Of Wolves, Dogs, Women and Men

I began in dogdom with the assumption that dogs were descended from wolves given what I learned from my father. At first this meant that an owner should aspire to be the vaunted Alpha pack leader figure. But through my work with protection and police dogs, and which led me to the German view of a dog’s nature, I shifted to a flow model wherein an owner defines emotional flow channels and this is what guides a dog into the appropriate ways of responding via an intrinsic, self-organizing dynamic. In short there is no leader: there are guardrails with every member working toward a common goal. This “hunt” as a hierarchal flow structure has historically been misinterpreted as a dominance hierarchy, and also when the flow improves through collectivized adaptive action, as a process of learning shaped by reinforcements. Whereas in reality everything animals learn is fitted into a core template (negative-as-access-to-positive) which itself is predicated on the predator/prey duality. This is a core function that renders behavioral plasticity. Thus, because dogs are the predator that most goes by feel, i.e. they can feel the-negative-as-access-to-the-positive under the broadest and most intense range of circumstances, and this is what makes dogs the only animal capable of being fully domesticated, i.e. able to inhibit the basest impulses in order to fully integrate with human society.

However as modern behaviorism began to run the dog training industry, the Coppinger’s theory of the “Village Dog” gained ascendency partly due to its perfectly reasonable argument, but additionally because it was a way for the new guard of learning theorists to discredit  the old guard of dominance theorists.

I found the Village Dog theory hard to reconcile with the incredibly persistent and aggressive hunting drive of domestic dogs with whom I was working in the field. It also fell apart for me when Dr. Coppinger noted that village dogs he encountered weren’t all that much into hunting, having to be cajoled into participating in the occasional foray with humans. From my point of view he had been fooled by the “bleached out” effect wherein dogs who are free to do their own thing, to hunt what, when and where they want, and are subsidized by the easy work of scavenging, become apathetic when humans come along and invite them to come hunt with them, but which is actually presenting them with a path of resistance that is too much for what their mind as a flow system had evolved through village life to handle. Such dogs will either demur or at best just go through the motions.

I need also add that the bleached out effect is complemented at the other end of the spectrum by the “bruised effect” when the individual psyche is damaged by the great friction within the pack. Again, through my work with police dogs I learned that the purpose of this internecine conflict is not to establish lines of authority in a status hierarchy as is commonly presumed, but to keep the group under pressure so as to drive them toward the path of highest resistance—i.e. a large, dangerous prey animal, and yet simultaneously to limit their capacity to cooperate so that they won’t unnecessarily tax themselves and their prey’s reserves by targeting healthy specimens. This is adaptive in the wild because it slots wolves into specific paths of resistance, effecting the proverbial “balance of nature.” But it will always prove maladaptive between dog, woman and man because unlike life in the wild our domestic requirements are always challenging a dog to choose the path of highest resistance. What we want our dog to do is always the hardest possible thing in any context, don’t relieve yourself here and now, wait for later and then go there, don’t chase the rabbit, stay with me, don’t bite the scared deliveryman, remain calm and quiet. Dogs can be cultivated to choose the path of highest resistance no-matter-what but only if their core aptitude survives intact into adulthood.

Now because the NDT theory and practice is based on an immediate-moment manner of analysis which renders an energetic logic for behavior, it doesn’t really matter which theory of domestication ultimately prevails, just as it doesn’t matter what theory for the creation of the universe holds true when it comes to the behavior of modern day electrons. The energetic logic of electricity will remain the same, it’s the theories that will change. Nevertheless it is gratifying that the latest science all the more vividly supports the NDT model of the dog having evolved from the wolf as a group hunter well before the village dog began its scavenging ways, and therefore that man, woman and dog became entrained in a common pursuit of large dangerous game.

As Pat Shipman writes:


“The biggest surprise came when those fossil canids, which looked for all the world like the earliest dogs, were dated and found to be 32,000 years old, not 15,000 years old which was everyone’s best guess about the timing of the origin of dogs.  Additional work with fossil canids enlarged the sample of early dogs, creating a sort of chain of doggy specimens from 32,000 to 15,000 years ago. ”

“What would we see in the archaeological record if these 32,000-year-old canids were dogs?  Judging from studies of modern hunters, we’d see a dramatic increase in hunting success—more meat per hunt, more meat per hunter, less energy expenditure to take big animals.  That is exactly what we do see.”

So if you love your dog, thank the wolf, thank the hunt.

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Published November 22, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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4 responses to “Of Wolves, Dogs, Women and Men”

  1. Sundog Fitz says:

    This may seem an odd, out of place question, but it has been niggling at me so I am going to put it out there. If dogs descend from wolves in order to cooperatively hunt with humans what will the future dog evolve into? Hunting seems to be a rarity in modern life and I presume will become even more rare so I wonder what will emerge as the satisfaction of the eternal predator/prey dynamic?

  2. kbehan says:

    The high point in the co-evolution of dog and humanity will ultimately be the understanding that the Heart, not genes, the brain or its affiliated neurochemistry, is the source of the high social virtues and adaptive intelligence. Such a paradigm shift will initiate a new growth in our collective consciousness.

  3. Sundog Fitz says:

    Then I wish evolution would HURRY UP ALREADY!! With this future in mind, I have been trying to establish a ritual that will help me tone down my intellect and access Heart when I interact with my dog (and ideally with the world) so that I can be in a Heart-centric, flow state. Ironically, this is the path of highest resistance for me. I really do try and imagine what it must have been like for those early dogs and humans to tune into the cooperative aspect of the relationship and not be over-ruled by instinct and habit.

  4. kbehan says:

    I think the biggest difference between us and them, is that they weren’t ashamed of their animal nature.

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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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