About a month or so ago, I was asked to do a review of Cesar Milan's latest DVD series: Mastering Leadership. First I must say that I might be the human person in the U.S. who has never seen his show. I knew some basics about him and knew several dog owners who were huge fans of his but me? I entered into this review completely blind.
As you might know, The Prof and I adopted Rudy, an Irish Wolfhound mix, in October. We spent the last eight years with an amazing, well-behaved, beautiful Irish Wolfhound. He exemplified good manners nearly all of the time. We brought him to "puppy preschool" and obedience early on. Having worked in a veterinary hospital for nearly three years, I realized from the start that I wanted a well-behaved dog, especially a dog that would grow to nearly 40 inches at the shoulder and 175 pounds. Finnegan spoiled us because he was a calm submissive dog. He would have rather lounged in the living room than played in the backyard.
Rudy is an entirely different story. I visited him several times at the shelter. He showed excitement when he saw me but did not appear to be out of control or aggressive. After The Prof met him, we decided to take him home. Had I watched the DVD before bringing Rudy home, I would have followed Cesar's directions on how to bring home a new dog. And hopefully, Cesar, I hope you don't mind I call you by your first name.
Mastering Leadership is divided into three volumes: People Training for Dogs, Becoming a Pack Leader, and Your New Dog: The First Day and Beyond. Each volume taught a different skill and used various examples to demonstrate a point; however, Cesar kept a common thread or theme throughout each of the DVDs: calm assertiveness.
In People Training for Dogs, Cesar led a seminar in front of a small audience. Initially, it had a Dr. Phil feel to me. And sadly, that is not a compliment. However, the format fit the purpose of this class: reeducating dog owners about what dogs are, how they act, and what we as humans can do to establish a pack. He broke down dogs into four groups: species, dogs, breeds, and names. He explained the importance the each group while emphasizing that dogs are basically dogs. They have a pack mentality, they follow a leader, and most importantly, the humans better be the leader of their dog. Cesar described the "psychology" of a dog and how a dog owner should behave in order to get the result that they want. The point to take home was this: the human must exert calm assertiveness. And boy, can Cesar exert calm assertiveness.
Initially, I thought that this was a bunch of phooey and in no way could my "calm assertiveness" get the Rudemeister under control. Did I mention that Rudy is likely part Tasmanian Devil? No? From the get go, he felt so excited every time he saw us, even if only five minutes went by, that he wanted to jump on us. And being nearly seven months pregnant, I cannot have a 65 pound dog jump on me. So I decided to use Cesar's advice. After all, he had clips showing him with a pack of rather large and somewhat rough looking dogs without him or anyone else being mauled.
Calmly and of course, assertively, I went over to Rudy's kennel to let him out. I kept quiet and managed to stand tall while bending over to grasp Rudy's collar. I made sure that I walked slightly in front and at the door, easily got him to sit before letting him out. Guess what? This worked! At least that time it worked. The next goal for me was to go out on the deck and throw his Frisbee without the whole jumping routine because in Rudy's mind: HI! HI! HI! I MUST JUMP! I MUST JUMP! I stood in front of the sliding glass door and singled Rudy to sit. After he stayed seated, I joined him on the deck where I continued to hold my hand in way to indicate: Rudy if you continue to sit I'll be your BFF (okay not really). He sat but almost shook uncontrollably. Finally, on my terms, I let him get up and began the Frisbee throwing process. Again, this calm assertiveness, or as I liked to call it, The Jedi Mind Trick, worked. I felt pretty proud until I let my guard down and WHAM! Rudy tried to jump on me. Did I forget to mention Cesar emphasized consistency?
Cesar and I started out well. He taught me the basic skills I needed to work with a dog I felt I lacked control over. Each time I interacted with Rudy I had to remind myself to be calm and assertive and ALWAYS do it. It is easier said than done but at least I knew it had the potential to work. I moved on to the next volume, Becoming a Pack Leader. This time The Prof watched the whole DVD with me. Rather than speak to a seated group, Cesar met with three individuals and his or her dog. Each interaction demonstrated a behavioral problem and how becoming a pack leader and maintaining calm assertiveness could benefit both human and dog.
In his first interaction, Cesar met a family with a German Shepherd. When I saw this dog, I thought, okay good, Rudy is not anywhere nearly that crazy! This dog was a little on the psycho side for my taste and the owners clearly had no control over him. Over the course of his lessons, he taught a dog to go from completely wacky to well-mannered. Initially, the dog seemed to not listen to anyone and felt ripping a house guest apart would be an awesome idea. The skills that Cesar taught were simple: calm assertiveness, exercise as a release for the dog and a way to gain control, and consistency. Of course, the owners did not pick up on everything right away but shortly, they began to grasp the basic concepts and not only could you see a change in the family but definitely in the dog.
Next, a Wheaton Terrier or something like that, felt the need for speed. Or at least she felt the need to promptly exit the premises whenever the front door opened and gallivant throughout the neighborhood. I know I should laugh at other's misfortunate but this dog cracked me up. It was if she had to sow her wild oats. Free at last! Wheeeee!!! Okay, so that was not the point of this segment. Again, Cesar demonstrated how calm assertiveness, boundaries, and consistency could tame this wild dame.
Finally, Cesar found a Jack Russell Terrier who was a nightmare on a leash. It seemed his goal in life was to destroy the enemy. And the enemy was everywhere, man. The owner, a pretty laid back young woman who obviously loved her dog, would react how probably many of us would react when our small dog went ballistic, she picked him up to reassure him. Any guesses if this is the correct method for control? If you said yes, you are so very very wrong. Again, the key is calm assertiveness, confidence, and consistency. And not picking up your cute little dog every time he wants to rip apart that yippy little Pomeranian behind the fence.
During each segment, Cesar met with the family and the dog. He assessed the situation and began by explaining what was happening. He demonstrated his methods and of course, made it all look really easy. Then, he worked with the family to implement those tools. What I liked is that it was not as if the family got it right away and everyone lived happily ever after. Instead, each person had his or her hang ups and weaknesses which needed to be overcome. However, Cesar patiently worked with the person and finally, the concepts were implemented fairly successfully. Even though the situation might not match yours or mine, the skills can be applied to different scenarios.
Again, I decided to try his techniques but this time with The Prof's help. Although Rudy does not try to kill people, run off, or act like a spaz around other dogs, he is pretty difficult on a leash. He wants to PULL so much that even The Prof feels like his shoulder could be dislocated. As per Cesar's instructions, we placed the collar higher on his neck for better control. Still, Rudy wanted to PULL and ended up gagging and choking. Next, we tried the old method of putting the leash around our back for leverage. That sort of worked but he still pulled. In order to show how calmly assertive we were, we had Rudy sit at each corner before we crossed the street. He sat but he still tried to take off when we walked forward. Cesar, care to visit us in Northwestern Pennsylvania? Oh yeah, he chases our cats too. It could be a two for one! The key is that we need to continue to work, work, and work some more with him and be consistent. At the very least, Cesar, my new buddy, gave us some important tools.
Finally the last volume, Your New Dog: The First Day and Beyond, taught potential dog owners who to adopt a dog from a shelter, a rescue group and a reputable breeder. I appreciated his emphasis on trying to adopt from a shelter when possible and to us the Humane Society of the United States as a resource for finding a reputable breeder. I respected him even more for saying that.
Cesar met with three different individuals and interviewed them about the type of dog they wanted. The first woman lived by herself in a condominium and had an active lifestyle. Due to her living situation, she required a very small dog. Cesar and the woman headed to the local shelter and looked at various dogs in her size range. He taught her how to approach a dog and what to look for. In every circumstance with each potential owner, he emphasized finding a submissive dog and one which would not require rehabilitation. After observing the dogs, he pulled out three and had them interact with each other so they could figure out how the dogs acted in a pack. Once he determined what role each played, he was able to help the woman select a dog which would be right for this woman. Sadly, the adopted dog was not the same that the woman and I thought she would pick out. But it turned out that the dog we liked was a little land shark. Go figure.
Once they determined this little dog was the one, Cesar suggested taking the dog for a walk at the shelter before bringing him home. He explained the steps for properly bringing a dog into a new home. Besides picking out the dog, he talked about what to expect next when the dog is in the house including where the dog stays in the house and generally proper behavior.
Next, Cesar met with a groovy couple who already had two large dogs and a cat. The woman decided she wanted a Bassett Hound but the hound would need to get along with her giant dogs and her fairly chill cat. Cesar suggested bringing the two dogs to a rescue shelter for Bassett Hounds so that all the dogs could meet and live happily ever after. Amen. Little did I know that there are about a bazillion unwanted Bassett Hounds. I have never seen so many Bassett Hounds in one location. Honestly, I found it a bit disturbing but hysterical at the same time because generally, Bassett Hounds appear fairly mellow and of course, they are very low to the ground. It amused me to see a "mob" of Bassett Hounds in a desert location. Again, Cesar went through the process of selecting a dog and introducing it to the dogs and the cat who resided at the rescue shelter. Thankfully, everyone got along although the three dogs did not seem terribly interested in each other as it was hot and they probably lacked much energy.
Once they determined this Bassett was the one, Cesar joined them at home to show them how to walk their little pack. Frankly, the idea of walking a Husky, some Mastiff type mix, and a Bassett did not seem appealing to me. All I could think of was being pulled in three different directions like a medieval torture device as my limbs were pulled from my body. Apparently, the owners did not have the same fear because they walked these dogs like experts and showed me who is wrong. Cesar guided them throughout the way and for a brief moment, I felt jealous but happy for this new little pack.
Finally, the last family with whom Cesar worked wanted a pure bred snazzy German Shepherd. This family had two young children and I kept thinking: Cesar! Talk them out of it! Too much work! Too strong willed for little children! Noooooo!!!! Apparently, Cesar did not hear me when he recorded this DVD months ago but he did emphasize to the family that Shepherds are strong willed dogs who need strong owners who are Cesar Milan. No, he didn't say the last part. That was my input. Cesar found a reputable breeder (who had their own van with their name on it!) and brought over Shepherds of varying ages. He showed examples of high energy assertive, high energy submissive, and calm submissive/comatose. Okay, again, I'm interjecting. Obviously, he encouraged the family to pick the calm submissive and SHAZAM! a puppy was adopted.
Once they selected a dog, he began the process of working with the family. Because the daughter appeared to be a "high energy assertive" child, he had her not be part of the initial training. Cesar went through all the keys of having a new puppy: establishing boundaries, finding an appropriate spot for the kennel, and teaching the puppy how to walk on a leash.
In each situation, Cesar matched the dogs well and taught valuable lessons including finding a dog with matching energy. Does Rudy match our energy? It depends. When we exercise him a lot like Cesar would tell us to do, he matches it. However, there are days when we cannot give him a 45 minute walk or 45 minutes of exercise. And yes, I feel bad but sometimes we do not have all the time in the world. Is Rudy submissive or assertive? When we are assertive, he is submissive but boy does he try to be assertive when we have our guard down. I must say, Cesar does make it easy to learn and really does show how his techniques, which are really mirroring the ways dogs act in nature, can create a symbiotic relationship between human and dog. Honestly, you must see it for yourself because it has changed The Prof and my relationship with Rudy and made it so much more rewarding.
The kind people who asked me to do this review also provided me with an extra DVD for a lucky reader to win! If you would like to get this DVD, leave a comment about a dog from sometime in your life and link your email (you don't have to put it in the post itself). You have until November 30 at 9:00 p.m. to enter. I will pick a winner on December 1 and let you know via email.