabilitated would have been beneficial to a viewer along with some example time lines for accomplishing the objectives (even though they would vary); however, I don’t think the lack of this in the video discredits the methodology. Apparently there is a potential TV series forthcoming that will hopefully show convincing evidence that the methods work (of course TV can make anything look good could be an argument). It proves nothing to me that Neil’s or Kevin’s dogs don’t have fear to loud and unusual noises which my dog suffers from somewhat. I’m not going to blindly believe whatever they say just because I see their dogs walk through a war zone unfazed. The only way to know if it works (assuming your ok with the approach morally) is to try it on your own dog (it has helped a little thus far). Being a layperson, I have a difficult time determining whom is the best trainer based on various contests that, as Lee mentioned, seems to primarily come down to who picked the best dog from a specific breed which is almost irrelevant to the general public. Everywhere you go all the “experts” have basically the same breed (german shepherd, belgian malinois, border collie, and poodle). Also, is it true that dog sports exist to prove which training method is best? For example, I thought schutzhund was created to further the breed, not determine which training method was the best. Something I found refreshing in the videos is that there were various other breeds included. Ultimately, many of these other methods didn’t work for me, so trying something different is the only choice besides giving up.

  12. In answer to Jenny Ruth Yazi:

    It sounds to me like you’re a very good teacher and trainer, maybe even a gifted one. Meanwhile, I’ve personally found learning theory to be highly ineffective — almost criminally so — when it comes to curing the kinds of behavioral problems you mentioned. So why the dichotomy?

    I’ve cured similar problems using nothing but Natural Dog Training techniques. One client adopted a Rottweiler who had been kept in a basement alone for so long that her puppy collar had to be surgically removed; her skin and fur had grown around it. When I first met her she was ready to kill me. Five minutes later she was lying on her back on the couch with all four paws up in the air, using my hand as a pacifier. (I cajoled her out her aggressive mood by praising her while she was in the act of trying to kill me, essentially changing the behavior by rewarding it!) We cured her aggression by allowing her to mouth her owner’s hand, as I she was doing with me, and by playing tug-of-war with her, letting her win, and praising her for winning.

    I had another client whose dog tried to kill any other dog nearby at dinner time. I simply did the pushing exercise for 2 days, and nothing else, and his resource-guarding behavior was completely extinguished. How do you explain that?

    I totally extinguished my own dog’s scavenging behaviors by simply praising him every time he started to scavenge something off the street. Within three days of doing nothing but praising that specific behavior it disappeared entirely.

    It’s also possible to extinguish a number of other behaviors simply by praising the dog for doing the very behavior you want to extinguish. I once taught a puppy not to go past a certain point in the client’s kitchen by playing fetch with her in the dining room. Every time she went after the toy I praised profusely. I praised her profusely as she brought it back. Occasionally I would toss it past the center island, marking where the kitchen started. As soon as she got to the line of demarcation I praised her profusely, using the exact same tone of voice I’d used when she was chasing the toy in the dining room. She stopped short every time. On the one hand my praise made her more excited about chasing the toy; in the other it made her stop short and not go after it.

    I taught my own dog to jump over a low chain-link fence in Central Park while he was in a high-drive state, intensely attracted to a tennis ball I was holding up to my chest. He had never jumped a fence before, and as I teased him and teased him with the ball I could see his emotional energy rising and rising until finally, at the exact moment he started his leap, I said, “Over!” in an excited tone of voice. He jumped the fence and I threw the tennis ball for him to chase. An hour later, as we were leaving the park, I stopped next to a black rail fence, with no tennis ball in my hand, and while the dog was not in a high drive state. I pointed to the fence, said “Over,” and he immediately jumped right over the fence. Three months later I gave him the command again, for the first time since those initial experiences, and he jumped right over the fence.

    How do you explain that?

    I also taught him to “smile” on command without giving him any form of reinforcement at all. The first time he produced the behavior on his own, I simply said, “Give me that smile!” in a tone of voice that I felt matched his internal emotional state. He smiled then, and gave me a smile every time after that when I said those words. And there was never any reinforcement given to him by me.

    How do you explain that?

    Learning theory is an inaccurate model of learning. It’s accurate in the lab with rats and monkeys, but not with dogs living in their natural environment. It’s only scientific within certain narrow constraints. And yes, it is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. Skinner’s idea was that just as an organism is part of a species whose survival contingencies shaped its morphology and behaviors, its behavior could be shaped by contingencies of reinforcement based on those same principles.

    You’ve heard the expression, “Primary reinforcer,” right? That’s based on the idea that survival is the first biological imperative, therefore anything that satisfies a basic survival need is a primary reinforcer for behavior. It turns out that survival needs aren’t a constant, and in some cases aren’t even relevant.

    So, yes, Skinner’s work was based on certain aspects of Darwin’s theory that are now being called into question.

    Dogs are calling me so I’ll leave you with the link below that explains my position a bit more fully. I’ll just add that I think you’re right about needing to see results on the DVDs. I think it would’ve been great if I’d had a video camera handy when I did all the experiments and training tricks I’ve mentioned above. I think it would be especially cool to have videos of dogs with behavioral problems, showing the trainer doing the pushing exercise and nothing else, and seeing the amazing progress. (It’s on my to-do list.)

    Anyway, here’s the link:


  13. Well, you spelled my name wrong. When you don’t quite understand learning theory, it wouldn’t work. You have to understand the theory to apply it correctly. What you describe that worked well is easily explained/analyzed in terms of behavior science. I won’t go on and on, but one point: reinforcement and punishment are actually functions, not things.

    “Primary reinforcement” really means “first reinforcement,” that is, an inherent interest/desire that an animal is born with, such as a natural drive to acquire food, water, warmth, sex. Secondary reinforcement is something an animal learns to want, such as swimming, a game of tug, or a ride in the car. When we talk about reinforcement and punishment though, we are really discussing functions. Almost anything can function as reinforcement or punishment. If an animal is satiated, or doesn’t want food or sex, it won’t be working as a reinforcer, and could even function as a punisher.

    In your examples of behaviors that you taught, the was dog learning to predict good things happened when he responded to your stimuli. That means, you were delivering something that was functioning as reinforcement at that point in time. You reinforced behaviors and added a cue, it’s clear to me.

    “Certain aspects” of Darwin’s theory? Come on. You’re totally making that up.

  14. Also, just looked at Mr. Kelley’s blog, and wonder, where in the world do you get these ideas? In behavior science, we are EXTREMELY concerned with the underlying emotional state of the animal.

  15. kbehan says:

    I think this could develop into an excellent discussion for pointing out the fundamental distinctions between an energy theory of behavior, which NDT purports to be, and the current scientific models of evolution, behavior and learning.
    So I understand the distinction you’re making between first and secondary reinforcement, but is it that swimming, tugging and car riding are secondary rather than primary because even a soon-to-be-waterlogged labrador retriever first needs to be stimulated by water and then “learns” to love water given an innate but-not-yet-triggered love of water, sort of a super-learning view of behavior? Or, are these secondary just for certain dogs that didn’t initially like swimming or so on and then “learn” to do so through a process of gradual acclimation and through positive experiences?
    Nonetheless I don’t see that a distinction between first and secondary reinforcements is particularly valuable other than as a taxonomical device so as to accurately catalogue one thing as different from another thing by virtue of a precise description, because we can see that only dogs love to swim, play tug and ride in cars and so this must speak to something fundamental in the canine nature that isn’t relevant to learning in the more general sense of the term.
    I also want to point out that making a distinction between food, water, warmth and sex as first reinforcements; relative to other desires such as swimming, tugging and car riding as secondary reinforcements, for all its value as an accurate means of description nonetheless comes embedded with an assumption that first and secondary reinforcements are fundamentally different from each other by virtue of the phenomenon of learning. This assumption then leaves a very important question unexamined as to whether all desires are fundamentally related which is suggested by the fact that they elaborate on the same physiological/neurological platform, a linkage that would then inexorably guide any and all learning independent of the phenomenon of reinforcement. Interestingly in two NY Science Times articles several years ago (sorry I can’t quote the exact link at this moment) it was reported that the experience of revenge piggybacks on the same brain circuitry as the taste of sweetness, so it turns out that revenge does indeed taste sweet, literally. The other article reported on an experiment wherein college men indicated a sexual preference for heavier rather than thinner women when they were physically hungry. So perhaps it’s not coincidental that we intuitively say physical, sexual and emotional appetite. It would then follow that all desires derive from a master desire and are therefore in service to one drive, not many. (Attempting to directly tap into this drive is why I developed the “pushing” technique.) It would then follow that if there is a universal operating system to the animal mind, that an animal’s physiology and neurology evovled in response to this, just as plant physiology and “behavior” evolved in response to the photo-voltaic effect. In other words, hunger wouldn’t fundamentally be about nourishment, and sexuality wouldn’t fundamentally be about procreation. There’s something deeper going on that solves these subsidiary problems in its stride.

    As far as being scientific goes, I believe an energy model is far more consistent with Darwin’s theory of a universal process of evolution from common descent than is mainstream behaviorism or evolutionary psychology. My criticism of modern gene-centric science is that it is thought-centric because it projects human reason onto the behavior of animals, such as an apprehension of causes and effects over time, as well as onto genes, such as that genes replicate for the reason of replication.

  16. To Jenny Ruth Yasi (sorry about previous the misspelling; it happens with my name all the time):

    You wrote: “In your examples of behaviors that you taught, the dog was learning to predict good things happened when he responded to your stimuli. That means, you were delivering something that was functioning as reinforcement at that point in time. You reinforced behaviors and added a cue, it’s clear to me.”

    You’ll have to explain how praising a dog for scavenging got him to stop scavenging. Surely he felt (or as you put it, predicted that the pizza crust or chicken bone were good things that were about to happen to him (or to his taste buds and belly). How did my praising him function as a reinforcement for not picking up those items. The only thing that happened when he responded to my stimuli was that he didn’t get what he wanted. How is that a positive reinforcement? It may be clear to you, but it’s not clear to me.

    Also, how did he learn to jump over different types of fences with no repetitions of the first learning experience?

    Thanks for reading my blog article. I appreciate that you took the time to do that. But your comment in reply kind of proves one of the points right there in the article (which I’ve put in caps below):

    JRY: In behavior science, we are EXTREMELY concerned with the underlying emotional state of the animal.

    LCK: “Going back to Skinner, I think we need to consider that when he proposed his theories it was widely believed that animals didn’t even have emotional lives. With some of the recent advances in neuroscience, and the discovery of the same emotional circuits that exist in both the non-human and human brain, we now know that animals can be very emotional. This is especially true of dogs. Yet the behavioral science approach is based almost exclusively on changing a dog’s behavior with little or no thought given to the underlying emotional cause of that behavior.

    “SOME IN THE FIELD WOULD DISAGREE. THEY WOULD SAY THAT THEY’RE VERY CONSCIOUS OF HOW EMOTIONS AFFECT BEHAVIOR. I have no doubt that that’s true. But the techniques they use are still based on a clinical, unemotional, Skinnerian foundation, one that’s simply not geared to change a dog’s emotions as much as it is to change his behavior. That kind of thinking is built in to the system despite the fact that all behavior, learned or instinctive, is the end product of emotion. In fact without emotion there would be no such thing as positive reinforcement. This is not something that factored in to Skinner’s equations at the time he made them. It should be factored in now, but from my observations that rarely happens.

    “Meanwhile in Natural Dog Training our focus is always on changing the dog’s emotional state first because we know once we do that and bring the dog’s emotions back into balance, the right behavior will always follow.”

    So I stated clearly in the article that most +R trainers would say that they focus on a dog’s emotions (though I’ve talked to plenty who say they don’t, that emotions are irrelevant, etc.). My point was that the system was built from the outset to focus on changing a dog’s behavior. (That changed a bit with Premack, but his principle was proven false shortly after he proposed it — but that’s another story.)*

    This brings up another point concerning what you wrote about my use of praise to correct an unwanted behavior: “the dog was learning to predict good things happened when he responded to your stimuli.”

    A better way to put that would’ve been to say that the dog was learning to anticipate, not predict. You may not be aware of it, but your use of language implies that dogs learn because through a mental, not emotional, process. This is very common with +R trainers. They seem to believe that dogs engage in a simple form of logic called propositional thinking: “If I sit then I get a treat.”

    But one can’t engage in such types of thinking without the use of symbolic language and a linear sense of time. Dogs show no ability to symbolize, and they live totally in the moment. This kind of thinking by +R trainers is also why you’ll often (if not always) hear them say to a client who isn’t getting results, “Up the value of your treats!” The problem is that dogs don’t put values on things. Again, without the use of language you can’t compare one thing with another. Dogs do feel desire, so one type of reward may feel more desirable becaue of the way its energy affects the dog’s emotional state. But the way +R trainers word things there’s always a germ of rational thinking involved in the learning process. And that’s not how dogs learn.

    And I’m not making up what I said about Darwin. There’s a huge interest right now in studying what’s called biological altruism, which seems to go against the grain of how Darwin’s theory has been interpreted and applied, i.e. that animals and genes act in their own self-interest. Dogs are probably the clearest window into what biological altruism is and what it says about the non-primacy of the survival instinct.

    As for primary reinforcers, you’re taking the second part of the definition and applying it as if it were the whole thing.

    Wikipedia: “A primary reinforcer, sometimes called an unconditioned reinforcer, is a stimulus that does not require pairing to function as a reinforcer and most likely has obtained this function through the evolution and its role in species’ survival[6].”

    Finally, here’s a quote from Skinner (1974): “A person is first of all an organism … the product of the contingencies of survival to which the species has been exposed in the process of evolution. The organism becomes a person as it acquires a repertoire of behavior under the contingencies of reinforcement to which it is exposed during its lifetime.”


    *Bill Timberlake and Jim Allison disproved Premack’s principle, at least as it was originally written. The underlying principle is sound: that behaviors which are “more emotionally satisfying” to an animal can be used to condition “less emotionally satisfying” behaviors.” But that’s not how Premack wrote it.

  17. Sang says:

    So check out this article in Newsweek written by Po Bronson, author of Nurture Shock.

    A quote from the article:

    “Yes, kids are motivated by marshmallows and cookies. But that’s not the kind of motivation we should be focused on. That’s not the kind of motivation that fires up their attention systems and makes them operate at peak levels. Fundamentally, the Mischel paradigm measures and tests kids at a moment engineered so there is nothing to care about in life but marshmallows and pleasing the experimenter. It tests them, essentially, when they are at the absolute bottom of their operational abilities. It tests them when they are bored – not when they are stimulated.”

    I think this article is interesting within the context of motivation and how motivation affects learning.

    Here’s a link to the full article:

  18. The author obviously isn’t a skilled dog trainer! Nor a behavior scientist! This is where a lot of creativity and skill comes up in behavior science: what can you use to motivate the behavior you want? With kids, we want to motivate them to read, not to eat. Some people don’t have that training picture in their head, and their dog is simply motivated to get the food. There’s been no transfer of value, the dog isn’t performing because he loves to perform, but merely because he is trying to get the kibble out of the pocket. That’s not what we are aiming for.

  19. Sang says:

    I think it says more about the initial experiment and the scientist that conducted the experiment than it does about the author. I think the author was actually making the same point you are.

    What I do think the author is saying though is that all kids are born with motivation. But in order to tap into it, we need to provide something to them that triggers that motivation to want to perform at higher levels.

  20. Yes, I meant the author of the experiment.

    So, here you write “we need to provide something to them that triggers the motivation to want to perform at higher levels.”

    This is something that behavior science defines as reinforcement. What is reinforcement? It is something that triggers the motivation to want to perform at higher levels.”

    So, whatever that is, whether it’s energy, food,fame of tug, pushing, a song and dance, a shooting star, whatever that thing is “that triggers the motivation to want to perform at higher levels” is, in behavior science the terminology for that thing in “reinforcement.”

  21. Whoops too many typos this a.m. I meant, whatever triggers the motivation to want to perform at higher levels is “reinforcement,” whether it’s energy, feelings, form, perceptions, consciousness, food, a game of tug, a coming together of weather, a shooting star and a piece of kibble,pushing, doesn’t matter. In behavior science, if it causes behavior to increase and perform at higher levels, the terminology for that is “reinforcement.” That’s how we define “reinforcement.” Pushing is a great contribution to our approach to “reinforcement.” In behavior science, we are always experimenting and trying to find new ways to deliver reinforcement, new ways to discover what will best motivate or reinforce behavior.

    If you offer something a high salary, and the executive does not work harder and perform at a higher level for that salary, then the salary, by definition, is not functioning as reinforcement.

  22. SEB says:

    I think this illustrates the point of Natural Dog Training:

    You said:

    “whatever triggers the motivation to want to perform at higher levels is “reinforcement,” whether it’s energy, feelings, form, perceptions, consciousness, food, a game of tug, a coming together of weather, a shooting star and a piece of kibble,pushing, doesn’t matter.”

    I believe Natural Dog Training says it DOES matter. That how can we truly understand the nature of the dog without knowing why and how each thing works? In terms of science, I don’t think you could hold an experiment, have a variety of variables, “Food, energy, etc” categorize them as all one thing, and then say that the conclusion of the experiment is sound. So why can we do that with our explanations of dogs and animals?

    Not that I’m saying you’re wrong, that they’re not reinforcements, but I think especially with aggressive dogs, it’s incredibly important to know why s/he won’t take food but why it would respond to pushing. If you don’t figure that out, more than likely you can’t fix the underlying issue and then that dog has to be put to sleep. So I think you must figure out those variables instead of just classifying them and moving on.

    To me, it seems like the answers out there today for behavior aren’t really answers. Because as it stands, this is how it goes: The dog doesn’t respond to food. Why? Because it’s not a reinforcement. Why isn’t it a reinforcement? Because it doesn’t want it. Why doesn’t it want it? and then the answers just stop (or we modify the original explanation). And isn’t that question of ‘want’ the most important one of all? There’s just no ONE explanation of the dog that can fulfill every aspect of its behavior, and NDT seems to be trying to fill that gap.

  23. Angelique says:

    I’d like to add to the point SEB is making. Just because something is a reinforcer doesn’t mean that it is the right kind of reinforcer. Think addictions. NDT seems very clear on providing your dog with a reinforcer that doesn’t undermine building heart in your dog. Consider ball crazy dogs as an example. Your dog may do anything for a ball, but the very act of giving them the ball may be undermining your ultimate goal of being their moose.

  24. Sang says:

    “If you offer something a high salary, and the executive does not work harder and perform at a higher level for that salary, then the salary, by definition, is not functioning as reinforcement.”

    That’s for sure Jenny:)

    So then, why isn’t it acting as a reinforcer? That’s really my question. If money isn’t acting as a reinforcer, then the company would have to find something else to use as a reinforcer. And I agree with you 100% on the infallible truth in that. However, what makes the new reinforcer a reinforcer in the first place? Why does that have value to the executive to begin with?

    I’m a designer. I used to design cars. I had a passion for cars that drove me to go to school, become a car designer, and then into a career designing them for 10 years, and I was quite good at it. But my passion for it started to wane. The enjoyment I got from it just wasn’t there anymore. So because my passion for cars and designing them went away, does that mean my innate passion itself also went away? No, it got transferred into other things, which I am now pursuing.

    I wasn’t born with a love of cars. I grew to love them and become passionate about them after I was exposed to them as a child. If I had never seen a car when I was a child, I don’t think I’d have a passion for them. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t born with passion or desire. Cars were just the physical manifestation of that passion and desire in my life at that time.

    So to me, all the things we term “reinforcers” are fine, whether it takes the form of food, ball, toy, frisbee, and so on. But just because the reinforcer changes over time, does that mean that a dog’s passion or desire goes away with it? I suspect that a dog’s desire remains, and then a new outlet for that desire emerges. But the desire remains a constant in the equation. Just as how my passion for cars has waned, and has been replaced with other outlets, yet my passion and desire remain the same. So I’m not disagreeing with you on the notion that if something isn’t reinforcing a behavior, then it isn’t a reinforcer. Obviously if something doesn’t elicit a desire or emotional response, then it has no emotional value. My question lies in why any of these things are reinforcers at all. What makes someone passionate about cars, planes, flowers, gardening, money, etc? They are all born with the same passion and desire, and yet they all find individual ways to express it. But we all share passion and desire.

    So then the question becomes, if we all share passion and desire, what is it about those learned reinforcers that make them reinforcers? Why did I learn to love cars as a child? Was it because my friends did? Was it because my dad liked cars? If so, then what part of my desires and passion were attached to wanting to fit into a group or to find harmony with my father, versus actually having a passion for cars? Is the fact that I was trying to find alignment with someone else, or another group, the real motivation behind it? And then, was I using cars as a common objective to find harmony with those around me? If that’s the case, then it was the group harmony and group dynamic that was really fueling my desire and passion, and not the object/reinforcer of my desire at all.

    In Natural Dog Training, we believe that a dog’s real purpose and objective when engaging in games of fetch or tug, doing agility, and so on, is to find alignment with his group, not necessarily because the ball, the toy, or agility in and of themselves have any real meaning or value to the dog. So yes, using them as reinforcers is terrific, but I believe that the thing we’re reinforcing through those games, and through training, is the dog’s alignment with his group. Just as I was trying to find alignment with my group through cars, a dog finds alignment with his group through games and training.

    So then, why do dogs need to find alignment with a group in the first place? If alignment with his group is the ultimate reinforcer, then what makes it such a powerful one, which all dogs are born with? That is the question Natural Dog Training tries to answer.

  25. Here’s an interesting insight into how and why behavioral science based techniques so often fail to get to the heart of a dog’s nature, and therefore, why they so often fail to produce good results when the energetic stakes are raised:

    The author seems convinced that she can solve this problem with the same approach that’s ultimately responsible for her dog’s lack of responsiveness in the first place.


    PS: I replied to her last two comments, but she decided not to post what I’d written.

  26. Lee Charles Kelley, I didn’t post your comments, because you continue to insist on offering your advice when I haven’t asked for your help, when I already have a training plan in place that’s working great, and when you know nothing about me or my dog. You’re like a dentist trying to offer advice to a client you’ve never seen. For Sang an excerpt from great little article on “why” something may function as reinforcement in one setting, while not in another. The preference exists partly in “contrast” to other more aversive options.

  27. Lee Kelley, you’ve been rude, I’ve told you I don’t need your help and don’t want your help, I posted your booklength comments patiently for a while, in spite of your evident ignorance regarding me and my dog, your inability to read or hear what I am saying and your completely screwed up misstatements about behavior science. I don’t want to argue with you, but you are clearly all excited about arguing with me. Have fun with that. And thanks for directing people to my website.

    The reason why something becomes a reinforcer is because of something called “transfer of value.” If you want to know more about behavior science (it’s a very rich and growing field) I suggest you subscribe to JABA and JEAB, and check out their websites. Also, here’s a neat article about the “contrast effect” and how it can affect reinforcement value that you might find interesting.

    My point is that I think all the elements in NDT can be explained and proven to work via behavior science research, and why wouldn’t you want to do that?

  28. kbehan says:

    The reason I promulgate an energy theory for behavior is that from my way of looking at things, nothing about dogs fits into modern behavioral science and I hope I have begun to establish this in the section “why-dogs-do-what-they-do.” I don’t want to veer too far off topic, but I would like to point out again that biology does not have a coherent model for such fundamentals as sexuality, personality, and even emotion so we shouldn’t be assured that it has the phenomenon of learning nailed down either. Whereas in an energy theory, emotion begets sexuality, sexuality begets personality, all of which is in service to “learning” how to resolve unresolved emotion according to a “principle of emotional conductivity.” (In an energy model each phenomena elaborates out of the other. The higher a species emotional capacity, the higher its sexual/sensual capacity and the more personality it exhibits. Therefore one can discern a dog’s personality at a hundred yards and in an instant whereas one has to be highly attuned to other species and for longer periods of time in order to divine their specific “personality” characteristics.)

    But back to learning: the discussion on my site about eye contact, which is a technique I introduced to a competitive dog training club in Houston in 1992 and I doubt there are any instances of this method being used before this time because in those days trainers were spitting hot dogs from their mouths, is a case in point. (It’s also an example of how a new theoretical understanding can indeed lead to a practical application.) In seconds one can induce a dog to fixate on their eyes without any learning whatsoever because, in contravention to behavioral science, nature is not organized at random and animals don’t figure things out according to reinforcements. Therefore we can postulate an absolute rule of learning no matter the context and for every species. The negative is access to the positive. This template is applied to every moment and situation as a framework on which associations are formed in every animal’s mind. The “negative” (or predatory aspect) is physically manifested by the eyes, and if these are “open” it grants access to the “positive” (or preyful aspect) which is physically manifested by anything to do with the body, scents, flesh, blood, musk, symmetrical motion and bulbous shapes. {There is a network of “O Rings” in every animal’s physiology that controls the dilation and circulation of everything, from valves in the heart, gastric juices, veins and arteries, glands, even the pupil of the eye. I propose that this is a whole-body mechanism that is the physiological basis for the principle of emotional conductivity. In the “Clever Hans” horse experiment early in the 20th century, it was finally deduced that the horse didn’t know how to count when it stomped its foot, but was reading the dilation of the pupils of the person presenting it with the addition problem.}The irony is that many trainers now use this eye-contact technique as if it substantiates learning theory, when in fact it stands in abject contravention of the very theory that animals learn by associations. Associations in the way they form have to fit a preconfigured template of negative as access to the positive. I’ve had sensitive dogs walk into my office and bark at the eyes of a dog decal in a window, the electrical socket, cracks in a tile, and the glowing red intake of a wood stove. These particular dogs couldn’t look me in the eye by virtue of their sensitive natures, so they had to find a negative of lesser resistance value to focus on so that they could off/load energy by barking.
    The pushing technique contravenes learning theory as does the eye contacting technique. According to learning theory it should not make a difference to the dog whether or not it is given a treat, or whether the dog pushes in with all its might to get the treat. The reason it matters to the dog however is that while in the former context food could be called a “reward” or “reinforcer” I suppose, but in the pushing context, this triggers the dog’s emotional drive dynamic, and since there is only one emotion, only one want and only one drive (all of which evolved to overcome resistance) it therefore feels to the dog that by making contact with its owner, it is also making contact with whatever would otherwise be a distraction, such as another dog, cat, deer, stranger and so on. Therefore as far as the dog is concerned it is getting what it wants because it’s overcoming resistance and the owner is now being perceived by the dog as THE NEGATIVE-as-access-channel-to-the-positive rather than it being embodied by the eyes of whatever was previously distracting it. Through the push the owner has now become the access channel to the energy stimulated by the distraction, this flow of energy makes the dog want to align with its owner and this urge is in service to the purpose of being in a group in order to overcome higher and higher levels of resistance. Being aligned in a group is the only way to recapitulate the principle of emotional conductivity so that an individual can feel good.
    A dog that learns to push-for-food will want food even when previously it would have been uninterested in food when distracted by something. A dog will push for food even when it’s just been fed because it’s not doing the pushing for food per se, anymore than a dog chases a car for its food value, or wolves hunt moose for food given that there are many environments when they are well fed on moles, voles and field mice and there’s no survival need in risking life or limb in engaging a combative, dangerous prey animal, yet they still go after the moose nonetheless.
    So we could make a test. We could take a dog and determine when its interest in food is outweighed by some distraction. This would establish the intrinsic reward value of food for that particular dog and which in current thinking is said to vary from dog to dog. Then, develop the pushing response and repeat the test and see if it raises the dog’s resistance to being distracted. The so-called reward value hasn’t changed from the perspective of a behavioral scientist, rather the dog has a different relationship to the experience of resistance and this changes the way its emotion boots up internally to categorize its experiences and assign emotional value to things, (i.e. as a ratio of predatory energy relative to preyful energy).
    We often hear that some dogs aren’t food motivated and yet every dog becomes food motivated after they learn to push for food. This is because overcoming resistance is the one and primary want in the emotional makeup of an animal and once food becomes incorporated into the dog’s experience of its drive dynamic then that which used to inhibit it now arouses it and all of a sudden the dog is hungry when it otherwise would have been shut down. It feels connected to its “self” by virtue of being aligned with its group. Dogs seemingly become non-food motivated, even though all healthy puppies are obviously food motivated, only because they go on to experience during the course of their maturation other forms of resistance that then become their definition of aligning within a group.
    Finally, we don’t actually eat food, or I should say we don’t fundamentally eat food, for its nutritive value because as I think I mentioned earlier the energetic value of the food isn’t realized until after it’s been digested and yet the pleasure of eating the food (flow) and the experience of satisfaction (wholeness) is concurrent with the eating of the food rather than an actual input of energy derived from eating the food. We fundamentally eat food or look forward to doing anything, for the feeling-of-flow any such action might induce and which then renders a feeling of wholeness. Because the brain-to-gut connection (the alimentary canal is the primary channel for the feeling of flow) is fundamentally concerned with implementing the principle of emotional conductivity, and because emotion becoming-unresolved-and-then-resolved according to this principle immutably renders group organization, this means that an act of ingestion is fundamentally a social act. (Just go on a long fast if you want to experience a sense of profound alienation from those around you. And that the feeling of flow is synonymous with group alignment is most obvious in the litter/mother interactions) Thus, some people get addicted to alcohol or even not eating (anorexia) in order to control the feeling of flow by which they are trying to feel connected. They aren’t able to directly face the resistance that is necessary to overcome in order to actually be connected to the network.

  29. Mark says:

    I am enjoying reading this comparison of learning theories btw natural dog training and behaviorism. Some interesting perspectives from both sides and good to see it has kept civil. A couple of questions Kevin. I think you mentioned previously that when the moose calls the wolves always come running. Can you explain that a bit further? How does the moose call and why do the wolves always come running?

    Also you said “since there is only one emotion, only one want and only one drive”. I take it this is the drive to make contact?

    Also if food does not work as reinforcer, via operant conditioning, in teaching and rewarding behaviour i.e. a simple sit, why and how does the dog happen to end up learning the correct response to the command?

    You also said “Dogs seemingly become non-food motivated, even though all healthy puppies are obviously food motivated, only because they go on to experience during the course of their maturation other forms of resistance that then become their definition of aligning within a group”. What sort of resistance do they go onto experience? How do these experiences affect a pups development? What do you think about the critical or sensitive socialisation periods and what is natural dog trainings thoughts and processes on raising a puppy?


  30. kbehan says:

    Thanks for the questions. Please see the link below for my answers.

  31. christopher says:

    I came accross kevin’s book several years ago looking for a solution for jumping up since no other method ever seemed to help much. whenever I worked with dogs I always tried to think opposites, chase a dog, they run away. run from a dog, they chase you, push a dog, away they try to get closer so this solution made sense to me. when I adopted my present dog, a lab mix I taught her to jump on me with the “hup” command. She is three now and she is the first dog I ever had that does not jump up on friends, children, strangers, or me. Now maybe I just got lucky but this has made me a believer of NDT. I am looking forward to the DVD’s. I do have a question in regards to the training of service dogs since I live near a Seeing Eye training facility. What is the current method of training these dogs? Is there a high failure rate in training? for example for every 10 dogs in the program how many do not make the grade. Would NDT be helpful to these type of dogs?

  32. Rachel says:

    All well and good, but I came here trying to figure out if Neil’s DVD would help me train my puppy. Since I don’t live in NYC, Maine, or CA, I guess I’ll have to use a positive reinforcement trainer. I’m sure I can’t learn it all from books.

  33. You could always do phone sessions.


  34. kbehan says:

    Just remember to question authority, let your dog teach you what’s going on and then you can become your own expert. Good luck, Kevin

  35. Seb says:

    If you think of Natural Dog Training as a philosophy, you’re way ahead of the game. I think it’s meant to teach you what’s really going on with your dog, so that you WON’T need to research every little thing s/he does. The core principles can answer everything.

    Both these blogs are great. One chronicles what it’s like trying to find the right method

    and this one is more puppy specific:

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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.
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