Leader of the Pack

I don’t think it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For as long has we have had her, our eight year old German shepherd, Xena, has jumped at the sliding glass door when she wanted to be let in or out. But in a matter of a few days, she has learned to sit and wait before we give her the signal to move. No more gritty paw prints on the glass? That does the trick for me.

Xena’s new and improved behavior is a result of watching the “Dog Whisperer.” On the show, Cesar Millan helps dog owners understand their role as pack leader with his mantra of “rules, boundaries, limitations.” The part of the show that amazes me the most is that once he shows the owner how to project an attitude of confidence, the dogs instinctively follow.

I learned by watching Cesar that when I was unhappy with the way Xena behaved, I had the power to change it. All in all, there really weren’t a lot of bad habits that we needed to undo ““ we hoped the incident with the UPS guy was just an aberration. But she was always jumping at the door to be let in and pushing ahead of me to go out. I had gotten lax in asserting myself as leader of the pack. Something Steve reminds me I need to do with the kids too.

So after absorbing a few episodes of “Dog Whisperer”, I decided it was time to put Cesar’s approach into action in our house. The next morning, I reminded myself that she’s a dog and I’m not and I don’t have to put up with the same “like, whatever” attitude with Xena that I get from my teenage daughter. I thought to myself, “Xena, before I let you out of your crate, I want you to know, there’s a new sheriff in town, and I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badges!”

Then instead of letting her launch out of her crate, I squared my shoulders, channeled Marshal Dillon and told her to sit and wait. I had to repeat myself to her a few times but eventually she did it. Then I calmly opened the door, waited a second until she became calm and submissive and then signaled that she could come out. She slinked out. It was obvious she knew that I was in charge because instead of her huge, pointy ears being straight up, she had them pinned so tight to her head that she looked bald. Once again, Cesar was right.

The best part about reclaiming my role as her master (or is it mistress?), is that it I enjoy Xena more. When I take her for a walk, I really feel proud to have her walking right by my side instead of being annoyed because she’s pulling on the leash. Like any relationship, good things happen when you put energy into it.

And when a new situation with Xena arises, like last week when she started barking to be let out at 5:30 in the morning, we continue to use Cesar as our guide for how to respond. In fact, I’m thinking of having bracelets made with “WWCD?” imprinted on them.


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