Two hours with Cesar Millan can be intensive. Especially if it is one-on-one and you happen to be dealing with a dog that has aggression issues with other dogs. As Cesar says, he trains people and rehabilitates dogs. After two hours of training, asking if I came away with new knowledge and improved skills is like asking me if dogs like to have fun. Uh… YES.
So, what did I learn?
1. Relax and be calm. Not just *think* that you are relaxed… but really…. relax. Drop all the extraneous mind-chatter going on in your brain. If you are thinking about how your day went, what you are going to do tomorrow, what’s going on with someone else or presuming that your dog is going to misbehave in the next hour, then you aren’t relaxed. While it’s particularly important for the handler, it also applies to the other humans that are in your company when you are with your dog. Everyone needs to relax.
2. The power of intention is important. Don’t presume that your dog will *always* behave the wrong way, because you become a self-fullfilling prophecy with your dog. If you *know* your dog is going to react badly in a certain way, you are very likely to do things that will actually create the situation to happen. For some owners, it’s tightening up on the leash, thus communicating to the dog that something negative or potentially dangerous is about to happen. Some owners walk faster to try to get past a negative trigger; the dog begins to associate your body language with the negative experience and so reacts accordingly. Envision how you want your dog to behave; it’s much easier to work towards a “this is the way we want to be” rather than a “this is how we don’t want to be” model.
3. Be mindful of your dog’s body language and learn to really read your dog. Know the difference between a dog giving a casual, calm glance at another dog as opposed to giving a hard stare with the ears forward. The better you learn your dog’s body language, the quicker you can appropriately intervene and redirect your dog towards the desired behavior.
4. Timing is critical. Don’t correct your dog before they’ve begun to perform an undesirable activity, but don’t wait until they are already in the height of it. In our case, we were addressing the combination of excitability leading to aggression, but this can be applied to something as simple as housebreaking too.
5. The level of correction is also critical. It’s got to be just above the intensity a dog has – literally, one-upping the dog. If you are having to correct rapidly several times for a single “offense”, then the level of your corrections is not right.
6. Don’t talk non-stop to your dog. In my case, we’ve had a lot of success in particular situations with my dog where I do talk to her quite a bit. But she’s not relaxing as much as she could, because rather than her being allowed to follow me by my actions, she’s being told what to do, almost constantly, by voice. While dogs can learn quite a few verbal commands, they tend to be more relaxed if the commands are a natural outgrowth of the activity, as opposed to having a verbal drill sargeant for an owner. Dogs follow body language quite well, when given the chance. The other point is that when a dog gets all their direction verbally, they can visually ignore their human – which can be perceived in the world of dogs as a kind of disrespect.
7. Use the lightest training tool that helps you to achieve your goal and be ready to step down as you make progress. I’d been using a Halti for quite awhile, as it allowed me to redirect my dog’s visual attention back to me during, shall we say, “bad behavior moments”. But it also allowed my dog to learn to visually ignore me, knowing that my first line of correction in “bad behavior moment” would be verbal – and if that didn’t work, then I’d redirect her to look at my, rather than having her learn to watch for me as a natural outgrowth of looking – really looking – to me for direction. Towards the end of our two-hour training session, Cesar removed my dog’s Halti, saying at this point, it was hindering our progress. And he’s right.
Is that all I learned from working with Cesar Millan, the famous Dog Whisperer? Not by a long shot, but those are probably the seven most important lessons that I learned while we were working together for two straight hours.