Dog Man Helps Humans Tune Into Wild Side Of Pets

By Anton Ferreira

Newfane, Vt. (Reuters)- In an earlier age, when Indians still roamed Vermont, Kevin Behan’s antics might have earned him the name “Dances with Dogs.” His lanky frame covered in torn overalls, Behan frolics on his farm outside Newfane with dogs of all shapes and sizes, making faces and gesturing as he seeks to change their behavior with an innovative training method. Behan’s message is that nothing could make your little Fido happier than to feel the spine of a deer cracking between his jaws. And that is OK. “You have to have faith in the wild nature of the dog so the dog can trust you,” he told Reuters. “The owner can make the dog feel whole, make it feel satisfied. …The relationship is good if it is based on truth, the heart of the dog,” he said in an interview. Every dog is at heart a hunter and channeling the predatory instinct, rather than trying to crush it, is at the core of Behan’s philosophy. Dog trainer Kevin Behan with his German Shepard “Isak” on his farm in Vermont.

Helping Dogs Get in Touch With Their Anger
Most of Behan’s clients have dogs that are agressive toward their fellow dogs or toward humans. Lynn Burill of Bethesda, Maryland, came to Behan with her bitch Shumba, a Zulu hunting dog indigenous to South Africa. Shumba lunged at other dogs in a snarling frenzy when they went for walks, Burrill said. Lynn Burill of Bethesda, Maryland, came to Behan with her bitch Shumba, a Zulu hunting dog indigenous to South Africa. Shumba lunged at other dogs in a snarling frenzy when they went for walks, Burrill said. After a week at the Behan therapy farm, she said: “It’s amazing, Shumba is much more focused on me now, rather than on other dogs.” She said she previously tried more conventional methods to curb Shumba’s agression, including yanking the 45-pound (20 kg) dog on a choke chain, without much success. Behan said his animated body language during training was aimed at imitating the way dogs relate to their prey. “I try to communicate with the dog on that basis, I try to turn on that deep energy that’s in reserve. …That mimics how dogs play, that mimics how they do the prey-predator thing,” he said. “If there’s a real strong bond and the energy can move between dog and owner, then everything the owner does is OK.” Behan started training dogs as a child, learning to train protection dogs at the side of his father, who believed that owners and handlers had to impose a dominance hierarchy on their dogs by force of will. He said he came to regard his father’s method, still in vogue with many trainers today, as flawed. He also finds fault with the other mainstream method of training in which food is used to induce correct behavior, much like the fish rewards given to performing dolphins or killer whales.

Bringing Out The Wolf In Your Pet
“The foundation principle (of my method) is that what is most natural to a dog, its wildest essence, the predatory heritage from its ancestor the wolf, is good,” Behan says on his website www.naturaldogtraining.com. “If this capacity is nurtured, cultivated and amplified, the dog’s cooperative and loving nature will be the most pronounced aspect of his character.” “The foundation principle (of my method) is that what is most natural to a dog, its wildest essence, the predatory heritage from its ancestor the wolf, is good,” Behan says on his website www.naturaldogtraining.com Behan is sort of canine counterpart to the “horse whisperer” portrayed in Robert Redford’s new film, said some of his key insights into dog behavior, which at first blush seem to defy logic, had come to him in dreams. “I think dreams are how we are attuned to animals. There’s an old Indian expression, ‘Pay attention to your dreams, the animals are trying to talk to you,'” he said. The best advertisement for his method is his own dog Isak. When he takes the German Shepard from his kennel, Isak’s face lights up, signaling his delight at being with his master. Isak orbits Behan as if magnetized, his eyes locked on his face, waiting like a coiled spring for the sign that will send him rocketing across a meadow in pursuit of a ball or stick. “Isak can hold on to the fact that life is great,” Behan said. “He can find pleasure in every situation. He has so much desire.”

Published June 1, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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