The beau and I have been talking about getting a dog for years. I’m thankful we held off from taking the plunge for as long as we did because pets are expensive! And that would have been one more expense we would have needed to budget for while paying off debt.
But the top reason why we waited was because of Kitty. We’ve always wanted a retired greyhound and knew that many greyhounds cannot be trusted around cats because of their high prey drive. We didn’t want to put Kitty at risk and we also didn’t want him to feel like he was being replaced; his separation anxiety was already high, we didn’t want to fuel it even more so. With his passing in April, the house has been quiet and we’ve both been talking more and more about adopting.
Literally the day we flew home from Portugal, we put in our application for a greyhound and made a donation. Our initial expectation was that we wouldn’t have a dog in the home until September, once our gig babysitting a dog later this month was up… but if you’re friends with me on social media, you know that didn’t go according to plan. We were matched almost immediately (you don’t get to choose your dog) and we couldn’t say no.
Within that week’s time, I checked out Cesar’s Way by Cesar Millan and literally read it from cover to cover the day before we brought him home. I learned SO SO MUCH.
Honestly, I think there was a lot of fluff and unnecessary stories throughout the entire book that could have been eliminated and probably reduced its page count by half but I still learned some pretty valuable information. Before I dive into what I’ve learned, my quick review will end suggesting that all first time dog owners should read this book. It’s an easy read and will put a lot into perspective for you, prior to getting the dog and establishing a (weak) relationship. I’m sure there are a lot of other books similar to this at the library, this was just my first random choice and I wasn’t disappointed. Also highly recommended if you have a dog at home with behavioral issues – there aren’t many detailed steps on how to train a dog, but it will help train you.
Moving on from the review to what I learned:
First and foremost: your dog is a dog and has specific needs. It literally thinks your house is a cage and doesn’t care if it’s worth $100k or $14 million and doesn’t care if the food is organic or scraps from the garbage can. What it does care about is being a member of a pack, and yes, your family is a pack, regardless of the size. When adopting a dog, it’s important to reiterate that you are the pack leader, not him. This will help prevent problems down the line.
There are rules to belonging to a pack and this is probably the biggest takeaway for me from this book: for a balanced, healthy dog, the owner must provide exercise, discipline and affection, in that order! The order is very key.
Exercise: Think about a wild pack of dogs or wolves. They don’t sit around and lounge all day or just stick to a field, hoping a deer will come walking through. No – they walk and hunt for their meal. According to this book, wolves walk something like up to 10 miles a day and they don’t even successfully kill each and every day! They earn their meals. Cesar recommends taking your dog for a long walk (at least 45 minutes) or run first thing in the morning to not only earn his first meal of the day, but to also burn off a lot of energy prior to you leaving him for the day. This will help reduce anxiety and the chance of the dog acting out out of boredom (chewing, attacking another pet in the home). A shorter walk (30 minutes) in the evening before dinner again teaches a dog to earn a meal and winds them down prior to bedtime.
We had planned on occasionally walking our greyhound but our opinions have since changed and have both agreed that we will walk him twice a day. His stamina is much shorter than most breeds so we’ve adjusted our total walking time but are looking forward to establishing this routine. (I suggest reading the book to find out why simply releasing the dog into a yard or playing fetch in the yard is not exercise.)
Discipline: Again, think about your pack of wolves. When walking and hunting, they follow the pack leader. We’ve all seen the meme on social media showing the wolves in the snow but what’s incorrect about that meme is that wolves do NOT allow the weak to lead, it’s always the alpha or breeding male or female; the pack leader. The quote is motivational… but incorrect. If a wolf or dog gets out of control, they pin it down to teach it a lesson. They’ve also shunned or killed members of the pack who don’t follow the rules. Creating boundaries in your home is the same thing. Dogs like rules in the home because if they follow them, their pack leader is happy and that means the dog is happy.
Discipline for us is going to look a little like: no sleeping in our bed, no jumping when guests visit (or when we get home) – jumping means he’s the pack leader, walking through entrances after us, waiting to eat until told and no begging / barking for food. Cesar shares the importance of each of these rules in his book (well, minus the bed one, he doesn’t care where a dog sleeps as long as it’s allowed) and how they can be learned without abuse or intimidation. Fear causes a dog to lash out with aggression, respect keeps a dog in place. We know it’s going to take some work with our greyhound because we’ll be teaching him new tricks at 3 years old, but it shouldn’t take too long for him to fall into place if we both consistently keep at it.
Affection: There’s a time and place for spoiling your pup and spoiler alert! It’s after the other two directives are met. There is absolutely nothing wrong with snuggling your dog and giving him some extra love but if you’re doing it after a display of poor behavior, then you are only reinforcing the behavior. Example: your dog jumps all over guests when they first arrive and then after a few tries of shoving the dog off, everyone gives the dog attention in the form of belly rubs. That dog not only thinks he’s the pack leader, but he thinks we all love him for it! We’ve got a lot of work teaching him how to walk up / down stairs, so you better believe there will be plenty of affection during those training sessions. Stairs are scary!
Reading and reviewing this post I sound like I’ve got my shit together but let me reassure you, I don’t. I’ve learned that I’ve got resources that I never knew existed, well I knew they had to be out there, I just never looked for or used them. And friends, I’m thankful for those of you who have gone through this and have offered help and suggestions. I feel like a drill sergeant announcing I’m going to provide discipline for my pet but I’m looking to have the best experience possible, especially after 9 years of hell with Kitty. It wasn’t all hell, but it did feel like it sometimes.
Read the book. And while you’re at it, watch some old episodes of Dog Whisperer on Hulu – it’s great to see Cesar in action!
*Edit: Woah. The feedback I’ve received on this topic was immediate. I never thought to Google Cesar Millan and never thought he’d be part of a lawsuit for animal abuse. I wouldn’t suggest watching his reruns on Hulu and as I learn more on this new topic of obedience, I will surely share. His method of exercise, discipline and affection still resonate with me and I still believe a happy dog is a stimulated dog.