Have you heard of Cesar Millan – the Mexican born, internationally renowned and respected dog behaviour specialist? He is called The Dog Whisperer for his understanding of dog behaviour and dog psychology which allows him to rehabilitate the most aggressive, destructive and dominant dogs and keep them in a submissive state. It is for the first time last week that I saw his TV programme the Dog Whisperer on National Geographic (Mon-Friday, India 9pm) where he helps ordinary Americans with their dog problems. He “rehabilitates dogs and trains people” because it’s the people that also need to change their behaviour. I have become mesmerised by this man. I am totally sold on his approach. So if I’m such a fan, how did Cesar Millan ruin my life?
First he recognises that most dog owners see their dogs as children, which is a mistake. We should understand them as dogs and not humans. Dogs are animals, they do not understand human psychology or emotions but we can attempt to understand dog psychology or mother nature. This does not mean that you should not give your dog affection. It means giving affection at the right time. Mother nature responds to energy projected, not to emotions. Your dog will not obey you if you ask him for his obedience as a favour – he has to surrender to you.
This leads on to the second premise that dogs are pack animals and dogs in the home need to be followers of the pack while the humans should become the leaders of the pack. If the dog finds that he is able to do what ever he wants in the house, has no rules, boundaries or limitations or senses an instability in his human pack and an inability to lead then he takes over to fulfill that role of the leader, which is when things go terribly wrong such as destroying the house, not listening to your commands, not behaving on his walk etc.
Cesar Millan says that a dog needs to be in a calm submissive state (sitting, lying down, ears back) and that you, the pack leader needs to project calm assertive energy in order to lead the dog or obey you and put the dog in a calm submissive state. So when you enter the house and he starts barking and jumping on you, he is actually in a dominant state. So no matter how long you’ve been away and how much you’ve missed your pooch you should ignore him, not make eye contact and wait till he has calmed down to show him how much you missed him. Otherwise you are validating his dominant behaviour by giving him affection at the time when he is being dominant.
Cesar believes in exercise first, then discipline and then affection. In one of the episodes a very destructive dog was completely changed when the family took him for a walk everyday and he was allowed to let all that destructive energy go by physically and mentally exhausting himself on the walk. Most in-home destructive behaviour or separation anxiety is caused because the dog has not been exercised enough and has way too much pent up energy. We definitely give our Abroozi exercise, 30 minutes in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. Cesar suggests 45 minutes at the minimum.So far Cesar and I are in agreement. Unfortunately in my home I think the positions of affection and discipline get interchanged too often.
Let me say upfront that our Abroozi doesn’t have any “problems” as such. He’s generally pretty well behaved. He’s never ripped up the furniture or eaten off the table. The only thing I loathe about his behaviour is that he pulls on the leash when on a walk. And according to most experts one needs to “master the walk”. Now that I’ve been an avid watcher of Cesar Millan’s TV show I want to “master the walk”, which means that the dog walks behind you or by your side and not ahead of you like Abroozi does. THis may not sound too bad but actually it is pretty severe.
My analysis is that Abroozi is a follower in the home and sees himself as a leader when we step outside. And I did not realise this until Cesar Millan entered my life. I feel that the more I listen to Mr. Millan the more inadequate I feel and the more I realise that my so called “perfect dog” could be a dominant dog. And I’m sure my dog can sense my inadequacy and doubt in myself. Where is Cesar Millan for me to ask these questions? He just puts on a TV show, shows you your flaws and then the only option you are left with is to buy his training DVDs, join his internet course or feel totally helpless. This is the problem with TV. It only shows you half the picture, giving you half the knowledge. I just continue to feel more and more inadequate and insecure around my dog. And the more I feel that, the more I am unconsciously projecting this energy and the dog can sense it.
In this past week on our walks I can feel myself being led by him, not physically (although he has always walked ahead of me) but mentally as well. He changes direction and crosses the road without waiting, which he used to do and refuses to go in the direction I want him to. I can sense all the things wrong with my behaviour, I’m not being calm and assertive. I’m getting frustrated and angry with him. I now feel inadequate taking him for a walk, I feel like he gets his way and you know what, he can sense that too.
It didn’t always used to be like this. But lately, in the last month I now realise all the other ways he has become dominant. Cesar says that rituals are important to establish authority. For instance the feeding ritual, the dog has to earn his food by obeying your command, such as sit and then he eats. Abroozi is very well behaved when it come to accepting treats or eating from my hand. But when I give Abroozi his main meal he lies down far away, waits for me to put down his food, waits for me to go to the kitchen and then he eats. Is he being dominant by eating only when he wants to and not when I want him to?
When we do yoga we would tie him up to a chair because in between our routine he would lick us, lie on the mat, lie between us which would disrupt our routine. He would fall asleep because he’d be totally exhausted from his morning walk. He would only be untied when the routine was over. This was his boundary or limitation. For the past two days he’s been sitting between us without being tied but he’s mostly quiet only sometimes licking, sniffing or pacing. Have we removed this boundary of not being with us when we are doing yoga? Does the lack of this boundary make him more dominant?
When people come to the door, visitors or repairmen and if I asked Abroozi to lie down under the chair, he would. Initially I would tie him up under the chair and then then he just learned to sit under the chair and not move till he was told to come out without being tied. Today, he refused to go under the chair. He just refused. Is he now exhibiting dominant behaviour over me by not listening to me? My reaction was completely wrong too – I allowed the person in and Abroozi had every opportunity to sniff him. He didn’t bark but he was clearly intimidating the man.
The more I think about it and the more I watch Mr.Millan, the more I see signs that Abroozi is becoming dominant in the home. And this worries me. I want to nip this behaviour in the bud now before he becomes more dominant and just rules the house. Mind you, all these changes have only happened in the past week. But the dominance on the walk has been going on for some time now. So when I return after two weeks from my new job in the nation’s capital (more on that in another post) I am enlisting the dog trainer, Murthy who I mentioned in an earlier post. His methods might be different from Cesar’s but I’m sure he can still teach me how to channel calm assertive energy over my dog and resume the position (if I ever had it that is) of leader of the pack.
So what does my dear husband think of all this. He’s never been a fan of dog training– to him it’s live and let live and I’m over-analysing. Despite being a man of science he can’t emotionally t get on board with the concept of us being the pack leaders, although in his rational mind he knows we need to be. To him Abroozi is still just a puppy (Abroozi in now 2). However, I have noticed that on the walk he listens to my husband a little bit more than he listens to me. My husband feels that as dogs get older they get less dominant and they just want to sleep all the time. I still feel that outside the home he will be dominant no matter how old he gets. And then there’s the question of do you neuter your dog. Cesar Millan says that you must in order to have a stable pack. My husband disagrees. It’s the whole male losing his manhood thing and as a woman I have no such attachment to the danglers. In Australia you have to be a dog breeder or else your pet has to be neutered/spayed by law.
Feeling inadequate and not being the master of my domain is really dragging me down (although it has only started this week since watching Cesar Millan’s TV show). It is creeping in to other parts of my life making me resentful that I am the one who for a year and half has been taking our Abroozi for a walk every evening. I’m even questioning the pride I once had in being domestic goddess. Perhaps it’s the pressure of wanting to do well on my new job, perhaps it is my guilt at leaving my dog and husband for 2 weeks for the first time. Or as Tiny Fey on 30 Rock says, “ARRGHH….my period.”
So Cesar Millan or anyone who knows him, I doubt you are reading this but this half-knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all. You’ve left me wanting more. 5 minutes before this has gone to press my dear husband has said that by the time I’m home next week he will have our Abroozi walking to heel and totally submissive on the walk. BUT I have to stop talking about Cesar Millan, I cannot even mention his name because guess what, it’s making my husband feel inadequate too! So he’s going to take on the challenge and train up the dog by the time I get home. And if he can’t, then I can call in the dog trainer. Watch this space…