I remember hearing about Cesar Millan and the Dog Whisperer show several years ago from my friend’s dad. He kept raving about the show, and how this Mexican guy had the ability to work magic on problem dogs. The name sounded funny and comical to me so I never looked into it.
For the past month or so I’ve been watching videos of the Dog Whisperer, Cesar 911, Cesar’s interviews, reading his books and practicing his philosophy with my dog and other dogs that I encounter in order to really understand the concept between dog and human psychology.
I’ve always loved dogs, and have taken a big interest in understanding everything there is to know about them. As a teen, I was reading books about dog breeds, their history, temperament, where to adopt, or buy one, etc. but never looked into what it means to understand how to connect and interact with them in a way that is optimal for their operating system—and yes, I know they are not computers, but I’m a tech guy and that’s how I look at things.
Since researching and implementing Cesar’s methods, I started to notice a constant theme in my daily life when observing owners with their dogs. What I’ve noticed is that many dog owners have a lack of leadership and ability to maintain consistent discipline with their dogs—it’s almost as if our natural tendencies of leading have diminished to becoming submissive and following our dogs, instead of it being the other way around.
This article is a short breakdown of Cesar Millan’s most important dog philosophies for future, or current dog owners to start implementing in order to gain a better understanding of how to produce strong pack leadership capabilities with your dog(s).
After reading this article, you will have a better understanding of dog psychology, as well as how to become a confident, assertive and more knowledgeable human being with your dog.
Learning about dog behavior might feel like an indirect protocol to learn about yourself, but never underestimate Mother Nature and her ability to teach you a thing, or two about your human performance.
Dog Psychology Isn’t Human Psychology
Dogs are not humans; therefore you cannot interact with them as you would another human. Dogs distinguish their reality and environment through a different order of senses. A dog’s primary operating system is “nose, eyes and ears”… in that exact order.
In the book Cesar’s Way, Cesar writes…
“Puppie’s first will use smell, energy and touch as their first form of communication. It’s not until 15 days later where they open their eyes and start to use sight and not until 20 days later after birth will her ears start to function.”
A human that expresses their emotions with a dog in words as their primary method to getting a dog to obey their direction will generally have an inefficient time producing proper obedience.
“Sit, stay, heel, come, no jumping, etc.” mean nothing to your dog if you don’t understand their operating system first.
When you order a dog with words and they don’t obey the command, you’ll need to step back and re-calibrate certain traits in yourself, such as your vocal tonality, body language, internal fears and emotions that you are currently dealing with that might be transgressing inefficient results with your dog.
Remember, dog’s can sense these subtleties—so when you yell, or verbalize commands out of frustration, all they recognize is instability from you.
What Is Calm-Assertive Energy?
This is the state of energy Cesar advises dog owners to conduct themselves in when communicating with their dogs.
What does this mean exactly?
A calm-assertive energy is when you project to your dog that you are a grounded human being that is able to keep his or her temperament in a cool range, but also know when correction is needed to assert strong pack leadership characteristics.
Calm doesn’t mean being a push over, weak or coping with everything and anything—it’s purely a state of awareness and follow through, without any neediness, or aggression towards a given outcome.
What Is Calm-Submissive Energy?
Jackson is the pinnacle of calm and submissive. He is vigilant when necessary, but never shows aggression towards humans, or other dogs—unless it’s a life or death situation for him, which dogs can pick-up much better then humans.
This is the ideal energy that nature intended for your dog to have when living in a household with you, the owner. A dog wants you to lead, and when you don’t take the initiative to do so, they will assume leadership and you will eventually become the follower without even realizing it.
Is your dog pulling on the leash and not walking along side, or behind you? Does your dog jump on you and everyone else out of uncontrolled excitement? Is your dog possessive over it’s food and toys? Does your dog nip and bite at you?
If you answered YES to the above scenarios, then you have LOST the frame of calm-submissive energy in your dog and you are now in a state of coping with the undisciplined behaviors due to your lack of leadership.
Start by simply being aware of the wrong behaviors from your pet, and make it a habit to correct them when necessary and maintain consistency in doing so.
How to Meet and Interact With a Dog
First, you need to realize that dog’s pick up on your energy signals first. A dog will not verbalize, “Hey how’s your day going?” like a human would in order to build rapport—they do this instead by smelling you.
Dogs operate on smell first, so they will come to you and smell your presence in order to gain a better understanding of what they are dealing with.
You should never be afraid of dog’s smelling you, even if they go for the crotch area, because this is their way of saying “hello” and building rapport with you. After they have smelled you, then you can go ahead and pet them and start interacting with them.
This process is the same in the dog world; when dogs first meet they will smell each others anuses to learn important facts about that dog, such as where that dog’s been, whether a female is in heat, whether they are sick, or infected, what kind of food the dog’s been ingesting, and so on.
In respect for the dog’s communication style, it is only polite for either human, or other dogs to let this process happen without shying away, or avoiding it.
No Touch, No Talk, and No Eye Contact—this might sound counter-intuitive but there is a reason for this.
If you are rehabbing or attempting to change your dog’s behaviors, then you’ll want to follow the “no touch, no talk and no eye contact” process. This could mean if your dog is jumping on you, and you want to take steps to gradually stop the behavior, then practice the above process as a strategyl to show that your dogs behavior doesn’t put you in a highly charged and reactive state of emotions.
Start to become a calmer person with your pet, instead of producing highly stimulating and over-excited behaviors with them, and you’ll start noticing that they will be inclined to obeying your commands more often since they can smell, see and feel your stability.
Exercise, Discipline and Affection
“Why is the order important? Because it’s the natural order of your dog’s inborn needs. The problem in the United States is that most dogs receive only part of the formula from their owners—affection, affection, affection. Some people do better, giving their dogs half affection, half exercise. Others practice all three, but put affection first.” — Cesar Millan
Exercise is the first part of the concept, and it’s something you cannot skip under any circumstance.
Dog’s don’t only enjoy walking because they can get fresh air, then pee and pooh, but they enjoy it because it gives them the ability to migrate with their pack leader which is something in their primal nature that they crave to do on a daily basis.
Focus on providing your dog with at least an hour walk a day (preferably more), or even better yet, go for a run, hike, or bike ride and you will maintain a healthy energy cycle for your dog that will inevitably make the following strategies much easier to follow through on.
Creating discipline, means setting clear “rules, boundaries and limitations”. In the case of proper dog ownership, leadership does not come from an unstable, or aggressive leader, it comes from a calm and assertive one.
Either from day one of puppy-hood, or starting today… you as the pack leader, need to start setting rules, boundaries and limitations for your dog and stick to them no matter what.
There is a term called “Intermittent Reinforcement” that Cesar describes in his book Cesar’s Way, which means that if you set a rule, and the dog breaks it, but you let it slide and then the next time they do it you punish them. This shows inconsistency and the dog will never learn right, from wrong since it’s always getting mixed signals and indecisive behavior from the owner.
If your dog is constantly jumping on people, pulling on the leash, nipping and presenting other behaviors that go against your rules, then it is something that you’ll need to start correcting immediately.
Now… correcting doesn’t mean lashing at your dog out of anger, or frustration—that is when abuse can occur since you are in an unstable state of mind, which can in-turn backfire and make the dog escalate the unwanted behavior since they are getting a highly charged reaction from you.
Here’s an idea on how to correct…
“Correction can be anything from a sound, a word, a snap of the fingers—whatever works best for you and doesn’t do physical or mental harm to the dog. What works for me in correcting dogs is to practice what they do with one another—eye contact, energy, body language, and forward motion toward each other”. — Cesar Millan
Affection must be earned at the right time in order for your dog to understand the guidelines that you have set out as the pack leader.
Share affection after your dog has exercised, obeyed your commands, eaten and basically anytime he, or she has reacted respectfully to your leadership.
The wrong time to give affection, and I have noticed many owners do this, is when the dog portrays signs of being anxious, possessive, dominant, aggressive, stubborn, begging, whining, or any behavior that breaks the owner’s rules, boundaries and limitations.
Your dog needs a pack leader, NOT someone that’s going to bring them in for cuddles when they start acting up to subdue their emotions.
Fight, Flight, Avoidance or Submission
Whether they are being dominant, or submissive, these are the four signs that dogs will usually present when they are in a situation they are not comfortable with.
Watch for the positioning of their head, ears, tail and back for clues on the current energy of your dog. If their neck is erect, their head held high and tail leveled to their back then they are in an alert position. If their heads down, their ears back and tail low, then they are in a calm-submissive state.
If you want more information on clues for reading your dog’s body language, check out this article on Cesar Millan’s website.
Further Techniques and Personal Thoughts on Becoming a Stronger Pack Leader
A lot of what I’ve written is credited to Cesar’s philosophy and dog rehab practices that you can watch, read, listen to and learn more about by following him.
Now from a personal view, I’ll share some point form tips on what has worked for me that might also benefit your situation—here comes Poyan’s mind dump on how to become a stronger pack leader with your dog.
- Backyards are NOT a substitute for daily walks. Your dog needs an outlet fort their natural migrating tendencies.
- If your dog is full of energy, take them for longer walks, or engage in higher level activities (running, biking, hiking, etc.). You can also use a dog backpack to give them a job and divert their pent up energy into a useful task.
- If you want to get really primal, you can use your hands to prepare your dog’s food so that your pack leader scent rubs onto your dogs tongue. Also look into raw diets for your dog—that kibble shit is no good for your dog. Most of the stuff is made from unedible animal carcasses combined with toxic fillers.
- If your dog has the tendency to walk ahead of you and pulls the leash, all you have to do is shorten the leash to the point where the dog walks alongside you. This is tough at first, but if done consistently, your dog will start to get the idea.
- The LESS tension on the leash, the more trust you gain from your dog. Too much tension and pulling on the leash, and your dog will feel the need to keep pulling because it translates a tense leash to a highly charged scenario.
- Dogs don’t fret about the past or future, they are animals that live in the present and sometimes you need to get to their level in order better interact with them.
- Never buy a dog as a gift. Bringing a new dog home requires a lot of research and preparation from everyone in the household. You are in it for the long-game… be ready!
- Never pet a dog tentatively, commit and go for the full rubbing. Tentative touch shows weak behavior and will make the dog nervous.
- Space is respect, and the dog should be aware of your presence when moving. Don’t show signs of weakness by compensating your space because of the dog—the dog moves for you, not the other way around.
- Dog’s will NOT respond to your intellectual capacity, they don’t care if what you say sounds logical, all they pay attention to is your energy. Are you calm and assertive? Or are you unstable and frustrated?
- Don’t ever judge a dog by the breed. A breed is an image, a costume… it’s the state of mind that matters for both you and the dog to make it a fruitful companionship.
Remember that anyone can be a pack leader, all you have to do is practice methods that work, early, often and consistently. I highly recommend checking out Cesar Millan’s books since he goes into a much deeper portrayal of how to become a pack leader in his writing—this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Good luck and remember to have these ideas in mind when you next interact with a dog. Today I am a better human being because I have internalized a great deal of the differences between dog and human psychology.
I hope you will implement many of the ideas, and start seeing results in this area of your human performance as well.
Check out the video montage below I made with me and Jackson training. The dog is 8 years old, but still going strong like a lion!