For a few years (2009-2010 I’m guessing), and five days a week, I watched: “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” on the National Geographic channel. It comes on here in New York City at 2pm, which is a half hour after the playgroup ends for the day. On Friday nights there are often new episodes. I think I’ve seen them all. At least two times. I still watch it, though not as regularly. His show is like a child-rearing tutorial, and great entertainment. When I chanced upon it at some point in 2008, the show seemed to be catering to a small and rarified segment of the population, and I dismissed it. However, Cesar Millan was very interesting. I tried watching it again, and then again, starting to recognize myself in him and his unconventional approach.
As I write, I’m remembering my friend Genie saying a few years back: “Don’t tell the parents about this! They won’t like their children being compared to dogs!” Of course humans are much more complex, but many of the same principles apply: Our desire to be part of a group (a family, a “pack”); our need to have a leader (a parent, teacher, spiritual advisor, therapist); our need to have rules and boundaries (knowing what to expect, generally speaking); and our need for affection, connection, and having our basic needs fulfilled. Cesar (you get to call him that after a while) is actually extremely logical. He trusts his intuition, backed up by years of experience, and allows ideas to flow. He’s not afraid to try something that at first may seem a little odd, like getting in the cage (going in backwards, avoiding eye contact) with a fearful dog, and waiting until the dog indicates some trust; then slowly guiding the dog out of the cage to begin building more trust. His sure and gentle touch is instantly sensed by the dog he is working with.
Cesar has a signature sound when he wants to get a dog’s attention: “Tssst!” or “Hey?!” I just realized the other day that I also have sounds (that I’ve been using since my daughter, Sara, was little) I make when I want to get a child’s attention or to redirect her/him if she/he’s getting stuck in a negative mode. It’s sort of like: “Habadah!” or “Buppbuppbupp!” or “Dupp, huppup!” It always makes kids laugh – it really works. I also have a few playgroup rules: No laughing, no smiling, no playing and no having fun. That works too.