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.