Why Do Good Dogs Do Bad Things?

Question: if dogs are social by nature as Natural Dog Training claims them to be, how could a dog ever do something “anti-social?” Answer: because emotion must move.

A brief primer on emotion:

Emotion is energy. And as pure energy, before it becomes entangled in the higher processes of the nervous system and either elaborates into a feeling, or at the other end of the spectrum collapses into an instinct, it functions as a monolithic force of attraction, just like gravity. Whatever can be said of gravity can also be said of emotion.

The most important thing to understand about emotion as energy, and this will prove the hardest thing to accept given all the pejorative meanings that have built up around our understanding of emotion, is that emotion can only be positive in both meanings of that term, in the sense of being pleasurable and also as something tangible, concrete. In other words, emotion is like gravity in that it always functions as a force of attraction. Behaviorally this means that an animal cannot be attracted to something noxious, something that makes it feel bad, and it cannot be attracted to something abstract, such as a human concept of fairness, jealousy, territoriality and the like. (I’m not saying that animals aren’t capable of responding to what we think of as “negative” simply that they’re not attracted via pure emotion to something negative or something intangible; just as for example objects of mass are not attracted to objects that don’t have mass. We will discuss later what constitutes a “negative” in an animal’s mind.) So emotion is a monolithic pull of attraction, there aren’t many emotions just as there aren’t many forms of gravity, there is only one. The strength of the attraction depends on the degree of “emotional displacement” when an animal notices something changing in its surroundings, and also the “emotional mass” of the stimulation in question. When an animal’s emotion is displaced, an animal senses this as an internal, visceral pull toward the object of attraction and when the animal is able to move in full accord with the strength of this pull, the animal feels good. Animal consciousness is this simple, and yet the interconnectedness between all living things which immutably flows from this theorem will nevertheless prove capable of explaining the intricate complexity of animal behavior.

Fear is not emotion because there is no such thing as a negative emotion. If fact, fear as universal and as deep seated in the subconscious as it might be, is not even elemental. Rather, fear results from the collapse of a positive feeling: in other words something becomes unpleasant only if there is a removal of a pull of attraction, and the more sudden the occasion of its removal, the stronger the sensation of collapse and the more intense the fear. There can’t be fear without the collapse, and there can’t be a collapse without the pull of attraction. Furthermore if emotion is held back for some reason, (and these “reasons” are often due to fear) then a force builds up proportional to the strength of attraction, just as for example the force behind a dam is directly proportional to the volume of water trying to flow downhill.

Question, if the dam were to fail resulting in a flood of great destruction, what was the cause; the river or the dam? Likewise, if someone were to fall off the roof of a building we don’t ponder whether there was too much gravity that day. So just as there’s no such thing as “bad” gravity, there’s only energy that becomes dangerous because it builds up so much force by being held back, that it can overwhelm the available pathway and then move in an unchanneled way. Whereas in contrast, as long as energy can move through high capacity channels, we keep fast to the earth and are safe to lead happy, productive lives. Thanks to gravity.

Likewise, what we perceive of as negative emotion is merely emotion that is being held back until it can’t be held back anymore and the resulting instinctual behavior can be as dangerous as stepping off the roof of a building or being downriver from a bursting dam. But to repeat, the problem isn’t emotion; it’s the build up of force which then moves in an un-channeled manner because emotion was denied its natural movement by fear. Therefore when we see someone acting irrationally, impulsively and dangerously, it’s incorrect to say that the person is being emotional. The accurate characterization is that the person is acting instinctually and in defiance of pure emotion.

There are two ways emotion can be held back. One is due to fear. Fear is an instinct, it is not emotion. Fear is as close as the central nervous system can get to emotion and so it’s been confused as such because the two can occur virtually simultaneously. But this linkage is a profound misinterpretation. When emotion is held back by fear, the animal builds up a “charge” and will almost invariably respond in a load/overload dynamic, similar to an electrostatic shock being transmitted from one electrical pole to another. These emotional short-circuits serve a agenda apart from sociability and are not maladaptive in regards to the limited environmental niche an animal evolved to fit. However, good dogs do “bad” things because in mankind’s world of incessant change, when the dams erected by fear fail as fail they most often will, all the dog seeks is relief from an internal pressure and the hardwired reflexes that are subsequently triggered always travel the path of least resistance and the dog will roll over whatever gets in its way. (I’m thinking here about an owner reaching under the bed to retrieve a glove from a dog that’s retreated there.) Seeking relief by way of instinct imposes the past on the present. (The dog was smacked as a puppy by someone’s hand that it now sees as reaching toward it. Ouch!)

Emotion can also be held back by a feeling. A feeling is not a dam, it is a channel. It knows no time and it elaborates in the immediate-moment in perfect accord with the energetic parameters of the situation and in order to perfectly suit the “future” potential implicit in the originating pull of attraction. It’s like water “knowing” to rush uphill into a pipe because of the suction from a spout far away downhill. A true feeling is guided by release rather than relief and becomes refined into very exquisite elaborations. A feeling is based on movement of the temperament and adds energy to the system whereas an instinct is based on vibration of the nervous system and drains energy from the system which is why an animal has to pause and recharge. Because a feeling encompasses a future potential, when emotion is released by a feeling given that the moment feels right; this feeling guides this energy into a harmonious manner of making contact with the object of attraction. The release of a feeling works according to the principles of emotional conductivity and thereby generates information coherent to the moment and as a matter of fact, in abject defiance of instinct.

Relief from fear and the release of a feeling affect an animal in fundamentally different ways. When seeking relief, the dog cannot feel what another is feeling because it is preoccupied with an overwhelming internal pressure that it experiences as centered in its head. This pressure makes an animal feel disconnected from what it’s attracted to, as well as from its own body. Its mind is clouded as if its brain is immersed in an electrostatic field like a thundercloud about to discharge. Not coincidentally there is an electrical intensity (vibration) in its physical and vocal expressions. Relief works through a load/overload dynamic that leaves the individual with less energy than it began with, if not altogether enervated. Interestingly, the central nervous system with electro-chemical potentials arcing across synaptic gaps works on just such a cascade load/overload effect which is why instincts hardwired into the brain likewise follow such a schema. It is remarkably easy to look at an animal and recognize whether its behavior is “electrical” in its nature and thus know exactly what is fundamentally going on inside the animals’ mind.

In contrast, the experience of release is a steady state dynamic that leaves the individual emotionally energized at the end of the encounter, even if physically exhausted. When emotion is held back by a feeling, because the dog nonetheless feels energized, it feels connected to the object of its attraction even though it has not yet made actual physical contact. At all times during the interaction the potential for new energy can be sensed and this induces a dog to self-modify its behavior and manner in order to complement and become synchronized with the object of its attraction. A dog learns to move its body in such a way that the object of attraction increases makes it feel better. This is an auto-tuning feedback loop of exquisite intelligence and in such a state a dog’s body language is characterized by a supple, magnetic quality, and again it’s easy to see this. The release of a feeling is felt by the dog in its heart rather than in its head and in contrast to the way energy works in the nervous system, the heart works on a steady state dynamic, which is why the flow and pressure of blood is uniform throughout every vein, artery and capillary in the body.

Therefore given all of the above, blaming the nature of a dog (which is in reality blaming emotion) for a violent or destructive act would be akin to blaming the river for running wild when the dam that was built to hold it back fails.

As long as we are willing to acknowledge and work with the energy which draws our dog to our side and not arbitrarily build dams in its emotional waterways, our dogs’ feelings will give us a safe, happy and productive companion. Thanks to emotion.

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Published June 10, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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5 responses to “Why Do Good Dogs Do Bad Things?”

  1. I’m still thinking about this post, but the one thing that resonates for me right now is the idea (which I’ve also written about) that dogs feel actual physical pressure when their emotional energy builds up and doesn’t have a release point.

    I first realized this as I was trying to explain how the pushing exercise works to a woman in my neighborhood (her dog gets overloaded so easily that if she stops to talk to someone and there are no dogs for him to bark at he’ll stand there and bark at a tree). And she said, “It sounds a bit like deep pressure therapy.”

    That’s when it hit me that dogs feel actual physical pressure when they’re overloaded with emotion. And that’s one reason the pushing exercise works. It enables the dog to feel pressure (resistance) and pleasure (release) at the same time.


  2. This is a great post. My dog used to bark at inanimate objects all the time and would sometimes nip me if I had visitors. I decided to tackle my dog’s fear and anxiety.

    He is now a happy companion and he feels safe whenever i have visitors now.

    Thanks for the understanding

  3. Shanty says:

    I’m reading this post for the third or fourth time and trying to clearly understand this theory.
    I do understand that when a dog has anti-social behavior it does not see the incident as we do – the event occurs because of the need to feel relief of internal pressure and not as a thought out guarding, territorial or dominant behavior.
    So in a similar situation, where the charge is not so high, the same dog will not recall previous experiences and react negatively – it this right?
    Also – a quick question about behaviors that have emerged since incorporating pushing exercises. Our dog now barks in the house when he’s excited or jumps up on us – in effect, he seems to have lost his ‘manners’. Is this a good sign, that he’s not repressing his stress and is ‘pushing’ into us when excited or does it mean we’re doing something wrong? Looking forward to your thoughts.

  4. kbehan says:

    Yes, you have perfectly interpreted how physical memory influences the immediate-moment experience. When the intensity of the moment is not as high, then any particular dysfunctional behavior that is keyed to a specific degree of higher intensity does not surface. What’s happening with your dog is that it has been over stimulated and now that it is becoming less inhibited by resistance, these behaviors are able to come out. In other words, new energy is made from old energy, and it always comes out through the “fault line.” For example, when new energy comes up from the earth, i.e. molten lava, it comes out through an old fault line. So while earthquakes may not be predictable as to when they are going to occur, they’re pretty predictable as to where they’re going to occur. So any errors in a dog’s development will surface when the old lines of resistance no longer serve as lids on the dog’s energy.

  5. Shanty says:

    Very interesting. I’m more excited now because it seems we are finally overcoming the barriers that we’ve originally put up to make him a ‘good dog’ but that were coming out as aggression towards other dogs.
    Thank you – I assume continuing to *push* him to higher levels of intensity will eventually resolve the anti-social behaviours as well.

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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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