Your children’s pets are much more than pals — they can also teach them some valuable lessons about life.
“Two of the proudest days of my life were when I introduced my ‘puppies’ into my pack,” says Cesar, breaking into a smile. The “puppies,” of course, are sons Andre and Calvin.
When his sons were just one month old, Cesar took them to meet the dogs in his pack. “It’s a very primal thing… I wanted the dogs to be able to smell the placenta.”
But not only did the dogs always recognize the scent of his sons, Andre and Calvin grew up as part of the pack’s world, and they were comfortable with the four-legged members of the family.
“I would get criticized by people all the time who would say, ‘How dare you put your kids around vicious breeds?’ ” admits Cesar. “But because my boys had always been around dogs, they had learned to trust, and to trust their instincts. If a kid comes in nervous, a dog will pick up on it right away.”
“Andre and Calvin are both very capable young guys. I bring unstable dogs into their lives so that we can help them. And they can see what the dog needs. Kids who learn to do this at an early age, it becomes a habit.”
“Now they’re grown up, and I’m happy, because Andre and Calvin both speak dog psychology — it’s a language — and they’re both moving into TV careers of their own.”
In fact, Cesar believes it would be good for all kids to grow up around dogs. “Kids growing up in modern American cities and suburbs don’t learn to respect Mother Nature, and that is unhealthy. Farm kids learn to rely on animals, but city kids are more likely to say ‘I want to watch TV — and have my dog in there with me.’ ” Improving their relationship with nature helps kids — and adults — address a lot of the problems they face. “We learn so much from paying attention to dogs,” Cesar says. “For instance, dogs are not selfish. Dogs are concerned only with what they can do for you.”
And he feels there’s an important lesson to be learned about honesty — especially for today’s overly image-conscious kids. “Dogs see you only for who you are — not who you want to be. You cannot fool a dog. A dog doesn’t listen to your words; it reads your body language, which can’t lie. Before you begin a conversation with a dog you have to acknowledge how you really feel.”
By reconnecting with nature through dogs, Cesar believes, kids develop instinctive, as opposed to intellectual, intelligence. “Instinct allows us to appreciate integrity. Trust, respect, and loyalty are what a dog represents. Kids should be around dogs from an early age — before five — so they develop this instinctive side.” The New York Times recently reported that some child therapists are going a stage further and recommending Cesar’s ideas on pack leadership for raising children. Cesar sees similarities between good pack leadership and parenting. “Leadership is not about anger or frustration. It’s not dictatorship. But the right dominance creates a healthy environment for everyone in the pack.
“Children, like dogs, are better when they have boundaries and limits they understand. Teens get in trouble when no one enforces the boundaries and limitations.”
And like his lessons on pack leadership, he believes his Exercise, Discipline, Affection formula can apply to children, too. “Ask any teacher how difficult it is to get kids to sit down and adjust to the classroom. It’s much easier if they have exercise first.”
Similarly, reward should follow work. “When my sons were younger, if either of them wanted $20, he had to tell me what he was going to do to earn it. It might be cleaning the house, or something else, but working for a reward gives a sense of achievement, a sense of value in yourself.” Cesar believes that this can help our children build the foundation for success in life by developing a strong work ethic.
By reconnecting us to nature, Cesar says, dogs have much to teach us.