Taking Away Tennessee

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Tennessee mountain range at sunrise

My congratulations to Kevin Behan and our Indiana K-9 Assisted Crisis Response team leadership for their outstanding presentation at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Social Work Summit this past week. I feel so blessed to be a part of that experience. Natural Dog Training, in my opinion will gain some momentum into the academic realm from this international conference. A few reflections of my own will follow but please check out Kevin’s overview first here: http://naturaldogtraining.com/blog/reflections-on-university-of-tennessee-conference/

Don’t be confused: Natural Dog Training stands on its own

Kevin Behan speaking during the International Veterinary Social Work Conference at the University of Tennessee

Academia and science could be seen as separate entities, yet they almost always go hand-in-hand together. While exposing NDT to the academic realm is exciting and momentous, I truly believe that NDT in and of itself is sufficient as a model. Validating its methods and testing its reliability through the experimental model is certainly appealing to me and something I hope to explore in the near future. But as a colleague of mine often points out, “the proof is in the pudding,” and she’s absolutely right. For those of us who have worked with Kevin at seminars, apprenticed with him in Vermont, or simply tried out his methods on our own, I think we see from him that there is an appreciation of dogs and humanity that goes beyond big scientific words and the elaborate laboratory-like ways of formal academia. Kevin provides the opportunity to see and feel the ultimate laboratory that is nature. It seems ironic to me that just 35 miles south of us from Knoxville was a giant landmark of our natural world, the Great Smoky Mountains. It is just a reminder of the opportunities that are abound for NDT and I pray that it flows the way the model itself is leading. I think what NDT does for us, at the core, is that its all about the dogs – if only the human mind would get out of the way.

Mindfulness is to human as Non-self is to dog

In my line of work, I strive to help humans observe what their experience shows them, as opposed to what their mind is telling them. I teach mindfulness: the act of paying attention to the present moment, right here right now, on purpose, without judgement, without ego. I found it interesting that the theme of the TN conference was indeed, mindfulness. As Kevin and I and a colleague sat together after Dr. Temple Grandin’s talk, the often philosophical discussions showed up. It dawned on me how easy it is to humanize our animals, especially our dogs; I mean, how many times do we need to cover this topic? But it never ceases to amaze me the realization I come to: no matter how hard we try to apply a theory of human psychology to canines, there’s always at least one inconsistency. Mindfulness and the dog? I think we are getting closer but we quickly run in to a dead end. For instance, mindfulness is a human concept that seems like it would explain a dog’s essence of being an immediate-moment animal. But the instant we apply that, we are assuming that the dog possesses a “self” that stands alone from everything else. And even the perspective of Eastern traditions that “the dog is one with the universe” still in some way implies that the dog “realizes” this on a cognitive level. We’ve got to be careful here.

I do think that at the very least the dog can teach us more about human psychology; that is, we fool ourselves into thinking. Returning to mindfulness: there is an experiential exercise I help my counseling clients participate in and it entails this sense of “observer self.”  This contextual-like self contains no verbal content, it does not talk or say anything – it is simply the part of us that observes and notices. You might call it pure awareness or consciousness. And it would seem that, “ah ha! THIS is what the dog experiences.” Well, close but no cigar –  we’re still applying the notion that the dog “knows” this – we use our language as a basis for this.

As Kevin points out, the canine mind is a function of its energy-as-motion (attraction) that is preverbal. If you were to take this notion of the observer self, you would have to know the verbal/cognitive self first to appreciate it. You with me? I will add to that: as a human, every memory, thought, mental image, and spoken word are all verbal content derived from language. As far as I know, a dog does not experience verbal content. What about memory, you say? Well, from an NDT perspective, we speak of physical memory, which I would say does not contain verbal content. This is where I am not comfortable with the notion of canine PTSD. I know there are those in the dog training world and even those in academia who speak of this but again, we have to be careful. If you take a look at the DSM, which is where we find the “official” definition of PTSD, we need to realize that none of the disorders/syndromes (including PTSD) have any biological markers connected to them. People treat mental disorders as “illnesses” and this is off the mark. Nonetheless, most of the DSM diagnoses are based primarily on behaviorist models and cognitive-behavioral theories. Regardless, maybe  there is a canine type of traumatic stress response but I think we need to get away from the term, “PTSD” and go back to NDT terminology: unresolved emotion. This was a theme we heard lot of during this conference and I come back to calling it, “getting stuck in the language trap of the Tower of Babel.”

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Kevin Behan demonstrating the pushing technique at the UT Veterinary Social Work Summit

The takeaway here is from Kevin himself: the dog is a function of attraction between it’s body and the environment. Emotion is what I also call, the non-self.

A moment of sweetness

The five of us (including Romeo the Newfie), that were at this conference spent a lot of time in preparation. It was a relief when it was over. As many who have studied NDT and tried to understand it know it can be confusing at times and there’s a lot to it. But there were a few things I’d like to highlight. As I watched Kevin and our Team Leader present, I witnessed a room full of people, the majority of which taking notes the whole time. This shows me that people were interested and engaged despite any confusion. We had questions at the end and a number of people went to speak with Kevin when it was over. I was out in the hallway afterwards tearing down signs and overheard people talking about how great the talk was. I have no doubt there were some who checked out during the talk but that’s to be expected at a conference. My point is that there’s a place for NDT in people’s hearts and I was proud to see those in the room who were attentive and curious.

Later on that afternoon, we all made a journey to the University of Tennessee campus. What a gorgeous place! We eventually found our way to a nice little campus garden and took in the sights. One of our team members took us on a geocaching expedition: all 3/10 of a mile! We quickly found ourselves at the inviting entrance of the UT Veterinary School. As you walk up the steps between two brick walls you see a WWII memorial commemorating the doberman pinscher war dogs of the Pacific. Kevin speaks openly about his father’s war dog training experiences and it just seemed to be a sentimental moment as he placed his hand on the paw of the doberman statue. It just goes to show you all of the hard work of Kevin and how far his NDT has come since the 1970s. It was a sweet moment.

Come to Battleground, Indiana!

I will end this blog post with a call to those who are fairly versed in NDT, have at least worked the model and/or worked with Kevin and are currently or aspire to be a dog trainer under the Natural Dog Training model: Kevin Behan at Barttleground, Indiana in August 2013 is a huge deal! This is a dream come true for us NDT followers. I cannot put in to words the depth of this opportunity to come to Indiana to experience a multitude of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If you can make this journey to the “train the trainer” seminar you won’t regret it. Contact me if you are a current NDT trainer and you want to sign up.

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

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