Why Don't Dogs Bite?

Why Don't Dogs Bite?
June 23, 2011 by Kevin Behan


When 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?

The 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 flow.

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 in a rare minority of travelers, who after getting off a ship or sometimes even a plane, thereafter can't lose the feeling of wave-like motion engendered by the craft. It can linger for days, months, years and for some poor victims it 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 mechanism 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 surroundings. Therefore, 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, the symptoms are only alleviated when the sufferers are in a car and back in motion 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.

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