The Dog Whisperer: Blessing/Curse

Cesar Millan has a TV series, a magazine, a product line, a DVD series, a Twitter account, a foundation, a “Great Dog Adventure in San Diego” with Scooby Doo, and a pending divorce. This is what we call overexposed, no?

His show is compelling because he’s able to demonstrate again and again that it’s the human’s responsibility to shape the dog’s appropriate behavior. I watched his show for a while and I read one of his books; he has a dramatic personal story and innate leadership qualities that dogs respond to. He also has a strong sense – partly intuitive, partly observed – of what it is that dogs need to feel secure in their “pack.” What he’s missing is Fancy, Officially-Sanctioned Credentials. This, and his use of training techniques best left to the professionals (such as flooding), put him on “legit” trainers’ shit lists.

Lately S and I have been encountering well-meaning people who attempt to steer us in his direction. One evening, we left for a walk and right off the driveway, Petra was pulling at the end of her lead, dancing and lunging. When she freaks out like that, it stresses Banjo out and he starts pulling, too. Not a block from our house, they saw a cat and launched into a frenzy of barking and pulling. Then a little dog in a house nearby charged us, freaking both dogs out. These are the kind of events that rarely happen in quick succession on our walks. Then. Then! A couple on bikes with dogs came riding around the corner. We took our dogs across the street and made them sit while these people rode by. Instead of giving us wide berth, as we expected, they slowed down and cruised by us, very close. Banjo and Petra went batshit crazy. The woman on the bike slowed down and called, “Do you watch the Dog Whisperer? We would be happy to ride by again!”

It was all I could do to remain civil.

Look. Do I take responsibility for my dogs’ behavior? Absolutely. They are both large, high-energy dogs. Now that he’s almost five, Banjo has settled down quite a bit, but he still has anxiety issues that surface from time to time. Petra’s bad behavior is basically confined to the leash: she’s an amazingly sweet little dog who follows orders in the house, when she’s not distracted by rabbits and cats and bugs and shadows and cars. She’s going to settle down over time, just like Banjo did. But I’ve really let them down conveying loose leash walking, despite extensive reading on the topic (better than the Dog Whisperer: clicker training pioneer Karen Pryor, who has a great book on positive reinforcement called Don’t Shoot the Dog) and just as much experimentation.

Most recently, I purchased an official Cesar Millan slip lead collar to try out instead of the Gentle Leader. It seems promising, but instead of taking Petra out on a big walk with it, I’m starting out with it around the house and the backyard. When we’ve got that down, we’ll graduate to the sidewalk on short jaunts. We’re easing into it, which is as good as we can do.

That, I guess, and remaining calm and assertive.

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