Why Dogs Pull on the Leash, Part 2

Why do women dominate the training landscape in America?

“We invented civilization to impress our girlfriends.” —Orson Welles

Dr. Stanley Coren wrote recently at PsychologyToday.com: “Why is it that women tend to dominate the field of companion dog training? Unfortunately the scientific literature is not very helpful on this point. Perhaps one hint ... comes from a study by Deborah Wells and Peter Hepper who are psychologists at the Queens University of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Their study was published in [1999] in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.”

Coren goes on to say that “This study was rather straightforward. It looked at the reaction of 30 dogs who were housed in a shelter. At various times a person would simply come and stand in front of their cage, not attempting any form of interaction at all. The amount of time that the dog spent at the front of the cage, barking, looking towards the human, wagging its tail, and engaged in activities of sitting, standing, moving, resting, was recorded. They found that the sex of the people standing near the dog made a difference in the dog's behaviors. Dogs stopped barking or defensively staring at the person much more quickly when the individual was a woman. These researchers concluded that dogs seem to respond in a more defensive-aggressive manner toward men than toward women.”

The Love Hormone

Dr. Coren should know that dogs are deeply affected by the hormone oxytocin. There are studies showing that petting a dog or even looking into a dog's eyes tends to stimulate its production. It's also true that women produce 90% more oxytocin than men. So I think this fact alone should satisfactorily explain why shelter dogs tend to be more attracted to female volunteers than to males.

In a recent article here, “Why Dogs Pull on the Leash,” (which was originally published at PsychologyToday.com on June 4th, 2010) I used the behavior of dogs who pull on the leash as a forensic fulcrum, to show the ways that alpha theorists and behavioral scientists explain canine behavior differently, and then compare and contrast those explanations through an energy theory of behavior, based on Kevin Behan's model. My position was that dogs pull because they have a strong drive to connect to things in their environment, and that when you learn how to redirect the energy behind that drive back toward you, your dog will have much less of a tendency to pull or will simply stop pulling altogether.

I also said that this drive is probably guided by an as yet undiscovered yet mathematically-provable, force of nature whose influence can be felt in all living organisms, at all stages of evolution, from the binding force in chemical bonds, to the ways that plants send their roots down to the soil, right on up to you, gentle reader, viewing this article on your internet computer machine. All forms of life have a drive to connect to things that provide pleasure, information, or that sustain life. (Dog trainer and natural philosopher Kevin Behan calls this the drive to make contact; he would also argue that this force of nature is not undiscovered at all, but is found in a new scientific discipline called the constructal law.)

The Drive to Connect

If we look at the butterfly effect: (the wings of a butterfly, flapping in the Amazon rain forest can affect weather patterns in the arctic circle, etc.) we see that everything on earth—from microbes living happily in the human digestive system to high-rollers at the New York Stock Exchange—seems constantly driven to form or maintain connections.

New research done by botanists shows that the process of sending out roots to retrieve nutrients from the soil is not random or accidental, that plants in fact “choose” where they want to send their roots, based on where they feel (or chemically perceive) the best connections to be located. In another study, researchers found that plants have an ability to not only choose to make connections with nutrients, they also integrate information about the locations of nutrients available to themselves and to their phyto-rivals. They even exude allelochemicals to try and stunt the growth of their competitors, a type of behavior that was assumed to only happen in animals. Still other studies demonstrate that some plants show evidence of acting as if they were social organisms (i.e., they recognize kin), and that they show altruistic behaviors toward their closest genetic relatives by making a what seems to be a kind of emotional connection with them.

In each case, these behaviors were set in motion by what I think could rightly be called an evolutionary pre-cursor to the drive to connect we see in higher life forms such as cats and dogs, and human beings.

Recently, another group of scientists, seeking an answer to the mystery of collective motion in animals (i.e., the ways that schools of fish and flocks of birds suddenly swerve in uniform motion), found strong evidence to support the idea that in some organisms collective behavior may be due to an increase in the presence of a single chemical, cyclic adenosine monophosphate c(AMP). They came to this conclusion after studying the cellular slime mold, a strange fungus-like amoeba, found scattered across forest floors. These organisms are normally small enough to go unseen or unnoticed until they somewhat magically gather together into an aggregate, sometimes as big as 3 square meters, and then move together slowly, not as a group, but as a single organism.

So now we can see the possibility that this hypothetical drive to connect may, in fact, be operative in the natural world at many different levels, from the chemical bonding process upwards. In fact, if we go much further up the evolutionary ladder, we find that another chemical, oxytocin, motivates mammals to form many different kinds of emotional bonds and connections. It's known to be released during orgasm, breast feeding, when a mother gazes at her child, or even when a person pets a cat or a dog. It’s also released when couples kiss; levels of this chemical go up in the male and down in the female.

Throughout Nature, sexual chemistry is driven by, well, actual chemistry.

The Feminine Side

In my first novel, A Nose for Murder, my female lead, Dr. Jamie Cutter, a forensic pathologist, is having an argument with her significant other, Jack Field, a former NYPD homicide detective turned dog trainer, who objects when Jamie asks him to go Christmas shopping with her, an does so on purely gender grounds.

Frustrated with his “maleness,” she says, “You know, Jack, it wouldn’t hurt you to get in touch with your feminine side once in a while.”

“I’m already in touch with my feminine side,” he says. “It’s what I use to train dogs with.”

Yes, there are far more female than male pet dog trainers in America. Yet part of the reason may be cultural. For example, while those percentages may hold true in English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia, and Great Britain, they’re actually reversed in countries like Mexico, and Brazil.

Yet, like Jack Field, most of the male dog trainers I know of, or at least those who are good at it (in my opinion), tend to exhibit their feminine side a bit more when working with dogs. (I think this is even true of Cesar Millan.) The reason for this is that feminine energy is in some ways more compatible with canine energy; that is, women and dogs are more naturally motivated to form emotional connections than men are. Yes, both genders have a drive to connect; but men are more driven to connect physically; to fix things, to make things move, to get things going, to build dams and guns and rockets, drill for oil and invent the assembly line.

Going back to Kevin Behan, he has said that dog training is about providing structure (masc.) and facilitating the necessary flow of emotion (fem.) to induce obedience behaviors naturally. For too long the tendency has been to focus on structure while ignoring flow. Hopefully, with enough female dog trainers, or enough men who are in touch with their feminine side, we’ll reach a tipping point, and things will fall back into balance. Right now there is no balance. There are far more males than females using dominance training, and there are far more women using behavioral science techniques. The only place where there's a real balance is in Natural Dog Training, whose practitioners are pretty evenly balanced along gender lines.

Dogs are not just our closest connection to Nature; they can also provide us with our deepest connection to ourselves. The more we learn about the real reasons for simple canine behaviors like pulling on the leash the more we’ll understand ourselves. And that will benefit both genders and both species.

Hopefully, it might also benefit Mother Nature in some small way.


“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”


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© 2016 by Lee Charles Kelley.