Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science Conference

I didn’t attend either the conference linked below or log onto its streamed content

Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science (SPARCS).

but Eric Brad wrote a good overview of his experiences there–

Since I’m familiar with the work of the various speakers I feel qualified to make the following comments. From my point of view the take away (from Eric’s article) is that attendees heard what they expected to hear, dogs think just like us and a dog’s capacity to adapt to humans is a function of high order cognition, such as a theory-of-mind (ToM). But here’s what was not taken into consideration.


  1. (1) The oldest relationship between living organisms is prey relative to predator. The selective pressures of predation have been shaping behavior many, many millions of years before there was sexual reproduction and male/female—parent/offspring–and peer-to-peer social relationships. Well before there were sexual strategies, reproductive strategies, parenting strategies or social strategies, there were prey-making and avoidance of being-made-prey-upon strategies. And the two overriding variables that comprise the basis of these complementary strategies are position and momentum. This means that the laws of motion are the fundamental selective pressure on the evolution of organisms.
  2. (2) Given that the central tenet of modern biology and behaviorism is evolution by way of common descent, logically speaking the oldest relationship between organisms should serve as a platform on which all subsequent relationships such as male/female—parent/offspring and peer-to-peer sociability have evolved.
  3. (3) Emotion, involving the oldest structures in the brain, would be the most logical mechanism for mediating the prey and predator dynamic. Pankseep has established that emotion is pre-verbal and predates rational cognitive facility by many, many millions of years and is universal to all species. In other words, emotion predates the vast diversification that characterizes the panoply of life we observe today. Therefore, emotion would be fundamentally concerned with the two variables that are the basis of the basic strategy guiding the evolution of all living organisms, position and momentum. Emotion would be governed by laws of motion. Any psychological treatment of emotion that doesn’t articulate its core dynamic and relies on a time-centric analysis, would be misleading by its very terminology.
  4. (4) The emotional dynamic that equips an organism with the motive and means of catching something as a meal, as well as not being caught as something else’s meal, would be evident in the sexual and social relations of all species. We should expect to see animals playing through the making-prey and avoiding-being-preyed-upon role playing rituals, with intramural friction over resources and sexual copulation following this template as well. All interpersonal interactions could be shown to subscribe to the laws of motion as the template for any given emotional experience.
  5. (5) In the Prey-Predator dynamic, success for a predator represents positioning and configuring its body around a point where the prey’s physical center-of-gravity IS GOING TO BE. Meanwhile the prey must position and configure its body around a point where the predator’s center-of-gravity IS NOT GOING TO BE. This faculty of emotionally projecting onto an immaterial point as a manifestation of a future potentiality is the essence of survival and adaptability. In other words an immaterial point and a non-corporeal potential is the defining variables of the oldest relationship between living organisms and thus by definition will never be uncovered by a materialist, reductionist approach that deconstructs an organism gene-by-gene, neuron-by-neuron and cell-by-cell. The capacity of an animal to divine the momentum and trajectory of another individual does not require a theory-of-mind cognitive module that then ascribes relative intentional states as the basis for subsequent actions. That fails to logically follow from a theory of evolution by way of common descent.
  6. (6) The capacity of emotional projection to apprehend this immaterial point that factors out the future behavior of other beings is a function of physics (gravity and the laws of motion) and would be implanted in an animal’s mind by way of an embodied cognition rather than through the powers of rational deduction because it is many millions of years older than higher orders of consciousness. Mirror neurons are a likely candidate for enabling this transfer of momentum and position from one individual to another. Dogs, being more adept at emotional projection than other species are thereby able to adapt to man’s potentialities. Emotional projection would be the most likely source of canine cognitive intelligence rather than a capacity for theory-of-mind. A gazelle need not entertain a ToM for a cheetah in order to divine its point of view, i.e. to feel where it is projecting its p-cog forward in time and space. Neither would a dog to divine its owner is coming home or going on a trip, etc., etc..
  7. (7) Physicists with robotics have mimicked complex social behavior utilizing very simple rules of physics and without invoking any cognitive faculty. Some of these demonstrations of swarming have involved no central processor whatsoever. In one example using minimal software to enable learning, the “organisms” perceive and respond through Control theory, not Operant Conditioning. None of these mechanical fabrications of coherent social behavior utilize a ToM-like computational model.
  8. (8) Since the prey-predator dynamic is the platform for cognitive development, the most basic form of animal communication occurs through shifts in body weight and the intensity of physical movements. These factors are the most reliable indicator of where an individual’s physical center-of-gravity is going to be and when, and this is the basis of eye contact and comprehending the emotional value of a directed gaze. Vocalizations elaborate upon this platform and convey analogous content.

While I understand the reasoning of the high-cognition ToM folks and why it enjoys a ready appeal, adherents of the ToM approach mistakenly think they are positively arguing for the humane treatment of animals because they believe they are demonstrating that intelligence wise, animals are more human-like than has previously been thought. But even were this true, it would still be the weakest argument for the humane treatment of animals. We should treat animals humanely simply as an expression of our own humanity and which itself has evolved from our primal animal faculty, emotional projection. In other words, animals reflect our nature. Whereas attributing high order cognition as a basis for humane treatment is a back-handed compliment. It’s really saying that because animals think more like us than we thought, this is why they deserve to be treated humanely. Whereas my argument is that because we are more like animals than we thought, we should treat them humanely even were animals to lack any human attributes whatsoever, just as we should have reverence for the earth simply for the sake of being a good steward. Humanity, it’s in our nature, and it’s the law.


(Example below of prey-predator module evolving into sexual module)


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Published July 9, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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9 responses to “Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science Conference”

  1. Martin says:

    So would it be correct to say that things humans do are all based on a prey/predator relationship? As a starting point for humans we may begin with things that we enjoy doing. So if someone likes martial arts, sparring invokes an intense catch or be caught balance. This would not have to be a physical act though. If someone likes board games that invokes the prey/predator dynamic as well. Even enjoying sitting on a porch would be potential energy where prey/predator would shift the balance. (a storm is coming I think I will go inside…or I’m hungry I think I’ll go make a sandwich.)
    So if the above is true that would explain why a dog that can jump up and play push of war with no toy and with a soft puppy mouth feels good. Because there is a reenactment of prey/predator relationship at an intense level and biting during this play would cause a collapse of the dynamic. We could even say the same for the board game analogy. Flipping the board in the air because you are not winning causes a collapse of the game. The potential for the game to continue in the above situation feels better than the collapse. That leads me to the question of how do we feel how far to push things? Biting would feel really good to do so as a dog how does the dog “learn” how hard it can play? Does it feel how to play because if we agree that it all starts with prey/predator than it can feel what being at the wrong end of the prey/predator relationship is? Which means we all feel what being caught and eaten is like and know that it is a collapse of the dynamic. So is this what negative as access to the positive is? The negative are all of the things that remind us of being the prey and grants access to the battery because the last level of the battery is being someone’s dinner and getting as close to that without it happening can feel good if we are able to feel we are not going to touch that last level of that battery. And even if we take it one step further even that last level in certain contexts is ok. A fireman might be in situations where training with group members has even lead to the possibility of being the prey to save another feeling better than living and having the other die. This is emotional projection. So to tie it back to dogs you have said that when the master valve starts to open with the dog nothing can really stop it and we hear of countless examples where dogs have not worried about being the prey and risked themselves for others. They feel like the fireman.
    And taking one step back, what if I can’t feel the flow of prey/predator? The martial arts sparring example is easier. As you become better your skill level can accommodate more energy and you do not become the confused flailing prey. This would look like flow between two skilled practitioners. In dog speak the skilled dog can even deal with the flailing instinctual dog just like the skilled martial arts practitioner can do the same. A dog that is being “dominated” is absorbing just like the martial arts master is absorbing and that is an emotional transaction. The chess master absorbs the attempts of the novice because seeing the prey/predator dynamic unfold is better than smashing everything to bits. Beyond that it seems to become more complicated as to how we would ever collapse because on paper being in balance seems better. The collapses are how we can learn not to collapse or are they? Flipping the board game ends that game so I’m not going to that again. But I may flip the board game again and again and there is no change. So what is the difference between what causes a dog to default to instinct again and again as opposed resorting to instinct and then “learning” not to do it again. I believe this is where the dog training discussion begins. Although I am not well versed in either positive training or dominance training but I think using the prey/predator model I think I can see how they work and how they would fail and succeed. (and my own NDT efforts as well) If we do all rewards for a dog that craves a high energy prey/predator game then it just becomes repulsion. The treats do not lead to a higher energy game but just create a flat line with no hope of more energy. The amount of predator needed will depend on the dog. The way dogs are rewarded even with body language may be enough to access the battery hence success. My guess is that corrections work at times because they allow the game to continue but used out of the context of prey predator they deaden the dogs emotions (the dog can’t feel the potential for a better game to exist) or in a different context will cause the dog to explode. The physicality of the corrections signal a better game exists but there is none to be there is an explosion.

  2. kbehan says:

    It’s very gratifying to read how you are posing the questions correctly, and then answering them in such a way that leads to the next question. Excellent job. Yes, the bottom line in all behavior is the experience of flow, and the capacity to feel the potential for flow. In any interaction there is a ping and pong process of elaboration (the same in martial arts example or a board game) and the longer this can be sustained and the more intense it can become, the deeper the level in the emotional battery is triggered and then released into the smooth wave function that the two participants are creating in their back and forth interaction. (The archetypal template for this being the predator–>prey dynamic.) To sustain the process of elaboration, a participant has to remain “grounded” in their body even though a charge is being passed back and forth between participants. What causes one individual to lose it and then collapse the wave, is when they are consumed by the sensations of acceleration, in other words, that charge of energy (e-cog) that is being passed back and forth between the participants at greater and greater degrees of intensity, at some point seems to rocket out of their body and they focus on that surge of acceleration (experienced as a pressure in the head/muzzle region) and subsequently lose subliminal track on their own body’s p-cog. That individual then reacts reflexively to the collapse of that back and forth wave action. They become consumed by a fear of falling rather than being able to feel the return of their e-cog, i.e. “be collected.”
    Now when a reward is offered to the dog outside the process of elaboration, it is construed by the dog as a loss of energy and is repulsive. Whereas a correction that is used to intensify the process of elaboration, will be construed as an increase of energy and therefore positive.
    We know how hard to push things by way of this falling sensation versus staying in the body metric. (I like to use the example of fly fishing with light gear. If you fight the fish too hard, the fly comes out or the line breaks and so you learn to fight hard enough to tire the fish, but without overwhelming the connecting element. This too is a back and forth process of elaboration) When an individual pushes the other too hard it’s because they’ve lost or are feeling that they’re losing the subliminal ground to their own body (this is where growling comes from) and they are becoming subliminally focused on their head (specifically the inner ear) and in this state they now perceive the other individual as a block. (On the deepest subconscious, archetypal prey/predator level, they want the body of the other individual to connect with their own body, this is why prey-making is the basis of emotional flow). But in contrast when an experienced elaborator begins to feel a weakening in their partner, they learn to hold back, or even if skilled enough, to push in just hard enough to keep the other individual engaged, but at the same time indicating a lot of softness in their demeanor so that their counterpart can perceive an opening to push back. So when we’re working a dog we must be doing two things at the same time and the great mistake that beginners make is to only do one at a time, they push in toward the dog but without showing the dog that they are at the same time pulling back, i.e. “being collected.” At this point the dog begins to look for a “new negative” because the resistance of the trainer is too high. But when the trainer is both provocative and collected at the same time, this gives the dog the confidence to push back at the trainer and stay engaged in the elaboration process. This is indeed what negative-as-access-to-positive means. If an individual can retain their root into their own body (+) then they can play with the (-) of their counterpart to heighten the experience. The irony (and the beauty of this natural design) is that in this way, at the peak of elaboration there are no longer two points of view, the negative of one equals access to the positive within the other. And in such a state of complete integration, old pain memories are converted into even older flow memories that were imprinted on the subconscious, or as I like to say, unconscious mind, from the earliest days of life. Two minds become one flow system (wave function) and both can freely flip from predator to prey polarity so as to bring this wave form into new moments and frame a new environment into that pattern of perceiving. (This is why dogs mark when they enter new territory. They aren’t claiming the territory, they’re trying to imprint it with the flow pattern. They are aware that there is a new negative out there that is not yet defined, and they are trying to reconnect with their own body as they relieve the internal pressure from the awareness of an undefined negative.)

  3. […] 5. Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science Conference […]

  4. Hi Kevin,

    This was passed on to me by a friend and colleague. I dont often leave comments on such threads, but as one of the conference speakers I feel that it is such a shame you did not have the opportunity to hear the SPARCS lectures yourself. You say:

    “Since I’m familiar with the work of the various speakers I feel qualified to make the following comments. From my point of view the take away is that attendees heard what they expected to hear, dogs think just like us and a dog’s capacity to adapt to humans is a function of high order cognition, such as a theory-of-mind (ToM). But here’s what was not taken into consideration…”

    Perhaps some of us would have surprised you!

    In fact multiple speakers discussed predatory motor patterns. I myself focused about a 1/3 of my talk on how predatory motor patterns influence performance on human-guided tasks; tasks typically discussed in terms of social cognition.

    At least three, maybe four, talks discussed in detail how dogs respond to our behavior, emotional state, gestures, and even attentional state. Not one championed a Theory of Mind explanation; in fact several suggested that such an explanation would likely be flawed.

    While from your thoughts on the topic, you may or may not have agreed with everything said at the conference- that is simply in the spirit of scientific debate and I can respect that. However you may want to reconsider providing “takeaway messages” for a conference you did not personally attend, or for talks you have not yet heard. Instead, I strongly encourage you (and others who are interested) to view the talks yourself when they become available on DVD (on the SPARCS website: ), or at least those from June 30th, on “canine cognition” (+ the one on June 29th by Dr. Kathryn Lord) which seem most relevant to your commentary. I think you would at least find that they defy your expectations.

    I hope you take this in the friendly spirit intended, and that you have a chance to learn more about the speakers and talks from SPARCS 2013 or maybe even attend next year!

    Best wishes- Monique

  5. kbehan says:

    Your critique is correct and I do indeed appreciate the spirit in which it is given. I should have written “my takeaway from the Eric Brad article” (which I shall amend) instead of “my takeaway” the latter inferring that I was offering a first person overview of the conference. I was also voicing my familiarity with the work of the presenters he had referenced. I look forward to reading your work, and I am intrigued by your referencing predatory patterns for social cognition. However it is true that I see modern behaviorism as a monolith, in consensus that dogs think like humans, varying by degree rather than in kind. I would be happy and encouraged to be wrong on that score, that there are those who don’t find that dogs see themselves as habituating a self distinct and apart from their surroundings.

  6. Personally, I think it’s a shame that Dr. Udell’s work is not better known, and am glad to know she was a participant at the conference.

  7. Leosrme says:

    So – you didn’t attend the conference. You didn’t listen to any of the lectures. But you feel qualified to comment on the conference. (Edited for succinctness)

  8. Kevin Behan says:

    I haven’t commented on the conference. I asked a question.

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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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