Jackie Gingrich Cushman

A few weeks ago, while visiting my husband’s grandmother, I noticed a book about dogs called “Cesar’s Way” on a side table in her living room. I thought this was a bit strange as she has no dog, but, since my husband and I were planning to get a puppy for our family, I borrowed it.

I began reading that night and was instantly engrossed. While not a specific how-to book, it offers valuable insight into how to be a good dog owner and how to create an environment that will increase the probability that your dog will be happy, healthy and well-behaved.

Cesar Millan’s approach is to focus not on changing the dog, but on changing the owner’s thoughts, approach and habits in interacting with the dog. He recommends that, rather than treating the dog as we would a human, we should treat the dog as a dog. Instead of wondering why the dog sometimes does not behave, we should bear in mind that a dog is an animal first, then a dog, next a member of a particular breed and, finally, a dog with a name.

In other words, it is not the dog’s approach to us that needs to change, but our approach to the dog. By taking a different approach, we can evoke a different response from the dog. Isn’t this true in other parts of life? While we might want to control others around us, it is helpful to remember that one has control only of oneself. This is most apparent when one works hard, creates habits and rituals and is disciplined. By controlling one’s own thoughts and actions, one can affect others’ and, in turn, their interaction with us.

Cesar continually repeats that exercise is the base of all other dog activity; that an unexercised dog is an unhappy dog. The minimal recommendation is for an owner to ensure their dog exercises for a half a hour twice daily. This is to ensure that the dog is expending enough energy so that it will be able to relax and behave during the rest of the day.

I find this concept of exercising to provide an outlet for energy that would otherwise be turned into uncontrolled behavior to be true for my children as well. A bit of time to run around and expend energy allows for focus and concentration for children as well as dogs. I am reminded of this on days when errands and commitments get in the way of activity, and we all get restless.

According to Cesar, after exercise and discipline, owners must take into account the dog’s natural pack mentality and the impact it has on the owner-dog relationship, especially when it comes to discipline.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.