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What Your Dog Is Trying To Tell You

by Kevin Behan

For most of my thirty years as a dog trainer, I thought dog training, and in particular working with problem dogs, meant first and foremost changing the dog's behavior; a "fix-the- dog-to-make-things-better" approach.

But the more I became aware of the inner emotional dynamic that was running a dog's behavior, and how this was also the basis of a dog's relationship with his owner, I began to see the underlying emotional interplay going on between dog and human. I began to realize that the dog, particularly through problem or idiosyncratic behavior, was in truth only expressing the deepest feelings of his owner, and which his owner was generally unaware he or she was carrying. I've learned that before remedial training can take hold, an owner must first acknowledge the message that his dog is bringing him. Up until the last ten years I was looking at the problem inside out. Truly, there is nothing wrong with the dog. He's doing what dogs are supposed to do - fetching. The emotional parts of us that we long ago cut off and think are long gone, the dog retrieves. It never ceases to amaze me how a dog's behavior precisely dovetails into the deepest emotional recesses and the most subtle emotional nuances of his human owner's very being.

One can try to make sense of dog behavior through other ways; the ethiological "many-drive" theory, or the pack model of dominance and submission, sociobiology's "selfish-gene" theory, or through an analysis of behavior through the learning theories of Classical and Operant Conditioning, but once you get down to emotional bedrock, none of these add up. The real deal is that dogs are emotional geiger counters, emotional truth detectors, emotional seismic-fault sensors. Dogs reveal our deepest truths.

Once an owner sees the emotional logic in their dog's behavior, this understanding lifts a great weight off their dog rendering him free to learn how to align with his owner instead of having to act out what stands between them. Even more importantly, the owner can heal what's churning deep within their own emotional makeup. Dogs bring deep emotion to the surface so that we become aware. It's not a problem, it's an opportunity.

How the process works. All we have to do is talk. First, I ask for a detailed description of your dog's background and his behavior. NO DETAIL IS INSIGNIFICANT, and any idiosyncractic behaviors merit special attention. Slowly through the course of our conversation, an emotional impression forms for me about your dog and for lack of a better word, I "tap in" to what's going on inside the dog as a reflection of its owner. I've been told that what I do is a form of "empathic communication". At any rate, it's based on what I've learned about the emotional logic that runs animals. One will know when we're on the right track when one feels a deep resonance.

Sometimes this triggers a painful feeling, sometimes an uplifting one. But either way the feeling is always a release and once out in the open, it then takes its rightful form as a guidance mechanism, homing in, helping to clarify what we're supposed to be doing with our lives. What dogs feel is our deepest part, that part we've long ago forgotten and yet is at the heart of our creative being.