If you are an animal lover, you more than likely are a fan of Cesar Millan, dog trainer/behaviorist extraordinaire. He is the host of Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan on the National Geographic Channel, and is the author of the bestselling dog-training book Cesar’s Way.
Like millions of others, Jenny and I are fans and have always enjoyed watching how this man can turn around seemingly hopeless dogs in short order. As I’ve mentioned before, our new Labrador, Gracie, is quite the good girl. She’s calm, sedate, easy. She doesn’t dig, chew, destroy furniture, freak out in storms…or any of those endearing things that made Marley who he was.
That said, Gracie has a few, shall we say, “issues.” One is she is obsessed with our backyard chickens. Bloodlust obsessed. She’s already killed two of them, and we need to keep them strictly segregated. She also only will come to us selectively. If something is distracting her — usually another animal — she simply will not obey.
Enter Cesar. After watching his show one night, Jenny had one of those “why not?” moments. She emailed his television producer and explained Gracie’s few transgressions. Of course, the producer liked the fact that we were, as she put it, “that Marley family.” Hey, it’s a natural for television… the bestselling dog behaviorist helps the bestselling dysfunctional dog owner get his act together and have a happier home and pet.
The next thing I knew, Cesar and his TV crew were pulling up at our door in rural Pennsylvania. Cesar sat down and spoke, on camera, with us for about 40 minutes, taking in all our information on Gracie, who was snoozing quietly at our feet. He quickly ascertained what our breeder had assured us — that she is from quality hunting stock, and is hardwired to pursue prey. If we are not going to put her to work doing that, she’ll go out and put herself to work. As in, stalking our beloved birds. Our prescription for a happier dog — and safer chickens — was to harness that hunting instinct in a positive way, instead of simply trying to suppress and punish it. He suggested we find a good hunting dog trainer to work with us and Gracie (which Jenny is out doing this moment as I write this).
Then he asked if he could go outside alone with Gracie for a few minutes. He didn’t want us in the mix. “Sure,” I said. Three minutes later I peeked out the window and could barely believe my eyes. Cesar had one of our chickens cradled in his arm (he grew up on a farm in Mexico), and he had Gracie sitting directly in front of him. She sat calmly for him. Every time she began to quake with that bloodlust excitement she gets, he’d give her a subtle correction. Just a little hiss and gentle poke to the throat with three fingers. He said he was mimicking a mother dog correcting her pups. By the end of the day, Cesar was able to crouch down and — this is NOT a misprint — let Gracie sniff the chicken’s feet. What was amazing was that our hen was completely calm, too. Gracie knew Cesar was in control, and the chicken seemed to understand that, as well.
“Gracie trusts you and has affection for you,” he said. “But she doesn’t respect you.” Of course she doesn’t; we’re Doofus Dog Owners. Doesn’t respect us as the leader of her hunting pack, anyway. That’s what we need to work on.
That was a few weeks ago, and we’ve been working with Gracie, doing what Cesar showed us. Jenny and a great local dog trainer have been putting her through her paces. Cesar and crew return to our house at the end of the month to see how much progress we’ve made. (If you’re religious, now is a good time to start praying for us… “Dear Lord, don’t let them humiliate themselves too badly. This is, after all, going to be on national television. Have mercy…”)
The bottom line: We had a lot of fun. And we gained a new respect for the magnetic pull he has over dogs. They really do come under his spell — just like on TV. It was something to observe.
And now here’s a little tease… Something VERY surprising happened while Cesar was working with Gracie and our hen. And it was caught on film. Something that will without question be the highlight of the segment. And that’s all I’m going to say. Don’t want to spoil the surprise.
The episode is scheduled to run in the upcoming fall season, and when I have more specifics I’ll post them here.