I mentioned in my last post that I had been watching a lot of Dog Whisperer. I always hate it when I jump on a bandwagon – I tend to object on principle to buying wholesale into someone else’s world-view. I also get a little irritated with the people who breathlessly gasp about Cesar Millan’s “miraculous” transformation of their dog’s behavior. Even though he doesn’t seem to buy into their assessment, it’s hard to separate the man’s competence from the aura other people ascribe to him of being some sort of demigod.
However, facts are facts: the man’s really good with dogs. It is amazing to watch him analyze the behavior of some hard case pit bull or neurotic mutt and come out on the other end with a dog that is more comfortable in his or her own furry skin. And every single time, it boils down to one thing: the dog is, in fact, a dog. No matter what happens, the dog is going to look at the world through doggy eyes and assess it with a doggy brain. I don’t care how smart your pooch is, he’s never going to evaluate the world with a human’s perspective.
For someone who prides herself on nuance, this seems overly simplistic – and immediately, I’m down the rabbit hole again: this isn’t international diplomacy or literary criticism. It’s a dog’s brain. A dog’s brain is not, in fact, terribly complicated. But it is different. And while a dog’s brain isn’t capable of human-style analysis, a human can change their point of view to see what their dog is seeing.
Having taken a lot of Millan’s methodology on board in dealing with Tosh, I had a dramatic example of how well this stuff works the other day. Tosh and I were at the end of a run. He had been leashed in to heel for almost the entire time, with a few approved sniff-breaks. He was behaving beautifully: attentive, calm, submissive.
Out of another trail came two guys with three big labrador mixes: big, shaggy beasts, each at least half again as big as Tosh. They were ranging around off leash, and they may be part of a big pack that lives just off of the trail – the kind of house you avoid if you see big furry shapes in the yard, because this is a pack that whips itself into a frenzy at a moment’s notice, and if they get over the fence, there could be trouble.
Two of them split off of from the group, and deaf to the yelling of their owner, came bounding at Tosh. Without thinking, I pulled Tosh behind me and drew myself up, throwing out my free arm and spitting a loud, “TCSHHHHHHT!” These big dogs, who had previously been focusing entirely on Tosh, looked at me, startled, then started to look back down at Tosh. I repeated the sound and the movement. They gave me their full attention, ignoring Tosh, and focused on the Instant Pack-Leader. I stomped toward them, telling them, “Git,” and they bolted back to their owner (who was standing about 20 yards away and yelling like a complete fool instead of actually coming over and trying to take charge of his dogs).
This dog behavior stuff? It just works. You just have to think like a dog.