Chapter 4: State of the Art


Kevin takes you on a journey through his upbringing, filled with dogs as he worked with his father, who was a prominent figure in the dog training world. Their training method was based on discipline and dominance. Over time, through his observations, Kevin began to rethink the idea of dominance/hierarchies among dogs (and wolves for that matter). He realized what had at that time been the modern theory of canine behavior, “wasn’t really all that scientific.” The flaw lies within the idea that submissive behavior is favorable. If the pack theory of dominance were to hold true, then dominance is just as important as submission (genetically and behaviorally speaking), and so you can’t have one without the other. This is incongruent because that would mean dominance really isn’t THE essential element of canine behavior, and neither would submission. Moreover, how can one say a dog  is too submissive but not ever say that an owner is too dominant? Assigning dominance/submission on to dogs creates a fragmentation between how we see our dogs and how they see us – the problem lies within human perception. Submission on the dog’s part only leads to fear, anxiety, and survival instincts and dominant behavior on the human’s part serves to reinforce that. Besides, if a dog is supposed to be content with being submissive, how then can one in turn assume the dog really wants to be dominant? So, there was a missing piece for Behan and he discovered that one of the most basic driving forces for wolves and dogs was the “prey instinct/drive.” This is what allows emotion to be such a unifying factor between us and our dogs.


I must say, in the few years I have been studying the NDT model, I still find it difficult to articulate myself when it comes to debunking the pack theory. I hope my summary did it justice, otherwise, any simplification for me would be greatly appreciated!

A few reflections:

  • I suppose if I were to come up with a quote of my own from this chapter it would be this: if we’re not “hunting” with our dogs, then we are not one unit with them; we’re not one emotion; we’re not one group; the wheel won’t turn because the spokes aren’t connected to the center. To add to that, there’s a sentence on page 53 that I think is so fundamental to whoever is learning NDT: “the preyful aspect attracts emotions, the predatory aspect reflects emotion.”
  • As Kevin discussed in this chapter, its quite plausible that people adhere to the pack theory because there is a “fear of the wild” and I think he’s on to something there. Dare I say that that fear is irrational? I think this is true for a lot of people and I think it is a feeling that functions unconsciously. That’s not to assume we can’t access those feelings, because they are there; rather, I think people choose, for whatever reasons to ignore them. I think of the stories about shark attacks. For decades, even centuries, there was the popular stigma that sharks are to out to kill humans – that they have the intention to do so. But we do have those who acknowledge that the water is the shark’s domain and it’s a fallacy to 1) project ideas of dominance upon them and 2) assume that we “control” a natural force such as the ocean and living beings who live there. It’s about respect for sharks and their natural behavior. The same should go for dogs.
  • As I read these books I ask myself, “why be a dog trainer?” Is it about learning? Is it about sharing knowledge? Is it for the sake of making a living? Well…….yes, I would think so – I’ll let you know when I get there. But I imagine every trainer would have their own variety of answers to that question. I also imagine there would be a common theme, especially for those following the NDT model: could it also be about the nature and value of sharing the canine experience with another human being? So far, I only spent one day with Mr. Behan, but I can tell you that vicariously through working with the dogs, what I learned from an emotion-as-energy perspective changed the way I felt about/with my dogs. In some respects, that transformed what I learned about human beings. Just as I see with my clients at work, I too had an “AH HA” moment with the dogs, which made me realize I had a lot of work to do. But I think that is the fun part about it: changing the way we see the world and taking something that we love (our dogs) and being better people for it.


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