Visiting the Animal Behaviorist

One dog owner rebels against dog whisperers, refusing to be the alpha dog.

Cesar Millan‘s latest book, Cesar’s Rules: Your Way To Train a Well Behaved Dog, makes it look easy.

Besides, the Dog Whisperer can placate even the nastiest dog in one show.

But what about the messier aspects of owning and training a canine?

There I was at about 8 a.m., with puffy eyes and a severe case of bed head, dressed in the dirty sweats that were at the top of the pile. I was bent over my little poodle with my behind in the air, grabbing at her rear end with a bright blue doggie bag.

cesar's rulesIt was bad enough that I had to be so close to poop that early in the morning, but it was even worse because it took place right in front of Joe, my neighborhood’s hippest coffee shop.

It’s so cool it only has a single name. Joe’s sidewalk is the center of activity in the morning: Coffee drinkers stream in and out with knitted wool caps pulled back with perfected negligence. They rushed by and gave me a disgusted look.

How Owning a Dog Changes You

Before I became a dog owner, I got endless pleasure watching the color co-coordinated, artsy executives come face to face with their pooch’s business.

There was something delightful about seeing all those perfectly outfitted, coiffed, overachievers having to perform this public act. But life has a funny way of biting you in the behind. Now, three times a day, I’m out walking Lilly as she performs the most basic of functions.

This is the best relationship I’ve ever had.

Lilly knows what I’m thinking and often answers my questions before I ask them. We’re joined at my hip. Literally. There has been many a day when I’ve carried her across town because she’s in a mood and doesn’t want to walk in the ice and snow.

I’ve learned a lot about unconditional love. As a straight, single female copywriter, you might think that this give-and-take would translate into a long-term relationship with a man. Not so. Lilly’s utter dependence, coupled with the fact that she walks all over me, would make a disastrous dynamic, verging on abusive.

While I would like a partner, I wouldn’t want to constantly wait on him while being bossed around.

Dog Training for the Pushover

When I met Lilly, my whole world changed. My mother had just died and my father was dying, so I guess I thought I could recreate a family. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was the one. A friend of mine had gotten her from a very reputable breeder but couldn’t keep her.

As a puppy, she made mistakes all over my apartment at least 300 times. When I thought she’d outgrown that and had my sofa steam-cleaned, she did it again.

I was frustrated, but I loved her anyway. I’ve been yelled at in many languages by cab drivers after Lilly had accidents in their cabs. I’ve been shooed away by doormen in fancy neighborhoods. She can be very stubborn.

Sometimes Lilly wants to go west and I want to go east. She digs in her feet and I end up dragging her in my direction bottom first.

Rejecting the Dog Whisperers of the World

We once even sought professional help because Lilly had a habit of biting men’s ankles. (No, I did not teach her this trick.)

There we were, the dog shrink, Lilly and me in my studio apartment. I sat nervously on the gold loveseat, and the shrink sat facing me on an olive-green chair. After confessing my difficulties, the shrink said that to stop her from biting, I had to be the alpha dog.

“She gets anxious, so she bites,” she explained. “You must make Lilly sit down before she gets anything she wants: food, entering your apartment, treats, anything.” She seemed to look deep within me, making me self-conscious. Then she nodded her head knowingly.

Just then, Lilly popped up on the sofa, walked across my lap and sat on my left side. Then she walked back across me to my right side.

The shrink shook her head, asking, “Don’t you see what you’re doing? You’re letting her have power over you. Make her walk behind you.” I looked down and said, “I’ll try.” She snapped, “You must do more than try, or you will be doing a disservice to yourself and the dog.”

Then Lilly began jumping up and down. I got up, looked underneath the sofa and, sure enough, there was her favorite toy. I grabbed it and gave it to her. The shrink’s face turned crimson.

“We definitely have a problem here,” she scolded, a little louder than needed.

“What do you mean?” I said. “She loves this toy.”

“Mmmhmm,” she growled, conveying her disapproval. “Can’t you see? She’s trained you to do what she wants. She’s actually smarter than you are. This is not about Lilly, this is about you.”

Filled with shame, I winced and wrote her a check.

I wound up keeping Lilly and getting rid of the shrink. But first, I made the shrink sit before I would let her leave my apartment.