Why do dogs fetch?

All animals play, especially when young, and often with objects. But when you throw something for a dog, it’s like a boomerang: with just a bit of deft management it comes right back to your hand. Why?

Because the dog wants its “self” back.

We often wonder how dogs see themselves. Do they see themselves as a person like their owner, or do they see their owner as a dog like themselves? However, because in my view dogs don’t think (my definition of thinking being the capacity to compare one thing to another thing, or one moment relative to another moment) these kinds of questions are only of relevance to the human mind. The human intellect, being primarily focused on comparing one thing relative to another thing, fixates on the forms of things and how these forms are connected through a linear chronology of one moment relative to another moment. The human intellect conceptualizes nature, and the only way to get beyond this filter is to consider nature in terms of energy. In my view, this is why modern physics – as opposed to modern biology and behaviorism – is a true science.

Dogs are ultimately attracted to the energetic essence of things, i.e. the energetic makeup within the form, with the signature of this energetic makeup being broadcast by how the form moves and carries itself. Visually, a dog divines this energetic signature by projecting its “emotional center-of-gravity” into the form and then feeling vicariously, but literally, what’s going on within the form when it moves – or even when it doesn’t move. This is quite literally a form of “emotional sonar” and is adaptive because the exact same emotional dynamic is at work within its own body/mind, as it is in all animals. So what a dog feels by virtue of this “mirror effect” is what it apprehends as its “self”. Nature is always a paradox; what all animals have in common is simultaneously the source of their unique individuality.

What is the emotional center-of-gravity? It is the cumulative physical memory of all resistance ever experienced; it serves within as a lump sum aggregate quantitative “mass” (like an entrepreneur’s net worth) that was acquired in pursuit of objects of desire. This emotional imprint is attached to sensations affiliated with its physical center-of-gravity, thus a dog’s sense of emotional well-being derives from its emotional center-of-gravity just as its sense of physical balance derives from its physical center-of-gravity. A dog has no idea of its “self” as a self separate and distinct from other selves. All it can ever know of the world (and this turns out to be quite a lot) is from what it feels within its body. In the dog’s mind, the world is in its body.

On the other hand, in those occasions when a dog can’t project its emotional center-of-gravity onto the form of a thing to thereby derive a feeling for it, then it will not be attracted to that thing and for all intents of purposes that thing will not exist in its body/mind in that moment.

This sense of self projected onto objects of attraction is always elaborating into higher and higher states of apprehension through the complexities of social interactions. Nevertheless, it is never a mental concept of “I am something relative to something else”. As a matter of fact, it’s a function of gravity rather than thoughts, which is why it is shared by all beings and therefore a universal platform for communication. So if a dog could talk (without thinking) and we were to ask a dog what it considers its “self” to be, it would say, “What I want and how I feel is who I am”.

When we throw something for a dog, it’s just as if a huge dose of essence shot out of our body, and since the dog has automatically attached its emotional-center-of-gravity to our form, the dog’s emotional center-of-gravity is proportionately displaced. The dog now feels driven to reconnect the missing essence with the form in order to return to emotional equilibrium. The dog wants its “self” back.

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Published August 6, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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67 responses to “Why do dogs fetch?”

  1. […] to throw an object over a dog’s head. Do we get as much enjoyment out of it as dogs? Do dogs project their emotional states into inanimate objects? Or are dogs just humoring us? Be gentle with us, dogs. We’re fragile […]

  2. arepee says:

    What a bunch of psycho babble. Dogs play fetch because they get exercise from it and because they remember that “you” like to play fetch, so they want to make you happy. They see it as a form of bonding or getting a reward.

    That’s literally it, this web page sounds like it was written by someone in a psychiatric ward who forgot to take their meds. “Because the dog want’s itself back”. Wow.

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    I appreciate your comment for the opportunity it affords to reflect on the charge of “psycho-babble” (which I hear often) and then the overt hostility engendered when someone like myself offers a theory contrary to the prevailing view. We can note that the only one not inserting a psychology (“you like to play fetch, they want to make you happy, bonding, getting a reward”) into the mind of the dog, is me so the psycho aspect can be dismissed outright. As for the babble, I suppose that therefore breeders of working dogs, the kind that will go through a wall of fire if a prey object is thrown through it, are selecting for dogs that want to do what their owner wants them to do? Finally, why doesn’t someone critique the theory on the substance, rather than always with the ad hominem and the babble about dogs wanting to please. Why can’t someone say something interesting?

  4. Not a kook says:

    Jesus… Your article is filled with pure crap. There’s no credence to most of what you said here, it’s not based on science whatsoever just how you ‘feel’ about canine instinct and crap that just popped into your head. You dressed it up nice with some empty buzzwords, which is always the best way to sound knowledgeable. Your definition of ‘thinking’ is utterly inaccurate. Animal cognition revolves around perception of environment, problem solving, the ability to adapt ones behavior in order to solve a problem, learning, pattern recognition, and communication.

    Just because you have a website, use valueless language to complicate an idea and state it as if it is fact, doesn’t make you an expert.

    By the way, the answer is: dogs play fetch, chase birds, chase other dogs, etc because of their innate pursuit instinct and propensity for play. They combine these two activities just as other animals play fight, it’s simply instinct and in nature provides practice for real world situations. It’s much more common in young animals in the wild and some grow out of it entirely.

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    Thanks for this example of the kind of muddled thinking that is so prevalent in dogdom today. “Perception of environment, problem solving, the ability to adapt ones behavior in order to solve a problem, learning, pattern recognition, and communication” are merely descriptive, they do not a model make. Only dogs play fetch and then you attribute it to an “innate pursuit instinct and propensity for play” that all animals share, and yet some outgrow. So why do only dogs fetch? There’s so much talk about cognition, but then what specifically is being communicated? Please feel free to say something definitive in support of a logical argument.

  6. Not a kook says:

    No, I did not attribute pursuit instinct and playfulness to all animals. It is because of these two things dogs play fetch. And while communication is an aspect of cognition, cognition is not synonymous with communication. Cognition includes memory, language comprehension, problem solving and decision making.

    Maybe instead of attacking your commenters for discrediting your statements and citing factual, science based information, next time maybe use a little bit more of those things in your own article.

  7. Not a kook says:

    “Meanwhile, because dogs don’t and can’t think, they do not respond to what their owner thinks, says, or even does”

    Quoted from your own book. If a dog can’t think or respond to their owner, how do they know to chase the object, how do they know to pick it up, how do they where to stop and not keep running, how do they know how to run in the first place?

    Everything about you wreaks of self-important and mentally deficient.

  8. Kevin Behan says:

    So which is it when a dog fetches: instinct or thinking? Feel free to be definitive.

  9. Arabesque says:

    What’s with the false dichotomy?

  10. Not a kook says:

    When you’re driving and you swerve to avoid a car, which is it: instinct or thinking?

    The answer’s both. Nowhere in your dna is there coding on ‘how to drive 101.’ It’s a combination of reaction and learned response.

  11. Kevin Behan says:

    In swerving to avoid a car, does instinct, thinking and learning comprise the totality of the experience? What about emotion and feeling, how do these fit in?

  12. Kevin Behan says:

    You keep saying you have the answer, but the statement “Cognition includes memory, language comprehension, problem solving and decision making”is merely descriptive. Put these together into something concrete. Specifically, what is the cognitive–communicative–instinctive interplay that accounts for why dogs in general play fetch and cats do not (even though both species have a pursuit instinct and are playful and attuned to human beings), and in addition why certain dogs play fetch while other dogs do not? What’s going on in the mind of an animal that plays fetch, as opposed to one that doesn’t?

  13. b... says:

    I don’t understand this perpetual argument that it’s somehow more scientific to dismiss deeper inquiry into natural phenomena by asserting that something is so “just because”. It seems to me that this is equivalent to, for example, discovering the chemical structure of an element and then dismissing attempts to investigate the action and function of the atoms within as nonsense because we’ve already determined the composition.

    Isn’t it more scientific to attempt to drill down to the underlying principles driving observed phenomena and analyze a proposed theory on its actual merits (e.g., if it can explain all the observable components of the phenomenon and doesn’t rely on circular logic or contradict itself)?

    Animal cognition seems to be the only “science” where it’s acceptable to claim that a term that someone has coined as a description of an observation is the science itself and that anything at odds with it is fantasy.

  14. Fitzgerald von hammington says:

    According to this article dogs feel emotion vicariously through inanimate objects. The article also states all animals feel this way. I am an animal and have never felt emotion via an inanimate object. Am I ill? Please help.

  15. Kevin Behan says:

    I think “Castaway” with Tom Hanks relating to “Wilson” carried the ring of truth in this regard. Automobile designers for example sculpt cars so that they evoke sensual notes in the eyes of the beholder, so in my view a vicarious triggering of physical memories via inanimate objects is the basic architecture of the animal mind, the human animal included. Of course this is easy to miss given how pronounced our capacity for thought is, and how we reflexively enfold emotion and feelings into the domain of thinking when in fact they really stand apart.

  16. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Talking out Fetch, I grew up with a miniature dachsund (hot dog) and as kids we would throw ice cubes in the pool and “Moses” would take a flying leap into the pool and dive almost eight feet under the water, catch the ice cube in his mouth before it landed at the bottom of the pool, and bring it up and out of the pool – barking for more action. I don’t know if that is classified as “fetch”, but what was that all about, Kevin? Moses could do this several times and never tire.

  17. Kevin Behan says:

    Emotion requires a concrete object around which it can coalesce. So there is an inherent amount of frustration between emotional beings as they experience a degree of attraction that can’t be consummated until it finds a mutual object. That’s what the ice cubes meant for “Moses.” A means of connecting with those he felt attracted to.

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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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