What Your Dog is Trying to Tell You

For most of my thirty years as a dog trainer, I thought dog training, and in particular working with problem dogs, meant first and foremost changing the dog’s behavior; a “fix-the- dog-to-make-things-better” approach. But the more I became aware of the inner emotional dynamic that was running a dog’s behavior, and how this was also the basis of a dog’s relationship with his owner, I began to see the underlying emotional interplay going on between dog and human. I began to realize that the dog, particularly through problem or idiosyncratic behavior, was in truth only expressing the deepest feelings of his owner, and which his owner was generally unaware he or she was carrying. I’ve learned that before remedial training can take hold, an owner must first acknowledge the message that his dog is bringing him. Up until the last ten years I was looking at the problem inside out. Truly, there is nothing wrong with the dog. He’s doing what dogs are supposed to do – fetching. The emotional parts of us that we long ago cut off and think are long gone, the dog retrieves. It never ceases to amaze me how a dog’s behavior precisely dovetails into the deepest emotional recesses and the most subtle emotional nuances of his human owner’s very being.

One can try to make sense of dog behavior through other ways; the ethiological “many-drive” theory, or the pack model of dominance and submission, sociobiology’s “selfish-gene” theory, or through an analysis of behavior through the learning theories of Classical and Operant Conditioning, but once you get down to emotional bedrock, none of these add up. The real deal is that dogs are emotional geiger counters, emotional truth detectors, emotional seismic-fault sensors. Dogs reveal our deepest truths.

Once an owner sees the emotional logic in their dog’s behavior, this understanding lifts a great weight off their dog rendering him free to learn how to align with his owner instead of having to act out what stands between them. Even more importantly, the owner can heal what’s churning deep within their own emotional makeup. Dogs bring deep emotion to the surface so that we become aware. It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.

How the process works. All we have to do is talk. First, I ask for a detailed description of your dog’s background and his behavior. NO DETAIL IS INSIGNIFICANT, and any idiosyncractic behaviors merit special attention. Slowly through the course of our conversation, an emotional impression forms for me about your dog and for lack of a better word, I “tap in” to what’s going on inside the dog as a reflection of its owner. I’ve been told that what I do is a form of “empathic communication”. At any rate, it’s based on what I’ve learned about the emotional logic that runs animals. One will know when we’re on the right track when one feels a deep resonance.

Sometimes this triggers a painful feeling, sometimes an uplifting one. But either way the feeling is always a release and once out in the open, it then takes its rightful form as a guidance mechanism, homing in, helping to clarify what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. What dogs feel is our deepest part, that part we’ve long ago forgotten and yet is at the heart of our creative being.

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Published June 1, 2009 by Kevin Behan

6 responses to “What Your Dog is Trying to Tell You”

  1. I came to the same general conclusion myself, several years before I first read Kevin’s book, before I’d even thought of becoming a dog trainer. But I didn’t have a way of verbalizing it then.

    Now I do:


    I think the way Kevin describes this process is more exact than mine. It’s certainly more in tune with his energy theory.

    My perspective — or at least my way of telling this part of the human/canine story — is based more on psychological processes involving the ways we project our thoughts and identities on to our dogs, and how they then behave in “obedience” to our unconscious desires.

    I think Kevin’s is more about the simple emotional resonance that takes place, which happens in obedience to the laws of nature.

    Either way, I think it’s a very interesting concept and one that deserves wider recognition and interest.


  2. Chistine says:

    I have 3 dogs; does that mean I am a mental case with a split personality? LOL This actually does resonate with me as being truthful.

  3. kbehan says:

    (Sorry, several comments didn’t automatically post and so there’s a time lag between my response.)

    Each dog reflects a specific polarity of your temperament with their related judgments. This is why wolves live in smaller groups than African Wild Hunting Dogs, you can only slice the circle so many times until the reflection gets too fuzzy to be seen. I think this is why some people hoard dogs and animals. They can’t bear the reflection.
    At any rate, observe each dog to find the facet of your own makeup that they reveal.

  4. Christine says:

    There are those who believe, perhaps rightly so, that one dog in all you should have at a time. For me, my ‘feeling’ is that the three I have are ‘necessary’ for me. I cannot explain why I feel that way; it just is. However, three is my limit. Or perhaps, more accurately, these particular three are my limit; I don’t have any interest in adopting any more dogs (besides, it does get costly!) I do think having another dog would upset our applecart. All I really know is that I enjoy them tremendously, especially for their unique and individual qualities (whether that be Temperment, temperment or personality; I do not know and cannot say). It is challenging having the three for many reasons: figuring out how to help them get along, how to best meet their individual needs as well as always working towards the ultimate goal of creating an environment where they get to live out a balanced, fulfilled and happy doggie life!

  5. kbehan says:

    Whatever feels right, is right. However if one gets another dog due to a need, then that will upset the apple cart. Personally I’m a one dog man, but being Gemini, I always end up with two.
    Temperament is what causes each dog’s temperament, for example, within any litter Temperament distributes genes to produce a range of temperaments within the litter, each one responding to stress slightly differently, and then these “ionizing” distinctions between the various puppies as they grow up causes them to become more and more differentiated into that which we ultimately recognize as their personality.
    The main thing is that if your dogs make you happy, then they will be happy. It’s like being on a winning team. It’s not necessary to be the star to enjoy the thrill of winning to the fullest.

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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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