12 July 2006

Exercise, Discipline, Affection: in that order!

29. Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan with Melissa Jo Peltier (3.5/5)

The first time I saw Cesar Millan, he walked into an apartment with a jumping, barking dog; within seconds of his arrival, the dog sat down and became quiet. It was a segment on Oprah, and I was immediately intrigued.

I don't have a dog, but I've encountered them often throughout my life, frequently off-leash with no owner in sight. I've been bitten, chased up trees, charged and lunged at. Despite all this, I'm still greatly fond of puppies, some larger furry beasts, and I even became friends with Kody, an old white Samoyed I still miss since his passing.

What intrigued me most about Cesar was his calming effect on dogs he'd just met. I wondered if any of his techniques could be applied in my inevitable encounters with off-leash dogs. As expected, the book's target audience is dog owners or people looking to get dogs, so there wasn't much specifically about how non-owners should act around dogs. Even so, I found it a compelling read.

He starts by describing his childhood exposure to dogs in Mexico and how that developed into his dream to go to Hollywood and become the greatest dog trainer in the world. I've read a lot of autobiographies, but this is possibly the first aspiration someone described that really struck me as an "American Dream" in a very specific way.

His dream has shifted to rehabilitation for dogs rather than training them, but making dogs an integral part of his life is still the core of his work. His experience, bolstered by quite a bit of research, is that people cause most of the behavioral problems dogs have by humanizing their pets, giving affection at the wrong time, and not providing enough exercise or boundaries for their dogs.

Calm-assertive energy, that's key to being a good pack leader. For a long time, the only advice I was ever given regarding dogs was: Show no fear. Calm-assertive energy is the answer to what one should show instead. Since humans live in packs as well, it's interesting to regard interactions through a lens of emotional energies. It makes it easy to see who's in charge at any given moment.

Given his approach to life with dogs, it's easy to see that I'm not cut out for having a dog right now, but it's also clear to me that most people don't live up to the minimum commitment he prescribes, mainly: walking your dog twice a day for at least an hour and a half total and projecting calm-assertive pack leader energy 100% of the time you're with your dog. Of the two, being a mentally stable, calm, confident pack leader for your dog no matter what kind of day you've had sounds like the more difficult commitment to make. However, it also seems like a very worthwhile goal, one I intend to pursue for my own benefit.

If you have a dog or are thinking about getting one, Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems is definitely worth checking out.

One year ago at TTaT: What do you want from me?!, I miss Michael Hutchence, Audioblog #6
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  1. Well, if those are the rules, perhaps I'm not ready to be a dog owner yet, either. Bummer. I really wanted one.

  2. There's more of course, but yeah. He has a series of questions to determine if you're ready for a dog starting on p.234 if you want more details.

    It makes sense though... walking 1.5 hrs/day drains the dog's energy so he won't tear your place apart. Playing fetch or whatever should go above and beyond that 1.5 hrs, and putting your dog in the backyard doesn't count as walking him. The dogs as Cesar's center get more like 6-8 hrs of exercise a day.

  3. Hi: My wife and I walk our dog and get him as much exercise as possible. He is one year old, and I love the way's he acts (sure he chews a little, and jumps on me when I am on the couch sleeping). My wife wants to send him to obedience school, as these behaviors bother her more than me. My fear is this will take out his playfulness and other personality traits. Am I correct?

  4. Kelly: Hey. I'm certainly no dog expert, but Cesar's book does talk about these issues. He would contend that what you call "personality" is really your dog acting out in the absence of strong pack leadership.

    Obedience school is not what Cesar's approach is. He doesn't train dogs to sit, stay, heel, but rather to acknowledge who's in charge (which should be you).

    I think the main thing is that whatever you choose to do, you both need to be committed to it. E.g., if your wife makes your dog get off the couch, but you don't, then he'll only obey that rule sporadically.

    Check out the book and see what you think. Jumping on you would definitely be considered dominant behavior in your dog.