Dog Whispering Dad

 I wrote this many years ago

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. (Life has come full circle and I am now Cesar Millan’s head trainer). 

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?  In my experience yes, and here are a few things that I have observed and practiced as a dog whispering dad:

  • Dogs and young children communicate 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.

  • What kids and dogs learn at home, they practice in the real world.  Example: My little girl recently started throwing things and she has quite an arm so I encouraged her when she threw things. BUT…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.

    Same thing happens if you pet your dog for jumping on you but your wife gets mad at them when they jump on others.

  • 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 going to figure out how and why you do it.   

    Example: If your dog barks at everything and you get a puppy - you will see that puppy start to bark at everything. If you smoke, there is a higher chance of your kid smoking. 

  • Both dogs and kids have minds designed to push rules and limits.  If the parents don’t set the rules and limits, the dog or the child will.  Dogs and kids without limits take this to mean the parents are not in charge, so the dog or kid 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 reasons dog and human parents give for not using discipline is a fear they will push the dog or child away and they won’t love them.  The opposite is true.  When dog parents are consistent with rules and discipline it makes dogs and kids feel very safe and secure, which is the primary job of a good pack leader or parent and one of the strongest forms of love we can give.  

  • 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, confident, loving energy 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.  Its best to give your undivided attention when you interact with your kids and dogs. Kids and dogs are 100% involved during every interaction with you - its best that you are 100% involved with them.  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 8 years ago and looking back I wouldn't change a whole lot as a parent.  The skills learned working with dogs made it so much easier when I became a parent.

 Be calm, patient, consistent and loving and you really can't go wrong.