By Cesar Millan
It’s time to answer more of your questions, and a common thread I notice in many of them is that people focus on the dog and what it does. However, no dog behavior is without a cause, and the causes of misbehaviors are usually always the people in the Pack.
So, if your dog has a problem, the first question to ask is not “Why is my dog doing that?” It should be “What am I doing to cause it?”
Now let’s dive into the email bag!
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My Chihuahua is possessive with me. He also tries to bite me every time I go to take off his clothes. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I have read your books and try to apply your training but I can’t seem to get the clothes situation right. Please help. Tell me what to do. Thanks. — Lillie, New York
Lillie: I have a pretty good idea that the problem here is probably too much affection, although you should first rule out anything physical by having your veterinarian check to see whether your dog is experiencing pain anywhere which could cause him to snap when touched.
If your vet rules out a physical problem, then my question to you is, “Why are you dressing up your dog?” If you’re doing it for protection from the weather, that’s fine. But if you’re dressing your dog up because it’s cute, then that has to stop right now.
Humans have a tendency with dogs, especially small ones, to treat them like little human children. But if you give a dog nothing but affection, it will have no idea what the rules are or who its Pack Leader is. This can lead to all kinds of misbehaviors, including biting their humans.
Especially with small breeds, you have to let your dog be a dog. If you pick your Chihuahua up a lot or carry him around like a toy, this can make him frustrated and anxious — particularly if your response to him acting aggressive or barking is to immediately pick him up and try to calm him down with affection. That never works; it’s just telling him “I like the way you’re behaving right now, so keep doing it.”
No dog is too small to have rules, boundaries, and limitations. If you want your dog to respect you as the Pack Leader, then you have to start providing for those needs instead of fulfilling your own by dressing up and babying your dog.
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I just started to volunteer at a shelter and there are these 2 dogs that I’ve grown to like a lot. The problem is they are very afraid of everyone human. There is one I am able to pet after being there more than 15 minutes, but the other one won’t let me touch him. I was wondering if there is a way to approach these types of dogs to show them they can trust you, because I would like them to find a family some day but with that attitude, they will never. They’ve been there for more than a year. — Sabrina, Quebec
Sabrina: The best way to approach a fearful dog is “No Talk, No Touch, No Eye Contact.” And, as I mentioned above, the worst time to give a dog affection is when they are in an undesired state. When entering the kennel with these dogs, don’t look at them and don’t acknowledge them. Just enter the kennel but keep your distance and stand facing slightly away from them.
The idea is to be in their space with calm energy and let them decide to check you out when they are ready. They will do this by slowly approaching and judging you by your scent. Eventually, they may come close enough to sniff you directly.
At this point, you can slowly kneel to bring yourself to their level, but when you kneel, only bend your legs; do not bend so your upper body is over the dog, as this can be seen as a threat. Keep facing away from the dog, hold out your hand in a fist for the dog to sniff if it wants to.
This is when the dog gets to make the decision. It will either remain in your space or walk away. If the dog walks away, do not take it personally and do not follow the dog. It’s time to quietly leave the kennel for now. This in an exercise that needs to be repeated, so don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work the first time. By leaving the kennel if the dog walks away, you’re actually helping build the dog’s confidence by teaching it that calmly moving away from something that scares it will make that scary thing go away.
If the dog does stay with you, practice just being in the moment with the dog. Don’t say anything, don’t pet it and don’t make any sudden movements. Concentrate on your calmness. You’re showing the dog that some humans are not scary.
If the dog does touch you, either directly with its nose or by leaning against you, then you can give affection, but do not pet a fearful dog on top of the head, because that’s threatening, too. Instead, you can scratch the front of their chest gently. When the dog has had enough, it will wander away. Again, this is your cue to calmly leave the space. And if the dog sits or lies down next to you, congratulations! You’re beginning to win its trust.
It actually takes longer to rehabilitate a fearful dog than an aggressive one, but it can be done. Fearful dogs need a strong, calm human Pack Leader who has earned their trust. Your confidence will become their confidence. Good luck!
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My brother rescued a dog and he seems to be doing well with it. The dog is a 9 month old border collie and is very smart but also skittish and lacks confidence. We think my brother could work through these problems but my mother is very negative and critical of the dog. She even sneaks the dog tranquilizer “treats” and tries to convince everyone that he needs to get rid of the dog. She doesn’t listen to us but we recommended your program and she claims to really respect your process and opinions. A word from you would go a long way. Can you help? Thanks for all you do. — Jennifer, Texas
Jennifer: This is a case for some tough love, but not for the dog. You don’t mention whether your brother and his dog live with your mother or not. If they don’t all live together, then he cannot allow your mother around his dog until her attitude changes. Needless to say, she should not be giving the dog tranquilizer treats at all, and especially not without permission. That behavior is unacceptable.
Border collies can be very energetic, and they have a very strong herding instinct. Like all dogs, they can become skittish and anxious if their needs are not fulfilled. The dog needs to get exercise through long walks several times a day. More importantly, your brother can help the dog by giving it a job; some herding training would be a good investment and help the dog feel fulfilled.
It can be trickier if your brother lives with your mother, so I’m going to tell her what you both should do. It is her negativity about the dog that is making the situation worse. The dog may not understand the words when your mother says your brother should get rid of the dog — but it can understand the intent.
If she wants the dog to be calm and confident then she has to contribute to that process, but not with the “treats.” She should join your brother and the dog on the walk and participate in the training — with positive energy.
She also has to realize that adopting a dog is a commitment you make for the dog’s life. Unlike a coat or a car, you cannot just abandon or give away a living being because you decide you don’t like it. Border collies can be tricky because of their intelligence and energy level, but if you drain the energy through exercise while engaging the intelligence through discipline and training, you can give every member of the Pack what they want — a balanced dog and a balanced mother.
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Stay calm, and here’s to a 2014 full of harmony, trust, and love!