I’ve read a lot lately regarding the “Intelligence” of dogs.  Some of it paints our friend the dog as an unabashed genius, a veritable four-legged Einstein.  Other authors and “experts” see the dog as answering to base instinct alone, and a multitude of  so called “Drives.  Others describe the dog as “A mirror of ourselves”, being affected by our energy and emotions.  (A theory that I’m leaning toward…)  As always, I examine all of this with as much objectivity as I can muster, and I formulate tough questions for each of them.  Somewhere in this murky swamp of opinion, half-truth, conjecture, and intelligent research, squats the Toad of Truth.  I am determined to find him, and make him my own.

The piece below was actually written 3 years ago.  It never entirely came together with a cohesive theme, so I bumped it off again and again.  Now that experience and a lot of help has come my way, I feel comfortable in asking the questions contained therein with some foundation.  I’m also comfortable in the responses that I’m expecting to get from all of you.  Again, these are not conclusions that I’ve reached, but rather, ruminations on what might be possible.  Questions are like the rungs of a ladder…Keep taking them one at a time, and you’ll eventually reach the top. 


The dogs name was Dusty.  He was a fairly nondescript, mixed breed of about 65 pounds.  His family loved him dearly, and they cared for him with great generosity.  Dusty traveled with his family regularly, never being left behind.  One such trip involved a week long sojourn to the southern shore of Lake Superior from the family home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a trip of over 400 overland miles ending in Munising, Michigan.  The family spent a pleasant week, hiking, fishing, and swimming, staying in a private cabin they had rented.  Dusty was with them every step of every activity…

Two days before the family returned home, something happened that the family still can’t explain.  Dusty disappeared.

He had been let out in the early morning hours to do his business, and he just didn’t return.  The family was distraught and searched for their friend for nearly 48 hours before leaving the beachside resort.  Local law enforcement was left with photo’s of Dusty, with contact information.  Nothing was ever reported, and the family mourned the loss for the next two weeks until something extraordinary happened.  Dusty showed up at the family’s front door 15 days after disappearing.  He was somewhat thinner, a bit disheveled, but enthusiastic and glad to be home…

How did Dusty accomplish this trip?  And how have other dogs managed to do the same, sometimes over greater distances? 

Was it a matter of “Scent”?  Not likely.  Does the dog have a “pigeon-like” radar in his head?  There is no physical evidence for that either.  Is the dog intelligent enough to “know” the latitude/longitude and extrapolate his travel?  According to many sources, no such reasoning ability exists in the dog, let alone in most human beings.  Conjecture aside, Dusty Did It…Apparently on his own, and with intent to get home.  A quote from a recent conference with Natural Dog Trainer Kevin Behan who was in attendance listening to Animal Scientist Temple Grandin of Colorado State University (Fascinating stuff! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Grandin)  Here is what Behan had to say on Grandins conclusions.

“For sure the highlight of the conference was the keynote speech by Temple Grandin and for me the takeaway point was her statement that animals form a sensory impression of their world through sight, sound, smell and touch rather than through a rational linear construct of reality. In other words, their mind derives from a visceral interface with their surroundings, rather than according to the intellectual abstract constructions that derive from the human intellect.”- Kevin Behan NDT Author.


From this quote, I am comfortable with calling this…ability? God-Given sense? Or however you want to quantify it, as an  “Awareness”.   Not specifically an awareness of “Self”, as an individual, but rather an awareness of something much larger.  Pigeons are “aware” of apparent magnetic polarity of the earth, and use it to navigate…Isn’t it just possible that the far more “sentient” canine, also has a similar sense of the “larger picture”?  Because of heightened senses of Hearing, and Smell, we have all observed a dog suddenly sit bolt upright at seemingly nothing, only to be absolutely correct just moments later to some activity.  It seems miraculous at times.

We’ve also observed how our dogs react to strong emotion in our homes…They may hide from an argument, seemingly leap for joy with us, or  react to sadness from their human family…So they are “Aware” of emotion and the energy that surrounds them.

Is it so far-fetched that our dogs are “Aware” of much more?  They have proven to be “aware” within groups of dogs, of what the social collective is currently keying on.  Hunting together, packs of wolves are “Aware” of the individual strengths and weaknesses of each other, and fill their unique role individually.  A further quote from Kevin Behan, attracts me to this idea of “Awareness” even more:

Behan NDT Conferencehttp://naturaldogtraining.com/blog/reflections-on-university-of-tennessee-conference/

I believe the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from Dr. Grandin’s remarks is that an animal does not see itself as a self, separate and distinct from its surroundings. Taking her statement completely to heart, the only logical interpretation is that emotion configures an animals’ mind around the principles of energy, the same principles around which the very bodies of the animals have evolved around. Its surroundings become integrated into its sense of a self. This means that all behavior is a function of attraction, of becoming incomplete when stimulated, and then wanting to return to emotional neutrality, to feel whole again. In my view we’re only half way there. Just as it was hard to get science to accept emotion as relevant, it will next be necessary to let energy into the paradigm. Science immediately dismisses this as mysticism or vitalism, but never forget it also dismissed emotion as anthropomorphism. Emotion is animal energy so that when an animal is emotional, it must move. (Stress is when an animal is energized and can’t move freely.) Thus we can say that animals are endowed with an innate momentum and this momentum invokes the laws of energy around which the animal mind configures. The current emphasis on cognition misses this point entirely. Self-organizing behavioral patterns are not cognition, but they are not mindless either. They result from emotion elaborating into feelings according to a principle of conductivity. Understanding emotion as the basis of a networked intelligence, a flow system, will prove to be the next frontier.”


As Behan states: “…In my view, we’re only half way there…”.

Just getting the Scientific and Academic communities to consider the insertion of “Emotion” into the canine mind and motivation has been an uphill struggle for years already.  With the conjecture of a different level of “Awareness” is probably going to be seen as “Voodoo” or something even more than fanciful by the lettered.  But I think this is worth  pondering, and I believe that “Awareness” is the proper word to label it with.  My questions will adjust themselves from the common to the sublime.  Rather than, “What can I train my dog to do?” will become, “What does my dog already “know”, and how can we use it for our benefit?”  “Why does my dog have this behavioral problem” will morph into, “What energy is causing my dog to do this, and how am I missing the causative?”

Oh yes, I’m a llooonnnnggggg way from understanding this “Awareness” that I’m suggesting.  It’s probably not provable by “scientific method”, but examine what man has already copied from the product of creation already…For mellenia, man had no idea how to fly.  Examining, studying, understanding and imitating a common sparrow, finally lead man to the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft.  Man wanted to know what was in the huge environment of the worlds oceans but how to do so?  Denizens of the deep demonstrated how to best accomplish underwater propulsion, surviving the immense pressures, and efficiency of design.  Many items of common use today came about because humans observed things in the natural world.  Velcro for instance, along with many others.  My goal is to observe what my dog may, or may not, be “aware” of in his world.  Find out what my “superior” intellect is missing completely, unawares, while he uses his “awareness”  naturally.

Times a’wasting…Watch your dog today…

"If people only knew..."

“If people only knew…”



  1. Kevin Behan says:

    Robert, I appreciate the time and thoughtful effort you’re taking to investigate my theory. When I wrestle with the notion of awareness I have come to begin with the body as opposed to the brain. Sensory inputs take shape in the animal mind by crystallizing around the body’s physical center-of-gravity because configuring the body around this point is the essence of locomotion, and being able to move is the essence of animal emotion. Emotional processes piggyback on the systems dedicated to remaining upright and keeping in motion, and thus the animal mind configures around this point as well. So the body serves as an animals’ frame of reference for experience and its awareness of the world. The body formats perception into specific frames of reference well before the brain begins to process an experience. In other words the body is how the brain makes sense of things.
    The mechanics of this, and I would argue it’s a universal feature of sentient life, is that an animal “projects” its physical center-of-gravity onto relevant objects and thereby feels just as if it is physically connected to it. This actuates a compulsory drive to connect since the individual is trying to reconnect with what it has projected outside its body and which it feels as a part of its self. The external object involuntarily elicits internal emotional affects and these destabilizing influences must be stabilized for the animal to return to “peace of mind.” This is why I believe all behavior is a function of attraction and whether two individuals are able to sustain an interaction so that it can elaborate into a relationship is a function of “emotional capacity.” (In my view human beings and domestic dogs have the highest emotional capacity in the animal kingdom.)
    I feel that what most commends this model is that a definition of self as a function of the surroundings not only provides for individual integrity, but simultaneously is the vehicle for integration into the whole as well. Also, its very universality so that any two animals can potentially communicate and connect, at the same time factors out to be the source of individual uniqueness as well. In a sustained relationship individuals end up mirroring each other and developing a specialized set of personality traits (they become equal and yet opposites in all things). They don’t differentiate at random, but as complementary feelings to each other.
    Additionally I think this emotional dynamic serves as a gateway to the other modalities of awareness you’ve mentioned, extraordinary feats of navigation, anticipation of earthquakes, seizures in owners, criminal intent in strangers, etc., etc.. (Hope this isn’t too long or dense.)

  2. Scott says:

    Good perspective here, Robert! If I may, I’ll piggy back a bit here. As I read your post the movie “Homeward Bound” popped into my mind. Two dogs and a cat make their journey for hundreds of miles to return home to their family. I still get a bit churned in my stomach because it is a moving film. And I believe it is actually loosely based on a true story…Anyway, digression! Kevin was telling us last week about the Australian Aboriginal tribes and how their sense of location is not based on cognitive mapping; rather they know where they are by feel. This “awareness” you speak of I believe pertains to a physical body awareness that all living beings are equipped with. It is the part of us that “knows” through the electromagnetic field we live in. Vision is important and that requires the activity of the big brain in the head but the body knows something else – the world, inside and out is constantly vibrating. An example I often give is from martial arts. In aikido we sometimes do different technique or multiple person attacks while blindfolded. This disengages the heavy-utilized sense of sight and allows us to move based on feel. Quite amazingly, our practice can be performed much more effectively that way. As it pertains to dogs, it never ceases to amaze me when my dogs “know” I am approaching the house coming back from work. Every day I come home Bella is “waiting” on the hill behind our house – ears and tail perked. Seeing me in my truck only comes after she initially feels the magnetic pull of energy around her. While dogs don’t have a sense of time, they do have a sense of the rhythmic patterns in their environment – the constant wave of “awareness.”

    As far as science goes, emotion has always been a part of animal study, just not in the context that we see it through Natural Dog Training. I believe emotion is defined much differently from a behaviorism standpoint – and let’s face it, when it comes to the experimental method, emotion is assumed by the behaviorist model. So I think in a way, emotion and much of our other “scientific” terminology is being redefined as we evolve and it is very clear many old-school traditionalist minds don’t like it.

    Keep it up with articles like this, I like it!