We talk with a top dog trainer on the role of emotion in the human-dog connection and ask the question: Do our dogs feel the same things that we feel?
Know thy dog, know thyself might be the motto of my guest this hour.
Kevin Behan is a top dog trainer and near dog philosopher. A second-generation trainer who has worked with thousands of dogs.
Look into their eyes, he says, and you will ultimately see yourself. An emotional mirror, looking back at you, animal to animal. Never mind dominance or the bag of treats, he says. Ultimately, he says, our dog’s behavior is driven by our emotion. And then he goes deeper still.
This hour On Point: know thy dog, know thyself.
- Tom Ashbrook
Kevin Behan, veteran police-dog trainer and author of “Your Dog Is Your Mirror: The Emotional Capacity of Our Dogs and Ourselves” and “Natural Dog Training.” He is one of the nation’s foremost experts in the rehabilitation of aggressive and problem dogs and runs Natural Dog Training, a clinic for dogs in Vermont.
Marc Bekoff, professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and fellow of the Animal Behavior Society. He is the author of several books, including, “The Animal Manifesto” and “The Emotional Lives of Animals”, and has written articles on animal behavior for Time Magazine, U.S. News and World Report and The New York Times.
Your Dog is Your Mirror: The Emotional Capacity of Our Dogs and Ourselves
by Kevin Behan
In “The Botany of Desire,” author Michael Pollan observes that there are tens of millions of dogs in North America and only ten thousand wolves. He asks, “So what does the dog know about getting along in this world that its wild ancestor doesn’t?” (And I would add, every other animal as well.) Since I’m proposing nothing short of a new paradigm in addressing how dog and human, and especially a dog and its owner, connect, I will sum up my premise right at the outset:
Dog and owner form a group mind.
The best explanation for everything canine, from the evolution of the wolf to the domestication of the dog — to the incredible emotional relationship that has emerged between the modern pet and its owner — is that dogs feel what we feel. This is how a dog “knows” its place and what it must do to get along, a process that has been crudely approximated (and grossly misinterpreted) as a dominance hierarchy and a learning-by-reinforcement theory.
Why isn’t something so fundamental self-evident? Because the human intellect is a relativity machine. It compares one thing relative to another thing, one moment relative to another moment. We end up fixating on the forms of things and situations and see them as connected in a linear, rational sense. This isn’t necessarily incorrect. As Carl Jung put it: “Form gives energy its quality.” However, Carl Jung, on a visit to the American Southwest in the fifties, had a transformative conversation with a Hopi native. The elder told him the white man was restless and “mad” because white people think with their heads, whereas the Hopi think with their hearts. This conversation profoundly influenced Jung’s philosophy of life. It helps us see that there can be a form of intelligence that has nothing to do with thinking, and this is being expressed by the intelligent ways that dogs adapt to human civilization.
If we don’t apprehend the energetic essence that all things have in common, our mind will perceive the inside as being distinct from the outside, the mind separate from the body; time segmented into a past, present, and future; nature disconnected from humans; and our dog as a separate conscious being apart from ourselves. We will not see that dog and owner are connected by emotion and going by feel.
Dogs, on the other hand, don’t see the world in terms of one thing or one moment relative to another. A dog’s mind is an energy circuit. What it feels is indistinguishable from where it is, its consciousness a function of its surroundings, whoever or whatever it finds therein and whether or not it feels connected to all of this. This is why dogs are compelled to smell; they’re importing the essences of things, the energy within the form, directly into their gut so it can be digested. Sensory inputs become integrated with viscera so that a dog becomes physically rather than mentally connected to its world. A dog doesn’t apprehend its “self” as separate or distinct from whatever or whomever it is attracted to.
Our current scientific models intellectualize nature and personify dogs in ways that prevent an owner from being able to see the dog’s true nature. Everything a dog does and even its personality is a one-to-one translation of what its owner is feeling. A dog and owner evolve to form one “group mind,” each the emotional counterbalance to the other and yet both aligned around a common want, the pursuit and resolution of which is the main subject of this book.