by Julie Hart
When the Millan Foundation and told me I had received a Train to Rescue Scholarship to the Training Cesar’s Way Workshop, it took a while for me to believe it. I was given this amazing opportunity so I can “spread the word” about Cesar’s methods to the great people at PACA. Many of my clients and fellow rescuers watch Cesar’s shows, but have trouble implementing his teachings. I admit I did not totally grasp his teachings until I mentored with a trainer that uses similar methods. Now I have seen Cesar fix dogs up close and personal, so now I get it. I have used Cesar’s techniques, plus many others, to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome about 60 dogs. I learned many things during those five days at the Dog Psychology Center. I learned Cesar is really half comedian, half dog psychologist. I learned he is much shorter than he looks on TV. I also realized he has a true gift to communicate with dogs that is not attainable to most people. He can touch a dog and it instantly changes. Cesar attributes this to calm, assertiveness. Calmness is easier to achieve at a workshop, but it is an elusive state for me at home. When I get it, it is a beautiful thing. Learning how to control my pack of dogs is a journey in self-observation, being present, calm, and assertive.
One of Cesar’s main philosophies is “Exercise, Discipline, and Affection” in that order. Ensuring our foster and adopted dogs get enough exercise is crucial to their rehabilitation and stability. Cesar believes walking your dog in a following position is the primal way to give your dog exercise, mental stimulation, and leadership in one activity. I fostered a terribly anxious, fearful German shorthaired pointer named Elvis. Elvis would shake just from existing, but once I discovered Elvis loved a long distance game of fetch, his anxiety dropped considerably. He was tired and mentally fulfilled. A dog that lacks exercise may suffer boredom and frustration, resulting in destructive behavior, anxiety, and aggression.
Next comes discipline. This means setting rules and boundaries for the dogs, especially foster or adopted dogs new to a home. Setting boundaries initially will eliminate a lot of behavioral problems later. Dogs can be calm, well mannered, and enjoyable. If they are held to a high standard of behavior, they will follow.
The last portion of Cesar’s trifecta is affection. Too much affection given to a dog without exercise and discipline causes the dog to feel elevated to pack leader status, which in turn can cause aggression, anxiety, and fear. One of my favorite Cesar quotes is “we can give a dog so much affection it starts to affect the dog.” (And not in a good way) Many times we give rescued dogs affection first and foremost, when we should start with rules, training, and exercise. And we must never give affection at the wrong time; when the dog is nervous, fearful, anxious, or acting aggressive. This only praises the dog for unwanted behavior. Us humans must be careful not to spoil our dogs, therefore making them unstable, for our enjoyment or to fill a void in our lives.
Another of Cesar’s philosophies is to lead with calm, assertive energy. Cesar defines energy as emotions plus intention. As rescuers and adopters, we often care for dogs that have had sad past lives. It is normal, human emotion to want to soothe these dogs and feel sorry for them. In the dog world, sorrow is weak energy. Shy, fearful, neglected dogs need a leader, not our pity. Dogs can sense our state of mind. They are masters at reading energy and they feel it through the leash. If a nervous person is holding a dog’s leash, that dog is more likely to act out. At adoption events I see people greet dogs with excited energy, both volunteers and adopters. “So what?” you might be thinking. The dogs will fare better if we approach greeting dogs to their possible family with polite, calm energy. If dogs are allowed to greet their excited, potential family by jumping on them, the dog’s first impression of these people is dominance (jumping) and excitement. It is better to set the dog up for success by emanating calm, assertive energy. Cesar told us that during his “Leader of the Pack” TV show, where he matched dogs with adopters, he chose the family the dog did not jump on (respected). This respect will keep the dog well behaved and more likely to stay in that home.
Leadership is probably the most misunderstood portion of Cesar’s philosophies. Many people interpret leadership as a negative thing because they have seen Cesar alpha roll dogs on TV. But leadership can be very positive and confidence boosting for the dog. Combining energy with a timely correction can do a lot of good things for the dog. It tells them not to jump on people, not to steal shoes, and not to pull on the leash. Dogs need their humans enforcing rules so they can be the followers most dogs are naturally. But we must lead with intention. Lots of people say they tell their dog “Tsch” like Cesar, but the dog doesn’t listen. “Tsch” is not a magic sound. It's the intention behind the “Tsch” that matters. Dogs know when we “mean it.” Picture a dog with a bone protecting it from another dog. The dog’s body posture and eyes say, “You better leave my bone alone.” This dog has intention.
As rescuers and dog-lovers, we can help our dogs in many ways by following Cesar’s principles of “Exercise, Discipline, and Affection” and “Calm Assertive Energy” combined with Leadership. Try communicating with your dog using energy and body language and your dog will thank you.
Julie Hart is owner of Hart to Heart Canine Training, LLC and PACA volunteer and trainer. Follow her on her Facebook page www.facebook.com/hart2heartcanine.com.