Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Light Bulb

I refuse to use the O Magazine jargon and call it an aha! moment. More like a hahahahaha moment, anyway. 

I'd been watching Cesar Millan interviews and show excerpts. Mr. Millan has plenty of critics who say that he is cruel and his methods outdated. Others swear by him.

What does that all mean? I don't know. What I know is that when I went to take My Bad Dog for an evening walk, I remembered how in one interview, Cesar had mimicked how Americans--and especially American ladies--talk to their dogs, using pleading, almost whining voices, repeating commands with a pitch that gets higher and higher. I decided I would give a command once, and then show My Bad Dog by my impassivity that I was serious. I could wait her out. I have two teen-agers. I have practice in waiting. I am highly skilled in waiting. I hate waiting more than anything, but I'm good at it.

And wouldn't you know, that resolution changed everything. I stood at the door with the leash, told My Bad Dog to sit, and then I waited. Sometimes she sits immediately. Sometimes I remind her to sit by putting gentle pressure on her back. This time, I just looked at her.

She walked in a circle, looked away, looked back at me. I stayed exactly where I was and did nothing. She sat, and I put on the leash. Then I told her to wait while I opened the door.

Shenanigans ensued. She didn't jump or bolt, but she did rise and move toward the door. I held up my hand in the gesture she understands to mean wait or stay, and then I waited, and then she stayed.

Repeat the above for what happened while I locked the door.

And then on the walk, My Bad Dog behaved perfectly 90% of the time. During the remaining 10%, she did not behave badly, but she did step ahead of me--not pulling on the leash, not chasing cats nor mail carriers, not being aggressive in any way--and I just stopped walking, stood still, and waited. Every time she circled back, took her place by my side, and waited for me before she started walking again.

It was as if I somehow understood that the way to get My Bad Dog to do what I wanted was to believe that she would do what I wanted and to act in that belief. Not asking her, not coercing her or pleading with her or bullying her in any way. I don't even know how to explain it; I felt different, and I talked to her differently.

Or rather, I hardly spoke to her. Poor My Bad Dog. I really talk to her far more, I think, than interests her, but she is generally polite about it. After seeing Cesar mimic American Lady dogspeak, I got so bored with the sound of my voice. I'd taught My Bad Dog every command in voice and hand signal, so there was no reason to keep up with all the blah blah blah blah. Maybe she behaved well out of gratitude for the gorgeous silence.

When my daughters came home, My Bad Dog and I performed a demo. My daughters were impressed, or at least they said they were, and that's enough for me.

We'll keep working and we'll see how it goes.

On the Cesar front: This video I found disturbing. I can't imagine kicking My Bad Dog.

On the other hand, there are probably many who would tell me how cruel I was to use a pinch (prong, training) collar on My Bad Dog. What defense do I have? A dog trainer told me to use it. My Bad Dog was uncontrollable without it. But then it backfired--and I learned that indeed, it did hurt her. Besides, today when I was watching all these interviews, I thought that I would like to find a way to inspire My Bad Dog to want to do as I asked. I don't want her to walk well on the leash just because she is afraid I will yank on her collar or say no in a strict voice. I want her to walk well with me because she wants to.

In their anger against Cesar and his techniques, some of these anti-Cesar trainers insist that Mr. Millan's whole philosophy is nonsense, but I think they're wrong when they dismiss the importance of approaching a dog with what Mr. Millan calls calm-assertive energy. I know that my dog shows anxiety when I'm anxious. Besides, even if you can't measure or even satisfactorily define what he means by energy, we all know it's there.

Also on the other hand, not that I am defending the kicking, but unless someone has successfully rehabilitated a dog like My Bad Dog, a dog that has bitten at least three people (that I know of--one on my watch and two during the previous owner's, though I expect it's likely the bite count is higher), a dog that when she sees a mail carrier goes into a ferocious state that would frighten any normal person--well, that person doesn't get to offer me advice about how best to rehabilitate My Bad Dog.

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