Toward a New Way of Seeing Dogs

The purpose of this section: why dogs do what they do is to demonstrate that dog behavior is a function of a “networked-intelligence”. The system logic of this intelligence is emotion. Dogs “know” what to do by virtue of how they feel.
To date explorations of why-dogs-do-what-they-do; from the days of Descartes versus Voltaire to our modern era of scientific research, have arrived at two opposite conclusions. Either the dog is seen as a mechanical robot, a creature of instincts, conditioned responses and habits: or the dog is seen as a sentient, thinking and feeling being. This is a false dichotomy and furthermore it can’t be reconciled by combining elements of both into some kind of a synthesis. That produces oxymorons. True, dogs are not machines, they are emotional beings: however their capacity to adapt is not a function of thinking or instinct. Dogs-do-what-they-do because they can go-by-feel in situations where other species of animals must go by instinct. Their adaptive and social nature is due to a high “emotional capacity”.

To date, the study of evolution has only considered two kinds of capacities: a physical and a mental capacity. But a third evolutionary track is “emotional capacity”. This is a carrying capacity, how much emotional energy the organism can hold and/or conduct (and therefore go-by-feel) before an instinct (or a thought in the case of humans and perhaps other primates) is triggered and displaces the ability to feel the pure emotional context of the moment. While physical and mental capacities are governed by genes, emotional capacity is governed by the laws of nature (gravity, laws of motion, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, even quantum mechanics). Since all animals feel these energetic effects the same way, therefore emotion as the physical embodiment of the laws of nature is the basis for communication even between individuals of different species, and the canine/human connection is the most profound example of this in nature. Emotion is a universal medium within which individuals can synchronize their actions and generate spontaneous order, the source of which has traditionally been mistakenly attributed to genes, instincts and thinking.

Species of animals vary primarily in terms of emotional capacity. Predators have a higher emotional capacity than prey animals, predators that hunt in a group have a higher capacity than solitary predators, and predators that hunt as a group against a large, dangerous prey that fights back via a coordinated herd defense, have the highest emotional capacity of all.

The main prey of wolves (moose, bison, Musk Ox) is physically superior to the wolf even when confronted by wolves in numbers. Therefore, because a canine is attracted to a prey it cannot overpower physically, it must do so emotionally (by inducing a state of confusion in the prey thereby decreasing its emotional capacity so that a flight instinct takes over in its head). The prey’s ability to feel its “self” must be overwhelmed before such a formidable beast can be brought to ground. This means that a wolf evolved to feel what the prey is feeling in order to sense which prey in a herd are susceptible to confusion and can be engaged in relative safety.

There are only two land dwelling predators that evolved along the path of a high emotional capacity, canines and human beings. And contrary to the idea that domestication meant tamping down the wildness of the wolf, in reality domestication meant an amplification of the wolf’s emotional capacity, the essential kernel of its wild nature. For this reason the domestic dog has a smaller brain than its wild ancestor given that the brain is not the chief faculty of an emotional intelligence.

The higher a species’ emotional capacity the greater its behavioral plasticity since actions can take shape in real time and evolve to precisely fit the energetic circumstances of any given moment. This is because “group triggers” (i.e. common objects of attraction) as opposed to instinctual triggers become catalysts to a self-organizing system (sociability) as a means of responding to change. Most species are limited by stereotypical behavior when confronted with too much change in their circumstances whereas the domestic dog’s high emotional capacity neutralizes the limiting effects of canine instincts and allows it to perceive order when other animals cannot, and then respond in a coherent way. Because emotion is based on the laws of nature, and because the environment changes in accord with the laws of nature, an emotional response proves to be highly adaptive because it turns change into information.

Whenever any two dogs meet and greet, it is possible to see step by step the evolution of sociability (the emergence of a network) unfolding in accord with the laws of nature right before our eyes. And while their sociability is automatic, spontaneous and innate, nonetheless it is not reflexive. It does not arise from instinct and not by “figuring” things out. It evolves. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that dogs are “pack animals,” meaning that dogs are social by instinct. Dogs feel each other’s “energy” and because energy works the same in all living beings, feelings guide them as to how to connect. These properties of energy and its principles of movement are felt by an animal in its heart, not its head.

On the other hand whenever dogs do not get along, then we are indeed watching instincts at work because of a diminished emotional capacity. In fact whenever an instinct surfaces in a dog’s domestic life (instincts are generated by the brain) an anxious call to a behaviorist or trainer by the pet owner is likely to follow.

The premise of Natural Dog Training is that when a dog has failed to adapt to an owners’ lifestyle, it’s because of a denial by the owner of the dog’s fundamental nature, not because of the dog’s nature. My argument is that dogs are social by nature (nothing is “broken,” nothing needs to be “fixed”) because they perceive the world and respond to it according to its laws rather than according to human reason. This will prove to be the best explanation for everything canine, from the evolution of the wolf, the domestication of the dog, and most especially, for the incredible emotional bond that evolves between a dog and its owner.

The purpose of the “Natural Dog Society” is for dog owners to become their own experts by way of understanding and experiencing these natural laws for themselves. An owner can learn to change a dog’s mind by directly tapping in and affecting how these energies are at work within their dog. One can help a dog get-out-of-its-head and into its heart. This theory is observable, demonstrable and testable. In this vein I will be introducing such new terms as emotional conductivity, emotional projection, emotional battery, emotional suspension, emotional center-of-gravity, emotional fusion and many others, all of which flow from the concept of emotional capacity, in other words, Heart. (Soon a glossary of such terms will be posted at the end of this section.) I wish to caution the reader however that before one can learn to see these as common sense concepts; these ideas may strike one as radical: one might find oneself becoming defensive, offended or perhaps even guilty because one is begining to move outside the conventional mainstream. (Confusion on the other hand, is good.) As you begin to explore, I recommend not trying to place these ideas into familiar frames of reference. Just try to see.

Seeing dogs in a new way is like looking at a two-dimensional drawing of a three dimensional cube. On first glance the cube might appear to be oriented in a particular direction given that the eye has immediately adopted that view in construing the lines on the page. But then, if one were to shift their visual interpretation of which way the angles are configured, lines that once seemed to stretch off into the background, suddenly flip around and now project toward the viewer. Before that shift, all the evidence seemed to point to one and only one way to interpret the drawing. But then in a second the front of the cube becomes the back and a completely different picture appears in complete contravention to what at first had seemed self-evident and obvious. This is what happened for me in the nineteen seventies when I began to see dog and animal behavior in the light of the immediate-moment. Once I stopped projecting thoughts onto behavior (such as territoriality, dominance, submission, jealousy, anger, etc.), once I stripped my mental mind with its filters out of  what I was observing, all that remained was energy. I began to discover an energetic logic that animates, organizes and informs everything animals do, and which turns the evidence inside out on why animals-do-what-they-do. This model while visible in all animals is especially vivid in the things the average dog does every day.

My aim is for the Natural Dog Society to become a forum to explore the natural dog theory to help owners “feel” what I’m trying to say. The dividends will be well worth the effort because once one understands how their dog goes by feeling they will own the “happiest dog on the block.”

Because dogs are emotional beings, looking at dogs in a new way also means we’re looking at emotion in a new way and this is at the heart of what might first appear to be unsettling about these notions. Our entire life is wrapped around the enigma of emotion and the mysteries of why we feel what and how we do. And because our mental mind fears what it cannot control, it subconsciously resists true information about the nature of emotion because it desperately seeks to keep emotion in its box. So at first don’t try to figure this out. Simply set the prevailing theories and conventional thinking aside so that a necessary shift of perspective can occur. I’m not asking that my ideas not be subjected to intellectual scrutiny. In fact that’s all I’m asking for, as opposed to the automatic reflexive judgments traditionally assigned to emotion as something irrational, impulsive, wild, not to mention self-destructive and dangerous.

And finally, no behavior is too small, trivial or familiar to merit our attention; all the things dogs do contain a universe of meaning. While the entries follow in a progressive unfolding of understandings, one can feel free to jump around and go to any topic of immediate interest. At the end of this tutorial I trust the reader will understand why we all intuitively say of our best friend, “My dog is all heart.”

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Published June 12, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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6 responses to “Toward a New Way of Seeing Dogs”

  1. Max says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I just saw this article (that I link below) today at the BBC website, then I read your today’s post, and I thought there is some sort of connection with what you say. In case you haven’t seen it, hope you find it interesting.

    Best regards,

  2. kbehan says:

    Hi Max, thanks for the link. This is my take. Science criticizing owners for projecting guilt on their dog’s face, while they are right, is however like the proverbial kettle calling the pot black. Apparently it’s all right for science to project thoughts of dominance, submission, threat, territoriality and the like onto the minds of animals, they just don’t want owners to do so. So my goal with this web site is to help people see dogs in a new way, learning to go-by-feel rather than projecting thoughts. Thanks for your input and I trust I addressed your point.

  3. I agree with Kevin. I read the full article and in it the author says, “An interesting possibility is that dogs who had been through obedience training have more fully internalized the importance of obeying commands, and would, therefore, show more submissive behaviours generally.”

    So this study is a step in the right direction, but we’ve still got a long way to go.


  4. EmD says:

    That was a funny article (the BBC doggy guilt story).

    If you do not judge your dogs behaviour to be bad, he cannot do anything wrong. When I have this attitude, we are not in conflict. Only when I allow fear that he will do something that will inconvenience me to enter my mind will he do something I don’t want him to – like avoid me when I need to leash him for the last part of our walk. He is a teenager at around 20 months but he is outstanding and mostly I can slip the lead on and he does not even notice it. It is not that he does not want to be on the leash, I put out energy that makes him run when I let worry enter my mind.

    Dogs do express emotions on their faces. I have many photos of my dog with a look of sheer joy on his face as he runs on the beach. It is in his eyes, on his face and in his entire physical attitude.

    I happily found natural dog training before I got my pup. I was looking into training methods and was disturbed by what I found. After much looking I found your web site and consequently your book. That was hard to follow for someone who has never trained a dog but the principals came through. Worked with LCK for a little while to iron out some kinks. I do not train so much but I work on respecting and trusting the emotional connection between us and work with that.


  5. christine randolph says:

    why would this author exclude feline predators such as lions, cheetah etc. obviously these animals also hunt in packs and also hunt prey that can kill them if the opportunity arises.

  6. kbehan says:

    The article doesn’t exclude the great cats. As stated, predators that hunt as groups have higher emotional capacity than predators that hunt singly. However, predators that hunt as groups and that cannot physically overpower their prey, have the highest emotional capacity of all. So wolves have higher emotional capacity than lions, cheetahs, cougars and so on. Why? Because they must con-fuse their prey in order to have success given that they can’t physically overpower them. Thus they bring an intense emotional charge to bear on the formation, or the formidable being, and if it crumbles under the load, i.e. its capacity is breached, then it runs. From the network’s point of view, the prey in essence kills its “self.” This is why the wolf style of hunting produced the domesticated dog. Man’s culture did not, it merely amplified what was already present and fully evolved.

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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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