Why We Push

Evolution is the story of overcoming resistance. Things must be broken down in order to exploit their energy. Concentrating and storing energy in order to overcome resistance is the organizing principle of every species’ anatomy, physiology and behavior.

Inside your dog is a battery, an emotional reservoir filled with “unresolved emotion”. Unresolved emotion is created when emotion, a primal force of attraction, meets resistance and doesn’t come to a point of complete resolution. Unresolved emotion is an emotional “charge”, a concentration of energy that builds in intensity in order to overcome resistance.

Individuals do not have access or control over the unresolved emotion they carry in their emotional battery even though resolving it is the fundamental motive underlying all behavior. Unresolved emotion can only get out the way it went in; it is attracted to objects of resistance. In other words, any given layer of unresolved emotion can only be activated and ultimately resolved by the degree of resistance that caused it to be formed in the first place. It takes an external trigger of specific intensity to bring a given layer of unresolved emotion to the surface. And because unresolved emotion can-only-go-out-the-way-it-went-in, the emotional battery “tunes” the animal to that which can potentially resolve it.

Normal activity, positive experiences and physical exercise cannot resolve the deeper levels of unresolved emotion because they cannot trigger this energy. Therefore I train a dog to “PUSH” – i.e. to overcome resistance in order to get something I want the dog to have – for two reasons. First, I want to access the energy held in the dog’s emotional battery, particularly the deepest layers. This teaches the dog to tune in to me no-matter-what. Secondly, I want to be the means of its resolution. This teaches the dog to attune to me, no-matter-what.

Read more about the Pushing Technique.

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Published June 1, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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14 responses to “Why We Push”

  1. Cliff Abrams says:

    The weather wasn’t good last week, so Lenny didn’t get as much exercise as he needs. So he was “acting out” in annoying ways– snatching stuff, restless. On top of that, i had to work, so he had to spend a few “time outs” in his crate. This weekend, work stuff was better– and so was the weather. So there was time for long walks, play and scooting. The latter is especially interesting. He loves to pull on his special scooter (www.dogpoweredscooter.com) It’s fitted with a harness so, despite distractions, he can’t “take off”. He was loping along with Anne, and i was on my bike (which he likes to “chase”). Another dog was coming towards us. As he moved toward the dog to greet him, Anne kept him on-course. Suddenly, he took off like a comet! I’ve never seen him run so fast. Though it sounds silly, i could “feel” his energy coming out in a gush. Afterward, talk about “calm-submissive”– Cesar Milan would be proud! He is as well-behaved, obedient, and affectionate as we’ve ever seen. Our goal is to keep him that way.

  2. Kevin and I got into a heated debate over on my Psychology Today blog a few weeks ago, which switched the topic of conversation away from how and why the pushing exercise works to a back-and-forth on whether behavioral science is effective, or truly scientific, etc.

    Since the primary goal of the article was to introduce people to the pushing exercise, and to explain how and why it’s so effective, I thought I would post a link here so that anyone who’s used the pushing exercise and has seen positive changes in their dogs’ behavior, attitude, etc., as a direct result, could post their comments.




  3. Heather says:

    Hi Lee, I skimmed thru the debate there, and I am afraid that any anecdotal evidence I offered would add fuel to the fire. I don’t really know a thing about behavioral science or operant conditioning, other than I worked with a dog trainer who studied with Suzanne Clothier and likes Ian Dunbar and says her methods are “positive” 🙂 My dog likes her, I love her…that’s about the extent of it.

    I thought you and Kevin did a good job of explaining and staking out the ground. I think the objections are more about form than substance. Is behavioral science “science? There is the use of the scientific method no doubt. But as Kevin says there are a lot of thought-based things that aren’t explained at all, and it is into that bucket that all of the anomalies are placed…which really is a problem because that’s exactly where the science should provide “answers.” That it doesn’t makes the science sort of irrelevant…the extremely detailed documentation of the obvious?

  4. Good points, Heather.

    However, the real question is, have you done the pushing exercise, and did you see positive behavioral changes in your dog as a result? No matter how argumentative one gets about this or that training philosophy, what really counts is whether something works. So I’m hoping that we can get some of those kinds of testimonials to motivate people who might be on the fence, philosophically speaking, to try it.


  5. Burl says:

    LCK, I read all those comments as they came up and felt that everyone had scored some good points along the way, but it was hard to follow what, precisely, was the bone of contention.

    When it comes to dogs thinking, who knows what it is like. Even for Kevin, who has spent so much of his life paying close attention to dogs (though I believe he knows way more than we do). You would think that with all the ‘professionals’ who deal with dog behavior and all the anecdotal data from dog owners, we would by now have a better idea of what or how this species – the one most socially connected to us – is thinking.

    Humans have been too busy trying to train them to be like this or that, but they are DOGS. Let’s get some canine ethologists some big $$$ and get some answers. And let’s hold their feet to the fire of serious scientific investigation methods that prohibit anthropomorphizing dogs.

    Or not. To be sure, success will not just happen, as evidenced from the historical track record for social and behavioral science. Psychologists never agree on the nature of human consciousness and behavior, and their subjects speak to them!

    Dogs differ from us only in degree – this will help greatly in understanding emotionality, and somewhat in conscious mentality. Dogs have memory, they dream vividly, they learn how to manipulate their environment, they communicate to us and other animals, they have conscious sense perceptions similar to us, they have myriad emotions, etc. They are not mindless machines – unless we are too. And what I said about dogs is about all I could say about a human whom I observe but do not talk with.

    Energy is like love, it is a word used by so many in so many ways that it is too imprecise, especially when used to characterize sentient creatures. Psychic energy, emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual, etc. So what is emotional energy, then?

    This may interest most of you concerning humans and dogs as _physical_ energy batteries: A human that gets 2000 calories a day is consuming the same energy as a 100 Watt bulb running for 24 hours – this would totally discharge a 12 Volt, 200 amp-hour trolling motor deep cycle boat battery. My 50 lb dogs each get 2 cups of dry kibble a day (OK other treats too), enough for a 40 Watt bulb. I a dog gets 6 cups, he like us is the electrical equivalent of a trolling motor!.

  6. Burl says:


    If a dog gets 5 cups, he like us; is the electrical equivalent of a trolling motor!.

  7. Heather says:

    Lee, I think the pushing exercise is fantastic. I would be happy to post my experience with it (it has been all positive), I just wasn’t sure if posts from a “non-trainer” types would help or hurt your cause after reading the thread of comments.

    Kevin posted some great definitions awhile back, and also explains the emotional battery and the circuit formed by the gut, brain, and heart. It may seem metaphorical, but it isn’t…of course it is descriptive and ultimately words are going to get in the way sometimes. The truth of the matter is easy enough to verify with one person and one dog, however, so I am not sure why there isn’t at least more open-mindedness about simply observing to see if what Kevin describes is accurate…

    Maybe it is virtually impossible for humans to see the dog in man (although humans have a myriad of ways to see man in the dog). It would be infinitely simpler and more logical to assume that man is dog+, and not that dog is man-. But that I think that gets to the whole reason why Kevin’s theory meets with a lot of resistance. When I first read books about Zen Buddhism, I could not believe that only a relatively few people were practicing in the US. Ultimately, there is not much interest in getting in touch with the inner dog (or Buddha nature) if it means giving up the notion of “self”. And although Kevin says it’s simple, I think to accept the NDS theory, a person must at some level acknowledge the nothing (as in no-thing, just a blip in the brain and nothing more) that self-centered thought is…not really consistent with any of Western thought or tradition…

    re: the cat experiment – yikes, why a cat? But it’s true – forms are not fixed as they would appear to be, nothing is static and everything is connected by energy, it isn’t just a metaphor or an abstract idea and that is such a perfect example of why physics is it.

  8. kbehan says:

    I would like to call your attention to a book I just began to read entitled “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” It’s especially germane to the debates that go on between NDT proponents and learning theory. It is a scientific inquiry into the phenomenon of how an extrinsic reward system inhibits the intrinsic motivation in animals and humans to solve problems simply for the sake of solving problems, i.e. the drive to overcome the path of highest resistance.

  9. Burl says:

    KB, I accidently posted my previous 2 comments here instead of under the Damasio article. If you move them there they are more appropriately placed.

    The author of Drive, Dan Pink is on TED and Google Authors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXrMbGloMTI I have known this all my life, and have sensed I was the lone ranger. For this reason, I was bowled over when I first heard of Kierkegaard…

    Academia needs to adopt Pink’s ideas and start over. Government too.

  10. christine randolph says:

    read some reviews on Drive… I want to know why many people are SO MUCH more motivated by playing computer games than anything else…

  11. […] unfamiliar with the exercise, here are some links: How to Do the Pushing Exercise How It Works Why We Push Let us know how it goes! […]

  12. […] Why it works (from the creator of the exercise, Kevin Behan) Posted in Uncategorized Similar articlesLee Charles Kelley: Chasing SquirrelsOh gosh Lou will chase me. I’ll run around acting crazy and the second I stop he stops and just looks at me. If Lou gets fed a few hours late he starts throwing up stomach bile. He’s at 90% of his IBW so I hate to fast him. He is insanely food … […]

  13. Huh? When did I post this comment here?

    Turns out I didn’t. http://dogtrainingindenver.info/lee-charles-kelley/


  14. […] How It Was Created, Why It Works (from the creator of the exercise, Kevin Behan) […]

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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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