Friday, March 31 would have been the 90th birthday of another César, César Chávez. Although he died almost a quarter century ago, his influence lives on. His birthday is a state holiday in California, Colorado, and Texas, and it is observed as a day of public service.

He has had schools, buildings, parks, and streets named after him, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has a National Monument in Kern County, California. So how did he make such a big impression? Most people probably know that he had something to do with working for the rights of farm workers, but it’s the way he did it that left a lasting legacy.

Like another of my heroes, Gandhi, César Chávez practiced non-violent means in order to speak out for those with no voice. He also did it with a very positive rallying cry: “¡Sí, se puede!” — “Yes, it can be done!” He was the embodiment of one of my main principles.

This is because Cesario Estrada Chávez was the perfect example of a calm, assertive leader. His opponents in the struggle for fair treatment of migrant farm workers were major corporations with a lot of money and influence. It may seem that the only way to take on such large forces is with violence and intimidation, but that is the quickest way to turn everyone against your movement. Just as red zone dogs that cannot be rehabilitated are often put down, so are most violent revolutions.

Chávez knew the power of a calm but strong “No.” In his case, he and his followers told the farming industry, “No, we will not accept being treated this way.” In turn, they convinced thousands of consumers to say, “No, we will not buy your products until you treat the workers fairly.” The workers eventually won.

I am constantly telling people that they have to be strong Pack Leaders to get the behavior they want from their dogs, but the big mistake people make is to act more like the farm workers and not the farmers. Because they only focus on affection, they are telling their dogs, “Yes, I accept your bad behavior.”

The farmers would have gone on exploiting the workers if someone like Chávez had never come along, and our dogs will continue to take advantage of us until we learn how to provide that calm but strong “No” in the face of unacceptable behavior.

It’s called setting rules, boundaries, and limitations. Chávez and the United Farm Workers did it by creating a contract with the growers. We do it for our dogs by taking on the role of the calm assertive Pack Leader and providing protection and direction.

A dog doesn’t really know what it wants to do, other than to take care of its basic needs, and avoid unpleasant, scary, or dangerous things. If we don’t offer leadership, then a dog will try to figure out how to do all of those things but, since they live in our world, what they figure out may not always be so pleasant for the humans.

A dog that doesn’t get enough exercise may take care of that basic need by bouncing off the walls or tearing up the house when no humans are home. A dog that hasn’t been properly socialized may greet every strange dog (or person) with fearful aggression. And a dog that gets nothing but affection will take on the role of Pack Leader to the humans and become uncontrollable.

When you’re having trouble getting your dog to behave, just remember: Yes, it can be done. You have to learn to understand what your dog is saying as well as what you’re saying to your dog, then learn how to provide protection and direction in a calm, assertive manner as the Pack Leader.

Stay calm and don’t forget, ¡sí, se puede!


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