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Cesar Millan: Train pet owners, not dogs

In his new book "Cesar's Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog," celebrity dog behavior expert Cesar Millan offers a comprehensive view of all dog training options — so every dog owner can find the perfect approach that works for them and their dog. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

“What’s the best training method for my dog?” It's a common question asked by countless dog owners. In his new book "Cesar's Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog," celebrity dog behavior expert Cesar Millan offers a comprehensive view of all dog training options — so every dog owner can find the perfect approach that works for them and their dog. Here’s an excerpt:

IntroductionPeople don’t usually seek me out when their dog won’t sit on command. They beg me for help when their dog is destroying their life. In the opening of my show, "Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan"on the National Geographic Channel, I always say, “I rehabilitate dogs; I train people.”

Yet, still, the press refers to me as “dog trainer” Cesar Millan. And owners constantly ask me for my favorite training tips. The first part of this book recounts my early experiences in the world of dog training and relates how I came to do what I do today.

I grew up in a Third World country, a place where you can’t always run down to the local supermarket or shopping mall to get what you need. In rural Mexico, we learn to adapt and to work with what we have. For me, it turned out to be a way of living that really promoted my personal creativity. From a very early age, I knew I wanted to work with dogs, and I knew I had a gift for it. I didn’t have any formal training, or access to scientific studies, but I did have my passion for dogs—and the advantage of growing up around packs of them. I spent years side by side with them, working with them, and, most of all, observing them. I’m proud of how I was able to use my own ingenuity to become successful at rehabilitating so many hard-to-reach and “last chance” dogs.

Since I began my TV show in 2004, I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of different dog owners, and through these experiences, I’ve learned that in the vast majority of cases, it’s the people who usually need the most training in the human- dog relationship.

The "Dog Whisperer"show has given me a working classroom in which to hone my abilities to communicate with and reach out to people, and to help them to see that everything they do — often, things they themselves are unaware of — influences the way their dogs behave. It’s not easy to look in the mirror and admit, “I am the problem.” But I hope that with kindness and love I have helped many of the owners who have appeared on our show to do just that. So many people who have been on our show come back years later to relate how the experience totally transformed both their dogs and their own lives.

When I finally gave in to requests that I write a training book, however, I decided that my own experience and special ability were not enough to give readers a comprehensive view of all the options for dog training that exist out there. So I reached out to some of the most experienced and acclaimed dog trainers, educators, and animal behavior professionals in the world. I am so grateful that so many of them agreed to participate. Some of the professionals in this book have openly disagreed with me in the past, and yet here they are, pooling their knowledge and experience with mine on these very pages. That is a beautiful thing, and it tells you a lot about their strong commitment to bettering the lives of dogs and dog owners. These open- minded leaders in their fields have helped me make this volume perhaps the very first place where you’ll find such a wide range of training theories and methods all fairly represented between the covers of the same book.

One of the things I love most about America is that it is a place of many options. I am grateful for all these choices. I want my readers to know that there are so many possibilities available, they are sure to find something that works for them and their dogs.

My evolution from training dogs to training people
By the time I saw "Lassie"and "Rin Tin Tin" on television, I was nine or ten years old and already entranced with dogs. From as early as I can remember, I was fascinated by, drawn to, and in love with the packs of working dogs that lived with us on my grandfather’s farm in Sinaloa.

They weren’t pretty like Lassie or obedient like Rin Tin Tin, but sometimes I felt more a part of them than I did my human family. I never tired of just watching them — the way they interacted and communicated with one another; the way the mothers so effortlessly but firmly raised the pups; and the way they managed to solve disputes with each other quickly and cleanly, usually without even fighting, then move on to the next thing without bitterness or regret. Perhaps in some way I envied the clear and simple rules of their lives compared with the complexity of the human interactions in my own close but sometimes troubled family. All I knew then, however, was that dogs fascinated me, took me out of myself, and made me want to spend every spare minute learning everything I could about them.

Then Lassie and Rin Tin Tin came into my life through television, and I began to wonder if there wasn’t something about dogs I was missing. You see, at first I was totally fooled by these professional performing dogs. As a father, I used to watch my son Calvin watching kung fu movies on television when he was younger, and I could see by the look in his eyes that he believed the guys were actually fighting each other. He didn’t realize that the fight was choreographed by a stuntman behind the scenes. Well, I was the same way in my beliefs about Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. As primitive as television may have been back then, it did a great job convincing a naive little Mexican boy that there were amazing magical dogs in America that were born being able to communicate with humans, march in the army, and always manage to save the day. Before I even knew that there was a trainer behind the scenes, signaling to Rin Tin Tin to jump off the roof, I got it into my head that somehow, someday, I just had to get to America to meet these amazing dogs that could talk to people, leap over fences, and get mischievous little boys like me out of the trouble we were always getting into!

I think I believed Lassie and Rin Tin Tin did the things they did all on their own because the dogs on our farms seemed to do everything we wanted of them without being told or coerced by us to do it. They would naturally follow my grandfather out into the field and help him corral the cows. They would naturally accompany my mother or sister along the road, as guides and escorts. We didn’t reward them with food every time they followed us across the river or when they barked to alert us of a predator in the area. We did ultimately reward them — but always at the end of the workday, with our leftover meat or tortillas. So I already knew dogs that seemed to be able to communicate with people. To my mind, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin were just a cut above that.

By the time I realized that Rin Tin Tin and Lassie were specially trained dogs, I was a few years older and living with my family in the city of Mazatlán, always wishing for the weekends when I could go back to my grandfather’s farm and be with nature and the animals again. Instead of being disillusioned by the discovery that humans were manipulating those dogs’ behaviors, I was even more excited.

You mean, there are people who can make their dogs do these things? How? What are their secrets? It became even clearer in my mind that I would have to get to America as soon as possible to learn from the Americans about creating these amazing behaviors in dogs.

Cesar’s rules for choosing a dog trainer
1. First, ask yourself what you want your dog to learn. Is your dog like one of the extreme cases on my show "Dog Whisperer"? Then learning “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “heel” is not necessarily the first lesson your dog needs. Some dog trainers don’t do rehabilitation, some don’t do obedience work, and some do both. Choose the right tool for the job you need done.

2. Think about your own philosophy and ethics. For example, some people are opposed to choke chains. I am not opposed to them and find them helpful in some cases, when used correctly. But I will not use a choke chain or any other tool an owner objects to, because if the owner feels badly about the tool, I guarantee you that the dog will have a bad experience with the tool. And there could be other reasons why I might not be the right trainer for you. You have a world of options when it comes to dog trainers, as I hope this book will show you. Make sure that the trainer you choose agrees with and supports your own values, because you are the one who is going to live with your dog and work with him every day.

3. Check out a trainer’s certification. There are many gifted dog professionals out there who aren’t certified (I used to be one of them!), and the truth is that there are no hard and-fast rules that necessarily mean a certified trainer is an expert. But having certification ensures that the person you hire has had to pass some minimum requirements, put in some hands-on hours with dogs, and do some studying. Certification also makes a trainer accountable to some basic standards and guidelines, which you can research.

4. Get referrals. This may sound obvious, but even if you find a trainer in a phone book, ask if you can talk to a couple of his or her previous clients. They can give you an idea of the trainer’s methods, “bedside manner,” reliability, and willingness to follow through.

5. Make sure the trainer includes you as part of the training process. There’s nothing wrong with a trainer who asks you to drop off your dog in order to work with him. I do that myself from time to time, because often an owner is the cause of the dog’s bad habits and he needs to be away from his owner in order to learn new ones. But I make it clear to my clients that I don’t “fix” broken dogs. I work closely with the owners on identifying their own issues and behaviors so that they are able to change as much as their dog changes. If you’ve watched my show, you already know that more often than not it’s the owner who needs the most “training.”

Excerpted from "Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog." Copyright @ 2010 by Cesar Millan. Reprinted by Permission of Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.