Dear Cesar,

We recently adopted a fifteen month-old black lab. This dog is very sweet and loving, and is perfect in our family as we have a young grandson who is autistic. They get along famously.

I just have one (big) problem. He has a lot of energy to run off, and in the winter here, the yard is very muddy, so I have to walk him in the park. I have him on a Gentle Leader now, but although he does not walk with me (he is always out ahead), it is even worse if we see another dog. He starts to cry and howl, and just pretty much goes nuts because he wants to get to the other dog.

I am an older woman, and my arms and shoulders are not as strong as they used to be, so I usually have some soreness after walking. I know he needs some obedience training, but I don’t know what to do about the other behavior, i.e. trying to get to the other dog. I am going to check out your collar, but I am sure I need help of a different kind also. Why oh why do you have to be the whole way in California? Maybe you could advise me on which way to go and what kind of obedience trainers I need to be looking for.

Thank you,
Marilee Johnson
N. Huntingdon, PA


Cesar Millan’s answer:

Hi Marilee,

A gentle leader head collar may help you regain some control on the walk, but I would like to remind you that it is not just about the tool. What is more important is the energy behind the tool. If you display weak or unsure energy, your dog will pick up on that, no matter what tool you are using. You need to change your energy and your outlook as well. Visualize a positive situation, and share that confident pack leader energy on the walk.

The right dog professional can help guide you through the process of becoming a pack leader. In my opinion, a good dog profession will do two things: make your dog comfortable, and motivate and inspire you.

Your dog is the best resource you have to evaluate a potential trainer. If he goes into fight, flight, or avoidance mode, that’s not a good sign. If he surrenders, then that’s the right person. Dogs are honest. They will tell you which human makes them feel comfortable and safe.

To me, it is just as important that the professional work well with you. More often than not in my work, the dog changes his behavior more quickly than the owner. So I have to focus on making my clients understand what energy they’re using and why isn’t it working to accomplish that particular task. It’s an important part of my job to inspire and motivate people to change. There are many different types of people with varying outlooks on the world, so I have to find what motivates each individual and bring it out. And every time a client feels uncertain, I have to bring it out again. It might take some work, but I truly believe that anyone can become a pack leader. It’s just a matter of unlocking your instinctual side and putting it into practice.

In many ways, a dog professional should be like a coach, working and encouraging the owner until he or she has got it down pat. So, not only do you need to find someone who makes your dog feel comfortable, you need to find someone who makes you feel comfortable. You should feel motivated and inspired after working with the trainer.

Above all, trust your gut instincts. Which one makes you feel at home?

Stay calm and assertive,

Cesar Millan

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