Cesar Milan: Is his bark worse than his bite?

cesar-millan-with-friendsI’ve always thought Cesar Milan was a bit of a phoney; a self-styled expert in ‘dog psychology’ whose talk of ‘energy’ and his ‘touch’ and ‘tssk’ noise was a bit of a joke while his confrontational methods are far from it and are frankly dangerous. And then I watched his show.

I still disagree with his methods. His machismo and ‘new age’ hippie language still set my teeth on edge. I still wouldn’t want him to train my dog and I still think it’s high time the ‘alpha dog’ philosophy went and curled up quietly in the corner.

But watching his show made me ponder Cesar’s ‘pack leader’ persona.  This has become his brand, his unique selling point and is part of what keeps people watching his shows and buying his books. Consequently this persona is hammed up and exaggerated by TV producers, publicists and publishers. I wondered if this persona was actually detracting from his ability as a dog, and more importantly, people trainer?

It’s high time the ‘alpha dog’ philosophy went and curled up quietly in the corner.

The show is TV after all, and it has to entertain. The more I thought about this the more I noticed the clever editing to make the ‘dominant’ dogs look more dangerous, the dramatic voice overs and the ‘canned’ growling that gets added in whenever a dog gets more than a bit annoyed. In the episodes I watched (of the 2013 series) he also didn’t seem to be using his own methods, or at least not the more extreme ones. Whether it’s because he’s realised they aren’t that effective or because of the negative publicity they generate, I’m not sure but there were only about two alpha rolls in the whole series.

You see someone who has a very intuitive understanding of dog behaviour

Putting Cesar’s reputation aside, I started to pay attention to the way he interacted with his ‘clients’ and realised that if you look beyond the macho posturing and psycho babble (and ignore some of his more dubious methods) you see someone who has a very intuitive understanding of dog behaviour and an even better understanding of where people go wrong in ‘raising’ their dogs.

Cesar does use a lot of language which evokes the ‘alpha dog’ theory of dog training, teaching people to be the ‘pack leader’ and labelling almost every unruly dog as ‘dominant’ when most people would describe it as not having any manners. But actually the ‘calm assertive’ state he asks people to adopt doesn’t need to have anything to do with dominance and there are lots of positive messages that we can take away from the Dog Whisperer without needing to ‘assert dominance’ through alpha roles, choke chains and shock collars.

Learning to Speak Dog

What Dogs HearCesar recognises that, as humans, we are verbal and rational so we attempt to use verbal, rational methods to communicate with our dogs. What Cesar makes clear is that dogs are not verbal or rational, they are actually expert communicators in body language, the language of the physical. The owners Cesar works with often think their dogs know what they want and know the rules when actually the dogs are blissfully unaware they are being asked to change their behaviour. If you’re saying ‘No!’ but your voice and your body language are saying ‘oh well, I’m not really, sure that’s a very good idea’ the dog isn’t going to get the message and will just carry on with the unwanted behaviour.

Cesar teaches people to think like and speak like a dog, teaches them to say ‘Don’t do that’ with their bodies and their tone of voice, in a way that their dogs can understand. He teaches them to understand what their dogs are trying to tell them through their body language and behaviour. He teaches them that dogs ‘live in the moment’, that they don’t rationalise, don’t think about what they’re doing they just do it, and they definitely don’t ‘know they shouldn’t do (insert undesired behavior)’ unless you tell them its wrong every single time.

Direction not Dominance

Dog Shaming GarbageThe ‘dominance theory’ which supposedly backs up Cesar’s ‘philosophy’ has been widely discredited; the original theory applied to wolves not dogs and recently it has been shown that it isn’t even a correct theory of wolf behavior anyway. So I don’t agree with the notion that our pet dogs are plotting a takeover of our households or that they’re constantly trying to be ‘top dog’, it just seems a little far-fetched, doesn’t it? But I have no doubt that the people Cesar works with do feel as if their dogs have taken control of their lives. The problem is, if there are no rules, or the dog doesn’t understand the rules, then dogs make their own rules and do whatever takes their fancy.

What Cesar calls ‘dominance’ looks a lot like a dog who doesn’t have any respect for it’s owners and a total disregard for the house rules (usually because, as far as the dog is concerned, there aren’t any). What an amazing number of people don’t seem to understand is that dog’s aren’t born knowing how to behave in human society – it’s up to us to teach them. This is why Cesar’s mantra of ‘rules, boundaries and limitations’ is so important: if you don’t teach your dog how to behave, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t.

You’re Probably Making it Worse

Out of control ownerThe good news is that you don’t need a magic ‘touch’ or to constantly force your dog into an ‘alpha role’ in order to change his behaviour. In a lot of cases owners inadvertantly teach their dogs bad behaviour in the first place and once they realise this and change their own behaviour, the dogs behaviour can quickly change.

As much as Cesar’s psycho-babble and talk about ‘energy’ may set my teeth on edge he makes the point that dogs’ sense are so finely tuned that they can easily pick up on our moods and feelings, creating what is usually a negative feedback loop because people don’t realise it exists or that they can turn it to their advantage. Imagine that your dog is misbehaving on a walk, maybe he won’t walk properly and is trying to chase squirrels or battle with other dogs. As an owner this makes you feel anxious, frustrated and a little bit hopeless. Your body language, tone of voice, way you’re holding the lead and maybe even your scent transmit this tension to your dog, who then gets more jumpy, edgy and unruly.

Dogs need to Walk

cooped up dogThe other thing that always amazes me is the number of people who get dogs and seem to have no idea that they need exercixe. Quite often a dog appears on Cesar’s show who supposedly has ‘behavioural issues’ and it’s immediately apparent that the dog is just one boistrous ball of pent up energy and frustration in desperate need of exercise and mental stimulation. Then Cesar talks to the owners who admit that the dogs hasn’t had a walk in SIX MONTHS (or is only walked at the weekends, or never gets to run off lead , or whatever). Then Cesar’s rollerblades come out, the dog gets the first proper run it’s had in weeks and is suddenly more relaxed; it’s not exactly rocket science.

If I’d hardly been out of the house for a week I’d be climbing the walls and after several months of this I’d be totally neurotic, obsessive and pretty unpredictable. Why would it be any different for my dog? You can’t expect a calm, well behaved, ‘balanced’ dog if you aren’t prepared to fullfil it’s basic needs which Cesar neatly sums up as ‘excercise, disipline, then affection’. Dogs may not be wolves constantly trying to be the alpha or pact leader but they also aren’t living teddy bears who can simply be showered with affection and never given any excercise or disipline (actually, BlindDog kind of is like that, but I’m sure she’s the exception that prooves the rule!).

The Message behind the Methods

Dog PsychologyLots of Cesar’s methods are uneccessarily harsh, and therefore unhelpful, and I fundamentally disagree with his ‘dominance’ theory and the publicity he is giving it. Ultimiately I think it’s unfortunate that Cesar has created this ‘alpha dog’ persona which he now has to live up to when his understanding of dogs, his basic messages to owners and yes, his ‘dog psychology’ could actually help a lot of owners regain confidence, regain control over their dogs (and maybe their lives) and begin building the bond with their dogs which they both desperately need.

What’s your opinion of Cesar Milan? Is there any merit to his training style? Are his shows a force for good or bad? Let me know what you think in the comments or vote below.

DIY Dog Toys for a Rainy Day

It’s a rainy weekend afternoon and the last thing you want to do is take the dog for a long walk through mud and puddles, so you need to find another way to keep her occupied. It’s exactly that kind of day today so I thought I would share some ideas for fun interactive toys you can make for your dog using things you have lying around the house.

Of course you can use any interactive dog toy to keep your dog occupied, but it’s always fun to try something different and all these toys are essentially free and are a good way to recycle things you no longer need, there’s nothing to lose!

Empty milk bottlesMilk Bottle Mania

You will need:

Empty milk bottle (choose a size appropriate for your dog and throw away the cap)

Small-ish treats or your dog’s food

What to do:

1. Fill with treats and shake to get your dog interested

2. Enjoy the madness that ensues as your dog bats the milk bottle around to get the treats.

Toilet Roll Treat Toyempty toilet paper rolls

You will need:

Empty toilet roll or paper towel roll

Dog treats or chew

What to do:

1 At one end, fold two sides of the toilet roll in to seal it

2 Fill with treats or a dog chew for a longer lasting treat

3 Fold in the other end and present to your dog to destroy

empty cardboard boxBox of Doggy Delights

If you get a delivery which comes in a large box, let your dog enjoy it before you recycle it. Fill the box with treats, toys and scrunched up newspaper and help your dog rummage around to dig out its favourite treats and toys.

T-Shirt Tug and Treatdog-tugga-toy

Cut up old t-shirts or tea towels into strips to make a tug-toy with a twist. As you braid or twist your strips into a tug-toy, work in treats along the way. Your dog will have to chew and tear at the toy to get the treats out, which is great fun and will help clean its teeth. This is also great for introducing reluctant dogs to games of tug.

Puppy Piñata

Dogs love tearing up paper, and with this toy there is even a reward for them inside.

Yoneed:empty paper bag

Paper bag

Newspaper

Treats

String

What to do:

1. Stuff the paper bag with treats and torn up newspaper.

2. Twist the top of the bag closed and tie a long piece of string securely around the top.

3. Suspend the bag above the height of your dogs nose so he has to reach up and ‘catch’ the bag to get the treats.

As a variation on this game, thread string through the small hole at the top of a Kong and add a large knot to secure it. Stuff the kong well and suspend at nose level.

And finally, remember: before you throw anything away, ask yourself if it could be a dog toy!

afraid to throw things away

Older and Wiser: Tips for Living with a Blind Dog

Most of us don’t like to think about our dogs getting older and the heartbreak which will inevitably follow. It’s easy to be in denial about a dog aging and cling to the idea that they will live forever and attempt to ignore the signs of aging. It’s also common to put stiffness, slowness and disinterest down to your dog being old and leave it at that. While it is sadly impossible to turn back the clock for your dog, by accepting that he is getting older you put yourself in a position to make changes that will make his last years as fulfilling as possible.

Age brings new difficulties and problems for dogs and owners; in these posts I will look at ways to alleviate the problems and help your dog get the most out of their golden years.

What to Do if your Dog is Going Blind

If you know your dog is going blind there are things you can do now to help him or her adjust:

03092012_Damien_speech_bubblesTrain Verbal Cues

You might think your dog knows verbal cues, after all we all teach our dogs ‘sit’ ‘stay’ and so on. But would your dog respond if he couldn’t see you? Often people train their dogs with hand signals as well as verbal cues as dogs tend to respond to these more readily. Even if you have not taught hand signals, dogs still pick up on our body language, position, facial expression and context as well as verbal cues when working out what we want them to do. If your dog is going blind he is going to lose all these visual cues so the sooner you can teach him to respond to verbal cues the better.

To retrain your dog using verbal cues simply insert a verbal command before you use the gesture or hand signal which he already knows. Try to use verbal commands which sound very distinct and alter the tone you use for each command as dogs respond well to tone of voice. Each time you ask your dog to ‘sit’ for example, give the verbal command with as little body language as you can manage, followed directly by the hand signal and a treat when he obeys.

The dog will come to learn that the sound ‘sit’ is always followed by the hand signal and will start to sit when he hears the cue. Gradually lengthen the time between the cue and the hand signal until your dog is reliably sitting after the verbal cue. At this point you can begin to phase out the signal.

Train New Commands

blind-dog

It will quickly become apparent that you can teach your dog commands to help him cope with not being able to see. ‘Stop’is important if your dog is about to get into a dangerous situation, as is a ‘down stay’ from a distance if he can achieve it. ‘Up’ and ‘down’ for steps are also very useful. The onset of blindness is also a good time to brush up on leadwalking; trying to ‘steer’ a blind dog through a busy street is not easy and if he is responsive on the lead it will be ten times easier! It might be a good idea to start using a harness, which will give you more control: you can even get harnesses that let other people know your dog is blind. If you are going to let your blind dog off the lead it should be in a safe place and he must have cast-iron recall (unless he’s so slow you can easily catch  him). Remember he doesn’t know what’s in front of him, and it could be a river, electric fence or a busy road.

Keep his Environment Familiar

Blind dogs adapt surprisingly well to their surroundings and acquire a mental ‘map’ of places and routes they know well. Having said that, if your dog is already familiar with the layout of your home, changing it frequently will be stressful for him, so try to keep redecorating and new room layouts to a minimum.

Help him Navigate

plan_revised_111710Think about investing in stairgates if you dog is no longer confident navigating the stairs. You can also consider dabbing scents such as essential oils in different parts of your house such as steps, doorways and top and bottom steps of thestaircase, or use these specially designed scented stickers. (Ever since BlindDog wandered into our neighbour’s house one summer, we keep a potted herb by our door so she knows which house is hers.) You could also use plants in front of obstacles in the house and garden so the dog brushes the plants before he hits the obstacle. Putting down woodchippings would work well to indicate outdoor obstacles (trees, washing lines etc) and rugs or carpet tiles for indoor obstacles: the dog feels a different texture underfoot and learns to change direction.

Finally, try to be consistent about which doors are kept open or shut and try not to leave things lying around. It’s not fun for your dog to be constantly tripping over and walking into things (although I can’t promise never to have laughed. Sorry!)

Communicate through Sound

PONTING_1911_Dog_Listening_to_Gramophone_Antartica

Your dog is going to have to learn to navigate and communicate through sound, and you are going to have to learn not tobe embarrassed by this in public! You can train your dog to come to you or follow you by either clicking your tongue or fingers as in this video. This is also a good way to alert you dog to your presence, or to wake him up so you don’t startle him. It could also be a good idea to attach bells to other pets, small children and even yourself so your dog knows when they’re nearby.

Your dog is relying entirely on sound and smell to locate you, so using loud distinct sounds will be useful over longer distances. Try clapping to get your dog to come to you, or train him to a dog whistle. Incidently, clicker training also works well with blind dogs as they respond to the clear sound and it helps them know exactly when they’ve done the right thing.

Finally, it is important to remember that a blind dog has lost a secondary, not a primary sense and with a few adjustments and a little practice, most blind dogs can live full and happy lives.

Check back soon for more posts with advice on living with elderly dogs.

Lessons from BlindDog

Many people find it useful to turn to the teachings of Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus and others for direction and guidance. Like many dog owners I know that inspiration, enlightenment and sound life philosophy are often closer to home. Here are the philosophical teachings of BlindDog:

  1. Greet the dawn with much barking, for it is an new day and with the new day comes breakfast.
  2. Bite the hand that feeds you: it is the most efficient way to get the food.
  3. With a warm bed, a steady supply of food and belly rubs, anything is possible.
  4. If you run into a wall, door or other obstacle, do not be downhearted. Turn by 90 degrees and the way will become clear.
  5. Value worldly possessions above all else and be diligent about concealing the choicest chews, bones and empty food cartons.
  6. Sit and you will be rewarded.
  7. Patience, and a worried stare, is a virtue in the face of food that is out of reach.
  8. Value those you love and emit a continuous, high-pitched whine if something prevents you from being right next to them.
  9. When out of the house, spread your philosophy on every available lamppost.
  10. When in doubt, have a nap.

Best Toys for Blind Dogs: Scented Toys

In my last post I looked at toys which are great for blind dogs because they use sounds which help blind dogs follow and interact with them. Another way of helping your dog locate its toys is to use toys that have a strong smell.

1031 Old Soul Orbee GroupThere are some great scented toys on the market, such as the durable range of rubber toys by Planet Dog which are mint scented. The Orbee Tough for senior dogs is particularly good, it’s high contrast colours make it easier for partially sighted dogs to spot it and there is a place to put treats, peanut butter cream or cheese  for added interest. It’s also worth checking our the eco friendly range of vanilla scented dog toys by BecoThings.

becobone01

You can scent your dogs toys in different ways. For soft toys like plush toys or rope toys, try adding a small amount of scented extract,such as vanilla or mint to the toy. You could even add a different scent to each toy and train your dog to identify them by name.

For hard toys and squeaky toys try placing the toys in a zip-lock bag with strong smelling food such as a pig’s ear or dried liver, for several days so they absorb the smell. You can also try soaking solid toys in meat stock for a few hours. The scent will eventually wear off so you will need to refresh it every so often.

BristleBoneFinally, any toy which you can use with food will smell so enticing that any dog will want to interact with it! You could try the iconic Kong, or one of the great products from BusyBuddy which you can combine with edible chew treats.

Using these methods, there’s no reason your blind dog can’t enjoy almost all the same toys as a sighted dog. You can help your dog rediscover tug toys, chew toys and plush toys again, by following the tips above and spending time encouraging him to play again.

Best Toys for Blind Dogs: Noisy Toys

A lot of people have come to this blog looking for advice on living with a blind dog, and in particular toys that are  suitable for blind or partially sighted dogs. Most of the interactive toys that we review are suitable for blind dogs, deaf dogs and dogs with all 5 senses, and they have been tried and tested by BlindDog.

toss-and-shake-146

Many owners of blind dogs are worried that they will lead limited and unhappy lives as a result of their disability, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most dogs adapt very well to having reduced vision and carry on enjoying life as they did before. Having said that, there are some ways of making it easier for your blind dog to continue playing.

chuckle500Part of the reason it can be more difficult for blind dogs to play is that they have trouble finding their toys in the first place, or they losethem part way through playing, so I have collected a list of toys which make playing easier for blind and partially sighted dogs. Another reason a dog who is newly blind or gradually going blind may lose interest in playing is that they may lose confidence and become depressed. There are plenty of ways to enrich your dog, even if he can no loner see, and by encouraging your dog to engage in play you can help him gain confidence and adapt to a world of smells, sounds, and touch.

WIGGLY-GIGGLY-JACKToys that make a noise while they are being played with can keep your dog interested and make it easier to find if it gets out of reach. Try the Wiggly Giggly range of balls, jacks and dumbbells which are motion activated and make a giggling sound (plus they don’t require batteries!). Along the same lines is the Babble Ball which comes in three different sizes and has a very sensitive motion detector, so your dog can activate the toy simply by walking past. You can choose between ‘wisecrack’ and ‘animal sound’ versions. There’s also the Busy Buddy Chuckle, which is a noise-making bone and treat dispenser in one.

Various toys and balls with bells inside are also available, which are also easy for your dog to find, but you  need to keep an eye on yourdog while playing with these toys because the bell could be swallowed if it is dislodged. There’s also this lovely rattle toy from Petsatges, again for supervised play only!

1085 Orbee-tuff Whistle BallIf your dog loves playing fetch but can no longer see the ball, this whistle ball could be the answer. It makes a whistling sound when thrown so your dog can follow its direction and is vanilla scented to help your dog locate the ball using its nose.

OffOn_bone-700x700

Finally, try getting your dog to play with any toy with a squeaker; you can add a scent to help your dog find these toys. Movement and high pitched sound are two things which can activate a dogs prey (and play) drive, so if your dog can’t see one, give them the other. If your nerves can’t stand the sound, try this great squeaky toy from Kong – it has an off button!

For more ideas have a look at the great reviews over on www.blinddogtoys.com and look out for our post on Scented Toys.

5 Easy Ways to Give Old Dogs a New Lease of Life

Has your senior dog lost interest in playing and spending time with you? Does he sleep all day and want to turn around to go home when you take him on walks? You probably think that these are just signs of old age, that your elderly dog is slowing down as he gets older.

Age may have something to do with it, but the chances are that your dog is stuck in a rut and his inactivity is because he is bored; he could even be depressed. Age, disability and health problems might mean your dog can’t do all the things he could when he was younger, but there are still ways to make his life more interesting.

Plus, keeping your dog mentally and physically active will help keep him fit and happy for longer and could help stave off canine cognitive dysfuntion.

bb_dogwalking1. Go Somewhere New

Walking isn’t just about exercising your dog, it also gives them a chance to explore and discover new places, new smells and new people. If your dogs regular exercise is a potter in the garden or a walk round the block then you can improve their day by varying where you walk or going somewhere new at the weekend.

 

 

10_Nina_Ottosson_Plastic_Dog_Brick

2. Give him a Puzzle Feeder

You can’t get your dog to do the crossword but you can give his brain a workout by giving him treats or his meal in an interactive dog toy. Try the Buster Cube, or Nina Ottosson’s dog puzzles, or make your own out of an empty milk carton or toilet roll. For dogs who no longer play as much as they used to, toys which dispense food are a great way of getting them interested.

 

3. Teach your Old Dog New Tricks

Training doesn’t stop being important just because your dog is no longer a puppy, or because he knows the basic commands. Training is a great way to bond with your dog and keep him mentally active. Start by giving your dog a refresher course in the commands he already knows and then gradually introduce new tricks. How about teaching your dog to push the door closed? Or to balance a treat on his nose? It’s also a good idea to check that your dog can respond both to voice commands and visual signals in case he is losing his hearing or eyesight.

 

Treat game

4. Play a Game

Your dog may no longer be up for fetch and tug games, but why not teach him one of the variations on ‘find the treat’, or play hide and seek with him, or teach him to find your keys? Once you put your mind to it the possibilities for rainy day activities are endless!

 

 

Dog ice lolly

5. Try New Treats

Giving your dog treats is an easy way to make him happy, but it’s also a good way of adding some variety to his day. It’s easy to get into the habit of giving your dog the same treats at the same time of day, but why not mix things up by buying a new flavour or type of treat, or giving him small amount of human food to try? This doesn’t have to be unhealthy, lots of dogs like fruit and vegetables: try pieces of carrot or apple. Why not give your dog a frozen treat or an ice cube so they can experience a new temperature and texture? Also giving your dog something to chew on regularly can help clean his teeth, relieve stress and give his jaw some exercise. Bear in mind that older dogs have weaker jaws and teeth when looking for chews and chew toys.