We never had pets in our FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS (unless you count the one gold fish I had that died 2 weeks after being purchased). My friends didn’t have pets. either. Our families were poor. Our apartments were small. Our parents – all, mostly immigrants – felt proud when they could feed and clothe their children, and no one seemed to entertain the notion of caring for animals as pets.

Fast forward: I married a man who was allergic to cats and most dogs. So, we never had any pets in our home. However, he has always had a passion for nature and animals and when I have time to watch television, I am much more apt to turn to a news station and he’s always seeking programs about nature and animals.

Hence, my lead into this blog!

A few weeks ago when I found my husband watching National Geographic’s channel and got caught up in an episode where Cesar Millan, the DOG WHISPERER, was training a woman how to tame her dog, it was clear that she was seeking his help because she believed that her dog was very anxious, unpredictable and often had temper tantrums that were alarming.

One didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see at first glance why this man is called the Dr. Phil for dogs!

Millan’s on-line site states that: “Cesars’s amazing rehabilitations of aggressive, scared, lazy, compulsive, and jealous dogs captured the national spotlight when the series premiered in 2004″ … and it became evident that “it wasn’t the dogs but the quirky owners who needed Cesar’s help the most.” Also, for those dogs who were abused or abandoned, he founded the Millan Foundation to “support the rescue, rehabilitation, and re-homing ” of such animals.

In the years since, the program has expanded to a full hour and for good reason.  Millan is adept at transforming the most un-useful behaviors with “his calm-assertive guidance.”

That very sentence sums up my immediate connection to the man, his manner and his motivation, because his goals are exactly those of any good psychotherapist.  How he meets his goals and educates both dogs and humans is quite remarkable.

I found myself intrigued with this particular episode. The dog’s loving owner was anxious about taking him out in public for fear that he would act out or even harm someone.  Therefore, she resisted the dog’s socialization.  Her anticipatory anxiety was clearly picked up by her dog and inevitably on the few chance excursions she forced herself to take, he became the label she ascribed to him.  He paralleled her anxiety, became anxious, acting aggressively towards people and other animals.

Seeing this was all too reminiscent of the young parents with whom I work – loving parents – whose anxieties are mirrored in their children, resulting in familial patterns which don’t serve anyone and are difficult to break.

Well, irony of ironies! That’s exactly what Millan does:

He addresses unwanted behaviors as soon as they start and offers practical tips for dealing with common misbehaviors.  He focuses on issues that are exactly those that need to be addressed when doing family therapy.

Behaviors parallel each other.

Whining, yelling, and demanding are equivalent to a dog’s NUISANCE BARKING.

Understanding Aggression and its purpose, and dealing with Separation Anxiety, Hyperactivity and Compulsive Chewing in dogs is no different than understanding similar behaviors in people.

When Millan, as the “DOG WHISPERER,” helps an out of control dog to control himself and
turn himself into a loving and adored friend and protector, he teaches us a great deal not only about dogs but about ourselves.

When he was interviewed by Lesley Stahl in a CBS segment (airdate: October 3, 2010), “he respectfully showed how even presidents can misunderstand the fundamentals of being their dog’s pack leader. The topic hit websites and blogs with fervor. So, we are tackling the subject and giving President Obama, former President Bush, future presidents, and dog owners everywhere, some of Cesar’s best advice.”
Cesar’s blog continues:

You need to establish leadership from day one!

Be consistent. Don’t send the dog (or in the case of a world leader, your constituents)a mixed message. If you allow the dog to assume the leadership position one day, and not the next, then go back and forth, you are not being the pack leader. No one wants a “wishy-washy” leader!

Humans are the only species that follow unstable pack leaders. Not only do we follow them but even after they’ve proven to be unstable, we still follow them or re-elect them or give them even more power. You would never see an unstable leader in an animal pack!

The selection process for Pack Leaders is very different in animal species than human. Humans tend to choose pack leaders because they are “lovable,” or seem intelligent or charismatic; basically we choose them for their personality – someone we’d like to spend time with socially, rather than for their professional qualifications or ability. Animals select pack leaders because they instinctually know who is strong and who can best lead them. It has nothing to do with personality or physicality. Just watch some animal kingdom shows and you’ll see there are some pretty strange-looking pack leaders out there! But they provide (1) protection and (2) direction!

An animal pack leader is concerned for the pack, not for himself. It’s an unselfish role and an instinctual role. Dog pack leaders don’t go to graduate school to learn how to lead a pack; it’s just in their DNA. In return, the pack completely trusts the pack leader. They instinctually know that the pack leader is there to protect them and guide them.

The leader’s interest of his country is greater than the interests of an individual. Thus, you need to ask yourself what you can contribute to your pack.

Compare this to what I see in many of today’s human pack leaders.  We believe, and now almost accept the fact, that our pack leaders are motivated, in part, by personal interests.  Sometimes the leader’s self- interests happen to align well with some members of their pack but not all members.  In America, we say that’s good.  We’ve come to accept this as “normal.”  And because we accept it, we are naturally or instinctually mistrustful of our pack leaders.  So, while dog pack leaders are instinctually driven to protection and direction of the entire pack, human pack leaders are expected to be driven by some self-interest that may align with other self-interests to form a temporary pack or what we call a ‘coalition’ or ‘alliance’ or ‘joint venture.’ But these are temporary packs!

Also, with human packs, mistakes of the past are constantly brought up, reminding people of what happened the last time they elected that party or politician. ‘Leaders’ want us to remember the bad times and promise a better future! It’s never about the present.  The past never goes away – we remember the hurt, the guilt, the fear – and our pack leaders use this to lead and control the pack.  A fearful pack is a reactionary pack.  And that’s dangerous for any species.  Likewise, our pack leaders use the future in a similar fashion. Only it’s fear of the unknown.  In the animal world, there is only the present.  You live in harmony and with nature NOW and the future takes care of itself.  Make the right choices today and there won’t be mistakes or messes to fix in the future.

America must restore honesty, integrity, and loyalty in our relationships, both here and abroad.  This starts at home.  We need to re-connect with the fundamentals of relationships, and in the process, we can restore the trust and respect from other countries…The power of success is in its simplicity.  It’s just like being a father. The principles I want to leave my kids with are the same principles that I practice in my life every day.  One of my favorite Ghandi quotes – “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” – says it all.”

I do not believe it says it all,  but the statement and the theory says a great deal.

Let’s us hope that our Presidents and our leaders as well as leaders around the world today use simple wisdom and not complex theatrics which are doomed to destroy and not to build healthy packs!

After all, to have any hope, we must believe that it is never too late to learn how to change, to grow and become more adaptable, and Millan offers us that opportunity to learn new tricks.

Check out your local TV station and you’ll be able to watch him on your National Geographic channel.  If you haven’t already done so, please do … and grow old along with me!

Visit my website at http://www.applemanshapiro.com/ to learn more about my psychotherapy practice, my work as an oral historian, my book FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS: A Psychotherapists Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness, which can be ordered directly from the website with no fee for mailing … and , as an advocate for mental health, my availability to speak at various venues.