Dear Cesar,

We adopted Cassie, a 10 month-old Shar Pei/Pointer-mix, from a local shelter three months ago. She had a sweet temperament and was always excited. We figured “she’s still a puppy.”

She was mouthing and jumping up a lot and needed lots of training, but she seemed to bond to me very quickly. We signed up for training class and continued with regular exercise. Mainly I walked her, but to drain energy more quickly, I took her to the dog park to play fetch. The first couple of times she was fine.

Then on one visit, a dog showed her some aggression, and the next time we went back she began the aggression and carried on with it WITH US at home! She began showing her Alpha-female side and started up with nipping and barking–AT ME! The trainer noticed the nipping at class and said that needed to stop ASAP. She suggested I increased my Alpha-ness and get her back in place. It has helped, some. But it seems like her sweetness is gone. She is sad and only wants to deal with us when we do what she wants to do. This was not what I had in mind when getting a rescued dog. Is this common? Will she eventually settle down? Will I always need to show her I am Alpha? Will she always be challenging me? I really hate to return her to the shelter, like REALLY! But I can’t see doing this if neither of us is happy. Help!

Ellen Kallioinen
Felton, CA

Cesar Millan’s answer:

Dear Ellen,

Dogs enter adolescence at around 6 to 8 months of age. During this stage, your dog will begin to challenge you. She is trying to figure out her place in the pack. It sounds like your dog may have been testing the waters that day at the park. It was an important opportunity to tell your dog that you don’t agree with that type of behavior. When you didn’t send your dog back into that sweet side – a calm-submissive state – she felt the need to control the situation. Since you did not snap that dog out of that state-of-mind at the park, the dog carried that behavior home; otherwise it would only have occurred at the park.

The first step to addressing the situation is being honest about your actions, behavior, and energy. Are you following the Fulfillment Formula? From the moment you wake up, what energy do you practice? Do you practice affection, excitement? Are you practicing leadership when you wake up, when you leave for the day, when you come back, even when you go to the bathroom! Ask yourself: Where am I missing sending leadership messages? Are certain members of the family sending the wrong message to the dog? Are you providing proper exercise in the form of a DAILY walk?

It is common for me to hear in these letters what the dog is doing wrong, but you need to figure out what you are doing wrong. That’s not always easy to figure out on your own, and it is hard for me to evaluate the situation without being there. I highly recommend that you bring a professional to evaluate the situation in your home. On the show, I always visit people’s homes to evaluate their energy and the environment. I learn about their current routine and who is involved. It is particularly important for me to assess how each family member may be contributing to the issue. A dog can become dominant if some members of the family who are not practicing 100% pack leadership.

I recommend that you give this situation two months of 100% of the Exercise, Discipline, then Affection approach. Make sure you give it your all before returning the dog to the shelter. If you do make that tough choice, don’t feel bad about your mistake, but learn from the experience! Perhaps this dog wasn’t the right match for your family. Make sure you go through the mourning process over separating from the dog.

Before considering another dog, do your research. Get the whole family involved. In the book Member of the Family which comes out in October, we talk a lot about how each family member should contribute, and we cover the entire experience of bringing a dog into your life — from finding the right dog to you until your dog passes away. You may also want to check out our DVDs which provides you with a background in understanding dog psychology. These are just a few of the resources available to you. I highly recommend you learn as much as you can before adopting again.

You want to make sure you can be 100% committed to the animal for her lifetime before bringing her into your home. I recommend that you save money for any training or behavior rehabilitation needs before bringing the dog home and consider investing pet health insurance. This way you can feel confident that you will be able to provide for all your dog’s needs before you’ve even picked her out!

Remember, caring for your canine companion isn’t just about love, it’s about providing direction. Make sure your entire family is ready to make that commitment before bringing a dog home!

Stay calm and assertive,
Cesar Millan


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