We are giving away a paperback copy of Your Dog Is Your Mirror: The Emotional Capacity of Our Dogs and Ourselves by Kevin Behan. Check out this excerpt, and then leave a comment for a chance to win your own copy of this book!
By Kevin Behan
This book is different from other examinations of the canine/human connection because it concentrates on what dog and human share in common rather than what makes us different. We’re not going to consider how the canine sense of smell is far more powerful than ours, what frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum they can see that we cannot, what range of sounds reaches their ears and not ours — as interesting and valuable as such discussions may be. Instead, we will examine the idea that emotion is energy, that it is how consciousness makes contact with nature. Feelings are universal to all sentient beings in nature, whereas thoughts, instincts, and genes, and all the specific adaptations that arise from these, are what differentiate our two species and in the final analysis keep us separate. Therefore, to truly know a dog, especially our own dog, requires reconnecting with our own emotional nature so that we learn more about the nature of what we’re feeling because this is precisely how our dog’s mind works. The energetic principles of emotion are the operating system of a networked intelligence. Perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve learned from dogs is that the heart, the organ in our chest that pumps our blood, is this network’s brain.
I will examine these ideas through three themes: 1) We don’t know what we’re feeling. 2) The behavior of dogs can teach us about emotion and feelings. And 3) the real reason for the dog in our life is emotional. We carry around in our body/mind the physical memory of every emotional experience we’ve ever had; I call this physical memory our “emotional battery.” This is what our dog tunes into and responds to accordingly. When we understand that dogs are emotional beings, that emotion is a force of nature as real as gravity, and that our dog’s emotions are a source of information for us that is often obscured from our eyes by human reason, then we will see our dog not as being apart from us but instead as being a part of us.
The first theme is essentially that our dog feels what we feel even when we can’t. The human intellect is so powerful that our thoughts run simultaneously with our feelings; they can overwhelm what we feel and lead us to confuse what we feel with what we think. Our prodigious brainpower can even deny the underlying emotion within a feeling altogether. Thus emotion is always confused with instinct (as when we consider fear a basic emotion) and thoughts are always linked with feeling (as when we say things like, “I feel threatened”). This keeps us in the dark about how emotion works. For example, as pure energy, emotions are always a positive force of attraction. Moreover, true feelings are always an emotional counterbalance to what one is attracted to, and they always feel good. There’s no such thing as a “bad” feeling; what we consider a “bad” feeling is actually the collapse of a good one.
Meanwhile, because dogs don’t and can’t think, they do not respond to what their owner thinks, says, or even does, rather, dogs react according to their owner’s emotion as a force of attraction. (For example, we might think we’re mad at someone, whereas our dog will feel that we are intensely attracted to that person. And our dog is right.) Dogs don’t project thoughts onto their owners, they project a feeling. Emotions are a universal code among all animals, from mouse to moose to human, and what dogs feel and then do represents a decoding of an owner’s thoughts, actions, feelings, memories, and instincts back into the primal emotional logic that best expresses the owner’s emotional, or animal, mind.
The second theme looks at what the behavior of dogs reveals to us about emotion, which is, in short, what emotion is the basis of the animal mind and forms an interwoven consciousness, or networked intelligence. Emotion is energy, and energy can move freely between the forms of things; it is not constrained or self-contained within a particular being. This is why emotion is infectious. However, emotion doesn’t move at random (and certainly not by reason) but rather by its own inherent properties and principles of movement. This is why there is a distinct thermodynamics and physical consequence to emotional affects within the body. All animals feel energy the same way, and so emotion as energy is also a synchronizing medium, a platform on which individuals self-organize into social structures and cooperative relationships. Leaders do not organize the group; there is no evidence in nature or in the domesticated dog that supports such a notion. Instead, one shared emotional mind weaves the many into one. This group mind is composed by the principles by which emotion as energy moves. The group mind does not “learn” — as in, “If A causes B, then therefore C follows” — rather, it evolves according to principles of energy, and this distinction explains many idiosyncrasies of animal learning that are confusing when seen in the traditional way (which assumes animals learn by the same mental dynamic humans learn by).
Finally, the third theme proposes that the real reason for the dog in our life is not for companionship, for service, or to save a forlorn canine waif from a life of unfortunate circumstances, as worthwhile and benevolent as all these reasons are. The real reason for the dog in our life is to reveal what instincts, thoughts, and judgments prevent us from feeling what is at the very bottom of our heart. These instincts, thoughts, and judgments are the cause of the unresolved emotion we carry, and unresolved emotion is what truly drives us. Unresolved emotion is the physical memory, carried in the body, of every emotional experience that has been lived. Resolving unresolved emotion is the fundamental common denominator to everything an animal, especially a social animal, does. How individuals respond to the way unresolved emotion makes them feel determines how they create their “network.” Our dog’s behavior and personality are not a function of its own self-contained agency of mind; in reality, our dog is acting out, in its own way, the unresolved emotion that disturbs us, as its owner. Dogs evolved to resolve unresolved emotion because resolving unresolved emotion is how nature evolves.
Kevin Behan is a veteran police-dog trainer, author of Natural Dog Training, and is the nation’s foremost leader in dog rehabilitation. Originally trained under the dominance theory by his father, John Behan, who pioneered the use of trained 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 forces, 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.
Excerpted from Your Dog Is Your Mirror: The Emotional Capacity of Our Dogs and Ourselves by Kevin Behan. Published by New World Library.
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