Saturday, October 13, 2007

'Cesar Says:' Training Lily on Autumn Walks

Even though I've never met him, Cesar Millan is taking over my life.
And it's a good thing. Really.

We have two dogs. Both are rescue dogs. Zoey, the white mutt with black spots is my dog. We've had her seven years and she is my dog. She has always been a calm and submissive dog in general, and now, at about 8 or 9 years old--we're not really sure-- she is really, really calm.

Lily, the tri-color dog that the pound called a harrier cross, is N.'s dog. And she is another story altogether. When we went to the pound to see her, she was a bundle of energy. She still is. She learns rapidly, which is a good thing, or she would have been returned to the pound after the first exciting week at our house. However, being responsible people, we felt we couldn't abandon her, so we had to set about training her. She is great with us, but she dislikes other dogs, men in ties, and strangers who come to the door. We got her to a level that we were happy with until she took off after a real-estate agent one day when she escaped. He was very nice about the whole thing since he wasn't hurt and is not lawsuit happy, but we realized that Lily needs more discipline. There are others in our neighborhood who might sue at the drop of a hat. And besides, we'd like to enjoy our walks and be friendly with everyone. I mean, talking with our neighbors is a lot more fun than dragging a fearful, barking dog away from them. And Lily deserves a calmer life, too.

MLC watches a National Geographic Channel program called the Dog Whisperer when she stays with her college friends in town several times a week, and she took over the training first. She runs with Lily and taught us how to use the choke-collar correctly, as well as how to correct Lily when she starts after something or gets excited, but before she starts barking. So far, so good. Lily can now run past another neighborhood dog, Buddy the Dachshound (he thinks he's a Rottie), who does not like anyone. But since N. brought home Cesar's book, Cesar's Way, we began to realize that there was a lot more to it.

Training Lily has become one of N.'s homeschool projects.'s not training Lily, it's training us. We've made just about every mistake in the book with Lily. Thank goodness she's a fast learner and pretty forgiving. But now when I am dealing with the dogs, N. is around, book in hand to give us the low down on what we should be doing.

"Cesar says..." he'll announce as he corrects all of our mistakes. It takes a lot of motherly love and forbearance, not to mention a good deal of humility (a virtue I am convinced I was sent here to work on) to try it Cesar's way.

But it is working. The dogs are happier. I am happier. N. is in his element.

"See that guy?" He'll say as we are walking in the meadow, sans dogs. "Look how he's got three dogs straining at the lead? They're pulling him. He's not being the pack leader." He says it loudly enough for the passing guy to hear. Well, tact is not exactly an AS characteristic.

Enter the autumn walks.
N. told me a few weeks ago that I am doing one thing right with the dogs. (Thanks, N. Or should I say 'Thanks' to Cesar?) Anyway, I walk the dogs for a good 50 to 60 minutes each morning before breakfast. So I'm a good dog mommy. Oops. "Cesar says you're not supposed to think of the dogs as your kids," according to N. Well, anyway.

"Cesar says" also that the dogs need lots of exercise and that we must "master the walk."
And the weather is absolutely perfect for doing some exploring in our mountains. So, since Sukkot began, we are also taking the dogs on long walks in the moutains several times a week.

As we walk, we practice being the pack leader, correcting Lily--and occasionally, Zoey, when they get fixated on squirrels or whatever. But they don't get to correct Mom when she stops to sniff out a good picture! There are many great advantages to being pack leader. Above is a picture of the mountain path just below the saddle between Rancho Verde Moutain and Five Hills to the west. Look at those colors. Too bad we can't bottle them!

Here is a picture from the side of Rancho Verde Mountain, just above and east of the saddle. I was looking northwest to the Sandia Mountain front. If I had been looking south, I would have seen the ridges and valleys of Juan Tomas.

We passed a man walking his dog on the saddle just before I took this picture. N. brought Lily in close to the heel, and then corrected her with an almost inperceptible upward tug on the leash as he said "psssht!" It was quiet and I doubt the man noticed.
But Lily's attention was immediately focussed on N. and she walked past the man and his dog without as much as a whimper.

We walked on around the mountain and down an animal trail to a clearing near the bottom of the hill, almost in the valley between Rancho Verde and Juan Tomas. There we stopped to eat some lunch.

After giving the dogs water, we had a good drink. Lily sat right smartly to N.'s command, and then he said: "Cesar says, first exercise, then discipline and then affection."
And he proceeded to give Lily the last.

Zoey was lounging near my feet as I stretched out and ate some nuts and an apple. No begging was allowed from the canine contingent. And they didn't do it. Did I say there are advantages to being the pack leader? Yep.

After several hours and about five miles up and down hill, we made our way home.

Here Lily rests in the shade of the porch garden while N. is getting the cats rounded up inside. She was tuckered out. Zoey was beyond tuckered, and after having a drink, she stretched out on the dining room floor and refused to move.

We had a snack and rested for an hour and then did our library run and a shopping trip for N.'s campout.

As I write, N. is at Herron Lake with the Boy Scouts, fly fishing and I hope, having a great time.

I have noticed that my energy is increasing and my muscles are becoming more defined. Today, Bruce and I took a shorter walk through the woods before breakfast.

Since Cesar Millan started taking over my life, the dogs have been happier, N. has been developing a new passion, and I am getting into better shape. And I am getting a bird's eye view of autumn in the Sandia Mountains.

Homeschooling. It's a dog's life.


Rebecca said...

I love Cesar too, and I don't even have a dog (yet!). He says don't think of the dogs as your kids -- but as a parent, I have to do the reverse, that my KIDS need exercise (mental and physical), discipline, and affection. My tendency is to be too laid back when what they need is leadership.

Interesting that N. has latched onto Cesar's method, which depends so heavily upon understanding the body language of the dogs.

denise said...


And what amazing fall photos - and views. Ahh.

Melora said...

A five mile walk! That Is exercise. Your trails (and leaves!) are so beautiful. I think that much exercise would kill our dog, but I sure would enjoy it (until I had to carry him home, that is). A well trained dog is certainly better loved by the neighbors.

I responded to your "twaddle" question in my comments on my blog. It was really a joke. That is not a word that I go around pinning on books. (Though when I was a librarian I used to see plenty of stuff that a parakeet would have scorned to decorate. But I never called it twaddle.)

Frankie said...

I've watched Cesar's show many times and think he's wonderful. I will order the book.

I appreciated the quote you left me, by the way. I kept thinking that when we got our news: Don't change much, enjoy the moment and let him keep his routines. Okay, we have given him food (gravy food) that we wouldn't normally give, but we are trying to enjoy each moment.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks for all the great comments!


What is interesting is that AS and other kids on the spectrum often do much better with animals than with people. Temple Grandin, a very successful adult on the spectrum, wrote a whole book about it called Animals in Translation. It's been out a while, so you might be able to get it at your local library. It is a very interesting read.

Since we normally walk the dogs about two miles a day, this was not so bad for them--although Zoey will sit down and look at me with that "enough" look, if it is really hot when we walk. I don't think I could carry her home--she weighs about 45 pounds--so I have to keep an eye on her!


I am glad you liked the quote.
I think the hardest part for us is that we know and we anticipate the coming loss. I have had numerous pet losses, and none of them have been easy. It does not seem to matter if they are anticipated or accidental and therefore unpredictable. It's just tough no matter what.

momof3feistykids said...

We have watched some episodes of The Dog Whisperer too, and we thought most of it made sense. Awesome pictures!