Writer's Blog

Is Your Dog Dominant? Part III

Is Dominant Behavior Instinctive or a Symptom of Anxiety? Originally published in slightly different form on April 13, 2009 at PsychologyToday.com. Hunting Eases Stress and Anxiety In the first of the previous two sections [1] I described how the primary architect of the alpha theory, Konrad Lorenz, misinterpreted the essential dynamic between a “dominant” and “submissive” wolf. In the second I made the point that the initial studies which gave us this now discarded theory [2] were done primarily on captive wolves, whose behaviors are often quite different from those seen in the wild. This brings up an interesting point about the wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana; it’s the first place where it

Dominance in Dogs & Wolves

A Property of Relationships or an Indicator of Stress? First published at PsychologyToday.com on May 9, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com. One of the Good Guys As someone who casts a critical eye on the latest developments in dognitive science, I’m happy to report that John W. S. Bradshaw has joined us here at PsychologyToday.com. In my view Bradshaw is one of the good guys, someone who’s interested in questioning the prevailing wisdom about how dogs think and learn. In fact, Dr. Bradshaw has done two studies (with N. J. Rooney) showing that playing tug-of-war—long thought to increase dominant tendencies in dogs—can actually make dogs more obedient, and less dominant! (This is my interpretation,

Is Learning Shaped by Consequences?

Or By Pattern Recognition? Originally published in slightly different form on September 16, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com. Unified Theory of Dog Training I’ve spent a good deal of time here emphasizing the differences between the two most common forms of pet dog training—the pack leader and behavioral science models—and contrasting them with the approach I use, which is more closely allied with the way working dogs are trained (primarily through stimulating and then satisfying their prey drive). With that in mind, I’m now proposing a potential “unified theory of dog training,” which will hopefully show how all three models are related, why some methods work better in some training situations t

Kevin Behan and Natural Dog Training

5 Principles, 5 Core Exercises. The following was written by Kevin Behan. I made a few edits. At a conference in Indiana in 2013, Kevin Behan laid out the following: (1) All behavior is a function of emotion. And all emotion is a function of attraction. (2) When emotion can’t flow to a state of complete and utter satisfaction, then stress is acquired in the body. (3) Stress—which is the physical memory of emotion that failed to run to “ground”—must be triggered by an agency as intense as the agency which caused its formation. (Emotional grounding is mediated by the hunger circuitry in the dog's body.) (4) The acquisition of stress as a physical memory of emotional experience begets a more co

The 4 Quadrants of Drive Training

Attraction and Resistance, Tension and Release Originally published in slightly different form on February 22, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com. A Tired Dog Is a Good Dog We’ve all heard the expression, a tired dog is a good dog. But what does it mean, exactly? I think the most common way this adage is interpreted is that if you give a dog enough exercise he’ll have fewer behavioral problems. In extreme cases the dog is put on a treadmill for hours at a time, or is forced to carry heavy weights around on long walks. What these things do is use up some of the dog’s energy that would otherwise be used to chase the cat, chew the carpet, or hump the mailman’s leg. But where does that energy c

Why Dogs Are “Smarter Than Chimps”

If Wolf Packs Are Self-Emergent Systems, Are Dog-Human Packs Too? Dog and Wolf Playing With a Stick Originally published in slightly different form on October 26, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com. New Computer Model of Pack Hunting The traditional view of pack hunting behavior is that it’s a highly-intelligent, carefully orchestrated endeavor, controlled primarily by the pack leader, which requires constant communication between members of the pack, much like a platoon of soldiers armed not only with rifles but walkie-talkies, the only difference being that wolves supposedly communicate through body language and eye contact, not two-way radios. A new computer model suggests that none of this m

Human Fingers as Puppy Pacifiers?

Using Transitional Objects to Solve Behavioral Problems Originally published in slightly different form on December 16, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com. Inner Conflict in Dogs? I’m not sure how Dr. Maisel’s article—in which he invited his colleague Dr. Judith Levy to discuss some of her ideas about transitional objects (a Freudian—ended up in the Animal Behavior section of the Psychology Today website recently, but I’m glad it did. For over 20 years I’ve been exploring the idea that certain Freudian dynamics may be applied to dog training, and to solving behavioral problems in dogs. I believe that understanding how these dynamics operate gives us a clearer window into how and why the canine-huma

Do Dogs Have a Theory of Mind?

A New Scientific Study May Cause Dogs to Suffer. Originally published in slightly different form on August 10, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com. Three Levels In a recent article, Marc Bekoff has said that dogs—these amazing animals we love so much—have what’s called a Theory of Mind, a theoretical construct used by cognitive researchers to determine where a particular species’ forms of cognition lie on the evolutionary and psychological scale. In the study Dr. Bekoff cited what’s ostensibly been proven is that dogs have the first of three levels of a ToM, the conscious awareness of the perceptual states of other beings. Dr. Bekoff writes, “We’ve ... learned that dogs know what others can and ca

Language, Time, Love, Math and Money.

Dogs and Humans, A Love Story. How Did Dogs and Humans First “Fall in Love?” Originally published in slightly different form on January 12, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. In a recent article here, acclaimed dog expert Dr. Stanley Coren (author of The Intelligence of Dogs) asks, “Do dogs love people more than they love other dogs,” and tells us his article was sparked by the rediscovery of a study showing that dogs seem to prefer human companionship.1 Humans as Psychological Buffers for Dogs? The first sentence of that study discusses how some dogs feel when left alone. “Brief involuntary separation of an individual from an object of emotional attachment evokes behavioral and physiologic

Language, Time, Love, Math, and Money.

Part 4. What Do Economics and Game Theory Have to Do With Dogs? November 27, 2016 by Lee Charles Kelley “[Darwin] pointed out how, in numberless animal societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by cooperation ... He intimated that in such cases the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to cooperate so as to mutually support each other.” —Prince Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution Huxley vs. Wallace, Competition vs Cooperation It seems to me that evolutionary science took a huge wrong turn the day it was discovered that some chickens form pecking orders. Sudd

Language, Time, Love, Math, and Money.

Part 3: Math. July 15, 2016 Are Dogs Smarter than Toddlers? You Do the Math! Um ... E Equals What Now? Canine Math Tests In 2009 Dr. Stanley Coren did a study on dogs and their apparent math skills. This came at a time when dognitive science was making a big splash in the news: dogs had just become the “it” animal for scientific research into the nature of animal consciousness, and the question of whether animals have some of the same cognitive abilities as humans. AOL: “The canine IQ test results are in: Even the average dog has the mental abilities of a 2-year-old child.” CNN: “Counting ability is tested in drills such as one in which treats are dropped, one at a time, behind a screen. Whe

Language, Time, Love, Math and Money.

Part 2, Time. Three Ways of Experiencing Time There are three ways of experiencing time: linear, cyclical, and perceptual. Linear time plays out with one moment following immediately after another. First A happens, then B, then C, etc. Example: A: The phone rings. B: You answer it. C: It’s a tele-marketer. D: You say, “No thanks,” and E: You hang up. That’s a clear, linear sequence of events. An awareness of the linear nature of time is linked to what’s called “episodic memory,” the ability to recall information relating to past events: the what, where, who, when and why of things. It also entails an awareness of past, present and future, or mental time travel, the ability to hold in your mi

Language, Time, Love, Math and Money.

Part 1, Language. Four Things Dogs Know Nothing About and One They Know By Heart Originally Published on November 26, 2016. Do Dogs Understand Human Language? Recently I came across a list of amazing cognitive abilities that dogs reportedly have, all based on recent studies and research. The list was posted on National Geographic’s website. In my view most of the studies cited created artificial results based on confirmation bias, which in turn is probably based on a partial reading of Darwin’s words on the differences in consciousness between humans and animals. In their paper, "Darwin's Mistake," Derek Penn, Keith Holyoake, and Daniel Povinellis write: "Over the last quarter century, the d

Behaviorism and the Training Wars

Positive Reinforcement, Dominance, or Drive Training? Originally published in slightly different form on October 9, 2009 at PsychologyToday.com. Learning Theory vs The Alpha Theory You may not be aware of it, but there’s a quiet war raging right now in the dog-training world. It’s a conflict between positive reinforcement (+R) trainers and behaviorists like Ian Dunbar and Nicholas Dodman who base their methods on the principles of learning theory. They’ve pitted themselves against traditional or dominance trainers like Cesar Millan and the Monks of New Skete, who follow the alpha theory. Learning theory: whenever a behavior is followed by a positive consequence (i.e., a reward), it will tend

Doggie Kisses and the Urge to Bite

Are Doggie Kisses a Sublimation of the Urge to Bite? Originally published on September 21, 2009 at PsychologyToday.com. Why Do Dogs Like to Kiss Us? They’re Sublimating the Urge to Bite. In the Mike Nichols film, Wolf, Will Randall, a meek, downtrodden book editor, played by Jack Nicholson, who works in a big office building, is bitten by a wolf one winter night and finds himself becoming more and more in tune with his primal nature. He can smell things like tequila on a co-worker’s breath from clear across the building. He can hear people talking from several floors away. He can read and edit whole manuscripts without having to use his reading glasses. Worried that the changes he’s exp

Do Dogs Have a Theory of Mind? #2

Yes, But Whose Mind Is It? Originally published in slightly different form on July 30, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com. Are Dogs Really “Smarter Than Chimps?” Dogs are amazing animals. They have an ability to read us like no other species can. Sometimes they know more about us than we know about ourselves. They also score higher on certain so-called “mind-reading” tests than chimpanzees, where the goal is to see which animal can more reliably follow a visual cue given by a human being points at or even looks at an object. Dogs can learn to do this quite easily, chimps can’t. “Dogs are more skillful than great apes at a number of tasks in which they must read human communicative signals indicat

Calming Signals

and Canine Communication. Originally published in different form on July 16, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com. Three Mental Abilities Dogs Don’t Have Dogs and humans share certain commonalities. Both species started as group predators, who routinely hunted animals larger and more dangerous than themselves. In fact dogs, wolves, and humans are the only land mammals who have this characteristic. However, there are many ways in which dogs and humans differ. Cognitively speaking, there are three abilities that set human beings apart from most other animals—three higher-order mental abilities we have that evolution hasn’t yet given dogs. In fact these are abilities that dogs have no need for. What a

Why Dogs Like to Chase Moving Objects

The Emotional Center of Gravity. Originally published in slightly different form on May 10, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com. Why Do Dogs Like to Chase Things? Some would say, “They do it because they think it’s a bird or a squirrel.” Others might propose that some dogs just have a “strong ball drive” or a strong “toy drive.” Since the kind of dogs who enjoy chasing tennis balls and Frisbees seem to really, really enjoy it, I think the real reason probably lies more within the realm of emotion than abstract thought or pure instinct. Dog trainer Kevin Behan says that when dogs chase prey objects, they’re projecting their emotional centers-of-gravity on to them so that the objects create an emotion

Emotional GPS, Part 1.

How Dogs Retrieve Our Unconscious Emotions Originally published in slightly different form on April 21, 2010 at PsychologyToday.com. Dogs Retrieve More Than Tennis Balls In two of my most recent articles I talked about how lost dogs find their way home, using an emotional GPS system, and that the human/dog relationship can be fully and accurately described as a manifestation of a Freudian dynamic, with the dog in the role of the Id—full of unrestrained drives and impulses—and the owner as Ego—the system’s control mechanism. These two ideas dovetail nicely into a common phenomenon most dog owners may be unaware of, where a dog has an uncanny ability to find and retrieve some of his or her own

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© 2016 by Lee Charles Kelley.