Your Dog is Your Mirror - A Book Review

Your Dog is Your Mirror:
The emotional capacity of our dogs and ourselves
By: Kevin Behan

Review by: Daniel Oatis

Since I was a boy, I have felt comfort in the presence of other animals around me; people, fish, sheep, and especially dogs. Needless to say, the task of spending time at My Dogs Mind helping Terence develop the new My Dogs Mind website was a welcome departure from my home office in Connecticut. My visits were always too short and, like a special toy being "put away hot", I found my interest in dogs, especially dog behavior, growing stronger with every visit.

At the same time, my wife and I were preparing for a new start with a dog in our lives after the last of our accumulated pack of three Weimaraners, passed away the previous spring. Over the following months, I turned my attention to training theory books and all other dog related information I could get my hands on. I was both excited about getting a new dog and about comprehending more about what I was seeing and experiencing during my visits with Terence in New Hampshire.

After reading a number of popular titles covering classical conditioning, positive reinforcement and pack theory, I still thirsted for something with a stronger finish. Something that would evoke me to think about it, long after reaching the back cover. I texted over my particulars for a new read to Terence. His response was simply "Kevin Behan."

So I found it on Amazon; Your Dog is Your Mirror by Kevin Behan. I purchased the Kindle edition for immediate indulgence. And... it was exactly what I was hankering for. Here's why.

Your Dog is Your Mirror is not a traditional training book. Although Behan clearly has the chops as a world-class trainer and has authored a previous title about his Natural Dog Training techniques, his latest title stays true to its theoretical premise which, to borrow from his website:

...proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog's behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn't respond to its owner based on what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions.

How's that for deep? I appreciated that Behan took the time to thoroughly explain his concepts repeatedly, using many different angles and examples. Like shaping a complex obedience behavior, it requires a slow additive approach and repetition to comprehend.

I found that his candid "voice" and willingness to reveal many of his own sometimes uncomfortable memories and experiences allowed me as the reader to pause and "go there" in my own life and relationships with dogs. 

I can't screw it up. I don't feel comfortable practicing new handling or behavior correction exercises that I only see in a book. Behan writes,

I'm coaching people not in how to train their dog but in how to learn to accept what their dog is making them feel - rather than reacting instinctively to what their dog is making them feel.

So I have nothing to loose by trying to be more in-touch with my own emotions and thus improving the relationship with my dog.

Finally, this is the first book review I have ever been compelled to write. To the extent I adopt Behan's philosophies is irrelevant to the point that I can't stop thinking about it.

My Separation Anxiety


First family photo with Katie, only minutes into her new life

While my wife and I were patiently waiting on a new Weimaraner puppy due this past April, our destiny took a slight turn. We decided to adopt an 11 month old Weimaraner, Katie who's future life "down under" in Australia was no longer in her cards. After a few weeks with us, including an action packed week with Terence up at "Kamp Kirby" her tail was still wagging, so we were all in.

Much of my desire to get a puppy this time around was due my dog Indigo's life-long struggle with separation anxiety. When I say life-long, I rescued her at around 18 months old and she suffered from it from day I drove her home 700 miles away, to the day she died, 14 years later. When I say separation anxiety, at her worst she broke through her crate climbed up onto a dresser to jump through a screened window with an 8 foot drop. Once outside, she tore the screens off the front door and windows trying to get back in. I found her panting at the front door when I returned home. I never gave up on her and when my wife and her two dogs joined our family it did get more manageable, but it never went away and took it's toll on all of us. So, as you can imagine, I was determined to not let it happen to me or my dog again.

Katie was crate trained when we adopted her. I remember the relief I felt when she fell asleep downstairs in her crate the first night without a peep. I also remember the wave of anxiety that swept over me the fist time I heard her yip from her crate as I closed the back door. I just sat in the car and felt my heart slowly sink. I had turned on the music. I had stuffed the frozen kong. I had crated her without making it a production 10 minutes before I left. How could this be happening?

Over the next few weeks she would occasionally vocalize for a bit when either my wife or I crated her and left the house, which was probably normal behavior, but, we were noticing that she was more likely to be vocal when I was the one leaving her versus my wife. We were both following the same protocol of calm exits and returns.

I concluded the difference was due to my working from home and spending more time with her during the day both training and playing. She must feel closer to me and therefore misses me more when I leave.

This takes us right up to the time I picked up Your Dog is Your Mirror. As I started to comprehend more about what I was reading, It became quite clear to me that what might be coming to the surface with her behavior was in fact my anxiety about her perceived anxiety. I just dwelled on it a lot more than my wife did. My wife put her in the crate when she had to go to work or needed a break from pulling inedible objects out of her mouth. I on the other hand, since I spend most days at home, put her in the crate and left when I felt I needed to train her. I would think about it a lot before I did. Then I would worry about her while I was gone. She could be seeing right through my best calm confident facade and I could be stressing her out.

According to Behan, the steps toward resolution and solution of the dog behavior should include the person acknowledging and working on unresolved human emotion which is in fact responsible for your dogs behavior. So I'm going to go a layer deeper, beyond my behavior, down to my emotions. The first sentence I wrote was, "Since I was a boy I have felt comfort in the presence of other animals around me." The flip side to this comfort is the fact that I do not like being alone. I'll save the rest for Psychology Today but what I see in her dog behavior that upsets me could actually be something I have struggled to be comfortable with about myself. Makes sense to me.

Regardless of what the secret is, I have worked hard at altering my deep feelings about leaving Katie at home. She is a great dog and I now give her the credit and responsibility she deserves. She continues to impress me with her ability to adapt to her new home and become a cherished family member. I have never felt better about helping her be the best dog she can be and my role as her guiding human counterpart.