I love watching Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, on cable TV. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, Cesar is a dog trainer who doesn’t train dogs. According to him, he rehabilitates the dogs while training their owners. Cesar takes a very basic and hands-on approach, assuming the role of the Alpha male and encouraging pack behavior. Sometimes he becomes more of a dog than the dogs themselves and as far as changing behavior it always seems to work; at least on television.
Cesar emphasizes that the problem in most dog behavior cases is that the owners treat their pets too much like people. He stresses three rules: exercise, discipline, and then affection, strictly in that order of importance. He claims that most domestic dogs don’t get enough exercise. In nature, dogs were designed to walk great distances to cover their territory and obtain food. Short bursts of running around in the house or the back yard don’t do the trick. He recommends walking your dog at least 45 minutes per day. A lot of shoes have been chewed because of all that pent up energy.
Secondly, to the chagrin of many pet owners I’m sure, he stresses discipline over affection. As much as you think that wiggles wants to be held and stroked all day that just isn’t the case. Dogs look for leadership from the Alpha male or sometimes Alpha female of the pack If they don’t find that leadership, they unwillingly assume that role. So, hey gang, let’s tear up the kitchen trash can may seem a perfectly reasonable command to the new leader, but not to the owner of the house. Also, he maintains that since dogs don’t have a very good command of the English language, they respond much better to physical commands like a tug on the leash, or a tap of the foot than saying things like “No!” or “Down Boy!” I used to know someone who was an avid hunter.
He had a couple of beautiful hunting dogs. The dogs spent a lot of time in the woods chasing after prey and they seemed to be happy to do it. Sometimes at night they were put in boxes in the basement to sleep. It seemed like a cruel practice at the time, but now that I think of it, it’s not much different than an Alpha dog nipping a member of the pack on the neck and forcing him down on the ground to sleep. As long as the dogs were out of the box the next morning, fed, and running across the ground, they seemed very happy.
I firmly believe that dogs need and want discipline. Too many times we somehow believe that they are “just like us” and can somehow understand the modern world. Flipping through the pages of a recent pet magazine, there were ads for organic and holistic pet food, pet greeting cards, pet yoga, spas and massages, clothing, and places to take your pet for vacation. One local artist would even paint a portrait of your dog for $250.00. This is the Chinese Year of the Dog and there are Bodhi toys in the shape of Lotus flowers, T-Shirts with calligraphy on them for your dog, and even a book about developing your dog “spiritually.”
I guess that there is nothing wrong with all of this, but really, it’s more for the owner’s gratification than anything else. While you are dressing up Fido and showing your friends how cute he looks, he’s probably wondering why you didn’t sniff their butts when they came in and establish your territory. What kind of an Alpha leader are you anyway? Just remember the most important things that will keep your dog well-balanced and happy: food, exercise, discipline, and affection. In that order.