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Temperament is a Many-splendored Thing

We will be discussing at length the notion of Temperament and it would be helpful to consider everyday examples of it in action. Even though it is the central faculty from which all behavior springs, nevertheless it isn’t a tangible organ like the brain or the heart. The easiest way to directly appreciate it and develop an eye for its sublime doings will be through talking about it in terms of the mundane and everyday things that it orchestrates. On the other hand, from time to time we will consider how it also inspires a great range of heroic and life saving behaviors in a dog.

Temperament is about energy moving into and through the body and on its way, energy is refined into emotion and then emotion is channeled into external behaviors. Put another way we could say it’s about the communication of information, when energy moves through the Temperament, it goes from a raw state of desire into a refined social affinity and environmental awareness. It becomes information. Emotionally the dog is informed of where and what he is and how to connect with what he desires. This then informs those around him and so on. Hopefully the energy is always moving and being processed into more and more exquisite expressions of sociability and collective effort. The most familiar handiwork of all this is what we call a bond between a dog or any other being a dog may be in relationship with. The deeper the bond, the more attuned the dog will be and the more refined the expressions of behavior the Temperament will engender. These can be so subtle, we altogether miss their magic.

The first few issues I will provide some examples from my experiences with dogs and I would welcome reader examples as well. It doesn’t have to be anything monumental as my following story illustrates.

My dog’s name is Illo. He’s a male german shepherd, almost seven years old. Several years ago, I had to arise an hour and a half before my regular time. I set my alarm for 5am.

In Connecticut where I was living at the time, the deer tick infestation and attendant lyme disease problem is a serious health issue. Several members of my family had gotten Lymes’ Disease and so as a preventative we didn’t allow the dogs or the cat into the carpeted section of the house which meant they couldn’t come into our bedrooms. Illo didn’t particularly seem to want to come into this section of the house either. He preferred the cooler part of the house for sleeping and for ready access to the front and back doors.

Naturally at the anointed hour, my alarm didn’t go off but the amazing thing to me was that Illo came into my bedroom, which he never does, and licked my face to awaken me. It was 5:15am. I still had plenty of time to get where I had to be. Was his waking me just a coincidence and if not, how did Illo know to awaken me well before the time that I usually let him out and come into my bedroom which he never enters?

Later that day when driving around I was trying to solve this mystery and then I remembered how the night before I had made a deep note to myself, a deep intention, to wake up on my own. This always seemed to work. For example, if I wanted to get up early but it wasn’t a do or die situation, I would program my inner clock by consciously acknowledging a strong desire to get up at a certain time, I usually hit it right on the button and without the grogginess of being alarmed into wakefulness. When I made my deep intention, I was programming my Temperament and somehow Illo was able to cue into this. We’ll be considering in future issues exactly what the mechanics to this process might be, but it revolves around Temperament and how it organizes the group into a perfectly harmonious dynamic through all kinds of subconscious sources of energy, particularly the ability to sense potential. The potential for emotional energy to move. When my alarm failed, and when I failed to respond to the state of the earth, I.e. the dawn,. Illo got energized. Because Temperament is a group consciousness dynamic, not just an on-board computing device. Perhaps my Temperament was never potentialized by my intention, perhaps it had been transmitted to Illo and registered with him all along because I also intended to rely on my alarm clock. When I failed to get energized at the keyed in time, maybe my Temperament which I had compromised with my logic, pulled his in. At any rate, Illo was the one energized. And in order to get outdoors which was where he could express this kind of energization, especially since my getting up always meant he was going out and I’d engage him if not play with him, he came looking for me and overrode the more surface limitation that the bedrooms were off limits. Temperament is about cooperation, it isn’t concerned with survival, this is a deeper level of motivation. When Illo came into my room, it wasn’t disobedience and it wasn’t something he was in conflict about. It was clear to him that in this context, I’d be happy to see him. Temperament is a many-splendored thing.

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Published June 1, 2009 by Kevin Behan

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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