Dog Whispering Dad

(I wrote this many years ago and just came across it)

My wife and I have a little girl who is just shy of two years old.  Several years ago, before we had our daugther we got our first dog together.  Good thing we had the dog first because I was a classic “over-do it” type of dog parent and it created serious behavior issues in the dog.  My wife still makes fun of me for how I acted.   We lived in Southern California at the time and Cesar Millan’s show, “The Dog Whisperer” had just come on the air so we tried to contact him.  He referred us to someone he had trained and worked with named Linn Boyke.  

The appointment we had with Linn and his pack of rehabilitated dogs changed the course of my life and helped me create the most fulfilling career I could ever dream of.  I am a "dog whisperer."

Many years into my career my wife and I had our first and only child.  Not long after she was born I read an article about child development specialists giving Cesar Millan’s books to human parents.  They claimed his simple approach, emphasis on emotional energy and focus on setting consistent rules and boundaries were the same things small children needed to be happy.

Is this true?  Are dog whispering fundamentals helpful for human parents?  Yes, and here are a few things that I have observed and practiced as a dog whispering dad:

■ Dogs and young children communicate in much the same way: with emotional energy, body language and actions...not words.  This means how you feel and what you do is much more important than what you say.  Ex: Try telling your wife she “looks good in those jeans” with a smirk on your face and let me know how it goes.  How about dog owners who yell, freak out and yank on the leash while screaming “calm down!!!”

■ What kids and dogs learn at home, they practice in the real world.  

Ex: My little girl recently started throwing things and she has quite an arm.  Like many proud fathers I try to encourage her to practice new experiences but I didn’t think it through.  When I picked her up from daycare the other day I was informed she was throwing toys, so something I encouraged at home got disciplined in the real world.  It’s not fair to my child for me to encourage her to do something that will bring correction from others...its too confusing.

If you like it when your dog jumps on you but get mad at them when they jump on others its  the same thing. 

■ Kids and dogs learn a great deal from observing things they see others do - especially when its an authority figure.  This is called behavior modeling which means your kids will copy many of the things you do.  It also means everything you do is being studied and observed by your kids and your dogs...everything.  From how you deal with others to how you tie your shoes - if your kids or dogs can see you do it, they are trying to figure it out what it means.   

You see this in dogs when you bring in another dog to the family.  Sometimes the new dog brings in behaviors like barking that the resident dog starts copying and sometimes the resident dog’s behaviors get copied by the new dog.  (This is the premiss of using my pack to rehabilitate unstable dogs.  When an unbalanced dog gets around my balanced dogs the new dog senses the stability and their instinct wants to copy it.) 

■ Both dogs and kids have minds designed to push limits until a limit or boundary is consistently established.  If the parents don’t set the limit, the dog or the child will.  Dogs without limits take this to mean the humans are not in charge, so the dog takes over.  When dogs and kids start feeling it’s their job to lead the family it usually doesn’t go well and often leads to behavior issues.  

One of the common themes I see with dog parents who enforcoe rules is a fear that discipline will push the dog away and make the dog not love them.  The opposite is true.  When dog parents are consistent with rules and discipline it makes the dog feel very safe and secure, which is the primary job of a good pack leader or parent.  

■ It is super easy to give love and to give in to kids and dogs. Establishing rules and enforcing discipline is hard...not for the kids and dogs, but for the parents.    

■ When handling fearful dogs I take deep breaths and try to relax.  I make sure that my body is loose and free of any tension.  This helps the dog relax because they can feel my calm energy and it “tells” them things are okay.  I used the same practice all the time when my girl was an infant.  When she would cry I would hold her against my chest and take deep breaths in an almost meditative state.  I would visualize my calmness taking over her fussiness and stuck with it until she settled.  I never talked to her because our voice often creates more excitement than we realize, especially when you have lost your patience.   
■ The best leaders use a calm, patient, consistent approach that is assertive when need be.  I have found parents who have well behaved kids have a very similar energy in their parenting style. 

■ Dogs and kids live very much in the moment and they know when you have checked out of it.  I give my undivided attention when I interact with my daughter and I do the same with my dogs.  This makes them feel respected which is an important part of any relationship.  Respect is an energy that dogs and kids can feel and it feels amazing.

This article was written almost 6 years ago and looking back I wouldn't change much as a parent.  The skills learned working with dogs made it so much easier when I became a parent.  Be calm, patient and consistent and you really can't go wrong.

How To Be In the Moment

The one thing that separates humans from all other animals is our awareness of self.  This means we are conscious of what we think about and how we feel - and we try to understand why we think and feel those things.  In doing so we often find ourselves thinking and reliving things from our past or trying to anticipate and predict things in the future.  

This ability to think about and feel emotions from the future and past is why so many people struggle to find balance.  We are constantly thinking about decisions we have already made that we can’t change, or things in the future that have yet to take place that we have no control over.    

When you think about something from the past that has an emotional association your brain relives and feels the emotion from that past event.  If you constantly relive an event with a negative emotion your personality or energy will start to permanently project that emotion because we get “stuck” in it.  Think about it, most of the negative people you know only focus on the negative things of their past or anticipate negative things in the future.

The part of the brain that allows for this type of thinking is not present in your dog and has yet to develop in young children and it’s why they have such an easy time living in the moment.  When your dog or kid wakes up in the morning they are not thinking about tomorrow or yesterday...only right now which is why being present and in the moment is vital when we are with them.  

I know we must make plans for the future and we certainly should learn from our past but we must be aware of how much time we spend living in the future or past. 

Two common conditions of spending too much time looking forward or back are anxiety and depression.  For some, anxiety is fueled by the fear of losing control so they try to anticipate every possible scenario to avoid losing that control.  Depression can come from always reliving past negative events and emotions mixed with fears of how to deal with the future.  I understand their is more to these conditions but our patterns of thought have a tremendous influence on how we feel and behave.

I have learned how to live in the moment and here are some tips to help you do the same.

  • Practice meditation
  • Exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Practice yoga, pilates, tai-chi or other mind-body exercises
  • Learn proper breathing techniques                                                                                           

This easy ritual can also help you find the moment: 

  1. If possible go outside or open a window and take 5-6 deep breaths in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  2. Close your eyes and while you are still taking nice calm steady breaths I want you to put all your focus into each one of your senses, one at a time.  
  3. Start with sound.  Listen to each sound and really listen to it.  Listen to the birds and how many different songs they make.  Listen to the planes, wind, frogs, cars and really let your sense take over. 
  4. Move on to smell then touch while you keep your eyes closed.  
  5. Do vision last.  Look at the details of the things you see every day.  The patterns of the bark on the trees or colors of the leaves.  Let the sense take over.
  6. Every time you feel your heart beat start to go up for any reason, you should begin step one.  

This simple ritual will teach you how to use your senses which will can bring you back to the moment.  When you focus your energy on the sights, smells and sounds of right now you are not thinking about the future or past.  This is a great way to prepare for any event that takes you out of your comfort zone.   

Practice this exercise the next time you take your dogs out for a walk.  Spend the time using your senses and watch what your dog does.  Most dogs will stop and smell when you smell, listen when you listen and focus on what you are watching.  Live in the moment and be a leader to yourself and your pack. 

The Art of Discipline

If you are a boss, parent, teacher or have control over others you are an authority figure. How that authority is used will communicate to your group if you know how to lead them.  Ask someone what makes a good leader and you will hear words like calm, confident, self-assured and fair.

The reason so many people have trouble getting their dogs, employees or kids to listen is that they don’t know how to properly communicate leadership to those they need to lead.

A close friend was talking about his small business with me over the holiday’s. He has about 10 employees and said he was having trouble getting everyone on the same page and may have to start letting people go if things don’t improve. I have known this guy since I was a kid and he has always been a little over reactive to stressful situations and a pushover all at the same time. As a result he is terrible at enforcing the rules and then very emotional, reactive and a blow hard if he thinks your "not doing it right." 

I told him this is like my clients who insist their dogs know the rules because they “alpha role” them every time they don’t listen.  This forceful approach is limited because leadership comes from making the pack feel safe and secure - not afraid. If you look at your business or family more like a pack it can simplify your role as a leader. Good pack leaders gain respect and trust by using energy and discipline to enforce the rules, not fear and intimidation.

To get my pack to follow I make sure they are fulfilled every day. They repay that fulfillment with trust, respect and loyalty. Part of that fulfillment comes from correctly enforcing the rules. I must enforce them with calm/assertive energy because if I am tense, angry, frustrated or use threats I am using unstable energy and dogs won't follow unstable leaders.  Humans are the only species that will folIow unstable leaders.

Kids need parents to be good pack leaders. Kids need proper discipline for the same reason my dogs do. When kids and dogs are not properly guided they become overwhelmed and confused.  If you are having trouble with your dog you should look at your parenting style. If you are structured with your children but not your dogs you may have found your answer. Its not uncommon to see parents who don’t enforce rules with their kids also have behavioral issues with their dogs.

I was once called to a house because dog had seemingly aggressed towards their young child out of nowhere. No damage was done as the dog only “mouthed” the boy but cases like this rarely have a happy ending for the dog.

The answer to why the dog aggressed was all too apparent when I entered the home. The young boy at the center of the problem was the most misbehaved child I have ever seen...ever! The kids you see on the nanny T.V shows had nothing on this little boy. He screamed, kicked, yelled and controlled every second of his parents during my visit. When he did not get his way he would instantly go into tantrum mode. It was amazing!

The parents energy was completely drained and defeated and the mother had admitted many parents fundamental mistake. She thought using discipline would communicate to her son that she did not love him. She was a pleaser and felt always saying yes was the best way to convey her love. I could also tell that the dad had checked out months or years ago. Kids are as sensitive to energy as dogs and the boy could sense but not understand his parents weakness. He knew his parents didn’t have control, so who did?

The child felt the same thing in his parents that dogs can feel in us and it had the same outcome I often see.  The lack of discipline taught the boy that he was in charge and when that happens it creates chaos in a child's mind.  When dogs feel chaotic they dig, destroy things, aggress, act nervous, have separation anxiety and so on.

Have you figured out why the dog went for the kid yet? The dog was trying to tell the parents what needed to be done. The dog easily recognized their inability to lead the child so he took control and disciplined the boy himself. The action they read as aggression was actually how dogs enforce discipline on one another.  Pack leaders will growl at, muzzle punch, and sometimes nip at other dogs to enforce the rules of the pack. This dog weighed 85 lbs. He could have seriously injured or killed the child if that was his intention.

This dog had no intent to hurt the boy and was only trying to communicate to the parents what the boy needed. The boy’s crazy out of control behaviors are also a communication to the parents that something is wrong. If you are having problems with any leader/follower relationship your answer may lie with your dog. Fido wants you to be balanced and he is always telling you how well you are doing. Listen to him.

Adopting Older Dogs

The truth is very few people in today’s society have the time for a dog. Even fewer people have the time needed for a puppy. There has to be an answer for dog lovers who want a dog but don’t have the time.  Older dogs.

Older dogs give you all the great dog stuff without all the hard dog work. Older dogs need less of everything and are full of the dog love we crave. They are less inclined to be dominant or controlling and once they know the rules of the house they usually fit right in.

You actually can teach an old dog new tricks and contrary to cultural beliefes old dogs can be easier to train than young dogs.

A perfect example of this was my best dog to date named Sabrina, a ten year old German Shepherd. Sabrina had a bit of a strong presence but I am assuming she ran her household based on her energy. Within a week she had settled right in to the rules of my house. She ended up going on my consultations like Cesar’s “Daddy” and her wisdom was a big part of my success. I could stand her in front of a dog that wanted to kill her and she could care less. Her presence alone was enough to calm most dogs.

As amazing as she was I fully believe she was a giant handfull when she was young. Age calms animals and as much as we think having a young, excited dog is fun - it’s also a great deal of work.

If you are considering a dog I strongly urge you to take a look at a group of dogs you may have overlooked. Help an older dog find a home and you have a friend for life who would prefer to give than take, sit than jump, shake than growl, lick than bite and sleep than cause trouble. Talk about more for less.

Sabrina, you were a blessing and you are truly missed.

Why Dogs Need Exercise

One of the fundamental causes of unwanted behavior in dogs is frustration due to a lack of exercise.  When a dog is left in the back yard or house all day, every day he starts to go a little nutty.  I can see a difference in my dogs after one day without exercise, so if you have gone weeks or months your dog is freaking out.    

If you really want a well behaved, balanced dog you have to exercise their minds and bodies every day.  How long depends on your dog’s health and energy level.  A healthy, high energy dog can easily walk up to 10 miles at a time, so you must start with 1-2 hours of exercise every day.  Lower energy dogs can get away with much less.  Energy level and health, not age should be your guide.  I once worked with a 9 year old shepherd mix who had attacked her owner while she slept.  She could do a 2 hour hike in the morning, followed by 2-3 hours on a treadmill, and was still first to the ball at play time.    

This dog was such a problem because German Shepherds are bred to work 8-10 hours a day.  If that need is not fulfilled, they will fulfill it themselves.  Dogs that have become aggressive out of frustration are some of the most dangerous and often become red zone cases. To ensure your dog does not reach this level of frustration you must walk them every day.  Dog parks and daycares are good ideas but nothing burns energy like a long proper walk.  

The primary benefit to proper exercise stems from the growth of the leader/follower relationship.  You should always be in front on the walks because whoever’s in front is in charge.  The reason most dogs pull is that we allow them to.  If you don’t communicate rules and boundaries on the walks you are telling your dog there are no rules.  


Why Do Dogs Bite?

I received a call over the weekend from a vet friend who had just been bitten in the face by a friends dog. She wanted to know what I thought about the situation and if this was something I thought could be helped.

My business has been built around working with dogs that have serious issues so calls like this one are more common that most would think. The reason so many dogs turn to biting is because it works so well for the them. From a behavior standpoint, dogs will only do what works so when they practice a behavior they will only continue the behavior if it is effective at accomplishing their goal. What I have to figure out is what the dog is trying to accomplish with biting.

I generally encounter two types of scenarios that make dogs act aggressive and want to bite: Fear and dominance. The most powerful cases of aggression usually combine these two energies into something called insecure/dominance.

A dog that is fearful or insecure will always try to walk away from a situation or person that makes them uncomfortable. By walking away the dog is trying to communicate that they donʼt want interaction. On a scale of 1-10 walking away is about a 3 on the warning scale of leave me alone. If this warning is not listened to or the ability to walk away is no longer available most dogs will escalate their warnings to still or stiff body language, avoidant eye contact and a turn away of the head. This would now be about a 7 on the warning scale and a growl is most likely going to be heard as well.

If this still does not work a snap usually does the job. Once a dog goes through this a couple of times they realize that walking away doesnʼt work as well as the snap. Now you have a nervous dog who snaps every time something or someone gets too close.

The other reason dogs bite is driven more out of control and dominance. Dogs like this bite to correct and control something they see as out of control or breaking a rule. If your dog runs the show these behaviors become more likely and are usually seen around things like food, toys and beds. If you try to remove your dog from your bed and he growls at you, you are being warned.  If you continue there will most likely be a bite to let you know you broke a rule.

In both cases the biting continues until it no longer works. Fearful biters need to feel understood and safe so once the humans start communicating better the behaviors can change quickly. Dogs that are dominant biters are very hard for the current owners to help. The reason lies in how much control the dog knows he has over the owners. Only when the owners gain the dogʼs respect will the dog allow them to change the behaviors.  

The dog in question bit my friend bit out of control and when she told me the events leading up the attack it became clear what happened. 

She said the dog was uneasy with her from the start so she ignored and avoided him, and he more or less did the same with her. Avoidance from a dog means they donʼt want interaction with you so never force the issue with a dog who avoids you or you can get bit real easy.

At one point she thought she heard the dog give a low growl towards her but she continued to ignore the dog, which is what she should have done.

While waiting for her friend to finish up she sat down on a couch to wait. She said the spot was warm so she knew the dog had been laying there. When she sat down the dog jumped up on the couch and sat down right next to her which put the dog over her as this was a large dog. 

She said his tail was wagging when he jumped up so she decided to engage the dog and touched him on his chest with her hand while she spoke to him. It was at this point he grabbed her by the head.

It was only when her friend came rushing into the room that it stopped. This was an attack and not a bite which means the dog was in a full blown ass whooping, I am going to teach this person a lesson mode. She was also bit on the arm from trying to deflect him.

This dog owned the home and everything in it in his mind. His early warnings were all meant to clearly communicate what he thought about this woman being in his home. When she sat on his couch she broke a rule in his mind so he jumped up to assert himself and tell her to get down.

When she touched him (followers never touch pack leaders without permission) he took offense and may have also thought she was trying to move him back. Both of these actions are reasons to correct from his point of view. I was told this dog has bit his owner too so he has practiced biting for control with success for a while.

Can this dog be helped? Yes if the owners understand their role in this and rally around all the changes that would need to be made. Change for dogs is usually easier than change for humans so hopefully these people take this serious and do what is needed, otherwise....

Why do dogs bite? Because it works.