By Cesar Millan
This week America celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he spoke about his hope that one day America would be a nation where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Because we are intellectual and emotional, eliminating prejudice is a difficult thing for humans to do. We use words to label things, and then apply emotional judgments to the things we have named. Sometimes, this judgment is beneficial — when we love our family and friends, or appreciate the beauty of nature.
Sometimes, though, this judgment is bad, especially when we come to a negative opinion of an entire group of people based on our labels and emotions. This is why it’s called prejudice. The word means pre-judging. Fortunately, there is a way for people to learn to stop doing this.
Humans may judge people by the color of their skin, but dogs only judge us by the content of our character. How do they know our character? By the energy that we send out to them. They are drawn to calm, assertive energy naturally. At the same time, they try to avoid negative energy states, like hostility, weakness, fear, or chaos.
A dog doesn’t care what color a person is, or what religion, or gender, or sexuality. They don’t care what car you drive, or how fancy your house is, or how much money you have. The only question that matters to them is: Do they feel safe and comfortable around your energy?
In humans, prejudice is based on fear, especially of the unknown. So what about fearful dogs? Are they prejudiced? In fact, no, because dogs cannot fear the unknown. They only fear things based on past experience.
There’s an old saying, “El perro escaldado del agua huye,” meaning, “A scalded dog runs away from water.” But they only do this when they encounter water. They don’t sit around worrying that someone is going to come in and throw water on them. The fear only happens in the moment that it becomes necessary.
This also means that we humans can help fearful dogs get over it by associating the fearful object with something pleasant or by exposing the dog to it with nothing bad happening, until the fear stops. In behavioral training, this process is called extinction.
I want you to note something very important about “something pleasant” and “nothing bad happening” above. You may think that these only involve the object of the dog’s fear, but that’s not the case. They also include you and your energy. You cannot solve a fearful dog’s problem if you yourself are anxious or fearful or tense.
Here’s where an interesting thing happens. As you learn to move into that calm energy state that will bring balance to your dog, you bring balance to yourself. And a balanced person has no prejudice about anything. That includes not only against people, but against any new, unknown situation because of nervousness, anxiety, or fear. So, as we teach our dogs they teach us — we just have to listen to the lesson they have for us.
Be calm and improve the world!