The Broken Wing Ruse

They blast off like a heart attack. You're walking on a woodland trail absorbed in the forest's beauty and stillness when out of nowhere there’s an explosion from underfoot so intense you can virtually feel the slap of wings and the jet wash from a bevy of ruffed grouse bursting out from the underbrush. It's exciting, but sometimes you need a moment to gather your shoes and socks and put them back on. And in midsummer when walking with the dogs the mother grouse not only erupts from cover, but comes right at you beating her wing furiously but always just out of reach of the dogs’ jaws that are now agape. If you can retain the presence of mind to look to one side you can see her small fledglings scurrying in the opposite direction from where the mother is leading the dogs, the little ones parting the ferns as they spread out while keeping their heads down.

This summer I was walking with a couple and their dog and while we were talking about emotion as the operating system of animal consciousness (its universality being the reason why emotion is infectious) the mother grouse pulled her broken wing routine on us, fluttering and catapulting in the middle of the trail "trying to entice" the dog to follow her away from her little ones. When the dust settled I took advantage of this “ruse” to illustrate how emotion is the universal operating system of animal consciousness. I asked the couple how they would entice a shy dog to their side. They both said that they would talk in sweety-pie tones and pat their leg, in fact, rather vigorously. Exactly I said, as I mimicked the mother hen flapping her wings by patting my side as if my arm was wounded. In other words, even human beings display the broken wing ruse when we are ATTRACTED to a dog and want to make ourselves an object-of-attraction. Patting our side and talking in squeaky high tones to draw a dog near is the human version of the broken wing “ruse.” We don’t pause to figure this out, it is the simple autonomic fact of how our mind is composed so that when we are trying to become the object of attraction we involuntarily act "prey-like," i.e. vibrating our body in an intense, non-threatening, i.e. emotionally conductive manner. This carries on up into our choice of words, phrasing, cadence and tone of expression and into absolutely every aspect of human behavior. When we act prey-like we are radiating energy by behaving in an "ungrounded" yet periodic fashion which to the animal mind means "free energy" available to the first comer, and this induces a dog to emotionally project itself into our body, the necessary first step in making physical contact.

But is the hen by making itself the object of attraction, for all intents and purposes, the same thing as knowingly trying to entice the dogs away from her chicks? How shall we deconstruct the complexities of the broken wing ruse with the mother hen rushing the dog and then moving away from her chicks, all the while keeping the dog right on the edge of getting her so that the dog will remain close enough to feel it has a shot, but isn’t ever going to catch her in a million years because she always can take to the air to increase her safety buffer? And secondly, did one mother hen sometime long, long, long ago manage a rudimentary version of this behavior due to a random mutation in its genes which increased the survival rates of its progeny until ultimately the mutation not only became predominant in the genome, but even amplified to the full-fledged behavior, or fixed action pattern, we observe today? No, I don’t believe that such mainstream evolutionary theories are a reasonable interpretation of behavior which I hope to make clear by deconstructing the broken wing ruse.

First of all, our mental time-driven rational logical system of analysis sees a very complex chain of events that we then sum up with the term instinct (because it’s inborn and reliably repeated throughout the species) and which simultaneously encapsulates the above notion of random mutations and gradual genetic shifting of the population. Meanwhile an energy theory interprets everything as a function of attraction. 1) The mother hen is attracted to her chicks, 2) the dog is attracted to the hen, and most critically, 3) the mother hen is ATTRACTED to the dog.

Attraction functions through the predator/prey module as this is the only way that emotion can flow. The predator is that which projects emotion, the prey is that which absorbs emotion. So the mother hen is attracted to her chicks, she projects her energy into them, this energy is complex in that it’s manifested as her physical center of gravity and all physical memory thereby attached, so that the hen plus her chicks equal one group mind. Because of the complexities of all these moving parts that are now externally manifested with the presence and activity of the chicks, in other words, as a complex action potential that is in constant motion and thereby generating complex forces, the mother hen experiences more energy than she would otherwise have available to her. She feels more predator-like than at any other time of her life. The hen’s body/mind as an emotional pipe is opened by the presence of the chicks; her emotional system is dilated and in addition to this extra energy her mind is thereby available for programming by an external agent, i.e. her chicks. The nervous system of the mother hen becomes integrated into and sublimated to the nervous systems of the chicks and so the prey instinct (the simple prey/predator module) can’t run to an immediate completion (i.e. the mother hen can’t make prey on her chicks) due to the “mirror effect.” By virtue of being healthy the chicks can reflect the emotion of attraction the hen projects onto them, back onto her, and therefore the simple instinct can elaborate into a more complex expression of behavior. This multi-party group mind is a platform that can increase the amount of energy and therefore the complexity of information that is available to each component of the group mind. Between them there is but one mind as an energy circuit and this pinging back of energy via emotional projection increases the mother hens’ charge, it’s constantly being amplified so that whenever the chicks are excited stressed/agitated/frightened the mother hen will need to ground out this increased charge. The mounting charge and the increasing of the mother hen’s emotional carrying capacity by virtue of her mind refracting into multi-components raises her “prey threshold” i.e. the amount of resistance she can convert into a coherent force of attraction. She can attain the bottom reaches of what I call Drive, or what I used to call, the “complex prey instinct.” In summary, she now has the wherewithal to pursue her attraction to other animals the form of which are of such intense resistance value that they would normally collapse her state of attraction. In short, she feels like “attacking” a dog that she is always attracted to, but for most of her life immediately collapsed by.

So while we can understand why the hen goes toward the dog, why does she go away from the chicks with dog hot on her heels if she isn’t cognitively aware of what she’s doing? Well, we could ask at what other time does the hen leave the chicks when she is simultaneously attracted to the chicks? When they’re hungry and squawking for “more, more, more.” The hen leaves the nest to make prey on whatever it is that ruffed grouse feed on, and she can’t consume them herself because when she’s leaving the chicks she’s feeling ungrounded and is needing to connect the worm, grub or insect to their waiting beaks in order to return her mind to a neutral state of wholeness. The chicks make the hen feel vulnerable and she needs to leave them and gather food in order to calm herself. And so for the same reason she attacks the dog to relieve an even more intense kind of stress and in this complex form of the prey instinct she feels a magnetic REPULSION FROM her chicks simultaneously and to the same degree she feels a magnetic ATTRACTION TOWARD the dog. These are opposite and yet equal polarities of the same complex feeling of attraction.
Another way to summarize the behavior would be as an equation as in Boyle’s law wherein we could think of this particular frame of reference (chicks + hen + dog) as a containment vessel and in this case it isn’t big enough for two predators that aren’t likely or able to flip polarities. For the mother hen to be attracted to the dog and to her chicks simultaneously, she has to increase the volume in the frame of reference to reduce the pressure. Her connection to her chicks as part of her mind is a specific degree of tension and so she’s driven to be attracted to the dog as a means of venting an intense amount of accumulated stress from the agitation of her chicks and the fledging period of always remaining hyper-vigilant and especially attracted to predators, (once the mother hen nested on the side of our road and every time I drove off the property she flew under the front wheels. After several occurrences I realized her nest must be nearby and that these weren’t near misses) and the only way she can keep all of this in mind while keeping herself close to the dog is by going away from the chicks. The broken wing ruse is still not quite a full drive expression as in a high capacity dog because it has a distinct load/overload setting above which the hen cannot go and also there is a terminus point beyond which she also cannot go.

Are there other correlates in nature to a feeling of magnetic repulsion due to a sense of vulnerability/exposure to a prey item? Yes, the impulse in many animals to cache their food; or to bury their excrement, for deer to guard their back track after traversing fresh snow, or a dog cowering in the corner when the owner comes home to discover the trash strewn across the kitchen floor. And then are their other variants of the “broken wing” in bird behavior? Yes, the hawk mantling its prey by draping its wings over its kill, the mother hen tucking the chicks under her wing, the Rooster dancing around the hen with his wing fanned out to the ground during a courting ritual, the chickens brandishing their wings in mock flight when they square off in an altercation.

When I argue with behaviorists that the special qualities of dogs indicate they are endowed with a high emotional capacity, and with emotion being the universal operating system of animal consciousness (in other words dogs aren’t different from other animals per se, it’s just that their emotional capacity is higher and so therefore they can go by feel when other animals must go by reflex or habit, and this then means that they can generate “traits-on-demand to fit with the object of their attraction), they counter by saying that dogs aren’t particularly special and also with the idea of fixed action patterns. The behaviorists maintain that each species have their own unique and complex set of reflexes and that this accounts for innate variability of any given species, with learning and thinking accounting for any acquired degree of variability. I counter with the observation that there is a basic set of genes for the body types of all animals, from fishes, reptiles, birds to mammals, with each unique body type and function emerging due to the timing of these genes turning on and off. Therefore it would be logical to suspect that fixed action patterns could likewise emerge from the basic emotional building block of prey/predator emotional module as a universal operating system for all animal consciousness. The higher the emotional capacity of an individual, the more flexible it can be with pulling up relevant components of the so called fixed action pattern to construct an appropriate response to the energetic parameters of a situation it finds itself in. I believe this is the most conservative interpretation of animal behavior and that it is also the only model consistent with a theory of evolution by way of common descent.

Yes there are action patterns but no, they need not be fixed. Because dogs have a high emotional capacity, the actions patterns aren’t fixed, the various components can be unplugged from a sequence that is adaptive in one context, rearranged and then fitted into another context, spontaneously, innately, automatically, BUT NOT BY REFLEX (or by thought), rather by feel. This is what I mean by generating “traits on demand.” So rather than calling it an oxymoron as in a flexible-fixed-action-pattern, let's just call it; emotion as the universal operating system of animal consciousness.
Published September 10, 2010 by Kevin Behan
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 responses to “The Broken Wing Ruse”

  1. Rosie says:

    “Are there other correlates in nature to a feeling of magnetic repulsion due to a sense of vulnerability/exposure to a prey item? Yes, the impulse in many animals to cache their food;”

    Hi. I don’t understand this bit. When a dog buries his bone, the dog feels repulsed by the bone as it is prey. I think it must be that the dog can’t overcome the prey charge of the intensity that the bone is giving? But why then do they bury it, why not just leave it alone? And why do some dogs chew a bone and then bury it?

  2. kbehan says:

    There’s two things to consider to make this connection. 1) The dog projects its “self” into an object of attraction so that he feels it internally (via Pavlovian conditioning during earliest imprinting phase of life, all objects of attraction become viscerally imprinted), as if it is within its very body. 2) When a dog is the object-of-attention (in other words when another being is looking at it) it experiences this just as if it is being pushed on, just as if there is a physical force acting on it, (due to same imprinting period, and this inspires need to ascertain source of the push, which behaviorally will manifest looking at the eyes of other beings, or even construing eyes in the crack of an inanimate object.) So when a stimulus offers more input than can be outputted, in this case chewing up and digesting, i.e. a bone that is too hard to chew in one sitting, or even a toy or a morsel of food that can’t be ingested because the gastric system isn’t accepting input due to stress or physiology of pre-digestion, this too feels as if it is being pushed on, i.e. making itself the object-of-attention. The bone or other prey object, out in the open, makes the individual feel exposed and vulnerable, most especially if another being focuses on it because this amplifies the force. The dog actually feels as if it is being acted on internally by another being looking at the remote object. Because the object has become a visceral extension of the dog’s sense of its,it covers it, but not because it’s aware that another could steal it (often caches the object in plain sight of others watching) but because the object makes it feel exposed and it doesn’t want to feel its “self” as the object of attention (i.e. an even stronger force acting on it that can’t be digested). When the dog buries something that it can’t digest, the nudging of dirt over it with its snout, energetically feels to the dog just as if it’s pushing the energy of feeling pushed on, out of its body. So in a way, caching food is like burying one’s head in the sand. To put it into human terms, “If I can’t see it, then you can’t see that part of me.”
    Another example of this but in the equal/opposite inverse form, is a dog that takes a biscuit and then takes up station in a hallway that then bars another dog access to a room beyond. Such a dog is doing so because it can’t process the energy of the other dog, so it can’t eat the biscuit for the sheer pleasure/hunger of it because it feels overwhelmed by the energy of its housemate, so the prey object in its possession makes it able to be the object of attraction, and hence, feel as if it can process the energy of the other dog. And being in a compressed space, will amplify the capacity to push energy toward that dog. It’s a way of pushing out energy while simultaneously being attracted to the other dog. The other dog feels this blockade and won’t go through the hallway. So this is a form of stasis that the bone-guarding dog can more easily process. (But it is indicative of weaker drive which is why such a “strategy” will only “occur” to the weaker-natured dog, rather than the dog that can fully process energy in its right time and place. Therefore it’s not a mental linear deductive process, but a function of emotional capacity and all the energetic refractions of the one underlying drive into a coherent group dynamic.)
    Admittedly, there’s a lot going on in all this, but it’s only complex because we have to get it out of our intellectual time driven frame of reference and into a purely energetic expression of intelligence.

  3. Rosie says:

    Thank you, that’s really helpful.
    So, in both scernarios, getting the dog to bark at either the bone it wants to bury or the other dog in the hallway, would help the dog learn how to push back the energy the dog feels is too overwhelming?
    And pushing would work, because again the dog would over come the resistance it feels from the prey-like intensity of the bone, or in the second situation from the dog’s own prey-like status caused when the second dog approaches?

  4. kbehan says:

    We don’t need to be concerned about a dog that cache’s something other than taking note that the dog in that moment feels vulnerable. These things can come and go in the normal course of events. But a dog that gets locked in the setup-for-an-upset syndrome (guarding hallway with biscuit between paws) is doing so because it is holding itself back socially. So getting this dog to speak for treat, then take away bone to defuse the guarding setup is good, but in general getting such a dog to fight with all its heart for what it wants (pushing/barking/push-of-war) increases its social confidence so it doesn’t need those kinds of incidents to download its emotional battery that’s in overload mode. A dog should be so hungry for life that the half-life of a biscuit is measured in nanoseconds. It shouldn’t occur to a dog that there is any other purpose for a consumable but to be consumed. Hope this clarifies.

  5. Rosie says:

    I’m sorry I still need to spell this out for myself! A dog guarding in the hallway is only able to reflect back prey energy by “using” the biscuit, which is more preyful than the dog can allow itself to be. And the dog doesn’t have the ability to see-saw from prey to predator energy without the biscuit helping it.
    And that’s why it must be holding itself back socially, as there is only one energy, and this shows us that the dog isn’t able to feel truly preyful, and see-saw the energy in the presence of the second dog. And the see-saw of energy is sociability.
    Am I close?!

    Also, I’ve seen dogs guard in the park. Does this mean they are holding back even more socially, because they are not in a confined space and yet still guard the toy?

  6. kbehan says:

    The dog needs the prey object and the compressed space in order to assume the predatory role and thus be able to reflect energy back at the other dog. The confined space amps up the predatory aspect of that dog since the other dog can’t avoid its head. Yes, if a dog could easily flip polarities in social contexts it would not be holding back and wouldn’t need to set up these situations. It’s hard to rate dog in park versus dog in home per se, because the novelty of new dogs and fast action can ramp up the intensity, and when a dog projects into another and since a moment is forever, it feels permanently rooted, so in its mind it’s compressed. But as a general rule, the guarding in the park is the same syndrome. The dog can’t feel open and vulnerable without the crutch of the toy to guard.

Leave a Reply

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.