The Reactive Dog and the Power of Will
There’s a lot being said these days about impulse control given the increasing number of dogs being defined as “reactive.” A dog that over reacts to innocuous events, does so because it feels compressed and it feels this way because it perceives itself to be the object-of-attention. After repeated sensitizations, the threshold of this perception grows lower and lower. This syndrome also tends to have an equal/opposite manifestation, the dog needs to keep itself at the center of its owner’s attention (which the owner misinterprets as an emotional bond when it really is a dependency.) A reactive dog typically doesn’t initiate a bite or attack, but rather over reacts to innocent entreaties of other dogs or people, even though indeed their advance may have been too forward and oblivious to the signs of the reactive dog holding itself back out of fear. Nevertheless the reactive dog over reacts to a non-existent threat by a snark, snip or bite and thus produces its worst nightmare, its fear a self-fulfilling prophecy as now the approaching dog wants to snark/snip/bite it right back. At some point the syndrome takes on a life of its own and the reactive dog becomes more and more active about initiating an aggressive encounter but unlike a truly aggressive dog, does so under a specific range of contexts.
So the question is, what grants a dog control over its impulses so that it doesn’t have to react when not warranted? What’s going on deep within the canine body/mind so that we can increase such a reactive dog’s emotional capacity? By identifying the faculty within the body/mind that allows a dog to hold itself back even when provoked, then a dog can learn to distinguish between innocuous bad manners that don’t merit a DEFCON FOUR alert, as opposed to a legitimate threat. (BTW, reactive dogs tend not to act when there is indeed an actual danger.) For example I’ve known police dogs that could discriminate between serious felons and belligerent yet harmless drunks. So what is going on deep within the body/mind and which transpires well below and significantly ahead of what’s going on within the brain? My point being that once this energy takes shape and is presented to the higher aspects of the nervous system for executive function, the real show is over.
The other thing to be said about a high emotional capacity, is when such a dog is being given attention by another being, he feels as if he is the object-of-attraction rather than of attention (the distinction is feeling sensual/open versus sensitive/tense). This is significant because an object-of-attraction feels that it enjoys emotional leverage over the other being, and by this I mean that the sensual dog feels that it can control the other dog or person by choosing to focus on its body and the pleasure it’s feeling within from being awash in a sensually aroused state. What’s important to not that in such a body/mind set, the two dogs (or dog and person) are likely to entrain.
So what’s going on to render this desirable state? Within the body/mind, the most important precursor to any action (or even an “act” of inaction) ensues from an internal build up of tension that has been elicited by a state of attraction. But then this internal pressure collapses into a point of fixation that is now invested with a precise degree of emotional momentum making the dog feel compelled to do something. In other words, the collapse is like a thrust that makes the dog want to move forward because it feels an internal surge coming from its gut and up the “first primal pathway,” i.e. the body/mind as a pipe. Now if the dog feels grounded into the object of its attraction, and it feels grounded by virtue of whether it can perceive a preyful aspect, then it doesn’t feel knocked over by this acceleration, but rather connected and this collapse induces internal feelings of sensual arousal. In this magnetized or sensual state, it will then feel an urge to deflect its focus off of the eyes of the other being, and onto its body, and this will lessen the “threat” value of its approach to the other dog. This is why it’s highly likely that such a dogs emotional state will induce the other party to feel likewise as well and so they can entrain.
We can say that a sensual dog is “collected” a term that I borrowed from the horse world as an equestrian once explained to me how she got her horse collected and supple before approaching the course of jumps. Being collected is the prerequisite to a high emotional capacity and impulse control because consciousness is a circle, a cycle that reliably repeats itself. As a cycle or circuit, this means that in order for an animal to feel “in the flow,” there has to be an input component that corresponds to the output. In other words a dog doesn’t just act out an impulse unless it feels some kind of return coming in at the same time. It’s like a submarine putting out a sonar ping, and unless it gets a signal back, it doesn’t go forward because it can’t “feel” what’s out there. So the dog projects its “self” out there, and then if it feels grounded into an object-of-attraction, it simultaneously feels an input just as if it has ingested something. In fact, it is the physical memory of ingestion from its earliest imprinting phase of life that supplies this sensual state OF ITS HIND END.
As the hind end of the dog becomes sensually aroused, or energized, by the physical memories of ingestion, we then observe the dog gathering itself in its hind end, there’s a softening side to side motion in its hips and the tail starts wagging. So in a collected dog, the hind end is going faster than the front end (since the object-of-attraction isn’t yet open to making full contact) and the dog approaches along a curve and with a softened demeanor. It’s goal is to smell the other dog’s body as opposed to looking at its eyes and overcoming its resistance. It’s focusing its internal subliminal beam of attention on the physical memory of its physical center-of-gravity in its hind end, in the collected position, and this makes it feel sensually aroused back there. The collected dog thereby perceives as if it is pulling the other dog into its “Self.” It is feeling that by feeling sensual in its hind end, it is inducing its surroundings to heighten its feeling of pleasure. It has no concept of its self relative to another self, rather, by concentrating on this collected state and focusing its psychic energy deep within its hind end, it is literally willing the environment to conform to its desires. This feeling can grow so strong that even if the other dog snaps, nips or snarks the dog as he tries to complete the emotional cycle by capturing a smell of essence, the dog merely doubles down on being soft and supple as if to say, “not to worry, to know me will be to lub me.”
The reactive dog on the other hand, is at the opposite end of this high emotional capacity spectrum. It is feeling pressure in its head and jaws as it tries to hold energy back from a “sensitized” hind end. It feels a surge of acceleration from the physical memory of being knocked over during its early imprinting phase as if its physical center-of-gravity is rocketing up through its body about to burst from its head. All it can perceive is the other dogs eyes and the degree of resistance invested in its form. It holds its self back as long as it by keeping its forequarters locked up and its jaws and muzzle clamped down tight. It may growl to push energy out of its head to reduce the overwhelming pressure, but sooner or later it will either perceive an opening or reach critical overload and it ends up lashing out. We could say its front end is going faster than its hind end. Or, in that moment it has no Will.
After the overload, the reactive dog will experience a decrease in internal pressure and it gives credit for this short term redress to the tension it felt in its shoulders and jaws, and the intense effort exerted in pushing energy out of its head by focusing its subliminal beam of attention on its inner ear balance mechanism. This of course can become an addictive cycle. In subsequent articles, I will address how the four core exercises of NDT increase such a dog's emotional capacity so that it can get the power of its Will back in its body.