The Nature of Fear

Aggression and the Nature of Fear

Since in my view all expressions of anti-social aggression are manifestations of fear, it would prove fruitful to take a closer look at the nature of fear.
Fear is the collapse of a state of attraction. And because a dog doesn’t discriminate between physical and emotional equilibrium, all forms of fear (territoriality, phobias, possessiveness, owner addiction, separation anxiety, dominance, submission) invoke the fear of falling.
Currently however fear is considered a primal emotion, as something elemental and which stands on its own, along with other primal emotions such as anger, jealousy, joy, love, disgust, contempt, surprise. Each of these emotional states are seen as distinct given that they are affiliated with hardwired physical expressions and a self-contained neurology. But this fragmented view of emotion is akin to pre-Newtonian discussion on the nature of light when blue, red, green, yellow, and white were considered to be separate entities, some even posited that the eye itself generated these colors. Newton probed the back of his eye with a fine pointed instrument to see if this was true. It wasn’t. Rather Newton discovered that color was an intrinsic property of light, the correct interpretation of the rainbow effect of a prism. I believe this will prove to be the case with emotion, with the so called prime emotions being intrinsic properties of the one primordial emotion, i.e. a “force” of attraction.
I discovered in my work with dogs that there is but one emotion and it acts as a monolithic virtual force of attraction. When emotion flows full bore through an individual, that’s the experience of joy and the object of attraction becomes an object of love. But when emotion meets with resistance, it refracts into a variety of subsets, the so called prime states listed above. For example when walking through a tangled thicket with branches and stalks ensnaring one’s feet, it’s easy to get angry. The resistance to physical movement, is modulated through the same system that registers emotional resistance, and it refracts into anger. So just as the efficiency of physical movement also serves as the metric for emotional movement as well, thus the fear of falling is the basis for all experiences of fear. (Even birds have an innate fear of falling.)
Fear is not a monolithic thing, a prime element, it’s composed of other factors. First there must be a state of attraction, an object of attraction, and a sense of flow. If this state of attraction collapses and flow is interrupted, the sensations of falling generate the experience of fear as the individual loses contact with the object of attraction. The individual becomes “charged” to reconnect with said object.
The amount of flow that is interrupted determines how intense the sensations of emotional collapse and the degree of fear experienced. Aggression is an adaptive response to prevent this collapse which is why it becomes proactive in a dog’s response to things. In the wild this would prove appropriate, wherein our domestic world it is always an inappropriate overreaction to a non-existent threat. The specific objects of aggression or the contexts affiliated with the collapse, can vary between individuals and between situations, and this can be due to the particulars of personal experience and temperamental dispositions, but nevertheless all experiences of fear share a common architecture.
Why is this an important distinction? Because if fear is a composite of flow, objects of attraction and sensations of collapse, then this complex experience can be deconstructed and each component worked on individually. As a composite it is impossible for the dog to process in any other way than has been his instinctive and historical pattern. But in regard to flow, objects of attraction and intense sensations, each of these can be worked on in unrelated areas and in a way that a dog can process no matter its life history.
Secondly, understanding fear as a complex construct, these distinctions reveal a counterbalancing dynamic, like a self-righting gyroscope which mitigate the sensations of falling and which we interestingly and intuitively call “grounding.” And a feeling of grounding can be strengthened because it too is made of several components. The upshot being that the emotional, or carrying, capacity of the individual can be dramatically increased making them resistant if not impervious to collapses. In other words, a state of attraction can be as fragile as a soap bubble that immediately pops the instant it’s poked, but were we to understand the nature of fear and work with the dynamic that facilitates emotional flow and strengthens the feeling of grounding, it can be strengthened to the toughness of a PVC pipe that can bear the weight of a loaded dump truck. And in fact, when the carrying capacity is raised enough because the feeling of grounding is so strong, the so called negative triggering object or context is now perceived by the dog as something positive and energizing rather than destabilizing. This is because the underwriting current to everything about the canine mind is emotional flow, and anything that facilitates flow becomes enfolded into a positive experience, even something that has held a life-long value of being negative. This by the way is the dynamic of cooperation where sensations of collapse become the arousal mechanism of sensuality. This is the mechanism for cooperative and altruistic impulses.
Fear can be acquired through the experience of pain and emotional trauma as has been long recognized, but an unacknowledged source and which is today especially pernicious in the modern dog, is that it can build up through a slow, steady accrual that lacks any definitive, causative event. It’s simply a build up of a daily anxiety from seemingly innocuous sources. It can even occur, as it may paradoxically appear, from a steady diet of POSITIVE stimulation. Even a positive stimulation becomes a negative experience when the level of satisfaction attained doesn’t match the degree of intensity the stimulus engendered. In other words the dog’s emotional dynamic cannot process the degree of stimulation. The example I like to give to illustrate is one or two pieces of chocolate cake taste delicious and might even be nutritious. But three of four slices can make one as sick as eating something noxious. So in the animal mind (which works according to a physical, bodily logic) something is only good if it can be emotionally processed to completion, but something is bad if it can’t be fully processed. The intrinsic nature of the thing isn’t the definitive value, whether or not it can be FULLY processed is what really matters. So for example throwing a ball for a dog with a high need for physical tactile contact is inherently frustrating. The urgency in such a dog’s manic ball play is mistaken for pure enjoyment. But the poor dog is never getting to the Emotional Stop Signal and this overload will build up as long term stress which invokes anxiety. In an unrelated area he may suddenly become phobic, or if he has strong drive by nature, aggressive.
Emotion follows strict evolutionary parameters (i.e. the action performed must add to the net gain of the system, this is the metric by which the individual’s body/mind registers satisfaction) and so even if a stimulus positively excites a dog, if its actions don’t satisfy this underlying evolutionary mandate, then true to the principle of conservation it is converted into its equal yet opposite form, stress. Stress is the physical memory of an emotional state of attraction that did not run to total termination. Stress is cumulative and when the load of this stress reserve grows too great then the dog becomes fearful because the evolutionary basis of this stress reserve is to perform the double duty of making the individual hyper-vigilant to the presence of predators. Aggression is an adaptive means of venting pent up fear, it is a defensive response to this toxic load and in the evolutionary scheme of things it would prove adaptive to a life in the wild.
The supposed cause or context to the aggressive outburst is simply a trigger that gives the dog instinctive license to vent this pent up energy. In the wild where the rate of novelty that must be accommodated is minimal, and by being inherently afraid of novelty increases an individual’s chances of survival, this is a successful strategy for the perpetuation of the species. But in our human world of incessant and artificial kind of change, 99.99% of such disturbances must be accommodated, it will cause the dog to be euthanized or lead an unnecessarily constrained life. So we must return to the all important understanding that all anti-social aggression is fear driven.
Fear is a dynamic, it is not a psychology. Any stimulation, be it positive or negative, displaces the individual’s emotional equilibrium and autonomically activates the individuals fear mechanism. Satisfaction is inextricably intertwined with stabilization. A state of attraction that doesn’t become resolved is not an emotionally neutral event. It becomes Unresolved Emotion that is stored in the body/mind and tagged with fear. Dogs of varying dispositions and life histories will respond differently to their stress reserve, and will become susceptible to a range of varying triggers which is why it can appear as if there are many different causes to aggression, but this is a fundamental misinterpretation of the phenomena.
Speaking dynamically all cases of aggression can be defined as “blocked attraction.” The dog is attracted to something with more force of desire than his emotional capacity can conduct and therefore he reacts with survival or manic prey-making instincts as these are the reflexes that intense sensations autonomically generate. As I mentioned above this is adaptive to life in the wild as it promotes hyper-vigilance that serves to avoid potential danger as well as compelling the individual to seize the prey on sight whether or not it’s hungry. That the individual leads an unnecessarily anxious life is irrelevant in the natural scheme of things. Nature has all the time in the world to resolve Unresolved Emotion.
So for all of the above fear has a compounding effect through daily life so that as the individual matures his behavior becomes more and more intense via the two complementary states of vigilance and manic prey-making. The individual becomes more obsessed and fixated, primed to react to a certain class of stimuli, which in the wild would be adaptive as this would compel him to manically seize any opportunity by sensing weakness, in his prey, AND IN HIS PEERS. Once these are inculcated in the dog’s mind, these intense expressions of behavior take on a life of their own and become what the dog lives for in its constant search for relief.
The most important thing about a proper definition is that it defines the solution, remove the block by fulfilling the attraction. The core exercises in Natural Dog Training INCREASE a dog’s emotional capacity (grounding/flow/sensuality) so that a lifetime of built-up intensity can be softened and then retooled in service to the cooperative dynamic by which this dynamic evolved to perform as well. First we create a flow imprint, then use the instinctive triggers to activate deep seated physical memories that have been driving the dog its entire life. These triggers bring the old pain memories to the surface (Note that all other training methods are trying to keep the energy–as physical memories–from coming to the surface, and then this leaves it to the environment to supply the triggers and at a time when no one (least of all the dog) is prepared to deal with them.) and in a supportive environment the dog experiences these memories beginning to move toward a natural way of resolution and in accord with the animal mind’s energetic definition of satisfaction. The dog begins to soften, “its puppy-mind,” that part of its life when its emotional capacity was at its highest so that stress was sloughed off effortlessly because the puppy was so sensual, returns to the forefront of its consciousness. The dog hasn’t changed, its perception and responses to stress has changed. But you won’t care when you see the happy-go-lucky pup you once knew (or the puppy that your rescue dog once was) come bounding back into your life.

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Published January 26, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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17 responses to “The Nature of Fear”

  1. Jamey says:

    Thanks for writing this up so clearly. You are really breaking down some subtleties. I have been looking for a way to help him calm down. I have noticed expressions of fear coming from him periodically gets up when I walk by his bed, etc. He doesn’t ever try to run from me or escape the yard.
    Anyway, thanks very much for your insights,


  2. Sundog Fitz says:


    I have been wanting to discuss what part a leash plays because what I have noticed is when there is a big charge attractant that brings up a lot of energy (another on leash dog that is lunging or barking), the dog will start to bite and tug the leash. For the last week or so, I have been trying to understand this through the concept of “midpoint”. And what I see now is that in those moments the leash becomes the block to the attraction. In those moments, I have been somewhat successful in getting the bite directed back to the tug toy, but I can sense that is not as satisfying as the leash, when in other less “blocked” circumstances the leash is of no interest, just the toy.

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    For many puppies when they’re first taken for a walk on lead the leash with its swaying motion becomes the preyful object-of-attraction, the thing that best approximates something to bite, indeed a midpoint. Then the owner struggles with them over this issue and they create a charge. Since it can only come out the way it went in, your dog is offering the solution given her charge. What I do in this case is have two short leads affixed to the bite toy, one leading to the dog’s collar the other leading to the handler so that the toy is about one foot from the dog’s mount and can be swayed provocatively by the handler. Then I encourage the dog to bite the toy (may prefer the lead near the toy given her charge) and play tug with the other lead. Before hand I throw the toy on the lead a good distance after a lot of provocative swinging and dragging to draw the dog’s attention to the meaty part of the toy as opposed to the tendon-like lead, and play tug. Then when charged, I distract the dog off the bite, and then unhook the toy and give it a long throw and play tug, maybe even put the toy on a long/lead so you can play tug at a distance, and then encourage the dog to run after me while simultaneously maintaining pressure on the tug lead. Hope this is clear.

  4. Sundog Fitz says:

    Almost clear: You are saying have the toy positioned between me and the dog as the connection point between the two leads?

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, there should be about a 2ft. span from toy to dog’s collar, and then 4 or more from toy to your hand. Then you can swing the toy and dog can reach to grab it as if it’s part of the lead, which is the dog’s charge, then eventually you can break the toy off of the lead construct and it can be wholly under your possession and now you’re channeling the charge into acceptable bite object rather than the lead which would ultimately set up a learning problem down the road, and also represents a block in the dog’s perception of what the hunt/prey object is.

  6. Very well-realized and well-put.

    I would also argue that the kind of predatory aggression which targets large prey animals also operates on fear. In the footage I’ve seen of wolves hunting elk (Yellowstone) and bison (Canada), the wolves all seem to be behaving much like dogs at a dog run, having a fun game of chase. It’s only when they get in close, where the prey animal is trapped or cornered and its hooves and horns start flashing that the wolves’ “teeth come out.”

    What’s your take on this?

  7. Kevin Behan says:

    I agree that there always has to be an element of fear to tune the manner of approach and contacting. For example, even a boxer needs to develop a jab from the fear of being knocked out if all he had was an all-out assault technique. (That’s what did in Mike Tyson) That soft manner of playful approach you’ve described I feel is indicative of the social impulse that derives from the predator/prey dynamic. It’s akin to dogs playing, but then one squeals and all the dogs collapse into a fight. Nevertheless, at a certain level of intensity, and if the individual at the same time feels grounded, then I think all fear is subsumed into Drive and a natural form of Rage comes up, things slow down perceptually, the individual becomes fearless and the right course of action naturally flows. That window would be very, very small in the case of wild, free ranging wolves, but we see it often with the working dogs of the strongest temperament.

  8. Skip Skipper says:

    Saw a news report about coyotes attacking dogs in my area and the warning to keep watch over small pets. This got me to thinking if I had ever seen a report of a coyote(s) attacking a bigger dog? My recollection is that I have not. Of course it could be that large dog owners just don’t report the incidents however we hear it often, “My dog doesn’t like small dogs or big dogs”. In my experience with “Sur”( pitbull ) we sometimes go to the dog park and train outside the fence. When I take him near the fence he does fine with small dogs and dogs that are roughly the same size or just slightly smaller. When a large dog approaches he does the fearful bark and backup. My long winded question is, do animals know their relative size? Sur is frequently trying to get in places he can’t possibly fit.p

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    You’re right that dogs can respond differently to different sizes of dogs but I don’t believe that dogs perform a comparative analysis otherwise little Yorkies would never take on goliath Danes. And if one tries to build a model based on a capacity for comparative analysis, they will ALWAYS generate self-contradicting logic loops. Whereas a flow dynamic predicated on hunger relative to balance, and grounded versus accelerated, can far better account for the variability in responses across a spectrum of dogs to other beings of greater or lesser sizes, and in a manner consistent with the nature of the animal mind. A model follows which isn’t contradicted by the phenomenon of evolution, domestication, learning, sociability, hormones, trainability, the inroads the science of physics, embodied cognition, collectivized swarm behavior is making into the nature of consciousness, etc., etc.
    In principle, The larger the dog, the greater the object-of-resistance and the deeper in the emotional battery the physical memories are triggered. If these memories are of flow, then big dog = mama dog = good. Dog perceives its self in big dog rather than feeling DIS connected from its self. For some dogs however, the intensity of the resistance keys up a cranky momma dog memory, plus the inevitable subsequent sparks thereafter with other big dogs, and so big dog = danger. Such a dog’s hunger system is subordinated to the balance circuitry which now serves as a load/overload platform of experience. On the other hand when in a state of flow, balance is subordinated to hunger and in this capacity balance now serves as a tuning metric for the heightening of flow. Such a dog moves its body in such a way to cause the object-of-attraction to heighten its sensual state. It pleasures itself by bringing pleasure to the other. This is the phenomenon of sensuality as a systems logic, rather than an independent self-contained, one entity relative to another logic, which as I noted above can NEVER render a coherent model.
    Meanwhile at the other end of the scale, the smaller the dog, the greater the preyful aspect, and for many dogs the greater the feeling of grounding and hence they more readily feel their “self” in smaller dog and the force of attraction which is in the first instant experienced as a force of acceleration, is immediately grounded and again balance is sublimated into hunger. The force of attraction/acceleration is grounded and so we could say dog experiences emotional momentum, i.e. things are flowing. Small dog = good. However at the same time, the greater the preyful aspect, the stronger the “force” of acceleration and for many dogs this surge of energy proves more unsettling because they don’t experience it with large dogs, with small dogs they feel a loss of grounding and hence small dog = danger. The balance system now dominates the hunger circuitry and the urge becomes to pin it down, to bring it to GROUND so as to return to neutral, i.e stop the sensations of falling which is how the force of acceleration is being registered. (If a dog has problems with little dogs, he most likely has problems with big dogs too, but he can more easily resist the surge of acceleration in the case of big dogs because this surge has become dedicated to little dogs. So the loading of big dogs, becomes the overloading to little dogs.)

  10. Sundog Fitz says:

    Just wanted to report that I have been experimenting with the tug toy as the midpoint on the leash and I can see something happening. When we are out on leash walks and something charges her up (and generally this is something that makes her nervous/fearful) and she wants to bite she looks to the toy and goes for it. When she is really charged she still inches towards the leash just near the toy. When she does get a clean bite on the toy itself she will often carry it for a while, but when she just gets the leash she tugs and drops. I can see now that what I thought was a frustration with the leash itself as a block I now believe the leash is simply a lower resistance (higher attraction) bite object. So I will next be experimenting with smaller real fur bite objects.

  11. Skip Skipper says:

    So let say we have a rubber frisbee that the dog brings back each time for a rousing tug session. Could that mitigate the buildup of stress in some dogs or are we just back at square one in terms of stress buildup?

  12. John says:

    I have come across a few cases of food aggression recently in quite young pups,
    Im just trying to correlate the link between over stimulation in the home with pups and how this fits in with a collapse of attraction ,if all aggression is a symptom of fear,

    Or am I wrong in the stimulation / food aggression link

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    Inherently tug-of-war is going to frustrate a dog as evidenced by it making some kind of noise plus the shaking and ripping apart behaviors. The dog is “vibrating” and this means that there isn’t a full and smooth transfer of emotional momentum. This is why I advocate push-of-war so that the dog hits the “stop” button and gets to the point of satisfaction.

  14. Kevin Behan says:

    To put the emotional dynamic in food guarding in its thermodynamic terms, there’s too much energy in too small a space, hence the feeling of attraction collapses and the dog guards its food. A truly high drive puppy (when very young) is not apt to guard its food because it simply doesn’t notice that another pup is crowding its space. As it gets older this can change of course, but I don’t like to see it in young pups. They should be so absorbed in the positive flow of food that they aren’t readily aware of the compression when another comes close.

  15. John says:

    Sorry I need to clarify, Kevin
    I talking in terms of aggression shown towards the owner from maybe a 4 month old pup espically shown with meat or meaty bones to such an extent where they refrained from feeding meat altogether, in cases where the pup is kept indoors and perhaps over stimulated , is it maybe a fact that the pup isn’t feeling flow yet and using the food as an expression of energy without any other outlet

  16. I’m a veterinarian at PetCareSupplies and I used to have a dog – coco – that had food aggression. Whenever he found some food and I wouldn’t give it to him, he would try to attack me. One day he did the same with my neighbor and he killed him. I wish I had some sort of solution at that time.

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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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