Training a well-behaved dog begins, says Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan, with a respect for canine instincts and the recognition that dogs aren’t people.
By Ford Cochran
Renowned “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan stopped by National Geographic’s Washington, D.C. headquarters yesterday to discuss Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog. The book, which Cesar authored with Dog Whisperer executive producer and writer Melissa Jo Peltier, appears in bookstores today. The seventh season of Cesar’s hit television series premiers on the National Geographic Channel this Friday evening.
Balance is when a dog has his needs met, and his needs are simply the needs of the body, the mind, and the heart. How do we do that? Exercise for the body. Discipline for the mind–structure, he knows what is expected of him. And then there’s the reward, the heart.
What happens to a dog when he gets exercise and is disciplined? His body becomes calm and his mind becomes surrendered. When you have a calm, submissive dog, you can teach him. You can train him. You can condition him.
Words to a dog mean nothing. But once you start putting behavior into it, that’s how dogs relate “Sit!” to putting the butt to the ground. Then they learn something about it.
It’s really difficult to train a dog when his needs are not met, because he has instinctual needs. Dog training is created by humans. It’s not part of a dog’s instincts. If we learn to fulfill the instincts, then we can come with the social part of it, which is dogs being drawn, more attracted to human beings.
That’s when they’re paying attention to the human, because now they’re hungry or now they’re playful. Those are the two most common ways to keep training exciting, because you want him to have fun with it. Food and toys create fun.
So we should be working with a dog’s instincts, not trying to defeat them?
Never! One of the things I learned growing up with my grandfather is never to work against Mother Nature. Working at negating instincts is working against nature. Every time humans try to work against Mother Nature, what happens? Mother Nature wins. You can’t train Mother Nature without actually showing respect to Mother Nature.
Many people who call themselves dog lovers don’t have the knowledge to be respectful. My goal through the show and my goal through the book is to remind people how important it is to honor the species. For example, people around horses don’t treat a horse like a human. But some people around dogs treat a dog like a human. Changing the identity of anybody creates instability.
Most of the dogs that I work with, they’re trained but they’re not stable. That means they’ll sit down, stay, come, heal, but when you bring another dog into their space they want to kill him. Balance doesn’t equal training and training doesn’t equal balance. To me, it’s very important and fundamental, the principles, the foundation. These allow you to achieve balance. Then you can train.
Let’s put it into a human example: Many people are trained, meaning they have a degree, but they’re not balanced, right? Someone might be a Harvard graduate, but can’t walk a chihuahua. That human is trained, but doesn’t know how to employ a more simplistic way of relating. The dog only sees, okay, you’re not balanced, therefore my integrity doesn’t allow me to follow you.
Humans are the only species that follow unstable pack leaders. Animals don’t follow instability, even though a person is trained. You can be a Ph.D., an M.D., and have whatever Masters you want to have–the dog is not impressed by it. You can have the most expensive suit in the world–a dog is not impressed by it. You can be the most famous human in the world, an actress, an actor–the dog is not impressed by it.
If you respect their identity, dogs give you respect back. You gain what you give.
Why dogs don’t respect my clients even though those dogs have three, four, five beds in their homes is because my clients are not respecting the identity of the dogs. This is really difficult for people to understand and to swallow. “What are you talking about? I love my dog!” But love from a human perspective versus love from a relationship perspective is two different things.
For the most part, modern humans have become very selfish. The modern human is going to fulfill his needs, and by buying things, he thinks he’s showing love. You see? A homeless human shows affection a more primal way, and therefore the outcome is going to be them being able to walk a pit bull off leash when wealthy people, or just people who have a home, sometimes, can’t walk a chihuahua off leash.
Many of the homeless have that ability to connect in a primal way. In society, these people have no money, so why should you look up to them? To me, they represent an instinctual aspect of learning behavior.
You’ve begun to answer my next question. In Friday night’s Dog Whisperer premier, we see something we’ve seen before on the show: A person who’s self-confident, famous, large and in charge, Howie Mandel, intimidated by a dog. In this case, it’s a chihuahua. Why do people, and particularly confident people, let their dogs boss them around?
It’s knowledge. A lot of people, especially with little dogs, feel that if they act in a certain way or if they discipline the dog, they’re going to hurt the dog’s feelings. Some people feel that the only way to discipline a dog is physically: They think they have to smack the dog or something like that. And that’s not the truth. The way you want to relate with animals is always to understand what state of mind you’re carrying, to become consciously aware of your mind and your emotions. Are you controlled by emotions at that time, or are you controlled by your mind?
My goal is to make people mindfully aware and emotionally in tune. That gives me access to be calm and assertive, and to be conscious. Dogs don’t know that my name is Cesar Millan, I’m from Mexico, and people call me the “Dog Whisperer.” What they know is how respectful I am of their tradition, of their code, that I tap into a language that they’re familiar with.
I can go to Russia, even though I don’t speak Russian, and I can have a relationship with a dog in Russia. I can go to Brazil. I can go anywhere in the world and communicate with a dog. I can’t communicate with a human in his language, but they will understand if I’m happy or not. That energy is a universal language. You don’t have to say a word to know how a person feels.
In the dog world, they don’t really care about the words. They care about what you’re saying under the words. The integrity of the conversation is more important than the word itself.
I let my friends on Facebook know that I’d be interviewing you this afternoon, and literally within one minute, a friend put a note on my wall and said “I love Cesar Millan.” Another wrote “If you get a chance, could you ask how you would get a nine-year-old dachshund to accept a new baby into the pack?” She’s got a brand new child, and I guess she’s having some struggles at home with the dog. Could you share any advice for her?
To me, it’s not that the dog is having a struggle with it. It’s the humans who are having a struggle with it. A lot of the time when there’s a dog and a kid, the human, the parent has a problem believing that the dog is going to get his feelings hurt. In fact, the dog is going to be absolutely happy remaining part of the family. We don’t know a lot of details about this case, but if the dog has a new baby in the house, what that says to me is that the dog has had control of certain areas of the house. A lot of times, it’s the whole entire house.
When you’re taking a dominant position, the leader position, away from someone, it’s a transition which happens that is absolutely normal. And then the dog goes into a more social behavior, a social state of mind which is the follower position.
When people call my dog very obedient and very sweet, say that he loves everybody, that’s because he’s showing a submissive state or a follower state. There are only two states of mind in a pack of dogs: the leader and the follower. Dogs in America lead humans. In most other countries, humans lead dogs. That’s why there are no psychological problems with dogs in those countries. They’re skinny, but they don’t have psychological problems.
So to me, the question that should be asked is this: Do I have a problem with the transition of my dog to becoming a dog? That to me is the more important question–How do I help my dog have a transition from what we believed that he was to who he really is. We have to focus on the reality, not the story.
Could you share one or two additional tips from your new book that will help people interact better with their dogs?
What I love about the book is that I asked four professionals to come and join me, because to me it’s all about giving people options. I always say my way is not the only way, it’s just a way. Once you have five different ways, your job is to choose one. You learn all these methods that are available from experts, from masters. Your job, then, is to make sure you fall in love with one of them.
The next thing you do is to make sure you honor and follow the master. When some people fall in love with things, it’s like buying accessories, and then they get rid of them. But when you’re talking about a philosophy, you fall in love with it and you practice it like a religion (without becoming obsessive about it). Practicing the rules, you have to begin, middle, and end, which means to follow through.
My goal is to educate the world. Dogs are always hopeful the human will get it, will choose a way, and will stick to it.
Get Cesar Millan’s new book, Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog, and watch the premier of Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel.
Ford Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild–a digest of Society exploration, research, and events–and the Ocean Now blog. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.
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