After our trip to Hocking Hills last month, when Riley was so anxious and disruptive, I started to wonder if we had become too lax with him. Most of the time he’s a great dog, but looking back with an objective eye, I can see that over the past couple years, his naturally high-energy personality has turned into an unnaturally high-strung nervousness.
To figure out how to ease his anxiety, I turned to Cesar Millan. No, Riley and I won’t be appearing on an episode of the Dog Whisperer, but I did read Cesar’s book BE THE PACK LEADER. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but here are the basic principles of Cesar’s Way:
- Dogs naturally operate in a pack hierarchy.
- If you want an obedient dog, you need to be his pack leader.
- To establish your leadership, you should fulfill your dog’s needs: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection (in that order).
- With all of that, you should also project “calm-assertive energy.”
- If you do not do those things, your dog may become confused as to his rank/role within the pack, possibly leading to instability, insecurity, disobedience, or even aggression.
Essentially Cesar was saying that to correct Riley’s behavior, I first had to correct my own.
(And it didn’t matter that we had done all the “right” things with Riley as a puppy — training, socialization, etc. A good foundation is very important and helpful, but it isn’t always enough. Because dogs are creatures of the moment, you have to maintain the boundaries you’ve established.)
Through this new lens, I saw that I was taking too many shortcuts with Riley; allowing him to have control of certain situations; and humanizing him in ways that were detrimental to our relationship and to his understanding of the world. For all of our sakes, I decided to employ Cesar’s techniques to try and reclaim leadership of our “pack.” The biggest, clearest change is that we now start every day with a 30-60 min walk, with Riley right by my side instead of in front, and only sniffing and peeing with my permission. Believe it or not, it only took a single day for Riley to learn to walk this way, and in just one week I think it has helped to make him calmer and more obedient.
(Note: For Riley, I don’t think the walking alone would be enough. We’re following as much of Cesar’s Way as we can. The Dog Breed Info Center served as a great supplement, offering concrete, helpful guidelines.)
Yes, this all takes a lot of time, effort, and patience. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, I think it’s worth it.
(But no, I don’t think anyone is a “bad” dog owner if they don’t do these things. I’m looking for solutions that fit me and my life, that’s all.)
Not only is Riley happier, but so am I. I feel more physically fit, more connected to my dog, and more confident and self-aware. I don’t think either of us will end up perfect, but I do hope and believe that this stable, healthy mindset can spill over to other parts of my life.