Lately, weekends have been slow blogging times for me — and, as my statistics show, slow reading time for most everyone else. That's okay. Bloggers, readers and writers alike, deserve a break. Lately, too, my posts have had a frantic quality, a "can you believe that?" attitude, that is, quite frankly, fatiguing. (Laer, who is back at Cheat-Seeking Missiles after a month-long hiatus tackles this issue. By the way, regarding Laer's return, let me just say "Hurrah!") So, I've decided to open my weekend with something light.
What's been intriguing me lately is The Dog Whisperer. I first became aware of this show through a breathless Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker which was noteworthy to me, not so much for its topic, as for a totally gratuitous display of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Knee-jerk BDS aside, I was still intrigued enough by the whole premise of the show that I ordered TiVo to deliver it to me. TiVo, ever amenable, complied.
I've now become fascinated with the show. (I'm not the only one. It's the most popular show on the National Geographic Channel.) The premise is unvarying: people own a dog that they adore, but that has behaviors that are dangerous or horribly irritating. Cesar Millan, aka The Dog Whisperer, shows up and, invariably, diagnoses the problem as one in which the owners have failed to establish dominance over the dog. This lack of dominance leads to dogs that are aggressive, obsessive and/or fearful. He then teachers the owners to be dominant.
Frankly, this is nothing new to me. I've always understood that dogs are pack leaders. They do not believe in democratic governance. If there's a power vacuum at the top, dogs will try to fill it, usually with unpleasant results for the dog-human relationship.
What is new to me is the absolute magic of watching Millan relate to animals. He'll walk into a room, and an animal that has been barking hysterically, or that has been shown in earlier footage to attack every newcomer to the house, will stare at him and slowly drop to its haunches in a totally submissive posture. As the drooling Gladwell article made clear, there is something in Millan's presence that automatically dominates dogs. He has a stillness and a control that dogs respond to completely.
Millan also does something that seems stunningly obvious, except for the fact that none of us ever think of it: he analyzes what precedes a dog's problem behaviors and cuts off the behaviors before they start. For example, if he's dealing with a dog that goes crazy whenever a car drives by, he doesn't wait until the dog goes crazy and then, as we all would, start yanking on the leash. Instead, without even looking at the dog, he's aware when the dog's attention is drawn to the car. Then, with a "shh" sound, a tap on the dog's flank, and a tug at the leash, he distracts the dog's attention completely, stopping the behavior before it starts. It's amazing to watch. It seems so effortless, until you watch the dog's owner struggle to replicate that same behavior.
Funnily, after watching the show, I'm less inclined, rather than more inclined to get a dog. I'm very verbal (as if you wouldn't have guessed that already). I try to establish my dominance over dogs through words, rather than body language. In this regard, I remind myself of that wonderful old Gary Larson Far Side cartoon. You know the one: The first panel is titled "What we say to dogs." You then see one of Laron's humanoid characters, hands on hips, facing an alert dog. Out of the human's mouth, in the cartoon's voice bubble, comes a steady stream of instructions, periodically punctuated by "Ginger," the dog's name. The second panel is entitled "What dogs hear." You see the same picture but the dialogue coming out of the human's mouth is reduced to "Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger." (Larson also did a cat one, with an identical first panel. In the second panel, though, the voice bubble is empty.)
Even though my brain knows I'm just "blah blahing" my dog, I keep on talking — and then getting very frustrated when the dog fails to respond (a problem I have with my children, too). When I leave talk behind, I don't seem to have the ability to establish dominance at all. Maybe I just need to accept that and get a bunny rabbit.
Talking to Technorati: The Dog Whisperer
[By the way, I found the dog picture I used here. That website has other wonderful pictures of this same charmer.]