By Cesar Millan
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Today, I’m having a big party up at the Dog Psychology Center with my human pack, and it’s going to be a day of music, dancing, food and fun, but here’s a question for you. Do you know where the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world is?
If you answered Mexico, then you’d be wrong — the major patriotic holiday there is September 16th. The big celebrations all happen in America, with the biggest right here in downtown Los Angeles.
One of the things I love about America is that this place has absorbed things from so many other cultures, and celebrates them all. In any big city, you can find places where all the businesses have signs in languages besides English, but the customers come from everywhere and all backgrounds.
If countries were dogs, America would be a big, happy mutt, made up of many breeds but not identifiable as any one of them. That’s a big part of what makes this country so special.
It’s funny, though, because if you ask any native-born American, “What are you?” they’re more likely to answer with where their immigrant ancestors came from before they identify with something like “American” or “Chicagoan” or “Angeleno.”
That’s kind of like calling a huge dog of indeterminate type a Chihuahua because one of its ancestors four or five generations back happened to be part Chihuahua, even though nothing in the dog’s appearance or behavior reflects that. That’s the same thing as a person who was born in America identifying themselves as German, even though they don’t speak the language and know nothing of the culture.
We do the same thing to dogs, though, and it becomes a problem when prejudices about breeds contradict what we see in behavior. In too many places, just labeling a dog part pit bull can lead to it being banned or destroyed.
I am constantly reminding people that dogs are first animals, then species, breed and, finally name, but it’s very common, especially in places where people think of dogs as their little furry children, to get it the wrong way around — name, breed, species, animal.
Unless a dog is purebred, breed has very little to do with its behavior and, even then, breed-specific behaviors fall into very broad categories, like hunting or herding. The most important determiner for their behavior is that they are animals. They live in the moment and communicate directly with energy.
Second most important is that they are dogs; they communicate and socialize in ways that are specific to that species, just as cats or rabbits or ducks communicate and socialize in ways specific to their species.
Bad behavior is not the result of a dog’s breed. It comes from the dog being unbalanced, and that lack of balance comes from how we treat them. If we fail to fulfill a dog’s needs for exercise, discipline, and affection (in that order), and if we do not give calm, assertive pack leadership, then any dog may become fearful, aggressive, or even a red zone case.
We need to learn to let dogs be dogs. We would also benefit greatly from learning to do the same for our own species.
As a human, it can be fun to know where our great grandparents and so on came from — was one of my distant ancestors a Spanish sailor for Cortés, or a Mayan prince? But it is terribly wrong to ever assume that this will dictate how we or others behave.
It is just as wrong to make assumptions about human behavior based on race or origin as it is to make assumptions about dog behavior based on breed. This is what leads to things like war. Cinco de Mayo wouldn’t even exist if one bunch of humans who identified as Mexican didn’t have to take up arms to defend themselves against another bunch of humans who identified as French.
If you put a group of dogs of very different breeds together in a pack, they don’t team up based on breed. They only see a lot of other dogs, and they interact accordingly, as a pack. That’s a lesson we should take to heart.
We are not first American, Mexican, German, Spanish, French or any other “breed.” We are one species — human — and this is what we should celebrate, always.