Unified Dog Theory: Kelley’s 19th Nervous Breakdown

Kelley continues his dreary and irrational attack on science in the 19th part of his so-called Unified Dog Theory. Like every attack on science by self-proclaimed experts, Kelley’s salvos haven’t amounted to anything of worth. As expected, he hasn’t unified anything and he seems confused, thinking his opinion is on the same level as scientific theory. It reads more like a testament to magical thinking and a cautionary tale (or tail) about the dangers of scientific illiteracy. One could look high and low and not find a more obvious example of confirmation bias supported by false arguments.

For the past 19 articles, Kelley has consistently confused context specific cases of dyadic dominance with the old and outdated dominance hierarchy, continually arguing because pack hierarchy is false dominance does not exist. So far Kelley – a mildly successful fiction writer – has called Dr. Balcome a liar, claims that Abrantes PhD is “absurd,” others have been called “ignorant”, “amnesic” and more. Coren PhD, Horowitz PhD, Bradshaw Ph.D, Bekoff PhD, Dodman PhD, Dunbar PhD and pretty much anybody who has done research doesn’t know what they are talking about. So who does? Well, he does! The failed actor who has never published a line of research has all the answers. Kelley’s idea of good science is anything that he THINKS confirms his point of view – I emphasize “THINKS”, because in most cases he is simply misunderstands or deliberately misrepresents the studies he cites. Kelley comes off like a professional cherry-picker.

Kelly starts off by decrying the fact that modern trainers are thinking correctly and using the most accurate description of wolf dynamics. He writes:

“This idea of the wolf pack as an extended family has been cleverly co-opted by the positive training movement”

“Cleverly co-opted”? Kelley’s use of prejudicial and emotional language is consistent with his disregard for accuracy. He might as well declare that chemists have co-opted the language of physicists to describe atoms; both groups do so because it is the most up to date and accurate description. And while Kelley is fond of quoting LD Mech, he can also ignore Mech when he finds him inconvenient. In ‘Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf?’ Mech writes:

“This change in terminology reflects an important shift in our thinking about wolf social behavior. Rather than viewing a wolf pack as a group of animals organized with a “top dog” that fought its way to the top, or a male-female pair of such aggressive wolves, science has come to understand that most wolf packs are merely family groups formed exactly the same way as human families are formed.”

“The issue is not merely one of semantics or political correctness. It is one of biological correctness such that the term we use for breeding wolves accurately captures the biological and social role of the animals rather than perpetuate a faulty view”

LCK then continues with wide sweeping accusations of the positive trainers claiming that they “are now using the term pack “parent” as a replacement for pack leader.” A ridiculous claim given how PR trainers feel about the concept of ‘pack leader’ and that as trainers who follow an evidence based approach they are the least likely to use this term. And is there something wrong with suggesting to owners take their dogs “to puppy “parenting” classes”, only someone looking to deceive would suggest this is to be taken literally. If used at all it is because the ‘parent’ metaphor suggests a supportive, gentle guiding approach. So the answer Kelley’s question “isn’t this just the alpha wolf in sheep’s clothing?” is a resounding NO!

Kelley goes on to misread Coppinger’s work and misrepresents his findings by claiming “that coyotes also form packs, but only when they need to hunt large prey” Besides the fact that this isn’t what Coppinger suggests, Kelley contradicts his own views because he also believes dogs are incapable of intentional action. Rather Kelley mistakes the fact that a pack can hunt larger prey with the belief that a need drives the formation of a pack. This is more than a semantic argument; it is the difference between causation and correlation.

Kelley also falsely implies that the fact shelter dogs don’t respond to human social cues is significant. The same is observed in all mammal isolates including humans as demonstrated by the tragedy of Romanian state orphans. In typical dishonesty, Kelley’s corrupt version of this study ignores some key points, he redacts all the conditional statements and caveats to change the intended meaning.  For example in the same Eötvös Loránd University study the authors write:

“The results showed that dogs already at 4 months of age use momentary distal pointing to find hidden food even without intensive early socialization. Wolf pups, on the contrary, do not attend to this subtle pointing.


“Study 4 showed that wolves can follow also momentary distal pointing similarly to dogs, if they have received extensive formal training

Quote-mining is the practice of taking a quote out of context or redacting it in such a way to distort from its intended meaning. In short, it is a lie. Kelley is guilty of quote-mining. The full quote is given, with the capitalized part being the section that Kelley left out.

“Wolves socialized at a comparable level to dogs are able to use simple human-given cues spontaneously, IF THE HUMAN’S HAND IS CLOSE TO THE BAITED CONTAINER

The part left out makes all the difference, which is why Kelley left it out.. The truth didn’t support his assertion so he conveniently changed it.

The dishonesty continues with:

“This brings up another myth that’s surfaced in the last ten years or so, which is that dogs are more sensitive to human social cues (i.e., pointing at an object, or knowing when a human can or can’t see them), than wolves, suggesting that these aspects of the dog’s social intelligence are solely the result of domestication. However, newer studies disprove this idea.”

Sure, the way he presents the study supports his claims. But an honest reading of the study shows, wolves are NOT as good as dogs who can actually follow not just pointing hands but also directional gazes.

He goes on to suggest that the ability to follows a human’s social cues might is because wolves hunt prey larger than themselves. Do they?

The evidence from studies on wolf diet composition shows that they simply hunt whatever is available. As is typical of the dishonesty in this series, he makes an inappropriate comparison of a primate to a canid, a carnivore to a frugivore, a vitamin C producer to a non-producer. It smacks of simplistic thinking to believe that in all the possible variables that could account for the ability to follow social cues, it has to be exactly he wants it to be.

Kelley also ignores evidence that refutes his claims, like the findings of Maros, Gácsi and Miklósi (Anim Cogn. 2008 Jul;11(3):457-66.) who tested gesture comprehension on horses. They write:

“Horses could locate the hidden reward on the basis of the distal dynamic-sustained, proximal momentary and proximal dynamic-sustained pointing gestures but failed to perform above chance level when the experimenter performed a distal momentary pointing gesture.”

So what are horses hunting (in a pack no less) that gives them a comparable results to wolves? Fast growing grass? Road Running rye? Speedy Triticale? Kelley’s claims about wolves/dogs fails the cross species test because the behavior is also seen in horses..

Kelley writes that 2.5MYA domestication started with “shared hunting patterns between humans and wolves.” It might be suitable for Shipman; given her target audience are the readers of Current Anthropology, but not for Kelley and a lay audience with a 50% acceptance of evolution. To be clear, there were no Homo sapiens 2.5 MYA. The species populating at this time included, Australopithecines, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis. There is no evidence that these primates were hunting large game, any meat was scavenged or came from small animals. The tools available 2.4MYA are called of the Oldowan industry; crude hammer stones and stone flakes held between thumb and forefinger – this was the height of technology for the next 1 million years. These are not tools to routinely bring down large prey as Kelley deceptively suggests but to scavenge and process carcasses. To top it off, in the comments section that follows Shipman’s paper, Dominguez-Rodrigo writes that there is slightly over a dozen examples of cut marks indicating meat processing 2.6 MYA. The numbers do not point to a widespread and common practice.

Even when presenting Behan’s views Kelley skirts the truth; referring to Behan’s book he writes: “it has been hypothesized that during the hunt each member of the pack is able to feel what the rest of the pack is feeling” The truth is that Behan asserts, with absolute certainty, that emotions are telepathically communicated and thus each member because “emotion is energy” In the same issue we read that scientific hypotheses “should be articulated around well-defined (i.e., except from ambiguity) and contrastable premises. Behan fails to meet either condition.

It’s too bad that Kelley has shackled himself to the ideas of new-age self-styled guru Kevin Behan. Due to the misguided beliefs that he has adopted from Behan, Kelley is forced to rely on sophistry and lies to make his case. There is no reason for this. It’s well accepted, at least among educated dog owners, that dogs don’t form packs and the dominance model is … just wrong. There is no need to make up stories involving telepathic wolves or imagine implausible scenarios to explain dog behavior.

Science is not an end, it is a process. Kelley’s insistence that the current evidence based views are not based on science because they don’t explain everything is ignorant and naïve. By its very nature, no scientific p.o.v. can ever be considered complete. By injecting pseudoscience garbage and making unsubstantiated claims, Kelley makes the few true things he writes suspect thus weakening his own argument against pack hierarchy. The evidence is enough and we don’t need Kelley massaging the data, misrepresenting the science and or inventing stories to justify a view that is on solid scientific foundation.

Rational people recognize that uncertainty, even the occasional incongruity as an inescapable aspect of life and science. Those who seek certainty and completeness have to turn to snake oil quackery or pseudo religious tomfoolery, and that’s exactly what Kelley pushing.

I’ll end in a positive not and say that Kelley is right about one thing…. We should play more with our dogs


5 thoughts on “Unified Dog Theory: Kelley’s 19th Nervous Breakdown

  1. Pingback: Kevin Behan: A Legend in His Own Mind | Science of Dogs

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