Why Don’t Dogs Bite?
I was a young boy, given my shy nature, I was very quiet, and given that my
father was a world famous dog trainer, I was very obedient. So one day I found
myself sitting quietly and dutifully at the end of the exam table at the doctor’s
office, having absolutely no idea what I was there for. I sat where I was told
to sit while the doctor checked me out. Meanwhile right after saying "aaaaaahhhh" the nurse had the bright
idea that she would come up from behind and give me a vaccination before I had
time to react. However the instant I felt that sting I swung around and
bit her hard on her arm. I don’t remember what happened next, although I remember my
mom once commented that it had served her right. But the experience is
significant to me because it may be why I felt particularly sympathetic to what
dogs were going through when I would take them to the vets, an appreciation
that was then heightened exponentially once I arrived at the belief that dogs,
as creatures of the immediate-moment, not only have no idea why they are at the vets, but furthermore have no idea how they’re going to get out of
there alive. So when I became a full time dog trainer the question that
interested me wasn’t why do some dogs bite at the vets, but why don’t ALL dogs
bite the vet?
reason as I’ve now come to understand, is the feeling of flow. If a dog feels "in-the-flow,"
then he feels safe and in control of what’s happening to him, even if he doesn’t
particularly like what’s being done to him. For example, we willingly endure a
session in the dentists’ chair, even if painful, because it keeps us in the
So then, what is flow? Emotion is
energy-in-motion; in other words, it’s a state of consciousness, the very
substrate of the animal mind that imparts the sense that things are
progressing, that one is on a continuum, just like standing on a conveyor belt
so that there is an ever-present sense of movement and progress. The feeling of
flow straightens out conflicting or irregular rates of change. When in-the-flow
the input of stimulation flows easily into a state of awareness and then into a
method of action or even into a calibrated state of inaction when that may be
more appropriate. (Paradoxically, the feeling of flow is what allows a being to
remain calm when NOT MOVING). This feeling of flow doesn’t come from the high
cognitive processes, but rather from the most basic and primal emotional dynamic.
In other words, the actual feelings of physical motion that were experienced
during infancy don’t just come and then go, but rather become internalized as a
physical memory within the body/mind so as to serve as the stuff, a primal
imprint, from which the upper reaches of neurology are then able to compose an
emotional experience, even at the highest levels of elaboration, such as canine
sociability, and I would go so far to say even as the basis of the highly abstract
human ideals of morality, patriotism, justice, and the capacity to become engaged
in complex story narratives.
An intriguing clue to the phenomenon of the
physical memories of motion being carried forward into the future is an
unfortunate condition called "Mal de Debarquement Syndrome." It occurs
rare minority of travelers, who after getting off a ship or sometimes
plane, thereafter can’t lose the feeling of wave-like motion engendered
craft. It can linger for days, months, years and for some poor victims
persists for the rest of their lives. There is no known reason for the
affliction but it seems to me that in this malady there is
an impairment of the neurological/animal mind interface, some filtering
that doesn’t recognize the change in a frame of reference (i.e.
footing) so as
to recalibrate the feeling of flow in conformance with the new
the person acquires a new imprint from the strong and continual
movements of the ship that is erroneously granted priority over the
imprint of physical motions catalogued during infancy. Interestingly,
symptoms are only alleviated when the sufferers are in a car and back
and the filtering mechanism is muted.
So the reason that dogs are able to adapt
to so many artificialities of life in human civilization, such as going to the
vets without incident if not with enjoyment, is because the incessant and
seemingly chaotic rate of change in our world, nonetheless serve as triggers of
the physical memories of physical movement and thus engender the perception in
the dog’s mind that it is safe and free to engage with its surroundings. (For
example, the ability to move freely when off/lead is why so many dogs are more
social then than when restrained on/lead.) Dogs are the most social animal on
earth because in novel contexts and within complex and difficult situations they are
more able to feel the imprint of physical motion acquired during infancy than any
other species of animal.
So while a dog has no idea why he is at
the vet, or how he is going to get out of there alive, if he can feel flow, in
other words if his bond with his owner can thereby trigger the physical
memories of motion whether it be via a warm touch or a sweet word, then he feels safe and can even feel in control of what’s
happening to him, even if he doesn’t particularly like what’s happening to him.
The feeling of flow is why dogs don’t bite.