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Digby, Cesar and me

I'm usually not so fond of jumping on the bandwagon of the latest popular thing. Cesar Millan and his tv show "The Dog Whisperer" were everywhere, which to me smelled suspiciously of a passing fad. The reason I finally checked out his book from the library seemed to be the easy access. I put it on hold and grabbed it the next time I went to work. I have to admit that now I realize it wasn't just that. For a while now Digby has not been happy and neither have I. Let me see... since we got him, we added two little kids to the family, continued to live far from relatives, still don't have extra money and walking around our apartment complex is somewhat an exercise in death defiance. Basically, I am tired, but Digby is not. Digby sleeps over 12 hours a day and wakes up READY TO GO GO GO. To his great disappointment we usually were not go go going anywhere with him, really. So I felt bad for him, but I felt worse for myself. I don't get to do what I want either Digby, so suck it up! The thought of having to give priority to his needs on top of everything else did not sit well with me, only... his behavior was getting worse and worse and I realized, all I did was feed him and yell at him and something had to change.

Not a human, definitely

Then Cesar came into our lives! I thought his book was going to tell me all the things I did wrong and that I had to dedicate my life to my dog and then I was going to groan, throw it out the window and call that maintenance man who seemed so in love with Digby last time he came over to fix the peeling paint in the bathroom. The thing is, the book did tell me something of that sort, but I ate it up, because Cesar is popular for a good reason. He really succeeds at making you see your dog from the animal's prespective while at the same time skipping any kind of "humanizing" nonsense. "Ruls, boundaris and limitayshions!" I was reciting in my mind "exercise firs', disciplin secon' and affecshion thir'" (the encantador Mexican accent is inseparable from Cesar's personality). Before I had even finished the book I tried to apply what I had learned with Digby:

- Daily walks if possible. ("The walk mimics the pack's migrating behavior. It is the essential tool to build bonding between pack leader (ME) and follower (Digby). The walk drains the animal's energy and makes him receptive for discipline and learning.)

- Disciplined walking. ("Don't let the dog sniff or walk however he wants, not even look wherever he wants. He is supposed to follow the leader and pay attention. This is a mental challenge to the dog, which in return will reduce hyperactive behavior.")

- Feed after walk ("Food is given as reward for a well done job.")

- Build a consistent pack leader/pack follower relationship by practicing calm-assertive energy (in me). ("A leader is not aggressive, but assertive. The dog can feel your attitude and energy, which is the way he communicates. Not through words.")

There is no question this is an additional imposition on my time, but after I had started this, even though far from fulfilling it all, I saw immediate improvement in Digby. He was less hyper, less annoying, more like himself and I - just like Cesar said - was bonding with my dog and so we both started draining our frustration. It sounds quite simple, but to me, it was a discovery. One thing Cesar says again and again is how he believes that dogs are in our lives for a reason, mainly to help us live a balanced life. I was a little reluctant to concede my dog this type of influence, but at this point I'm willing to believe that to be true. As I was struggling to restore discipline in Digby's life and mind (Submitting a dog is hard, even if he is as small as Digby... his stubbornness knows no boundaris nor limitayshions.) and find time to walk him, I couldn't help see the parallels to my own life.

Life with two small children is chaos, add to that the neverending line of household tasks and errands and you will lose your mind, that's old news. Trying to add yet another effort, like establishing a routine, a schedule... discipline (!) seems like overkill. It has the opposite effect though. Knowing what comes next, sticking to a plan, resisting distractions, submitting... creates order and restores peace (as far as my life can be called peaceful at this point). The extra work pays of down the road. Walking for the sake of it, with no hurry, where all you are concerned with is your next step and taking that time for yourself is incredibly rejuvenating, even if you do it at 7 am after only a few spurs of sleep. I would have never gotten up that early (What? That's early to me!) to take a walk if it wasn't for Digby. Here I was trying to give Digby a better life and in the process helped myself. "Duh!" - you might think. Discipline and exercise - a no-brainer! Maybe. My problem is though that after a 60 to 80-hour-work-week I really don't want to be disciplined nor exercised. I want to be relaxed, on the couch, oblivious.

Digby, submitted

The most important thing according to Cesar - and the biggest challenge for me - is becoming the calm-assertive leader at all times. I suppose I can be assertive, but calm? Naturally I am not someone who remains calm when all her buttons are pushed at once and repeatedly. Instead I light up, just like the elevator dial and it takes me a while turn it off ("it" being the impatience, the anger, the despair, etc.). I have three very dedicated button-pushers, all of who have a natural advantage (increased levels of intuitiveness given their inability to express themselves verbally) and full immunity (they are just children/dogs!). In short, they instinctively know when and how to bug me, yet can never be held accountable. Just like the discipline and exercise issue though, this challenge has reminded me that I really do need to "rule" my house and that it cannot be achieved while I am upset or in Cesar-speak "imbalanced". I just cannot give up.

Pack leader and follower

The only chapter that I'm missing in his book is the one on how the pack leader needs to achieve balance through getting enough sleep. Given Cesar's almost hypnotic influence on animals (including some of the human variety), surely he should know how to make babies sleep through the night. I'm counting on you, Cesar Millan.

Posted at 09:09 AM on September 11, 2006

The advice sounds a lot like the same advice for raising little boys.

Posted by Pansy Moss at September 12, 2006 11:10 AM

This is a great entry, Dinka. Very thoughtful, insightful, and funny. I am a little relieved (okay, a lot) that we don't have a dog. At this point in life I am up to my ears in things to do and I don't ever get them all done. However, I like how you find the silver lining and keep pressing on. You're letting the experience of teaching your dog teach you. Give Digby a scratch from me. :)

Posted by Lindsey at September 12, 2006 11:56 AM

Hmm, this is timely for me, because I was just thinking that I need to suck it up and take my dogs(um, that is, boys) to the playground after school every day. How do I hate the playground? Let me count the ways... but I hate having hyper and cranky kids even more, so the playground it is. I hope I find similar benefits for myself as well! (Just an aside, do you live in a dangerous area? Re: the death-defying walks around your apartment complex...)

Posted by kate at September 19, 2006 7:04 AM

Kate, not at all (dangerous), but the road is busy and there is no sidewalk on the entire street basically. The playground for example is a 10-minute walk but i rarely go because it's no fun with two kids and no sidewalk. It is my biggest complaint with the US. SIDWALKS! How hard can it be?!

Posted by dinka at September 19, 2006 7:35 AM