What is “Splitting” Behavior

The video below is interpreted as showing a dog playing the role of peace maker by stopping things between two other dogs before it gets out of hand.

While the “Good Samaritan” dog here does indeed interrupt the two other dogs, is that its intent? Because if such an interpretation were correct then we would expect to observe “splitting” behavior occurring uniformly across the spectrum of canine temperament types rather than being typified by a particular kind of dog. The “splitters” I’ve known are always dogs that are more easily knocked off balance and tend to keep out of the rough and tumble in play in general. They are typically quite playful, but they are more sensitive or defensive than others and often tend to stay near of orbit the handler. Note how this dog came from nearby the person with the camera and hasn’t to that point seen interacting with the other dogs. While this is but a brief snippet of video nevertheless I’m not drawing my conclusions based on You Tube videos. If I were selecting from a group of dogs asa personal or service dog, I would disqualify such a dog. Not that I don’t like these types, but they’re not a clear enough channel for demanding work.

What’s going on within this particular dog is that it is holding back, and when other dogs begin to manifest intense displays of energy, this dog’s DIS is triggered and it now has the chance to express INDIRECTLY what it holds back from expressing DIRECTLY. So intense displays of energy particularly unbalance such dogs but simultaneously trigger stuck energy. And since every interaction is a transaction of momentum, the bottom line is that the splitter wants to get a piece of the action and so we see how it immediately tries to play with one of the “troublemakers” once they’ve disengaged from the other. It begins to respond DIRECTLY because it now feels liberated from its attachment to the handler.

The reason I’m such a stickler on these matters at the risk of seeming the Grinch who stole Christmas, is that to accord the role of peacemaker to the “splitter” means we will miss the group flow system that is really the architect of collectivized behavior. When two dogs fight, they are not transferring emotion coherently, instinct and pain memories are getting in the way. And that in any group there is the low threshold yet high capacity individual that would jump into that friction (if a high prey threshold dog got involved the potential for real violence could erupt) so that flow emerges, speaks to the nature of emotion itself, the intelligence that is embodied in the very principles by which nature is organized. And to miss that point is a real shame to my eyes.

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Published March 18, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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15 responses to “What is “Splitting” Behavior”

  1. Julie Forlizzo says:

    About a year ago on this blog site, (you may recall) someone posted a video of a toddler playing near a car. Suddenly a dog ran over to the child and started to bite and tug at the child’s arm. Just when it became uncomfortable to watch, a cat sprung out of nowhere and through its “aggressive” actions toward the dog, the dog fled. Many bloggers insisted that the cat set out to save the child from imminent harm. I never believed that cat “intended” to protect the child, but yes, its actions certainly cleared the way for the mother to grab her child and leave the scene. It seems the “splitter” in that case was the cat. I may be comparing apples and oranges here, but the principles of energy scenario take me back to that video.

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes that’s a very good linkage. The friction (ungrounded energy) between dog and boy didn’t feel good to cat and so it grounded out the energy by biting the dog. Good Kitty. This is a case of the cat getting to express DIS that it otherwise holds back, and how it services a group flow system. I believe this provides a more coherent evolutionary explanation for altruism, cooperation and sociability.

  3. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Just to take this one step further, Kevin, and more clarity, in YDIYM you talked about receiving a phone call from a man whose dog had just (if I remember correctly) jumped on and knocked down a man inside his home, while they were about to embark on a business adventure together. After the dog knocked into the man at the door, the dog whined – never bit him. Your sense was that the dog “sensed” dishonesty in the visitor, later finding out that the visitor indeed had intentions of some kind of embezzlement. In that case would you also say altruism came into play? Did the dog feel ungrounded energy that his owner wasn’t conscious of? This also reminds me of your “splitter” narrative.

  4. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes someone who is “crooked” means their intentions, actions, movements and thoughts are not in alignment with their feelings, and so this is a charge, or ungrounded energy, to a dog. A dog perceives this as blocking their access to their owner, in other words, they can’t feel both the outsider and their owner in a coherent way, and they don’t want the connection, hence the reaction.

  5. b... says:

    How does the outsider’s charge impede the connection to owner? Do you mean that the outsider has become part of the group by their presence and the conflict in the outsider is a disturbance in the group’s alignment?

  6. Kevin Behan says:

    This is such a rich area for exploration. Every aspect of animal consciousness, since it’s predicated on emotion, invokes a systems logic, which is to say a social logic. The very act of objectification, the way sensory input is construed by the animal mind so as to assume a particular form, is invested with momentum and then a math of alignment and synchronization, which in Constructal terms would be a laminar and/or turbulent manner of transfer of said momentum. If an individual can align and synchronize with an object, then it ultimately evolves into being part of a social configuration. In other words, all objects are construed in terms of a social value, that is inseparable from emotional relevance, from the object having an emotional impact in the first place. So given all of this, when an outsider holds a charge, which is a force of intense acceleration, emotionally speaking, the configuration cannot integrate cannot such an intense burst of energy. The group integrated individual cannot feel how to align and synchronize with the one holding a charge and so we observe intense reactions from defensiveness to avoidance, and in some cases intense hyper-excitement. The animal mind perceives and interprets all stimuli in terms of whether it can be absorbed and integrated into the configuration, this is a universal principle whether it be small objects of attraction which can be ingested, or complex objects of resistance that must be coupled with in order to become part of the configuration.

  7. b... says:

    Ah ok. So on a more basic thermodynamic level, the insertion of the outsider’s emotional mass into the system functions as a stimulus that acts as a force on the dog, just like any other stimulus… and because of the turbulent nature of the outsider’s emotional misalignment (and since the dog doesn’t have the option of ingestion as he doesn’t fit into dog’s mouth, and dog can’t couple with him either), the dog can’t integrate this burst of energy… so the dog pushes (equal/opposite action-reaction) against this force (pushing the outsider) in order to regain equilibrium, the laminar state that he previously felt while coupled with the owner?

  8. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes exactly. The outsider has mass and momentum, i.e. it wants to move when stimulated as do all animals, and so its physical presence plus its impulse to move is a very real force that knocks the integrated individual out of balance. The force of the outsider cannot be captured because it’s operating on a load/overload manner of transfer rather than looking to align and sync up, and so the integrated individual pushes back in kind to maintain its own equilibrium and hence the reaction. It’s the distinction between a planetoid (stimulus) entering the solar system with each planet simply adjusting its orbit as the intruder is integrated into the overall system, thus its energy has been captured and harnessed, versus a planetoid crashing into one of the planets. The former adds energy, the latter degrades the system. So emotion is an operating system of the animal mind that evolved to capture and harness the energy of inputs so as to improve the overall configuration. This is the basis of evolution, a theorem now proven by the Constructal Law.

    {I should add that the integrated individual can’t abide with the outsider “charged” individual because to hold it within the frame of mind that is network configured, feels noxious and so it must be repulsed. This happens without cognitive recognition of what’s going on, without intention, which is a far more parsimonious explanation not to mention more consistent with the intuitive nature by which animals respond to each other, and the amazing ways we observe dogs responding to others.}

  9. Jryder says:

    Why all the metaphysical sounding theory in the comments? I have a horse and a dog. I’ve seen both species exhibit splitting and it’s terribly simple. Not all dispositions will do it. It definitely requires a habit of policing the environment and taking risks. The head male of my horse’s herd does it – and he is one solid horse. My dog does it – and she’s a sensitive collie mix. I’ve even seen ducks do it. It’s basically intervening to break up or deter targeted intense movement, which usually precedes something unwanted like conflict or attack of prey. I imagine any animal with a sense of territory, ownership, or protection and a certain lack of self-preservation will do it.

  10. Kevin Behan says:

    Thanks for your input. The article and comments aren’t about metaphysics but rather it’s about physics. We’re not discussing what dogs might be thinking, but what they’re feeling. We’re not talking about the psychological but rather the physical.
    The problem I have with the so-called simple interpretations of behavior is that it requires putting human thoughts into the minds of animals. But then how could that be simple if human thoughts took the longest to evolve and undoubtedly animals have been exhibiting such complex behavior long before there were any humans about? Instead my model is based on a physics of behavior, with human thoughts being reserved for humans as an adjunct to complex behavior rather than as a foundation of complex behavior. Nevertheless I can understand that since the language of physics concerns the logic of energy it might indeed strike one as metaphysical, but that would be a misreading.
    Horses and ducks are prey animals and I can imagine that they very well might exhibit the splitting behavior across the temperamental bandwidth because rapid movements outside the social continuum would be uniformly upsetting to their balance circuitry given their preyful makeup. But here I’m speaking of dogs and I’ve never observed a working dog of high drive capacity, feeling unnerved by other dogs moving rapidly in play. If a fight broke out, that on the other hand could possibly get an “ungrounded” high Drive dog to pile-on for a bite, (but even here the stronger dogs < << Direct and Active with high Prey Threshold >>> not so much). Otherwise the strong Drive dogs weren’t knocked off balance by intense movements of a lesser order of magnitude because they loved hardy physical contact and they were either in or out depending on their mood at the moment.They were never concerned with the other dogs getting it on.
    Social behavior is synchronized movement (an energy logic). This means there is a tuned frequency to coordinated group action (a wave form). Now if the actions of some members become too intense for the comfort level of another, then it is being knocked off emotional equilibrium, out of rhythm and perceiving the other’s movements as a destabilizing static like input. These are the “splitters.” They are not enforcing rules, they are trying to return to equilibrium because they are most easily knocked off balance (I would also note that they are typically the most friendly).

  11. sundogfitz says:

    Hi Kevin, I am curious about the fighting dogs–the small brown dog freezes when the “splitter” interrupts and the black one shakes off. The fighting dogs were exchanging energy, turbulent as it may have been, the splitter injected energy in an effort to ground it, the two fighting dogs were themselves knocked out of a chaotic exchange that may have been on its way to a smoother flow state. So what did the fighting dogs experience in your planet and asteroid example? Are they walking away with a load that does not come to ground because of the interruption?

  12. Miss Cellany says:

    I think all this “energy” stuff is meaningless and unscientific. The video of the splitting dog is interesting though. I’ve always thought splitters were just control freak dogs that didn’t like things to get out of control around them. They will split intense play up too (not just fights) so it isn’t necessarily that they are protecting one person / dog from another, but that they don’t like to see ANYTHING get out of order / control even if it’s just benign play. I’ve also noticed that splitters tend to be herding breeds (known for wanting to control motion) like border collies, aussies, german shepherds etc. Perhaps they just can’t handle the stimulation of seeing & hearing so much unpredictable movement and noise around them and want it all to stop. Dogs that bark at traffic might be suffering the same issue – they just want all the noise and motion to stop.

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    I would appreciate if you might expand on why you find the term energy unscientific, as opposed to a term such as dominance?

  14. Kevin Behan says:

    The sound of crickets is getting loud so I would invite any science-based trainer to explain what is unscientific about using the term energy.

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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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