Achieving Balance and Harmony


Cesar's rules: The natural way to a well-behaved dog -- excerpt 4

“Before we start,” Ian began, “my grandfather taught me that touching an animal is an earned privilege. It’s not a right.” I smiled, feeling even more at ease. There was one more thing that this charming Englishman and I had in common—grandfathers who shared with us their wisdom in the ways of Mother Nature. “And the most dangerous part on a dog is that red thing around his neck.” He gestured at Junior’s collar. “About twenty percent of dog bites happen when the owner touches that. Happens when an angry owner grabs a collar and gets in the dog’s face—‘You bad dog.’” Ian had spent several years researching the causes and effects of domestic dog aggression, so he knew his statistics.

To avoid that potentially volatile situation, Ian uses a treat in hand as a temperament test. “I take a little time. See, I don’t know Junior. He has no reason to like me. So I want to make sure he’s okay. If Junior here takes the treat, I say, ‘Gotcha. We’re off and running. We’re gonna work with you today.” As Junior took the treat from his hand, Ian took Junior’s collar in the other, then repeated those two motions a few times. Ian was conditioning Junior to associate his hand with the pleasant experience of getting the treat. This kind of association can also be a lifesaver, he added.

“You know, we could have an emergency: he could be jumping out the car window on the freeway, and I grab his collar quickly. He’s not going to react by biting me; his first thought is, ‘Where’s my treat?’”

Ian explained to me that his process begins with a very simple four-part sequence: (1) request, (2) lure, (3) response, and (4) reward.

“So we say, ‘Junior. Sit.’ That’s number one, the request. And then we lift the food up.” Ian bent his arm at the elbow and lifted the treat lure up above Junior’s head. “Now his butt goes on the ground. That’s the response. So now, ‘Good boy. Take it.’ We reward.”

Ian then asked Junior to stand, moving his hand with the treat slightly over to the side. “When he stands, we say, ‘Good boy,’ and then we give him the treat.” Ian repeated this sequence one more time, with Junior responding nicely.

I noticed that Ian would hold the treat right up against Junior’s teeth but wouldn’t give it to him right away. “The longer you hold on to it,” he explained, “you reinforce this really nice, calm, solid sit-stay.”

Junior was doing just great with the sit-and-stand routine. Next, Ian gave Junior a much tougher assignment—the “down.”

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