Apparently Lee Kelley has the temerity to question Patricia McConnell, one of the leading lights of dogdom, over her methodology, the particulars of which she posted in public, in response to two of her dogs not getting along. In my mind Lee wasn’t “attacking” her honor, virtue, honesty, compassion, intelligence or integrity, he was questioning dogma.
I’m not writing in criticism of whatever Patricia McConnell does with her dogs. I just ask the reader to recognize that trainers such as Lee and I are constantly working against the mainstream dogma and its prescriptions for dogs and owners, and because such learning theorists claim that NDT principles fit snugly within current scientific-principles-of-learning and that NDT is merely recasting learning theory into new and unnecessary terms, (which is odd given that other than NDT there is no model for why dogs love car rides, do everything in a circle, look for the eyes of a person within a car, are afraid of slippery floors, can perform protection service, S&R, hunt birds under the gun, and on and on and on) therefore the discussion that Patricia McConnell has been leading is a valuable and necessary opportunity to discuss the nature of dogs in just such a light. The purpose of this article is to argue how points of distinction between an energy theory and mainstream thinking are substantial and suggest an alternative means of dealing with the problem of two dogs fighting, since apparently some have asked just such a question given that McConnell uses tug toys and other techniques that seem consonant with NDT. The distinctions may at first may appear subtle, but as they play out the implications are profound. In NDT “problem behavior” is not viewed as a “problem,” rather it is an opportunity, a chance to attract energy that otherwise isn’t being projected by the dog into its owner.
THERE IS ONLY ONE ENERGY. It doesn’t matter what kind of behavior a dog performs, it is an expression of but one energy. In other words, the entire spectrum of a dog’s behavior is a continuous expression of energy along a spectrum. It may look like the dog is exhibiting a range of seemingly different behaviors, each with its own separate and distinct class of motives, but these are all refractions of an underlying energy moving through the dog’s temperament (due to the physical affects of physical memory) and in response to resistance. All behavior is but a variation on a central theme, a continuous, contiguous outlet of ONE FUNDAMENTAL ENERGY (this is not immediately apparent to an intellectual mental system of analysis-a personality theory-because the forms of these behaviors look to be so different and so therefore seem to be motivated by different intentions) crystallized around the MOST INTENSE EXPRESSION of said energy.
What does this mean practically? It means that if a dog fights with another dog and this fighting represents the most intense thing that it does, then this is where all of the dogs’ energy is being invested, specifically, this activity is where the deepest layer of its emotional battery is being discharged (Deep Inner Stress). Everything about a dog’s mind aligns around this simple principle of where, when and how deep inner stress comes out. This therefore means that everything the dog experiences in the course of daily living, whether it be something positive or negative, is in fact FEEDING and REINFORCING its NEED to fight the other dog. Furthermore, even if the dog loses every fight, it is nonetheless being REWARDED for fighting, not only by the immediate-moment sensation of relief during and right after the fight, but by every other experience it is absorbing in seemingly unrelated moments. Because the fight is the most intense expression of energy the dog experiences, every pat an owner might lovingly bestow, every treat given for a trick or an obedience command, every belly rub, the thrill of herding sheep, bowl of dog food, company at the door, playful interaction with another dog, noise on the horizon, reprimand or shock to its emotional system, IS REINFORCING THE DRIVE TO FIGHT THE OTHER DOG.
To understand a dog’s behavior energetically, think of the dog’s mind as an energy system, like a bathtub with an inlet (faucet) and an outlet (drain plug.) Sensory stimulation (OVER THE COURSE OF THE DOG’S DAILY EXISTENCE, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS) is the input, while the most intense expression is the output. So if fighting a dog is the most intense expression of energy, this is what pulls the plug on the system and everything drains that way. As long as fighting the dog constitutes the outlet, the open plug, then running the faucet at full bore will not change the state of the system. It will only reinforce it. One will not be able to build up enough pressure to do something new because the plug is out of the drain and therefore no other activity will bring as intense a sense of relief as fighting the other dog. It’s that simple.
To add another layer of complexity to the discussion, we are of course talking about a sealed energy system, as in a closed water system under pressure, and the intensification of energy into a state of pressure in the animal mind comes from the phenomenon of fear. This is why it’s so important to have a model for what’s going on inside the dog’s mind so that one can see how fear, drive, hunger, balance et al. interact to compose animal consciousness. What’s essential to understand about fear is that it adds intensity to behavior so that it can acquire the force necessary to do the work of overcoming resistance. The practical meaning of this is the understanding that FEAR CAN ONLY BE REINFORCED. FEAR CAN NEVER BE ALLAYED, RESOLVED, GOTTEN OVER OR FORGOTTEN. FEAR AS FEAR CAN ONLY BE REINFORCED. Therefore while an owner may think that in one instance they are rewarding a compliant, calm, positive or obedient behavior, or teaching the dog that a snuggle session or a walk around the block is resolving its old fears, in reality they are actually reinforcing the flow of energy toward the most intense expression as the outlet for all sensory input, the pats, hugs, treats, scolds, reprimands are just the faucet running down the open drain. This is what the current paradigm on dogs, be it dominance or positive, does not understand. And this is why the phenomenon of aggression and phobic behaviors (as the most intense expressions of energy) ARE RISING despite (or I might more accurately say because of) the revolution in dog training availability and information to the general dog owning public. Human mental concepts in the modern dogdom have attained preeminence over old fashioned common sense, which is on some levels closer to an energy theory than modern behavioral systems be it of the positive or dominance schools of thought.
Resolving unresolved emotion is the thrust of all behavior and unresolved emotion is caused by one thing and one thing only, desire held back by fear. Fear adds intensity to the expression of unresolved emotion, however to ultimately resolve this unresolved emotion, the fear that caused its acquisition must be turned back into the originating desire (fear is not elemental, it is caused by the collapse of a state of attraction and every state of attraction is founded on a desire) by accessing the balance circuitry IN TERMS OF THE HUNGER CIRCUITRY. And to do this, one must be able to put emotion, unresolved emotion, fear, drive, sexual/sensual energy, nerve energy, hunger, balance, temperament and the phenomenon of personality, traits, INTO ONE COHERENT MODEL so that one can see how they all work together in the dog’s mind as an energy circuit. At first this may seem daunting, but it all follows from understanding emotion as an immediate-moment “force” of attraction. To cut to the chase, resolving a “problem behavior” ultimately boils down to the owner being able to attract the same intense expressions of energy from their dog rather than correcting or even distracting it from said energy. Everything else is superfluous and playing with toys is not enough, the dog must “make-prey” with the owner on the toy. You have to become “the charge” a.k.a. the moose.
An energetic interpretation of behavior also reveals that whatever energy the dog has invested in the “problem behavior” by definition THIS ENERGY IS BEING HELD BACK FROM THE OWNER. And how does this held-back energy manifest itself? AS PERSONALITY. And this brings us back to the NDT view that a “problem behavior” is actually an opportunity to attract energy that is being held back from the owner. Don’t even think of it as a failure, this is the reality of life on planet earth. We all have emotional batteries. We are designed to acquire stress and become overwhelmed if an appropriate avenue for discharging intensity isn’t available to us (this is what’s happening to dogs due to the modern insistence on friendly/dominant/submissive personalities as opposed to honoring working traits). Working with a dog’s nature as a means of resolving its unresolved emotion, IS OUR CHANCE TO GET OUR WILL BACK. Social beings didn’t evolve to be friendly, they evolved to resolve unresolved emotion.
So now you perhaps can see how a personality theory of behavior is a self-defeating logic loop. The more the dog holds back from the owner, the more it manifests personality, and the more the owner is likely to REWARD such expressions of personality because it will trick the owner’s intellectual mind into thinking that the dog is getting better. In reality the real opportunity is at the other end of the spectrum, in the behavior that the owner finds most mortifying, rather than the behavior that the owner finds most pleasing.
Refocusing a dog’s most intense expression of energy toward the owner may be beyond the comfort level of many people, which in my mind reemphasizes the need to understand the canine mind as an energy circuit so that a young pup is developed according to its temperament rather than its personality. If the dog is raised in a way so that it can give its most intense expressions of energy to its owner, rather than an owner focusing on its personality (friendly, dominant, submissive)then the dog can readily accept intense rates of change through the emotional bond with its owner and thus acquire a new way of doing things even if in contravention to a lifetime of learning and acquired habits.