In his book, “Member of the Family,” Cesar Millan provides advice on making your dog feel welcomed and getting the relationship with your new pet off to a good start. An excerpt.
Welcoming your new dog into the family
So now you’ve done it. You’ve completed your research on dog behavior and dog breeds and most important, you’ve held at least one soul-searching family meeting with everybody involved. You’ve put it all on the line and been brutally honest about what your family’s energy level is, what your real needs are as opposed to your fantasies, and you’ve ensured that every member of your family unit is onboard with the concepts of commitment and consistency when it comes to owning a dog. Armed with this new encyclopedia of knowledge and information, you went to the shelter, rescue organization, or breeder of your choice, and selected the dog you are certain will soon become the next, much-loved member of your family.
If all of the above is true, then great work so far! When it comes to predicting what kind of life you will have with your new dog, I cannot stress enough the importance of making the correct choice at the beginning. But as important as the selection process is, the hard work of owning a dog doesn’t stop here. I’ve helped clients make the most informed, most wise choices in the world for themselves, then been called back weeks later because they didn’t follow through after the choosing was done. Even the most happy-go-lucky, mellow, easygoing dog in the world can develop issues if his owners don’t follow through from the moment they walk the dog out of the shelter.
The most important rule to remember here — and you will find me repeating it again and again in the chapters to follow — is that when it comes to relating to a dog, everything you do counts. A wise parent I know once said about children, “They’re like little cameras that never shut off,” and the same thing can definitely be said of dogs. Like a child, a dog is going to be observing your energy and behavior at all times, and processing that information in order to decide what his behavior is supposed to be. The difference is, of course, a dog isn’t learning to be human from you, the way a child is. A dog is learning what his role and function in the pack will be. And everything you do, from the first moment you meet him, will play a part in what he takes home from this lesson. Here we’ll focus on adopting an adult dog, covering puppies beginning on page 71.
The first thing you need to do when you remove the dog from his previous place of residence (shelter, pound, or rescue organization) is to take him for a walk, even before you get into the car to drive back home. This accomplishes two important things. First, unless you’re adopting the dog from a huge ranch where he had ample room to romp, he’s probably been in a confined space for a while and has built up large amounts of negative, pent-up energy. An energetic, ten- to thirty-minute walk will help begin to drain that energy and will begin the process of uncovering the real dog beneath the tension. Second, and more important, is the process of bonding that will begin with that very first walk. The walk is the single best tool you have available to every member of your family to create the ideal relationship with your dog, from day one and beyond.
Mastering the walk
1. Always begin the walk with calm-assertive energy. You don’t need to “psych your dog up” for walking by telling her in an excited voice what you guys are about to experience. The walk is about bonding and creating a primal pack experience, not going to Disneyland.
2. Don’t chase after the dog with the tool you are using, be it a simple 35-cent leash like the ones I use, a harness, or a haltie. To your dog, the tool you are using is an extension of your own energy, so it should have a pleasant (but not overstimulating!) connotation. Let your dog come to the tool, not the other way around. Many dogs seem to grasp the concept of the leash right away. Others will need your patience. Create a pleasant experience around the leash, associating it with food and mild affection. Remember, even your approval is affection to a dog!
3. For your very first walk with your dog, wait at the threshold of wherever you are leaving from — be it a shelter, your car, or your home. Make sure your dog is in calm-submissive waiting mode beside you, and then step out the door first. Ask your dog to follow. Whoever leaves the dwelling first, in the dog’s mind, is leading the excursion. You want that leader to be you!
4. Hold the leash in a loose, relaxed manner like you are carrying a purse or a briefcase. Hold your head high, put your shoulders back. Your dog should be walking beside or behind you, not pulling you from in front. If your dog doesn’t get that concept right away, use an object, like a walking stick or an umbrella, to create an obstacle until he gets the picture. Gently put the object out in front of the dog’s path in order to create a boundary that will soon become an invisible one. The dog should not be fearful of the object, just respectful of it. Your energy will determine which of these it will be.
5. When encountering obstacles or distractions on the walk, never become reactive to the dog’s behavior. Remember, you are setting the tone for everything you do together. If a dog gets excited when he sees a commotion or another dog across the street, this is not a signal for you to get excited, too! Keep your focus and, most important, your calm-assertive energy, and continue walking. A slight side-pull correction on the leash will communicate, “Don’t get distracted, keep on walking!” Your dog will pick up that “This is okay, it has nothing to do with us, we’re just moving forward.” If your dog is especially hard to convince, calmly give eye contact, ask your dog to stop and sit beside you, and wait until he is calm and submissive before you proceed. If necessary, turn your dog’s back to the commotion that is causing the distraction. By doing this (and again, waiting until he is calm-submissive before continuing on), you are communicating the message that “We ignore dogs that are causing trouble across the street.”
7. When arriving at your destination or returning home, repeat the procedure outlined in step 3. Step over the threshold first, then invite your dog in after you. Remember, in your dog’s mind, whoever goes through the door first owns that space! Make sure he is calm and submissive as you remove the leash.
Ideally, as many family members as possible have joined you on the first adoption excursion, but not so many as to create unneeded chaos. If you fear that once you get to that shelter or that breeder, some family members will still be focusing on their emotional response to the dogs, then you may need to leave some of your pack at home. If you are worried about bringing your excited young children or bored teenagers along to the shelter when you make this first, vital impression on your new dog, then your instincts are probably correct. It’s okay — as long as you follow the correct procedures I’ll lay out later, when introducing the dog to every member of his new pack.
In the meantime, bring your new dog into the car using the same calm-assertive energy and “pack leader first” technique you employed on the walk. If you are using a kennel, do not force the dog inside. Instead, invite the dog into the kennel by using food or something else he is attracted to. Wait with the kennel door open until the dog is resting in calm-submissive mode — closing the door while a dog is still anxious will make him feel trapped. Then put the kennel in the back of the car, turning it to face you, so he can smell and see you on this first auto trip. This helps to increase the feeling that he is not alone and that you two are together on this great adventure. Make sure he is settled in a safe place and is calm-submissive before you start the engine. You may have to wait patiently, but this is an important time. Once you start an activity with an anxious dog, you run the risk of his forever associating that activity with anxiety. Remember, the more perfectly you accomplish each of these rituals the first time around, the less likely you’ll have to “fix” an issue later on.
When you arrive home, once again remind yourself that calm-assertive energy must be the order of the day. This goes for everyone else in the family who’ve been impatiently waiting to greet the new arrival! You need to explain to even your smallest children that your new dog is a living being needful of respect, and that in order to acclimate him to his new home, they will need to refrain from showering him with all the affection and excitement they surely must be feeling, at least in the very beginning. Everyone in your home, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent, needs to be educated in and committed to the no-touch, no-talk, no-eye-contact rule. I’d advise you to take a page from my dog behavior tips and tire out your most excitable kids before the dog arrives.
I always advise owners to take their dog for a second walk before entering the house or yard itself. This will be to try to re-create the process of “migration” from one place to another. If possible, park a few blocks away and walk around your dog’s new neighborhood for as long as possible — an hour or more if you can. Remember, even though you may be “rescuing” your dog from a cramped kennel or cage and taking him into the spacious, tastefully decorated home you worked so hard to earn, in your dog’s mind, you are simply moving him from one kennel to another. Walls aren’t natural to dogs, no matter how beautiful those walls might be.
Excerpted from “A Member of the Family.” Copyright (c) 2008 by Cesar Millan. Reprinted with permission from Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.