From what I have read, young wolves DO need to be taught to hunt – what they already have are the ritualistic behaviors that make up the act of hunting, but they need to be taught how to apply them properly

In the seventies I was training a Bernese Mountain Dog and after weeks of training and the dog seeming to have mastered the obedience exercises, I decided to test my control by taking him into the pasture with my father’s herd of cows. Big mistake

When the dog was but one millimeter beyond some invisible threshold between the dog and myself; he bolted and slammed at full speed into a cow hitting her in the soft pocket under her front leg and right behind her shoulder. Now this dog was raised in the tony town of Greenwich, Connecticut and had never seen or dealt with a cow in its young life. And yet he hit her in the one and only spot that would be safe to grab onto because for the next twenty minutes he went on the ride of his life, over walls, through fences, through wooded thickets and over hill and dale and was protected from her bucking and kicking and the other cows and bull trying to ram him as well. When I finally extricated him from this Wild West rodeo gone wrong, there wasn’t a scratch on him. How did he “know” what to do, and I predict that were any other dogs in on the escapade they too would have invariably acted in a complementary way so as to harass and separate the cow from the bull so that the herd would have been confronted with a group acting in concert. Of course with repetition this hypothetical group of dogs would have perfected their style but not by virtue of practice, but because they would have become more uninhibited and therefore more EFFICIENT at every step of the operation by virtue of tuning into the geometry of feelings. They would have started orienting according to the mathematics of unresolved emotion decompressing from their respective physical memory banks back into pure emotion.

This is exactly what happens when training police dogs. The dogs don’t learn by virtue of reinforcements as to how to bite the sleeve calmly, and then carry it around, hold the criminal at bay and then release their bite cleanly. These behaviors reflect an internal emotional force that evolves into existence once the dog feels uninhibited. The dog actually regresses through every phase of its past and this is then recast in terms of pure emotion. Pure emotion is composed of one part arousal (hunger) coupled to one part vulnerability (balance) so that an impulse is informed by a perfect calculus of force and motion, then to be moderated by a geometry of feeling (deflection of energy without loss of momentum) that occurs when unresolved emotion as physical memory is triggered by circumstances. Complex expressions of behavior aren’t “learned” by virtue of classical or operant conditioning, rather they evolve according to the laws of nature that are merely DESCRIBED by the above systems of description. And since the emotional battery requires an external trigger, just like a consumer needs an external source of money because the network (economy) doesn’t allow us to print our own, it LOOKS like learning by imitation, repetition, trial and error is taking place but this is a serious misreading of the phenomenon and cannot accommodate the evidence as sooner or later such a model needs to say the animal is thinking.

So while it takes external triggers to fully catalyze the behavior, this isn’t learning in the behavioral science sense of something reinforcing something, any more than a chemical reaction transpires because it was “reinforced” by a catalyst triggering the reaction. When the dog’s drive is strong enough, what previously would have inhibited it all of a sudden becomes a catalyst to a more complex behavior. Learning is a function of temperament evolving into its various forms of manifestation; each form being a slice of a group configuration, i.e. an expression of sociability, in other words, working as a group to overcome a common objective. This is why we breed dogs for temperament rather than for the capacity to learn skills. Temperament is a faculty of discrimination and therefore a dog doesn’t “learn” how to be a police dog. First, the dog must want to bite, and then it can learn anything, most especially and most paradoxically according to behavioral science, when not to bite.

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Published March 11, 2010 by Kevin Behan
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28 responses to “From what I have read, young wolves DO need to be taught to hunt – what they already have are the ritualistic behaviors that make up the act of hunting, but they need to be taught how to apply them properly”

  1. christine randolph says:

    so when mamma wolf engages in play hunting with the babies, she is the external trigger igniting the prey drive by making the young ones uninhibited ?

    and how come the dog does NOT know how to stalk and pounce on the squirrel intuitively, but THAT particular almost cat-like behaviour has to be taught ? (can we teach it by tying out the dog and perform the stalking game ?)

    then try to figure out how to translate that theory, the fact that dogs are born with a treasure chest of useful behaviours that do not need to be learned/taught at all, but just triggered, into practice sessions with my dogs…

  2. kbehan says:

    The dog’s canine prey making impulse tends to be highly active and so they have to “learn” that they are wasting energy by being so active when dealing with a prey that can easily fly away or dart into a hole or up a tree. It doesn’t take long for a few futile chases for a “bleached” dog to be able to feel the midpoint (where the prey is relative to its escape route) and then calibrate their behavior accordingly. If they live in the outdoors, are allowed lots of time to roam, and the hungrier they are, the quicker their internal efficiency expert (heart) will be able to communicate to the brain that it’s wasting energy by being so active. But because we humans subsidize inefficiencies by putting a big bowl of food down in front of the dog every day, and because the path of least resistance is to be active when stimulated rather than efficient, most dogs run around vibrating their brains out chasing squirrels with little to no chance of catching one because their heart can’t break through to their Brain.

  3. kbehan says:

    so when mamma wolf engages in play hunting with the babies, she is the external trigger igniting the prey drive by making the young ones uninhibited ?
    About the mama wolf. She is a complex object of attraction/resistance and so therefore is the epitome of high energy, in other words, she displaces the balance circuitry and arouses the hunger circuitry to the fullest extent and therefore the pups are learning to express their drive toward her by becoming less inhibited in the play/hunt “games.” But, and this is THE important But, the role of the mother is not to teach her cubs how to work together, they’ve already picked up the imprint in the first ten days of life in the litter, her job is TO LIMIT THEIR CAPACITY FOR COOPERATION by putting more fear into them then they can handle. This will be internalized in their emotional batteries as the deepest layer of physical memory/stress, and then two years later the moose will then trigger this specific layer, BUT, the wolves will only be able to express uninhibited Drive IF THE MOOSE IS VULNERABLE. In other words, they will not be able to cooperate with each other to such an extent that they can get a strong, virile, healthy moose con-fused.
    This is the way things must work in the wild where nothing ever changes. It’s not efficient to unnecessarily stress and burden healthy large prey animals and to overpower such an animal at such a high chance for injury to the wolf. So limiting cooperation is what the mother is “teaching” her cubs the exact opposite of what behavioral science thinks it is seeing.

  4. Heather says:

    Kevin says that dogs don’t need to be taught to heel, stay, etc., and I have seen this in action lately. Now that large animal gun-hunting season is over, I have been taking Happy on off-leash walks through the woods – we can go for miles without seeing anyone – and at the turn-around point there is a lake where we stop and he can swim. I have never seen Happy so “happy” as on these walks. He doesn’t go far ahead, even if a critter runs by he goes a bit and stops and waits for me. He will lag behind to sniff but automatically bolts to me if I get too far ahead. So basically we can walk for 2+ miles in silence. This is just about the most relaxing thing I have ever done! One interesting thing is that he isn’t interested in food at all (he will gobble the occasional horse or deer poop though!) He’s just walking along with me, taking in the sights and sounds and smells, totally content – I guess that is a lot more satisfying than bits of hot dog (although when we are on regular walks on a 6 ft leash he is very interested in hot dog). I just thought I’d post this because I was skeptical that he would stick with me without a leash – and it turns out that he sticks within a distance that I could simply pick up the leash if I needed to, and most of the time he’s heeling right next to me, and I don’t even do anything but pat him once in a while. Very cool.

  5. kbehan says:

    Right, and the most important thing we want our dog to learn from within, is that we are the center of its universe, around which it orbits. This simple template as manifested by a peaceful walk in the woods, is the highest expression of canine companionship and makes for a happy dog.

  6. christine randolph says:

    cool, that is such a good explanation of why wolves go after sick animals and keep nature in balance…

    do I need to emulate mama wolf and make sure my dogs get afraid of the equivalent of a HEALTHY moose, and what would that be in our terms ?

    My dogs mostly tear through the woods when i x/c ski or bike with them. high speed activity.

    especially the 2 larger ones, the little one walks behind me a lot

    I can see them and they come into me when I stop. because they have experienced much distribution of yummy treats when mamma stops.

    this is not the kind of close distance that Happy is keeping. my dogs run like fiends, then they crash in the car and snore…

    it is yuccky when they eat poop, but worse when they roll in poop. coyote poop is the most disgusting. it is not great to be in the same car with a dog that has rolled in that

    i feel my dogs are on a pretend-hunt when i am out with them.

    i feel i am the center of their universe, however their orbits are large….

  7. christine randolph says:

    i want to try the stalking with hungry dogs. what if i have food on a nylon thread and if they approach fast, I pull it away, if they approach in stalk mode, i let them have it ?

  8. Heather says:

    We aren’t really “hunting” for anything on these walks – is it just the going-out-together-with-a-common-purpose that is the hunting? I take a bite toy with me, I haven’t used it, but I thought maybe I could toss it in the lake a couple of times. After these walks Happy comes back and sleeps. Usually after walking or playing he will chew something to wind down, but after the woods he doesn’t even want a marrow bone, he just flops down.

  9. christine randolph says:

    i guess i think (as a result of reading Kevin’s stuff) simulating a hunt for the dog is good, to channel their energy and make them fulfilled ?

    like riding in the car…can be a simulated hunt ?

    i understand now after reading kevin’s stuff, taking dogs for a ride, it is like hunting, especially at low speed.

    i wonder if dogs who are scared in cars, are scared to hunt anything, even “unhealthy” moose ?

  10. kbehan says:

    Right, on a walk if he’s orbiting you and you are synchronized in rate of speed and direction, then that fits the emotional parameters of a hunt, albeit at the lowest energy level on the spectrum, but wholly pleasant in its own right. It’s like fishing, you don’t have to catch a fish in order to be fishing. Just getting a line wet is good enough.

  11. kbehan says:

    No, we are the healthy moose, the absolute path of highest resistance and so unlike the mama wolf we want to cultivate our dog’s capacity to cooperate rather than limit it. That’s the reason for the push and biting games so that we put the charge on something, and then that becomes the dog’s group trigger around which it aligns to recapitulate the experience of hunting, i.e. being synchronized in a group. This is why early house training, manners, no-bite training and discipline can be so corrosive because it sets an upper threshold on how much energy a dog can give to its owner. Then the dog at high energy learns to tune out its owner just as it had been trained to.

  12. christine randolph says:

    that is interesting, i thought i have to be the feeble moose.

    so i usually limp around and shout, I am an injured moose. I guess that won’t quite work then….

    so unlike wolves, dogs do not have to fear the healthy moose ?

    they fear it and are attracted at the same time,

    so to overcome their fears they push for food and as they receive food they experience a completion of their attraction ?

    is fearing the healthy moose not supposed to protect them, i.e. from a semi- trailer running at them at 50 miles an hour ?

    or do we as the owners have to do all the protecting because we have made our dogs fearless ?

    i did not do any conventional house no-bite, etc. training with my dogs.
    because i am not a disciplinarian, rather, a no-rules person.

    i like teaching them tricks, which seems fun when they kind of naturally do it, like a twirl. when i give the hand signal for twirl and all three of them twirl, it is very fun

    i like the idea of evolving with the dogs into a group mentality where disciplining is not necessary and everyone is on the same page without belabouring the point too much.

  13. kbehan says:

    Yes, everything is a function of attraction due to displacement of the balance/hunger continuum. So if wolves feel preyfulness of moose then they are not afraid, but feel connected. If in this case the moose can feel its emotional leverage, it mirrors their energy back at them and their interaction can then elaborate to higher and higher levels as long as both parties can mirror the other and keep the thing evolving. If the moose is weak, then the interaction breaks down and the chase is on. If the moose is strong, then at some point the wolves will break off because there’s only so far the elaboration can go on given the limits of each other’s emotional capacity. So we as the healthy moose are able to play ping/pong with the emotional charge between our dog and ourselves and allow this energy to elaborate into higher and higher expressions of drive, cooperation and synergistic expressions of altruism. We always want to raise our dog’s emotional capacity, i.e. how much change it can turn into information, i.e. a feeling for another. It’s really more remarkable than has ever been appreciated.
    I guess a dog’s “street smarts” has to do with apprehending the predatory aspect of a car. If the dog survives the first close call he’s probably okay. On the other hand, a dog with strong prey drive tends to get hit by a car because it doesn’t focus on its predator aspect.

  14. christine randolph says:

    Ping Pong ? healthy-moose-mom is predator, then prey, then predator, then prey ?

    adult wolves do not have natural predators now, but maybe dogs nonetheless have this apprehension in their emotional makeup from prehistoric times, when there were larger predators around.

    unfortunately, my dog has been hit while biting a rolling car’s tires several times, but obviously not enough of a “school of hard knocks”, no blood or anything…maybe she thought the car was playing “ping pong” with her…

  15. kbehan says:

    If moose stands still and faces wolves, it’s occupying predator polarity and reflecting the emotion projected from wolves onto it, right back at wolves and so they’re getting a “ping” right back. This accesses wolves emotional battery and activates deeper stress/fear layers. If on the other hand moose “vibrates” (hectic breathing, side to side, shifting weight, quivering) or runs, then it is occupying preyful polarity and absorbing the projection of emotion and therefore the wolves are picking up a “pong” and are being aroused.
    If car is coming toward dog’s yard, that’s predator energy, which is why dog works out the midpoint to when the car shifts from predator to prey and so dog intersects at rear bumper and ends up chasing car. If something throws off that calculus, dog gets hit by car.

  16. AZDogermanStu says:

    Is this why push-of-war works and is a desired end result of tug games? In order to “get the bite out” and resolve stress, the dog has to force the handler (overcome resistance) into the preyful polarity through sheer effort, even when the handler is in most stress creating polarity? So in learning to confront his stress the dog learns not only that he resolves it, but gets news energy? Is this the circuit you mention? Fetch-tug as explained on Neil’s site, where the owner occupies the preyful polarity most of the time doesn’t force the dog to fluidly switch polarities does it? In this sense is it more electric than magnetic? I can’t explain it succinctly but it seems like normal tug has more pauses and hitches in it whereas push-of-war is fluid. Thanks!

  17. kbehan says:

    Right, flipping polarities creates a wave function (with both parties fully entrained so that it is therefore the complete energy circuit) that can absorb and resolve the deepest levels of unresolved emotion, it opens the final valve so to speak. So by being an intense object of resistance, the handler triggers the deepest layers in the battery, and then by the dog pushing in and WILLING the handler to flip their polarity to the preyful mode, that deepest energy now at the surface and invested in an external expression of behavior, is therefore being converted back into pure emotion, and therefore is resolved and is perceived by the dog as new energy. This exercise of going rapidly from tug of war to push of war allows the dog to learn how to smoothly adapt to any sudden transition in the energy situation it’s confronted with. And then as this feeling of “potential or new energy” becomes strong enough in the dog’s heart, this FEELING thereby enables a dog to hold itself back, for example when another dog is provoking it, rather than succumbing to a deeply ingrained habit or an ancient instinct, AND WITHOUT BUILDING UP A CHARGE. Because a dog can feel the potential energy, i.e. THE ESSENCE within the other dog, such a dog learns to just do nothing, just hang in there and this is vital because this inner stillness then reflects the other dogs’ fear that’s being projected onto it, right back at that dog and thereby increasing the chance of this other dog flipping polarity so that the two dogs can peacefully interact if not play. The calm dog WILLS the other dog into calmness because the other dog IS MAKING ITSELF UNCOMFORTABLE by projecting fear onto the dog manifesting stillness. And if however the other dog doesn’t flip, then the patient, efficient dog will just wait and go on about its way once the coast is clear. So fetch/tug is an important building block to this point because it gets the dog to invest in the prey object (tug), and then the fetch is the easiest way for most dogs to flip polarity as opposed to vigorously hurling itself right back into push to overcome handler resistance. This can be very satisfying for dogs that aren’t really stuck and so for some dogs this could be resolving and many handlers are not willing to be so physical. For example, averaging the technique for the mean is why in Natural Dog Training I used a tennis ball as a motivation rather than a bite toy because I had in mind the comfort level of the average dog owner and the temperament of the average family dog and I wasn’t even addressing the issue of aggression, which has now become epidemic. The fetching is pushing back into the handler, just at a lower level of expression and so it’s not quite as magnetic. I invented push/pull in order to exercise the heart more powerfully for the dogs with more heart that really need to sink their teeth into the moose and for owners who are comfortable with that degree of physical engagement. And it really is fun.

  18. Heather says:

    Today on our hike I tossed a rubber fish into the water, thinking I’d toss it a few times…Happy went in to get it, shook it a little, looked at me, and headed for home! On the way out today he stayed behind me or next to me, on the way back he was a few steps ahead of me, checking frequently to make sure I was close (he waited while I tied my shoe about halfway home). I guess he was done “hunting” and his mission was to return to base camp, haha.

  19. Heather says:

    Oh, he carried that fish all the way home and into the house!

  20. Heather says:

    –the fetch is the easiest way for most dogs to flip polarity as opposed to vigorously hurling itself right back into push to overcome handler resistance. —

    So is it OK if my dog prefers to push rather than fetch? (ie, do I have to work on fetch?) As with the fish I threw in the water, Happy LOVES retrieving – BUT he is a one-retrieve sort of dog. He is not interested in running after the same object like other dogs I’ve seen, that seems to add charge rather than release it. He REALLY loves push-tug – the way you describe it (“hurls himself right back into push”) is what he really enjoys and he stays very relaxed despite working really hard. So if that is the same benefit I may just not worry about playing traditional “fetch”.

  21. Heather says:

    Playing fetch when he was young is actually what I think triggered the “overload” initially. He just never liked to see the object he brought back safely be taken and cast out again, it would unnerve him. Right away he loved tug and push-tug, and once in a while he likes me to throw the bite toy, but not consecutive throws, just to get the game going.

  22. kbehan says:

    Newfies have a high threshold so indeed, mousing with a high prey threshold dog is overstimulating without the necessary grounding and can overwhelm. So with Happy better to push than fetch, because the former is true prey making and the latter mere playing.

  23. Heather says:

    Thanks Kevin, that is exactly what it’s like – overwhelming to him. By high prey threshold, does that mean he is easily stimulated by prey objects, or that it takes a lot to get him stimulated to prey, and saves his energy for the big prey objects (like moose)? In his case from what I’ve observed I’d say he is more about overcoming “big resistance” prey and ignores (or rather notices but decides not to waste the energy trying to catch, because he must know it’s futile) smaller, faster prey.

  24. christine randolph says:

    Heather, i am not sure why but most of the time, when I say “release”, the dog lets go of the toy and I can take it, and control over the walk, back.

    you could try that if you wanted to NOT walk straight back home.

    I read that Newfies are bred for water rescue, so I guess he “rescued” the toy and took it to safety, his home…

  25. Heather says:

    Thanks Christine! I think he would have gone with a different plan, but I was interested to see what he was going to do. On our regular (on-leash/road) walks this winter I gave him my hat at our turn-around point; carrying it home gave him a job and he liked it. So maybe he figured that was the point – get the fish and carry it home.

  26. kbehan says:

    Every outing is a circle, and carrying the prey back to the point of origin, completes the circuit.
    And yes, high prey threshold means high excitability threshold so it takes a lot to get them going, and a lot of contact for them to feel grounded, and then overcoming a lot of resistance for them to feel neutralized, i.e. completed.

  27. Heather says:

    Thanks Kevin. I pre-ordered the book, I’m looking forward to reading it!

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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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