January 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
I spent a quiet afternoon in the library searching for Alexandra Horowitz’s book, Inside of a Dog, which I had intended to review. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t carry the print version of this book; it does, however, have a copy of it in audio format (available at a different branch, though). Looks like I’ll have to save it for another time, but that doesn’t mean I left the library empty-handed!
While browsing the shelves, I came across a book with the title, Cesar’s Way, by Cesar Millan. Truth be told, before Maple entered our lives, I knew diddly-squat about Cesar Millan, much less the ‘Dog Whisperer’. It was only when MM and I were searching for dog-training DVDs that we stumbled upon Cesar Millan’s methods, and it was then that we realized the popularity of the ‘Dog Whisperer’. Families with dogs will know that Cesar Millan has become a household name.
Millan has made these three words, “calm-assertive energy”, a catch phrase. His theory is that dogs relate with and react to humans through the energy we emit—this is, after all, how dogs (and all other sentient beings in the animal kingdom) communicate with one another in nature. Humans, on the other hand, have the ability of speech, which makes it easier for us to express our thoughts and emotions. Dogs rely on their astute sense of smell, sight, and hearing to assess their environment. Because dogs have a keen awareness of our emotional state-of-mind, we need to become fully aware of it ourselves so that we can apply the appropriate energy at the appropriate time.
The most influential energy is a calm-assertive one—this is the instinctual trait of a pack leader, and it is this behavioural quality that followers within the pack appreciate and respect. As humans, we can play the role of a pack leader simply by projecting a calm-assertive personality. In Cesar’s Way, Millan describes a calm-assertive leader as someone who is “relaxed but always confident that he or she is in control” (p. 69).
For some people, like me, who aren’t always naturally calm-assertive, it will take a bit of work and practice. For example, I find that I am more calm-assertive at home than I am when walking Maple outdoors. Our home is a controlled environment—I know exactly what to expect. The outdoors, however, is an unpredictable environment—I often times feel tense about the possibility of an unforeseen situation arising and uncertain about how I would react. Maple, of course, can sense this energy and will respond accordingly. This is why our walks are at times a struggle, with Maple hiding behind me and refusing to follow.
Cesar’s Way offers insights into the psychology of canine pack relationships and applies them to the human-dog bond. Millan reminds us, however, that humans are humans and dogs are dogs—we cannot (should not) try to ‘humanize’ dogs:
A dog will usually accept a human as its pack leader if that human projects the correct calm-assertive energy, sets solid rules, boundaries, and limitations, and acts responsibly in the cause of the pack’s survival. This doesn’t mean that we can’t still be uniquely human pack leaders. Just as dogs shouldn’t have to give up what’s unique about them to live with us, we shouldn’t have to give up what’s so special about being human. We are, for instance, the only pack leaders who are going to love the dogs in the way that we humans define love. Their canine pack leader will not buy them squeaky toys or throw birthday parties for them. Their canine pack leader won’t directly reward their good behavior. He won’t turn around and say, “Gee, guys, thanks for following me ten miles.” It’s expected that they do that! A mother dog won’t say, “You know, you pups have behaved so well today. Let’s go to the beach!” In their natural world, the reward is in the process (p. 129).
Another aspect of the book deals with Millan’s three-pronged approach to a happy and balanced dog—in this following order: (1) exercise, (2) discipline, and (3) affection. Millan explains that most dogs become disobedient and difficult to manage because they receive plenty of affection, but lack the exercise (to release pent-up energy) and discipline (to know their boundaries). I find this to be quite true in the case of Maple. For the first two weeks after Maple joined us, we had to keep her indoors as she had not fully completed her vaccinations. During this period, she had a lot of pent-up energy (more than we could handle!). No amount of discipline and affection that we were giving her helped. It was only when we were able to bring her out for walks that she showed signs of major behavioural improvement. Now, MM and I make every effort to walk Maple daily—there is no compromise.
Of course, there are some experts that may question and doubt the effectiveness of Millan’s rehabilitation methods. Personally, I don’t think there is a single approach that can be applied to every canine. In my opinion, each dog is a unique individual and, therefore, would require a customized treatment plan to meet his or her needs. Nevertheless, I think Cesar’s Way raises several salient points about dog psychology and defends them with proven principles of dog-training that the first-time dog owner can appreciate and learn from. The only qualm I have with the book is that the first sixty pages contain a tediously long background on Millan’s rise to fame which, to me, read like an autobiography. I think Millan could have packed those sixty pages with more intriguing thoughts about the canine world; after all, Cesar Millan is the ‘Dog Whisperer’!