Friday, April 16, 2010

All Hail the Dog Whisperer

Excuse me for a minute while I wax poetic about this man:

This is Cesar Millan. He is best known as the "Dog Whisperer." You all probably knew that, but I apparently have been living under a rock and didn't really know about him until now (yes, Aunt C., I know you told us about him long ago. But I forgot).

Because, you see, we have adopted the most perfectly perfect dog on the planet. Except for three things:

1) He has horrible leash manners. He has pulled me so hard that my back and arm have been sore. He took Addie dirt-skiing when she tried to hold the leash. He has terrifed grannies, pit bulls, and even Mike Tyson with his enthusiasm while on a walk.

2) He paws you when he wants something or is excited to see you. Because he's built like a moose, this can be quite an experience. When you're finished picking yourself up off the floor you might think about how to discipline him. But you're too bruised.

3) He slobbers like Hooch and his poop stinks.

Now, I didn't expect any dog trainer to be able to do anything about #3, but I've certainly been wanting to address items #1 and #2, both because they are annoying but also because they are dangerous given Milo's moosey stature.

I've been trying. I've been trying everything I can remember from our training classes with Burley (though we all know how that worked out). Treats and commands and affection and all that.

But it wasn't working.

Then I watched three episodes of The Dog Whisperer, streaming for free online. I haven't read Millan's books or taken his workshops. Just three episodes online. And it is as if the clouds have parted and the patron saint of dog training has descended.

I don't know how to describe it, really. Millan basically says that your energy is everything. I watched how he would stand with dogs on his shows, how he uses what he calls "the touch," and his skillful use of silence and listening. There are no treats or commands anywhere to be found, really. His motto is simply that dogs need assertive and calm leadership. Assertive AND calm.

Then, even though the show says not to try these things at home, I tried them. I took a walk with Milo today, on his short leash, which he has mostly hated (he prefers the extender. Who wouldn't?). I set the tone by getting really quiet and calm, and wouldn't let him out of the house first. I just waited for him to settle down, which took about ten seconds. Every time his energy got crazy I would stop, stand tall, and give him the touch. He quieted immediately.

Same with the walk. Millan shows you how to hold the leash and pull the dog's head sideways when he/she pulls. By the end of the second block, Milo had it.

The biggest problem has been him encountering people and other dogs. But every time I saw someone coming, I would bring Milo in, stand in front of him and gently use the touch, and by the time they had approached, he was a mellow little pussycat. One couple even asked me how I was doing it. No shit.

It was just one walk, I know. But seriously, it's like he's a different animal. And he got to play some serious catch when we got home as a reward.

I can't help but wonder how things might have been different if we had known this stuff with Burley.... But, the past is past. He was a totally different dog, and we're quite different people. I'm just glad The Dude is here to stay.

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