Dogs are mean — or are they?
SK: Are some dogs inherently aggressive?
CM: All dogs can become aggressive, but the difference between an aggressive Chihuahua and an aggressive pit bull is that the pit bull can do more damage. That’s why it’s important to make sure you are 100 percent ready for the responsibility if you own a “power” breed, like a pit bull, German shepherd or rottweiler. Often we blame the breed, but in my opinion, it’s not the breed, it’s the owner. The owner has to be the pack leader and provide exercise, discipline, then affection. If you do that, you’ll have a sweet, loving, and balanced dog — no matter what breed!
Puppy mills lead to problem dogs
SK: Can you comment on the problem with puppy mills?
CM: Puppy mills — breeding without consciousness — often result in dogs that are wired wrong, with neurological problems due to the devastating breeding and living conditions they are in. We need more awareness on this to change the situation. It’s important to note that aggression isn’t the problem. It’s the outcome of a problem.
No bad dogs, only bad dog-owners
SK: Have you ever worked with a dog whose behaviors you could not change?
CM: No, but I’ve worked with humans who I could not change. In many of the red-zone cases I see, the human is missing the fundamentals and not fulfilling the dog’s needs. They are not loving to the highest degree because this takes putting the dog’s needs first — and doing what you need to in order to earn the dog’s trust, respect and loyalty by providing leadership through rules, boundaries and limitations. Once those principles are mastered, the techniques can be applied and a better outcome achieved.
Tips to improve your dog’s behavior
SK: What’s one action that pet owners can take that will improve their dogs’ behavior?
CM: Dogs have found themselves in an odd predicament by living with humans. In the wild, dogs don’t need humans to achieve balance. They have a pack leader, work for food and travel with the pack. When we bring them into our world, we need to help them achieve balance by fulfilling their needs as nature intended. This takes exercise and discipline before affection, and always maintaining your calm, assertive pack leadership.
The best ways to manage your dog’s behavior:
- Create a schedule that includes a daily 30- to 45-minute power-walk in the morning, at the very least. This is critical for your dog’s health, both physical and mental.
- Set aside time every day to provide mental exercise by maintaining rules, boundaries and limitations. When these needs are met, the affection you give to your dog will be channeled as a reward.
- Always walk out the door ahead of your dog when leaving the house. This will show your dog who is in the leadership role. On walks, make sure that your dog is not in front of you, pulling you down the street. Instead, keep your dog to your side or behind you. This will also demonstrate to your dog that you are the alpha figure.
- Give your dog something to do before you share food, water, toys or affection. This way the dog earns his treat. For example, have him or her perform the “sit” or “down” command.
- Dogs seek attention from you. But by paying them that attention when they want it, you’re reinforcing the bad or hyperactive or anxious behavior that you’re trying to avoid. Practice — no touch, no talk, no eye contact — and see how you fare. You might be surprised at how quickly the dog settles down and looks to you as his pack leader for direction.
More from Cesar Millan
Becoming a pack leader: Sample clip from Becoming a Pack Leader, the second entry in Cesar Millan’s 3-disc Mastering Leadership series, a hands-on demonstration guide to honing pack leadership skills.