A Talk With Kevin Behan,
author of Your Dog is Your Mirror

Can we know what’s going on in the mind of a dog?
Yes, a dog feels what we feel, however everything we’re experiencing in an emotional event is not pure emotion or a “true” feeling, it’s an amalgam of these plus instinctual sensations, mental habits of mind and thoughts about the experience. If we were to understand dogs as creatures of the immediate moment, we would then have an analytical tool to parse apart these components of emotional experience. And when we get down to emotion and feelings, we have arrived at the basis of a group mind, and in which our dog, unlike we humans, is participating with its entire conscious awareness.

How did the dog become “man’s best friend?”
The common interpretation is that early man either directly or inadvertently selected for tameness, docility, submissiveness, and then given that proto-dog was closely related if not wholly descended from wolves, was predisposed to a complex social way of life and so being hormonally awash in stress reducing neurochemicals, was able to adapt to the demands of living with human beings. But such traits are not able to account for the nature and inclinations of the modern dog. My theory is that wolves evolved to hunt “by feel” because their main prey was too large and dangerous to be physically overpowered, even by wolves in numbers. Wolves had to induce a state of confusion in a vulnerable prey individual in order to enjoy any chance of success. In other words, they had to tune in to what their prey was feeling. This style of hunting then begat their social structure, i.e. being social by feel rather than by instinct, and which translates into a “hierarchy of feelings.” In other words, which ever member wants something the most, goes first and the others willingly follow because they feel what it feels. Then early man’s interest in the wolf or proto-dog was in regards to the hunt, not companionship or utilitarian service around the campsite, and this symbiotic connection amplified the inborn propensity to go-by-feel many times over. For this reason virtually every breed derives its name and particular mannerisms and social dispositions according to some aspect of hunting. Thus today, we live with nature’s ultimate empath, i.e. our dog feels what we feel.

What is emotion?
Studying dogs wholly as creatures of the immediate moment, I came to recognize emotion as a monolithic and universal “force” of attraction. The animal mind evolved to be in a default state of tension, and emotion arises when in the presence of a certain class of stimuli, which innately represent release from that tension. So every sentient being is attracted to every other sentient being by way of this universal medium, and within which individuals can synchronize what they are feeling in order to make contact and ultimately connect.

What is the difference between emotion and feelings, and then thoughts?

Feelings are states of synchronization, within emotion as a virtual field of mutual attraction. Think of two people standing on a trampoline, everything they do if they move at random causes them to come together as if mutually attracted. However if their movements are independent of what the other is doing, then the oscillations of the trampoline are unsettling and retard effective movement. However if they synchronize their movements, each can thereby time their movements to the actions of the other and eventually they can move smoothly about and even perform complex acrobatics. So emotion is the pull toward one another and feelings are the capacity to synchronize so that movement can be efficiently directed in conformance with a desire.
Normally we think about emotion in terms of good ones and bad ones, healthful ones and destructive ones. But I’ve discovered from understanding dogs as creatures of the immediate-moment that there is only one emotion, and it is positive, a positive pull of attraction. Fear for example is not emotion, it is derivative of emotion and it results from the collapse of an emotional state of attraction. Fear derives from the sensations related to falling.
Meanwhile thoughts are the mental capacity to compare one moment to another moment, and one point of view to another point of view. All concepts are built upon this architecture of time. Because thoughts are so prominent in our surface awareness, and we invariably are thinking while we are feeling, and because feelings reach deep down into our subconsciousness, we confuse thoughts with feeling. One good way to parse apart the distinction is that just as there is no such thing as a negative emotion (always a “force” of attraction) there is no such thing as a bad feeling. So if one is “feeling bad” one can then parse it apart and find the thought of comparison that is triggering the instinctual sensations of collapse and begin to clarify these various components from each other so that they stand out in relief and can be independently examined.

Why do dogs like car rides, why do they wag their tails?
The strongest drive in the dog is to be in harmony. In a car, every person’s body is swaying in rhythm with the road and everyone is facing in the same direction. This recapitulates the emotional context of hunting and is the easiest set of circumstances for a dog to feel in sync with humans since people are acting so naturally. Likewise, a dog’s behavior is a graphic display of what it is feeling so that others can readily sync up with it, hence, its tail is so emotionally expressive and is beating out an obvious cadence that reveals the intensity and frequency of what the dog is attracted to making the dog easy to approach.

What do dogs want?

Again, the strongest drive in a dog is to be in harmony with what it is attracted to, this however has nothing to do with a  “desire to please” (after all, if one does something to please another, it’s not a true desire) and paradoxically as it will first seem, is also the source of canine aggression. Dogs are, like all animals, attracted to human beings, but unlike other animals, are able to fully cross the species divide and fulfill the attraction by being able to harmonize with our human desires.

What’s the biggest change over the last fifty years between dog and owner and how people view dogs?

Fifty years ago dogs were considered to be animals, although unfortunately what tagged along with this was all too often the notion of dog as brute insensate. However given the denial of the role emotion and feeling play in today’s high tech, mentally driven and intellectualized society, owners tend to, and are encouraged by behavioral/veterinary/industrial complex to do so, turn dogs into people as an indirect means of putting one’s heart first. So we are now turning to dogs to make us emotionally whole but this has caused us to seek to control every aspect of a dog’s mind and so we are over-socializing, over training, overly stimulating while we are overly guilty that we aren’t doing enough. Unfortunately this turns out to be but another form of denial of the dog’s true nature and, I’m sorry to say, ends up being more pernicious than the old view of dogs.
Why are you against neutering male dogs?
Sexuality is integral with sociability. I’ve lived with whole males my whole life and I never understood the problem, they were always more easy going than females, when you think about it have to be discriminating on who they breed to and defense of the young and nest.  I believe that neutering male dogs is symptomatic of the control paradigm and precludes understanding that dogs are social by nature and don’t need to be “fixed” but rather understood.

What do you mean by “energy?”
The animal mind evolved to be in a state of tension and stress rather than at peace, this is a form of potential energy. The release from this dynamic state is what we experience as emotion, our viscera and internal functions smoothly performing their life-giving processes just as if a current of energy is coursing through us.  Meanwhile when we’re under stress, it feels as if this current is blocked. If we study dogs as creatures of the immediate-moment, the particulars of these states become readily observable.

Why do you say there’s no such thing as a pack leader?
A group of wolves self organizes by feel, i.e. whichever member wants something the most, goes first and the rest are happy to follow. This is a bubble-up from below phenomenon, rather than being a trickle down from above process.

What is intelligence in a dog?
The capacity to predict, emotionally, where potential energy is going to be. Notice how dogs can anticipate that their owner is going to take a trip or that their owner is coming home, that so-called “sixth sense.” It’s a state of knowing that has no thoughts, it’s induced by feeling fully resonant with one’s surroundings.

Why is the term emotional capacity more accurate than emotional intelligence?
The way emotional intelligence is currently discussed it is inextricably associated with thoughts and this obscures the role that emotion plays in the individuals’ capacity to adapt spontaneously to the nunaces of an emotional context. Emotion has a logic akin to dreams. It’s not a linear cause and effect kind of thing. It is felt rather than figured out.
Dogs unlike humans don’t think about what they feel, which is why they don’t question what they feel and then feel a need to hide or justify what they feel. Dogs are social by nature.  They navigate the world, the most important element of which is their owner, by virtue of a “group mind” kind of consciousness. So when we’re watching our dog, we’re actually observing (were we to filter our thoughts out of our interpretation) their emotional reflection of what we as their owner, the most important emotional element of their life, are feeling.

What role does Heart play in behavior?
The animal mind is a complex interplay of all physiological and neurological processes. The epicenter of an animals’ consciousness is also a function of whether it feels resonant or not with its surroundings. If dogs could talk, and were we to ask them where they feel the epicenter of their conscious awareness when they feel resonant with their surroundings, they would say their heart, not their head.
Physically, the heart is the center of gravity of the body when it is in motion, likewise, emotionally the heart is the center of consciousness when feelings are flowing. When an animal focuses subliminally on its heart, it is able to synchronize its personality and actions with what it is attracted to.

The author of Natural Dog Training, Kevin Behan is a veteran dog trainer and one of the nation’s foremost leaders in dog rehabilitation. Originally trained under the dominance theory by his father, John Behan, who pioneered the use of trained security dogs outside the military and was one of the first in America to make dog training a career, Kevin came to understand that what made the modern dog adaptable and trainable was not the dominance hierarchy as taught to him but the dog’s ability to work as a cooperative group member in the hunt. After training thousands of dogs for  both aggression and obedience, as well as bomb-sniffing and other security purposes, he established his own kennel, Canine Arts, and the Natural Dog Training method. Since then, he has continued to transform the way people are looking at their pets, and has saved hundreds of dogs from being put to sleep. He lives with his family on a sixty-acre farm in southern Vermont. His website is www.naturaldogtraining.com.