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

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.

Bake your own Dog Treats: Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Biscuits

Cheese and pumpkin seed dog biscuits

Ok, I admit it, I did it again. I baked for my dog. Last time I baked dog treats I was convinced it would happen very infrequently. But this time I couldn’t resist making miniature cheese and pumpkin seed biscuits, which look like tiny almond biscuits, but are dog friendly. They went down very well with BlindDog and taste pretty good to humans too! Here’s how to make them yourself:

Ingredients

For 60 small biscuits

40g of cheddar or other cheese, finely grated

30g pumpkin seeds, chopped (plus extra to decorate)

100g spelt flour (or plain flour)

1tbs olive oil

1 egg, beaten

Egg wash (for the glaze)

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Place the flour in a mixing bowl, add the pumpkin seeds and cheese and mix
  • Stir in the beaten egg and olive oil so the mixture begins to combine into a dough
  • Add a little water and mix until a smooth dough is formed
  • Lightly oil two baking trays
  • Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin (i.e. 0.3cm or 1/8 inch)
  • Use a small cutter to cut out the biscuits (I used a bottle top) and place them on the baking tray
  • To decorate, brush the biscuits with egg wash and place a pumpkin seed in the centre of each biscuit. You could also try grating more cheese over the top
  • Bake at 180 C for 20 minutes

Do you bake for your dog? Let us know what recipes your dog enjoys in the comments.

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.

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.

Bake your own Dog Treats: Salmon and Parsley Bites

As mentioned previously I have just dipped my toe into the strange world that is cooking for your dog. It probably won’t be a regular thing, but I thought I should share the recipe here, along with our verdict, in case any body else wants to try their hand at baking dog treats.

I have adapted the recipe from Henrietta Morrison’s book Dinner for Dogs.  I chose salmon because it contains high levels of omega-3 which promotes a healthy skin and coat as well as brain function.  I added parsley because it contains vitamin C, is supposed to help with bad breath and makes the end result look more interesting.  The original recipe called for plain flour, but many dogs are wheat intolerant and it can make others itchy, I have gone with spelt flour because if you’re going to the trouble of cooking for your dog, you might as well make it hypoallergenic.

Ingredients

200g tin of salmon or tuna in oil

(1 tbs olive oil. If, like me, you could only get salmon in water)

Handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

100g spelt flour (or plain flour)

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.

2. Tip the salmon with it’s oil (or drained salmon with olive oil) into a bowl and use a fork to break into small flakes. If you find any pieces of bone either remove them or crush them into small pieces with the fork.

3. Add  the parsley and the beaten egg and mix well.

4. Add the spelt flour and mix until it comes together in a dough.  If you are using spelt flour rather than plain flour you may find the dough is quite wet and you need to add a little more flour until it is easy to work with.

5. Knead the dough and roll it out on the work surface until it is around half a centimetre thick.  Use a small cutter to cut out shapes, or cut into small squares with a knife. Place the treats on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

6. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Our Verdict

The treats were fun and easy to make and BlindDog was in the kitchen looking hopeful the whole time I was cooking.  The treats looked pretty good when they were finished and given Henrietta Morrison’s mantra of never feeding her dog something she wouldn’t eat, I felt obliged to try one. It was actually quite good, especially with the addition of the parsley, although the idea of a fish flavoured biscuit was a bit strange.

BlindDog chomped on the treats with relish so it was definitely a thumbs up from her.  The recipe does make a lot of treats, easily more that BlindDog should eat in two weeks, so I have put half of them in the freezer.

If anyone else has tried cooking for their dog, we’d be keen to know how you got on!

A Real Dog’s Dinner: Should You Cook for your Dog?

Dinner for DogsToday I baked for my dog. To give you some idea of the severity of this situation I hardly ever bake for my other half, for my friends or for myself.  But today BlindDog got freshly baked salmon and parsley biscuits and this is a dog who will eat anything and everything put in front of her, including things she finds on the street.

The only semi-rational explanation I can give for this sudden onset of baking madness is that I have been morbidly curious about Henrietta Morrison’s cookbook for dogs ever since it came out.  The book, called Dinner for Dogs, along with the dog food brand Lily’s kitchen, which was founded by Morrison when her dog Lily went of her food and Morrison realised how poor the quality of most commercial dog foods is.

The whole concept goes hand in hand with the whole food and organic revolution in the human food market, and Morrison’s reason for starting Lily’s kitchen and writing Dinner for Dogs was that she wasn’t prepared to feed anything to her dog that she wouldn’t eat herself.

The book is full of ‘easy’ recipes to cook for your dog from cupcakes to birthday cake, from everyday stews to Christmas Dinner.  Morrison also translates some common ingredients of dry dog food and reveals that a lot of commercial brands contain ingredients that are unwholesome sounding and difficult for dogs to digest.  She also gives a good comprehensive list of ‘human’ foods that are suitable for dogs along with their benefits (although this section gets a little ‘health-food shop’ in places).

Every time I look at the book I have to add the mental hashtag #firstworldproblems because, to be honest, most people have other things to worry about. And I don’t think I’m going to ‘try to cook for your dog at least once a week’ as Morrison suggest because I’m too busy aiming to cook for my other half that often! Morrison herself admits that the recipes included in the book are intended as a supplement to a nutritionally balanced dog food and should not be the dog’s sole diet.

The main benefit of this book is educating people who don’t feed their dogs well, by highlighting the pitfalls of feeding a low quality dog food and the dangers of feeding your dog the wrong kind of human food. Some of the recipes might be nic

e for a special occasion but there’s no way I’m going to be cooking for BlindDog several times a week! Even though the recipe I tried was easy and fun to make, and even though BlindDog loved eating the result, I couldn’t help feeling that I could have spent the time better by actually doing something fun with her.

bone-shaped-homemade-dog-treats

The book is at best a bit of educational doggy fun which is helping promote the Lily’s Kitchen brand and at worst something to make doting owners feel inadequate. I would advocate feeding the best quality dog food you can afford and investing in your dog by spending time with her.

You can find the recipe for Salmon and Parsley Bites here, along with our verdict.

Product Review: Training Treat Ball by Good Boy

Treat BallThis was the first interactive toy we tried with BlindDog and overall I think it was £5 very well spent. The basic concept doesn’t require much explanation: the ball is hollow, with a opening in it and when you fill it with treats or dog food, the dog has to roll it around to get them out. The main benefit of this particular treat ball is that you can adjust the size of the opening to vary the difficulty or so you can use different sizes of treats or kibble.

The ball looks quite big next to BlindDog (It’s 12cm tall) but that doesn’t stop her at all, and I think it would be suitable for all but the very biggest and tiniest dogs.

The treat ball doesn’t come apart, but the adjustable opening makes it relatively easy to fill with kibble compared to treat balls with one small hole.  Filling with BlindDog’s ration of 1/3 cup of kibble is very quick and while it would easily hold a lot more food it would take a little longer.  I try and feed at least one of BlindDog’s meals from a puzzle toy every day so from that point of view the toy is perfect.

The best aspect of the training treat ball is it’s entertainment value.  BlindDog loves playing with it and will keep coming back to it after the treats are gone (hoping it’s refilled!?). In terms of physical exercise, she will chase after it all round the house, and I think it must be great for improving her dexterity and what I can only describe as paw-nose coordination!

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Are Small Dogs Bored Dogs?

A lot of attention has been given to dog behaviour recently, and specifically to the ways our dogs see the world (in our case, not too well!).  I’m thinking of programs such as Victoria’s Stilwell’s ‘It’s Me or the Dog’, Cesar Millan’s ‘The Dog Whisperer’ (although the less attention paid to him the better) and Dr John Bradshaw’s fantastic book, ‘In Defence of Dogs’.

We seem to be slowly catching on to the fact that dogs, descended from wolves and domesticated in order to work with us, get bored if they have nothing to do. A ‘naughty’ dog is usually a bored dog who chews the furniture, barks himself hoarse at the smallest noise and shoves his nose into everything simply because he hasn’t got anything better to do.

In all of these discussions the spotlight is on burly, boisterous BIG dogs.  In part this is because large breeds were bred to spend all day herding sheep, retrieving game or guarding homes and so they require a lot of mental as well as physical exercise. But its also big bored dogs cause big damage and destruction.

Little dogs tend to get overlooked and I have a feeling that as a result many owners are failing to adequately enrich their small dogs.  Perhaps because they don’t realize how important it is to stimulate their dog’s brains. Or maybe because if their dog is bored it’s just the dog that suffers and not their table legs?

I won’t deny that BlindDog is a lapdog and was bred to be expert at receiving cuddles, getting tummy rubs and sleeping on the sofa.  And believe me, she excels at all of these jobs.

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But BlindDog also has Water Dog and Poodle in her long ancestry, both dogs which were bred to retrieve waterfowl and assist sailors.  When BlindDog is splashing through puddles, racing over snow or following a scent through the undergrowth, you can really see the big, working dog behind the fluffy, teddy bear haircut.

When small dogs are bored they can turn into attention seeking, noisy, destructive (and sometimes aggressive) brats. They might be able to do limited damage, but there’s no limit on the damage being bored can do to them.

On this blog you’ll find lots of ideas for ways to keep any dog (big or small) enriched, engaged and entertained.