Born Wild, Trained to be Free

“I don’t want to kill my dog,” the man said. He was near tears. He stood in my office telling me that this should be the happiest time in his life. His newborn son had just come home from the hospital, but his dog was aggressive toward strangers and even worse, with children, and now he was torn between his love for the dog and concern for his child’s well being. His son was of course most important, but nevertheless, the man couldn’t bear to have his pet destroyed.

To his credit he accepted the fact that he had made every mistake in the book with his dog. But what had he done that is so different from the way most dog owners respond to dog problems? He thought that love meant hugs and kisses and that discipline meant a whack every now and again. He approached training by thinking that getting his dog to sit and lie down was all that had to be done. His dog was treated as most pets are, except that his dog, a Pit Bull cross, would tend to learn aggression, given these common handling errors.

As I studied the dog for a few minutes, the overwhelming message coming from the animal was one of fear. I moved my hand above his topline and his hair stood on end instantly, rippling along the spine in anticipation of my touch. It is commonplace to call such a dog a “fear biter”, for he is indeed afraid, but such a term misses the truth that lies beneath this dog’s potentially explosive reactions. When a dog lashes out, for one brief instant he feels free of his fear. While he may be compelled by stress to bite, he is motivated by freedom.

Biting, as well as the countless other behavioral problems which send ten million dogs to their doom each year, is completely avoidable. No matter what the temperament of the dog may be, genetics doesn’t mean that behavior is predetermined. All dogs can adapt to any environment if their wildness is acknowledged, appreciated, and then channeled into expressions of freedom that are appropriate. Such adaptability, broadened and deepened through domestication, forms what I call the dog’s “harmonic quotient”.

The Pit Bull owner in my office was deeply perplexed. Where had he gone wrong? Had he been too tough on his dog, or not tough enough? While there are a lot of handling errors to focus on, there is one simple answer to this dog’s problem that is also the common denominator in any other breakdown in the dog/owner relation. The owner had fallen into the usual trap: he had formed a pack with his dog. His mind-set had been to tame his dog so that he would be lovable. Since this approach ignored the prey instinct, the dog’s cooperative spirit was undeveloped and their home life revolved around the tension of a pack rather than the harmony of a group.

This man was not aware that a dog is biologically and emotionally designed to absorb and store stress, and that this occurs whenever the prey instinct isn’t fulfilled. In the wild, this behavioral mechanism ensures survival, which is why social tension is typical of pack life. In the absence of any prey, pack members have no target on which to vent their aggression. Thus inhibited, the stress level builds to a high pitch, finding its ultimate released when another individual acts out of place, causing a shift in the pack order. In this moment, all of the imprisoned passion in the pack is released toward the hapless pack member. Of course, the social tension of the pack may also find a release in an attack on a vulnerable prey animal and thus it becomes a group.

As I moved my hand toward the dog all the confusion he had experienced in his life with regard to his prey instinct surfaced merely by the extension of my hand. The possibility of a stranger’s touch made this dog go beyond his breaking point – were I to have gone further, I might have provoked an attack.

Interestingly enough, this dog’s stress level was directly proportional to the strength of his attraction to me. The more attraction a dog has, the more aggressive he’ll be if the harmonic pathways are blocked. Nothing in nature can occur in a vacuum – a dog’s behavior always has its reasons, but it can’t be predicated on a negative motivation, such as being afraid. A dog can’t dislike, he can only like; he can only be attracted. Therefore, the Pit Bull’s fear of me isn’t a motivation to bite me. The germ of his mood was one of longing, an uninhibited urge to be with me, its purity long since scarred by incorrect handling. This is why it is incorrect to say that, genetically speaking, Pit Bulls are problem dogs. Pit Bulls that experience flow along a harmonic pathway are wildly social toward strangers.

Wildness is an innocent, unabashed attraction to that which is positive in nature. In young pups this innocence is reflected in their every impulse, which is why they are so outgoing. But of course, such an undiscriminating attitude is not a successful survival trait in the forest, and so it is that wolves must live in packs and with stress. It is necessary that each member be made extremely nervous so that he won’t ever forget an unpleasant experience. With a tautly strung nervous system, he’s less likely to be surprised by a predator or be insensitive to any power shifts within the pack. Additionally, he will be highly charged to chase and bite a large prey animal.

Because life in the wild is so oppressive, we must recognize that there is really no such thing as real freedom in nature. Canine survival is intimately connected to all other forms of life, and it is as a result of this interdependence that life and death always hang in the balance. However, the incredible beauty of the prey instinct is revealed with the realization that freedom and harmony are synonymous. When the group is coordinated by the master prey instinct, that is the sensation of freedom. That is unity. That is life. In the wild, freedom is short-lived, for as soon as a kill is made, the group becomes a pack once again. Nevertheless, that fleeting spark of harmony is what bonds each member to the group.

Our task as dog owners is to capture that transient surge of freedom and expand on it until it occupies our dog’s entire range of reference. This is not hard to do, but it seldom happens because we’re constantly seeking to tame our dogs while under the misconception that their wildness is a destructive force. Although we don’t want our domesticated dogs to be wild-like, this natural wildness is not the problem. The problem is how to get a dog to open up and to be receptive to calming influences. Calming the dog through the prey instinct is how you gain access to his most innocent and vulnerable essence, arousing his spirit in such a way as to be channeled away from a survival instinct and onto a harmonic pathway. The purpose of a pack, however, is to make each individual nervous in order to catalyze the survival instincts. This brings me back to the central theme of this book. I wish to guide the dog owner in how not to be part of this instinctive plan.

We do not want to duplicate life in a pack. The stability of a pack is destined to falter, since balances are constantly shifting over even the smallest daily occurrence. One pack member might stumble onto an object that another one treasures; an adolescent might naively press against a bitch in estrus; a nursing puppy might nip his mother’s nipple too hard. These innocent actions are out of order in a pack and unleash the packs warehouse of stress. In the wild, this is appropriate. Each individual must become a prisoner to the survival instinct in order for the species to endure. However, in man’s world, such stressed or overly charged reactions to change spell disaster. Dogs, unlike wolves, need to learn to adapt more fluidly if they’re to live peacefully with modern man.

While stress is inevitable, it can also be an ally, because the ultimate function of stress is to implement the harmonic plan. Stress brings focus and intensity to behavior, and by using it carefully and creatively we can tune our dogs to our domestic specifications. But first our dog must have a clear mind. By being with his owner, at some point the dog will get to experience prey-making. In other words, prey-making and being in harmony with his group need to be defined as one and the same.

It is rare to find a good rapport between dog and human. Often I reach out to touch an excited dog, and he flinches as if I’m about to swat him. Or I see a dog whose face is so sensitized by repeated whacks, or hyper-charged by inadequate socialization, that whenever he’s around strange dogs his muzzle bristles. Finally, the saddest situation is when a child approaches a strange dog, or even a family dog, and the years of pent-up stress are unloaded on this innocent youngster. Such an incident is not evidence of an unpredictable or a mean dog; unknowingly, the child tripped a wire that had originally been set by an owner locked in a struggle with his pet. The child is merely the final domino in a chaotic chain reaction. The owner topples the first one with a confrontation, or blow, and the child ends up being the victim.

Dogs are not trying to test us, to dominate us, or to put one over on us, and handling a dog is not a matter of just getting tough. That’s an old-fashioned attitude toward discipline. All the social angst in a wolf pack is not evidence of a leader struggling to the top in order to bring peace and balance to the pack. What is actually going on is the transference of stress from one individual to the next in line. It is the timeless rule of instinct, the relentless reign of stress imposing order on its subjects.

While there must be order and balance in a dog’s life, we must recognize that it is through harmony that these are achieved. Without the flow of emotion released through hunting, these qualities by themselves serve no purpose and are merely suffocating. The reason wolves need to be in balance within the pack is to remain connected to the group. Only through hunting as a group can there be freedom.

Owning and training a dog affords us the chance to make contact with our dog’s wildness so that he can live free in our lives. The experience can only help us to be more human, more deeply connected to nature. To refrain from hitting a dog is not, in itself, enough. His prey instinct must also be actively developed, for it controls a valve within him that, once opened, makes him innocent and amenable to any group purpose. It isn’t how much love you try to give your dog, it’s how much of your love your dog is open to receive. A master’s role is to expand on that brief snippet of freedom that nature affords in life until it becomes fixed as a character trait.

A dog is born wild, he learns stress; he must be trained to be free.

Published July 28, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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19 responses to “Born Wild, Trained to be Free”

  1. April Hannon says:

    I have a question about food ”aggression” what exactly is going on ?One of our dogs(Chico)definitly has issues about food, feeding him with a strange dog is almost impossible without him attacking the other dog, and the tension between him and Denny while they eat is so thick, they eye each other, on several occasions he has attacked Denny over food.He will also do a strange thing when walking to his bowl, he will not walk to it he sort of curves and weaves and when he gets to his bowl, he will back up from a couple of inches from his bowl.I really want to understand what is going on, so any insight would be appriciated, thanks.

  2. kbehan says:

    There is a way to soften this charge to food, and I will at some point make a video on it, but since it isn’t something I can talk you through I won’t bother going in that direction. For now, let him eat in peace and avoid the issue and I will suggest for the time being you approach it indirectly by giving his energy another expression of equal intensity. The basic problem is that when dogs store up a charge that they can no longer hold, they don’t just vent at random, they need an instinctual releaser. For some dogs it’s their body space or a resting place, or a toy, or feeling compressed in a tight space and for many it’s a food bowl. In any event, the Big-Brain-in-the-head quite literally invents an excuse to permit an overloading and this is not the cause, it’s the symptom.
    It’s also important to repeat that dogs go by “emotional sonar,” by which I mean they project a feeling of resistance onto the forms of things, and the degree to which this feeling is reflected back to them by virtue of the objects’ “reflective” value (i.e. the intensity of its predatory aspect, height, stillness, shininess, intensity-of-focal gaze) induces a feeling of pressure in their head. The intensity of this pressure then activates a physical memory specific to that degree of intensity. Because the food is in a bowl, it is energy-in-form and therefore as an object with both a predatory aspect and a preyful aspect, it invokes a degree of resistance commensurate with the degree of attraction. This means that Chico is attributing a “being” to the food bowl and this is why Chico approaches the bowl circuitously rather than straight away because in his experience he is entering a virtual electrostatic field because he is experiencing an intensification of pressure in his head as he approaches the bowl just as if he were approaching another dog in possession of a bone. And then were a dog to approach him around food that degree of compression would be overwhelming and he is compelled to bite the dog to ground out that unbearable electrostatic pressure.
    By approaching the bowl circuitously he is exhibiting his tentativeness at making contact as we also do when we cross a carpeted room on a cold day and brace for the electrostatic shock when we reach for a metal switch plate to turn on a light. Breaking the surface tension of a form means collapsing that virtual electrostatic field and that collapse feels just as if it’s experiencing an electrical shock, and one delivered on its nose to boot. (This is the Bowl-Being correcting him.) This is also why dogs prefer to drink from toilet bowls that are grounded into the earth than water bowls on the floor. They perceive the reflective surface tension of the water-in-a-bowl as a virtual electrostatic field. In their mind, it has a predatory aspect and is hence a being (the dreaded Bowl-Being) and breaking the surface tension triggers the physical memory of being hurt, and they then relive that hurt. This is also why cats paw at their water bowls to break the surface tension and then lap and bypass the sensation of the collapse via their nose. (You can see why cat lovers consider their species superior to dogs.)
    Chico backs up from the bowl in deference to this pressure and its imminent collapse into a shock. Perhaps as a pup he experienced a whooping over a food bowl and now he projects this memory onto food bowls in the present. Needless to say, when another dog is present then Chico has a much more vivid target to project physical memory onto and because another dog will move, has more preyful energy, more predatory energy and will give feedback to his outbursts, is therefore much more conductive and can add energy to this addiction. The main thing to realize however is that Chico doesn’t really have an issue over food, the food or whatever triggers are involved isn’t really the cause but is merely the instinctual license to vent energy. The real issue is that Chico isn’t getting all of its energy out in some other constructive area so that it can get over the physical memory attached to a food bowl. (That being said however, it is always necessary to revisit the trigger once the shift in that other compensating factor has occurred in order to truly heal it and this would be the subject of my proposed video treatment.)
    An interesting experiment would be to change three variables, the mushiness (resistance value) of the food and the containment vessel for the food (object of resistance) and then the setting. So each evening feed him the following: either a scattering of hot dogs on the open floor, and then progress on successive meals to hard dog kibble in a wooden versus a plastic or metal bowl. Each one of these variables invokes a different degree of being-in-form and resistance-to-ingestion and therefore a different capability to reflect a dog’s energy of attraction back to it and generate a feeling of resistance that it then projects onto the object-of-resistance. The third variable of setting would be to switch from the built up memory of indoors compression, to outdoors that is more conductive. Invariably there is more resistance value built up in the dogs’ sense of its surroundings indoors as opposed to outdoors. It would be interesting if you thereby observe varying manners of approach and response in Chico.

  3. April Hannon says:

    Kevin I have another question for you, What will keep Denny from turning into Chico? What I mean is that will Denny always keep his distance when Chico is hunkered down over his food bowl, or will he always walk away when Chico seems about to attack him as they bark at my neighbor’s dogs on the other side of my fence, and will Denny always let Chico keep the toys in his place and never take them away? I wonder if the relationship between Denny and Chico is escalating to a impossible thing, or if Denny will be able to live with Chico for the rest of his life because he will always play the back up part to Chico’s dance? I also have a theory about Denny that I would like you to critic and possibly even tell me that I’m wrong. I believe that Denny has not completed the process of domestication like a real dog. He was a feral puppy found in the woods, and his puppyhood was full of abuse from my own parents and older brothers and the only positive experiences that I can remember that he had, were me and Naomi playing with him, giving him affection, and loving him. I have theorized that the reason that Denny is still scared of strangers, especially men, even after we have tried to socailize him with people, Denny also when in pain has to be muzzled if taken to the vet, because only Naomi or I can touch him without him trying to attack, and Denny cannot handle any type of stimulation outside of playing with me and Naomi. I think the reason that Denny is this way is because he has to live everyday with the same people that abused him and in the same yard where he was abused and occasionally enter the same house that he has been chased out of with abuse. What I think is that Denny cannot complete the process of domestication, except to me and Naomi with the life that he lives now. Denny aside from being afraid of strangers like I mentioned above also seems to want nothing to do with any other people in the world besides me and Naomi, and doesn’t really seem interested in other dogs in a good way, and can’t handle being prey when he plays with our other dog Chico. Do these things mean what I think, or are they totally different? I would really appreciate it if you can help by giving me some insight. Also another thing to add, which I have observed and seems to support my theory, I have seen coumtless dogs come into my neighbors house, she runs a Great Dane rescue, and they come from abusive environments, and our scared to come up to you when she first gets them, but after a week or so at her house, where they are not abused, and where they are introduced to strangers daily, these dogs are comfortable enough to come up to you, play with you and usually be around other dogs with no problems, not all of the dogs have been so easy, but the majority of them have seemed to adjust greatly during their stay, until they find a permanent home. Why I wonder does Denny still remain scared of people though we’ve tried extensive socialization, and still seems not able to handle any stimulation besides being in our backyard with us? Is it the abuse, that he has endured and the fact that he still lives in the same place that it happened or is it the fact that he has not become domesticated from his feralness, to anyone but me and Naomi, because of the abuse and the fact the he still lives with the same abusers? This is probably confusing, and I am pretty confused myself, but I want desperately to understand my dogs.

  4. kbehan says:

    Think of Denny and Chico as two ions in a battery, so every time there is a charge, even though Denny is polarizing to become the opposite of Chico, as in an electrolyte migrating to the negative terminal while the opposite electrolyte goes to the positive terminal, he is likewise becoming the equal to Chico, as in every electrolyte in a battery carries the same degree of electrical charge. As the years go by if Chico loses a step, and if Denny gains capacity, then they might flip polarities and reverse roles. Sometimes this happens organically, but sometimes violently. Also, if Chico dies, then Denny will raise his vibration to the state that Chico was able to channel and flip polarity that way. Even if Denny is manifesting avoidance, he is simultaneously learning Chico’s way as well.
    You are also quite right about the physical memory being transferred onto strangers so that the dogs remain afraid. But the reason they aren’t shifting despite all that you do for them is because the emotional conductivity of the setting remains what it always has been, and the dogs are picking up the polarity of inhibition and related judgments in the ones who care for them, and are then manifesting it in their personalities and behavior in order for you to become more aware of how the charge continues within you. Your neighbor is just into dogs, she apparently isn’t projecting her judgments onto them because they are not her dogs, they are not her reflection except in regards to the more surface levels of consciousness.
    My advice is to not focus on the dogs, you are not there to save them, they are here to save you. The dogs are in your life to show you You. Even though you may be manifesting the opposite polarity of fear by being outgoing and friendly, according to the dogs the charge remains unprocessed in the opposite form as guilt. Your dogs are perfectly domesticated, I call it guilt-by-association. But don’t judge against your charge, it is a perfect output of the input, perfect information, all you have to do is become aware of it. Heart will heal it automatically.

  5. April Hannon says:

    I only needed to read your reply once and I knew exactly what you meant.The more emotionally attached we are to our dogs the more they will show us who we are.Our dogs are here to heal us but in order to do that they first have to show us where we are hurting, it can be a painful thing to have your heart read but we all know denial can heal nothing only mask what we really feel.Reading your reply had a bigger impact on me than you can possible imagine, I finally understand why we even have dogs here in my life or in any one else’s life for that matter.I believe we have an emotional battery filled with all the grief,hurt,pain,joy that we have not been able to express,alot of times we manage to cover it up but sometimes something, or someone will trigger it and we lose it, I’m sure we all know someone who we say is an emotional wreck, well that is what dogs are trying to help to show us that pain is still there and it needs to be healed before it controls your life which I’m sure it controls far more than we than we are aware of.And before we try to help a dog,I realize we should let them help us.Dogs mean so much, no other animal lives with us the way a dog does, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the myth about how the dog came to be with humans, but me and my sister’s favorite one says that there was an earthquake that split the world in two, humans on one side animals on the other, as the sides slid apart, the dog looked across at the human and decided it could’nt leave us to ourselves so at the last moment it jumped across to stand beside us, yes its a myth but its probably closer to the truth than we know.We need dogs.Thanks so much Kevin for taking the time to answer every confusing question I post, I look forward to understanding myself and dogs by your infinite knowledge.

  6. April Hannon says:

    Could you explain guilt-by-association a little further?Also I know a male and female are opposite so they will be able to flip polarities easier, but if they are also the same height,same color and also about the same age won’t that make it little harder for them to flip polarities?Also I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of the The Farm-Fox experiment where Russian geneticist Dmitry K.Beyaev tried to breed tame foxes, it is a very interesting article.Thanks

  7. April Hannon says:

    Hi Kevin, just wondering how would you even get a dog to be able to flip polarities in play,or rather how could you replace that bad physical memory, I’m referring to Denny.Also what do you think about energy levels, such as dogs being labled as high or low energy,because I have observed dogs that people called low energy who just lay around,let out a extreme amount of ”aggression” over something, then go right back to lying down, it seems to me they are storing stress, this is describing Chico, but I can say since we have started NDT he is moving around much more, but he still seems to lie around and ”’mope”.

  8. kbehan says:

    Dogs that exhibit high DRIVE energy, have more hunger than balance in virtually all situations so they are able to convert change/resistance/stress into forward motion and the drive to make contact. Whereas your observation is very accurate. Every dog has the same degree of energy it’s just that the range of circumstances that conduct its release and their threshold trigger points are, varies widely from temperament to temperament. So the high Drive dogs if they are getting the prerequisite outlet for their drive, would exhibit a high threshold and calmness when other dogs are stressed, agitated, inhibited or fearful. As for flipping polarities in play that will be a very good subject for a video and I’ll try to get that together soon.

  9. Shanty says:

    A very touching post from April. Thanks for writing it.

  10. April Hannon says:

    Thanks for the compliment.Speaking of touching, I hope everyone read Trisha’s new post.I wish everyone who had dogs, no scratch that, I wish everyone, period, could read Trisha’s blog.Her post hold the wisdom of the universe.

  11. April Hannon says:

    A few moments ago when I was outside watching Denny and Chico play I remembered something.I really wish I could say this was’nt true, but unfortunately it is.When we were practicing Cesar’s methods, we decided to introduce Denny to dogs, according to Cesar,dogs should meet nose to butt, ( I’m not blaming Cesar for our actions )so we did that, but the problem was Denny’s tail would be down and he never would quite let the other dog get behind him, so we would hold Denny(his head and body) while the other dog sniffed him,I know this is horrible and I think this is why Denny cannot handle other dogs sniffing his butt very well, and cannot handle them chasing him at all. I thought this was necesary to tell you, Kevin considering what I’ve said about Denny.Also our dogs bark at our back fence and front gate(they can clearly see through the back one)at people or other things that go by, but if someone is riding by fast on a bike they don’t bark, do you think you could explain the whole barking at the fence thing?Thanks

  12. Lacey says:

    “Calming the dog through the prey instinct is how you gain access to his most innocent and vulnerable essence, arousing his spirit in such a way as to be channeled away from a survival instinct and onto a harmonic pathway. ”

    That is so beautiful! Beautiful in how it is written and beauitful in it’s truthfulness. How could anyone who has lived with a dog read that and disagree?

  13. Christine says:

    Amen and Amen‼♥

  14. christine randolph says:

    it is strange how my dog is scared of the scooter and not confident, when he has to just stand there and hold out the line.

    but when he starts running and pulling, he is relaxed, I can see it from his tail and body posture.

    as soon as he has to stop, the fear comes back. so when he is running, he is in a more innocent harmonic spirit. i wish I could keep him there even when he stops…maybe with practice

    @april. I think dogs will not consider a fast animal prey, this is why only a cyclist of slow speed will earn a bark.

    so wolves will cull the slowest of the herd which is why it is so useful to have wolves around, to keep herds of elk and moose healthy. because the slower weaker animals get eaten before they pass on their (slow) genes to the next gen.

  15. Lacey says:

    Christine, Lou is the same way. Lou gets fearful (and often barking/lunging and biting if he had his way) if we stand around talking to new people BUT the second the whole group gets walking he is fine. He will even calmly walk on leash at a heel with the new person – but if we stop moving he’s likely to grab that person’s pant legs.

    Though I’m happy to report that Lou now volunarily looks back at me to bite (and shake!) his toy when he gets that panicked.

  16. kbehan says:

    The static moments such as standing still in a group, increases intensity and this then triggers physical memories of pain. When moving the dog feels flow and this is how it “knows” it’s getting out of there alive so to speak. So when standing around, have stranger ask Lou to bark for treat, then bark for bite toy and if going well, they can then play tug with toy on a rope. Thereafter have Lou lay down and stay when in a group. Also, you can get really physical with Lou with push for food and tug toy work to get him in his body right before the group goes static. Make sure you’re giving him the release in a time and place of your choosing. Keep On Pushing!

  17. Heather says:

    I think Christine said somewhere that just the right amount of fear is good. Lately Happy is coming back to me wherever I go with him, whether I call him or not. I don’t usually expect him to spontaneously come back at the dog park, but I’m not complaining!

  18. Christine says:

    So he’s feeling connected to you and he keeps checking in…that’s a good thing and not necessarily fear-based (at least, that’s my thought).

  19. Lacey says:

    Yes, I should have written that Lou used to act like that – if I start seeing him get charged up we push/speak/box until he cools it. I haven’t yet asked a stranger to interact with Lou but he passed a big test this weekend so I will start doing so. My non-dog liking inlaws spent three days here. Lou did GREAT! FIL is dog-neutral and he isn’t even on Lou’s radar. MIL doesn’t like dogs – she’s afraid. Lou can get charged up when she’s around. Makes me wonder if he’s sensing her energy or if he’s sensing me getting annoyed by her snide comments about the dogs/training. Regardless, there was no incoherent barking or snarling or lunging. And THAT is an amazing improvment.

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