cesar plays with two dogs that he is training

By Cesar Millan

Every February 19th, I have moments of sadness, as it marks the anniversary of my Pit Bull Daddy’s passing. I still miss him terribly but when I think of all the amazing times we had together and all the great things that he taught me, I realize how lucky I was to have had him in my life for so long. And when I look in Junior’s eyes, I think about the last gift Daddy gave me.

How Daddy Chose Junior

I had never had a dog quite like Daddy. When my boys, Andre and Calvin, were little, I knew I could leave him to entertain them while I was busy; he helped teach Andre to walk. And when one of the boys fell down, Daddy would be right there, licking him and making sure he was okay.

Daddy as Friend, Mentor and Therapist

Daddy was everything that I could want: friend, dog, mentor, and therapist. My goal is always to stay centered, but that’s not always possible. I get stressed and emotional, but seeing Daddy as he stayed in the moment, reminded me of how beautiful things really are and got me back to where I should be. He was much wiser than I am when it comes to evaluating dogs—and people, too.

So you see I could never really replace him.

But Daddy was 15 and getting old, I’d known for a while that I would have to adopt another Pit Bull.

When the time came, I took Daddy along. Any newcomer in our house would first have to get Daddy’s approval. That’s how we wound up at the home of a friend whose female Pit Bull had given birth to a litter about two months earlier. One puppy, all gray with just a little dash of white on his chest, caught my attention immediately. Some people—the Dalai Lama, for instance—have this calm energy. So do some dogs. Daddy had it. And I quickly realized that this little gray puppy had it too. In fact, he reminded me of Daddy when he was a puppy.

So he’d passed the Cesar test—but would he pass the Daddy test? Daddy was already elderly, and older dogs sometimes just don’t want to deal with an energetic puppy. So I hesitated to stress him out with a young dog.

You can’t believe how well it went. The puppy immediately lowered his head, surrendering to the older dog, and allowed Daddy to smell him all over. Then, amazingly, he started following Daddy around. In a second, he had transferred his loyalty from his littermates and his mother to Daddy.

And Daddy accepted him. It was like Daddy was telling me, “He’ll be just as good as I was.” When I left my friend’s house, Daddy followed me—and the puppy followed Daddy.

New Member of the Family

I quickly introduced the puppy (who didn’t have a name yet) to our 30-dog pack. He just lowered his head, wagged his tail, and waited patiently while they checked him out, one by one, smelling him all over. Some of them even rolled him over on his back. None of it bothered him. He was welcomed automatically. We had a new pack member.

But we also had a new member of our household. My sons were 13 and 9 at the time—and they, like the other kids in the neighborhood, were super-excited at the prospect of the puppy. I had prepared my boys well for the new arrival. For instance, they knew that you don’t force the dog to play with you; you just let him come to you. It’s all about respecting the puppy’s space.

I’d also taught the boys that puppies explore their world first by smell, then by seeing, then by hearing. And that’s how you let a new dog get to know you: by nose, eyes, and then ears. Dogs have a keen sense of smell, and they can check you out from 14 feet away. You don’t need to hold out your hand to be sniffed. Just let the dog smell you, and make up his own mind whether he wants to get to know you better or not.

I seldom used words to communicate with the puppy, and only when I knew that he and I were on the same non-verbal wavelength—when I saw he was making eye contact and looking to me for direction—did I start talking to him. Then it was time to name him. Since he was already settling into his role as Daddy’s protégé, we decided to name him Junior.

Lessons from Daddy

At night, Junior slept cuddled up next to Daddy. Daddy might have been slowing down, but he had a new purpose: teaching Junior how to be a dog like him. I even saw Daddy teach Junior the all-important dog skill of burying a bone.

Junior seems to have absorbed most of Daddy’s lessons, even taking on Daddy’s calm mellowness, which is especially helpful in dealing with aggressive dogs. Junior has been attacked by other dogs, but he has never retaliated. He doesn’t run away, either; he just stands his ground calmly. No fight, no fright, either. And that defuses the situation.

He is well on his way to becoming the new Daddy.

I know there are people who spend a lot of money to clone a beloved dog. I think I have a better way: Before the older dog passes away, introduce a puppy who will learn from the older dog.

Some people clone their dogs so they can replace them when they die. I say, don’t clone the dog; clone the spirit of the dog.

That’s what I did with Daddy and Junior. And now, when I look at Junior, I see Daddy. It was Daddy’s final gift to me. I will always remember and love him.

What’s your best memory of Daddy? Tell us in the comments.

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