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A BOOK REVIEW - YOUR DOG IS YOUR MIRROR

Your Dog is Your Mirror : The emotional capacity shared by both our dogs and us By: Kevin Behan 

Review by:  Petworled

From the time I was a child, I have always found solace in the company of various animals, including humans, fish, sheep, and particularly dogs. Thus, working at My Dogs Mind and assisting Terence in developing the new website was a delightful break from my home office in Connecticut. Although my stays were brief, they were immensely satisfying, intensifying my fascination with dogs and their behavior each time.

During this period, my wife and I were gearing up for a fresh beginning with a new dog after the last of our trio of Weimaraners passed away the previous spring. In the ensuing months, I immersed myself in training theory books and absorbed as much dog-related information as I could find. I was thrilled not only about welcoming a new dog into our lives but also about understanding more of what I observed and experienced during my visits with Terence in New Hampshire.

your dog is your mirror

After going through several well-known books on classical conditioning, positive reinforcement, and pack theory, I still wanted something more impactful. I wanted a book that would stay on my mind even after I had finished it. So, I sent Terence a message with my preferences for a new read. His straightforward reply was "Kevin Behan."

I came across "Your Dog is Your Mirror" by Kevin Behan on Amazon and decided to buy the Kindle edition for instant reading. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. Here’s why.

"Your Dog is Your Mirror" isn't a conventional training manual. While Behan undoubtedly possesses the expertise of a top-level trainer and has previously written about his Natural Dog Training methods, his latest book remains faithful to a theoretical approach, as reflected on his website.

This paragraph introduces a groundbreaking perspective on interpreting canine behavior: it suggests that a dog's actions, feelings, and even its thinking processes are influenced by the emotions of its owner. A dog's reactions are not shaped by the owner's thoughts, words, or deeds, but rather by the emotions the owner experiences. Consequently, dogs have the potential to reconnect people with their own emotional states.

How's that for profound? I really valued how Behan took the effort to repeatedly and thoroughly explain his ideas from various perspectives, with numerous examples. It's similar to teaching a complicated obedience behavior, needing a gradual, step-by-step method and repeated practice to fully understand.

His honest tone and readiness to share some of his own, occasionally awkward, memories and experiences enabled me, as a reader, to reflect and connect with my own life and relationships with dogs.

I can't afford to mess this up. I'm not confident trying out new handling techniques or behavior correction exercises that I only read about in a book. Behan writes,

I'm guiding individuals on how to embrace the emotions their dog elicits in them, rather than instinctively reacting to those feelings.

So, I have nothing to lose by attempting to become more in tune with my emotions, thereby enhancing my relationship with my dog.

In conclusion, this is the first time I've felt the need to write a book review. Whether or not I agree with Behan's philosophies doesn't matter; what matters is that I can't stop thinking about the book.

 MY SEPARATION ANXIETY 

Our first family photo with Katie, taken just minutes after her birth.

your dog is your mirror

While my wife and I were eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new Weimaraner puppy this past April, our plans took an unexpected turn. Instead, we chose to adopt an 11-month-old Weimaraner named Katie, whose future in Australia was no longer possible. After spending a few weeks with us, including an exciting week with Terence at "Kamp Kirby," Katie's tail was still wagging, and we knew she was a perfect fit for our family.

My desire to get a puppy this time was largely influenced by my dog Indigo's lifelong battle with separation anxiety. From the day I rescued her at around 18 months old until she passed away 14 years later, she struggled with it. Her anxiety was so severe that she once broke out of her crate, climbed onto a dresser, and jumped through a screened window that had an 8-foot drop. After escaping outside, she tore the screens off the front door and windows in an effort to get back in, and I found her panting at the front door when I returned home. Despite the challenges, I never gave up on her. When my wife and her two dogs joined our family, things became more manageable, but her anxiety never completely disappeared and it affected all of us. Because of this experience, I was determined to prevent it from happening again with my new dog.

When we adopted Katie, she was already accustomed to her crate. The first night, I was so relieved when she quietly fell asleep in her crate downstairs without making a sound. However, I vividly recall the panic I felt the first time I heard her yelp from her crate as I shut the back door. Sitting in the car, my heart sank gradually. Despite turning on the music, filling a frozen Kong for her, and crating her without any fuss 10 minutes before leaving, I was bewildered by what was happening.

Over the next few weeks, she would occasionally make some noise when either my wife or I put her in the crate and left the house. This was probably normal behavior. However, we observed that she was more prone to vocalizing when I was the one leaving, compared to when my wife was departing. We were both following the same routine of calm exits and returns.

I realized that the difference is because I've been working from home and spending more time with her during the day, both training and playing. She probably feels more attached to me and therefore misses me more when I'm not around.

This leads us to the moment I picked up "Your Dog is Your Mirror." As I began to understand more of what I was reading, it became quite clear that her behavior could actually be reflecting my own anxiety about her supposed anxiety. I seemed to obsess over it much more than my wife did. When my wife had to work or needed a break from removing non-food items from our dog's mouth, she simply put her in the crate. I, however, spent most days at home and would only put her in the crate when I felt I needed to train her. I would think about it a lot beforehand and then worry about her while I was away. She might have been seeing right through my attempt to appear calm and confident, and I could have been stressing her out.

According to Behan, addressing and resolving a dog's behavior issues requires the individual to recognize and work through their unresolved human emotions, which are actually influencing the dog's behavior. So, I'm going to delve deeper, beyond my actions, straight to my emotions. The first thing I wrote was, "Since childhood, I have always felt comforted by the presence of animals around me." On the other hand, this comfort also signifies that I don't enjoy being alone. I'll save the rest of this introspection for Psychology Today, but it's clear that the behavior in her dog that bothers me may reflect something within myself that I have struggled to accept. Makes sense to me.

No matter the underlying reasons, I've made a concerted effort to change my strong emotions about leaving Katie alone at home. She’s a wonderful dog, and I’m now acknowledging her capabilities and giving her the responsibility she deserves. She keeps amazing me with how well she adjusts to her new environment and becomes a beloved part of the family. I have never felt more fulfilled in aiding her to become the best version of herself and embracing my role as her supportive human companion.

Your Dog Is Your Mirror 

your dog is your mirror

Behan dismisses the idea that a dog can have intentions or even think, and he completely rejects the concept of dogs as individuals. Consequently, the canine perspective is entirely absent from his book because he denies its very existence. According to Behan, a dog does not possess an individual consciousness, personal will, or a sense of self or ego. He asserts that no animals are capable of thinking; instead, their entire consciousness is governed by what he terms "networked intelligence," which he defines as "a higher faculty of intelligence that in animal consciousness completely supersedes the brain." Strangely, this perspective seems to exclude instinct as a motivator of canine behavior. Behan attributes all dog behavior, no matter how complex, to the emotions of its owner.

Despite claiming to have worked with thousands of dogs, Behan provides limited examples to support his theories. The anecdotes he does offer are "as told to him" by training clients, rather than behaviors he has personally observed. Nevertheless, he trusts his theories enough to assert that one client's dog habitually leaves a bit of food in his bowl because the owner always leaves some food on her plate; he believes the dog is connecting with the emotional issue causing the owner to do so. Another client's dog's aggression towards children is, according to Behan, due to the owner's unresolved pain and guilt over not being there for her daughters when they were young.

A significant portion of the book serves as a memoir, recounting his "discoveries" about canine consciousness. It also delves deeply into the psychological analysis of the dog owners he works with. However, the book doesn't cover households with multiple dogs that have varied personalities and behaviors, nor does it provide guidance on applying Behan's theories to dogs in homes with multiple people. Additionally, the absence of an index and references makes it difficult to locate specific information.

While I concur with the author that emotions significantly influence both dog and human behavior, I firmly disagree with the idea that a dog's behavior is solely determined by the owner's emotions. I also reject any idea that diminishes dogs' considerable cognitive abilities, such as thinking, planning, and forming intentions. Dogs are independent beings, not just empty vessels reflecting our emotional baggage. They are intelligent and intuitive creatures who deserve to be appreciated and cherished for who they are. Viewing them merely as "mirrors" of ourselves is both arrogant and egocentric, and it does a great disservice to all dogs.

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