What is natural about Natural Dog Training?

Currently dog owners are presented with two competing definitions for the nature of dogs. Proponents of the dominance theory believe that the canine mind is organized around a social hierarchy of rank and therefore being a pack leader is the natural way for an owner to raise and train a dog. Meanwhile, proponents of learning theory believe that the canine mind is organized around schedules of reinforcements and so raising and training a dog according to the science of classical and operant conditioning is the natural way.

While these two approaches are based on firm logic, in reality however, the very existence of two diametrically opposed schools of thought with each enjoying equal market share and the same degree of success; means that some fundamental must be missing from the discussion. And if something fundamental is missing, then we haven’t identified the true nature of the dog. Imagine for example if Boeing and Airbus disagreed about the basic physics of flight. There would be two competing theories for every plane crash. Who would want to fly?

Some believe that the best of both can be mixed together in the so-called “combined approach” but this can’t be a true resolution either because the missing fundamental still remains absent. It would be akin to combining some aspects of electricity with some aspects of magnetism, without understanding how electricity and magnetism are complementary aspects of the same phenomenon.

I do believe a resolution is possible and that the market is moving in its direction as evidenced by the latest research on emergence theory and swarm intelligence. In other words, the intelligence of the hive is a function of bees as an aggregate intelligence, rather than from bees being directed through a kind of chain-of-command. We can also note that research in artificial intelligence and modern robotics at such places as M.I.T. and Santa Fe Institute is not applying the theories of a dominance hierarchy and models of classical and operant conditioning in order to design their mechanical imitations of life, which should be happening if these truly articulated the phenomenon of animal intelligence. Instead, they are searching for mathematical formulas that best approximate a self-organizing system of intelligence: formulas that describe the most efficient distribution of energy.

The market is indeed moving to a new paradigm because we now find the term “energy” everywhere we turn these days, from progressive horsemanship, alternative medicine as well as in dog training. This trend is inevitable because the irreducible essence of anything, its fundamental nature, is always a function of energy. The nature of water is due to its energetic makeup; i.e. atoms of oxygen and hydrogen sharing electrons. The nature of our solar system is due to its energetic makeup; i.e. the physical mass of the sun and nuclear fusion. The nature of the earth’s climate is due to solar radiation and the subsequent distribution of energy across the planet via oceans and the atmosphere. The laws of nature are the organizing principle of every natural system.

Therefore, because the laws of thermodynamics, electromagnetism, gravity and the principles of motion and conservation is responsible for all structure and organic processes in nature, the very environment that animals have evolved to adapt to, and are also the basis of every animals anatomy and physiology, I’m proposing that the nature of dogs is also a function of an energetic makeup rather than being due to a psychological makeup – as in a dominance hierarchy (“I am socially superior to you.” “I am socially inferior to you.”) – Or a mind molded by schedules of reinforcements. (“If I do this then that will happen, if I do that then this will happen.”)

So if we ever use the term energy to explain anything about a dog’s behavior, then implicitly we’re acknowledging that the old models are defunct because energy can only be organized according to laws of nature, rather than by thoughts. For example, one may exploit the energy in a battery, but one does not command the ions to organize themselves within the battery so that their energy can be exploited. The battery is organized according to the laws of nature and this principle is what we benefit from.

Natural Dog Training maintains that the canine mind is organized around principles of energy and that nothing can be more natural than energy or prove to be more adaptive, because nature itself is so organized. Furthermore, I believe an energy theory of sociability and learning renders the only model consistent with the phenomenon of evolution since animals evolve by adapting to nature, which again means according to principles of energy. Natural Dog Training seeks to identify and articulate how the fundamental laws of nature, i.e. gravity, thermodynamics, electromagnetism and energy conservation, forces that determine how the natural world is not only organized but how it changes, simultaneously energizes as it informs the canine mind.

I believe the canine mind is an energy circuit composed of both body and brain that makes a dog feel physically (rather than mentally) connected to its surroundings. A dog’s mind is not a self-contained agency of intelligence driven by reason (as in dominance, submission, appeasement, respect, social status, relative rank, territoriality, survival, competition) and/or by logical systems of causes and effects as in classical and operant conditioning.

I recognize that dogs do indeed form associations, however, dogs do not learn by forming associations. They learn according to how energy moves within and through their body/mind as an energy circuit, a movement that proceeds in accord with the laws of nature rather than according to the logic of human reason on which our scientific models are currently predicated. How a dog feels determines how it forms an association.

Natural Dog Training recognizes that dogs do indeed live in a social structure; however, this is a spontaneous, self-organizing bubble-up-from-below phenomenon rather than a trickle-down-imposed-on-from-above arrangement. This is a hierarchy of feelings, rather than a hierarchy of rank and again this proceeds according to the laws of nature rather than through such human concepts as status, power, respect, control; breeding rights, leaders and followers, dominance and submission. Dogs are social by feel, not by instinct.

The Natural Dog Training protocol is composed of these steps

1) Create energy (force of attraction)

2) Channel the energy (to the owner)

3) Harden the channel (to withstand instincts and habits)

4) Shape the energy into heel, sit, down, stay, recall, etc.

In Natural Dog Training steps 1, 2 and 3 are far more important than step 4 because if the owner isn’t the central feature of the energy circuit that composes their dog’s mind, then there will always be an aspect of their dog’s mind, i.e. the deepest aspect of its nature, that isn’t attracted to its owner. In a critical moment, this un-channeled energy will come up to the surface of the dog’s awareness and years of training can evaporate in an instant. This is the cause of all so-called problem behavior and acts of “disobedience.”

Natural Dog Training doesn’t consider itself superior to other systems of training; rather I see it as a foundation on which other systems can build as long as such systems are likewise consistent with how energy works within a dog. The “Natural Dog Society” welcomes anyone who would like to contribute to expanding our understanding of how these principles are at work within a dog’s mind.

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Published July 15, 2009 by Kevin Behan

4 responses to “What is natural about Natural Dog Training?”

  1. Lydia says:

    I’m with you up to a point but after reading your book I still can’t agree with the prong/choke collar and leash pops. That to me does not seem to be natural. Other things are working for me and my clients but I can’t do the leash pops/jerks because I can’t understand the why.

  2. kbehan says:

    If one thinks of a correction as an aversive, then I certainly understand your objection. But if you entertain the idea that a jerk on the leash can add energy to the system, that the dog could actually enjoy it, and that this capacity to process energy into information is part of a natural process (temperament) then that would be the why of it. At some point I believe the time arrives where one has to correct a dog. There’s no way around it. Therefore I want to prepare the dog for that moment through a long process of building a foundation, then associating the “correction” with a heightening of energy, and then finally a correction that increases the state of attraction to the owner and leaving the dog feeling energized rather than enervated.

  3. Linda says:

    I have a 4-year-old female Labrador/Ridgeback mix, and have had her from a puppy. I went through progressive stages of collars and harnesses until I got the prong collar for her. Even now, if I put a flat fabric collar on her, she will not cooperate. The prong collar makes her cooperate, and we have great walks with it.

    When she is smelling something on our walk, and I want to move on, I can give her 2 short pops of the leash, and that has become her signal that it’s time to move. It is not “aversive” or punishment, she is perfectly willing to leave the interesting thing and go with me. It’s sort of a “what’s next” idea, and I do see it adding energy to her body and our relationship. When the walk goes better because I am not angry with her, we are both better.

  4. Kevin Behan says:

    The goal is to get her to collar irrelevance, so start incorporating hup-ups, and pushes, speaks, and finally bite and carry so that she learns heeling is hunting, then collar doesn’t matter and she does it for the thrill and fun involved.

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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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