This article falls into the classification of a book review, but it may be the oddest I have ever wanted to write. I will get into why shortly, and explain why I think someone who appreciates the developmental autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, called Infidel (reviewed by us here), might well like this book.
The book is Cesar's Way by Cesar Millan [Harmony Books; 2006; ISBN 0-307-33733-2]. Its subtitle is "The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems." How, then, could this book compare in any way with that of Ms Hirsi Ali?
To get started, I want to relate the story within the story within the story.
On our blogs, I have written previously about Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic Channel. For first run programs, I record and watch them faithfully and with considerable excitement. Yet, I own no dog. I do not like dogs, anyone's dogs, and would never have a dog in my house. I find them labor-intensive, odor-intensive, crude and vulgar by nature, and, in the final analysis, just wolves in drag. I could never trust a dog, however small or large, of whatever breed. Therein lies the paradox: Despite all of these factors, I greatly admire Cesar and what he does.
His book reflects Cesar himself very well indeed. Even though it had a co-writer (Melissa Jo Peltier), it captures how Cesar thinks and speaks so well that it creates the sensation of hearing him speaking the words on the page. Like Cesar, it is clear, straight-forward, and cuts to the chase.
I am not pleased that Cesar came to America as an illegal alien from Mexico about 1991, but he is working on citizenship, and I welcome him. Were all Mexican illegal aliens of his calibre, we would not be having some of the discussions we have about Mexican illegals.
Cesar grew up dirt-poor on his grandfather's farm. Early on, he loved working with dogs, and that love simply grew as he grew up. He quickly discovered that he had no future in Mexico, so he hired a "coyote" to get him to San Diego. He got his first American job in a dog grooming salon where he demonstrated extraordinary skill with dogs, particularly the difficult ones. In time, he moved to Los Angeles and began studying dog psychology mostly by on-the-job training. His skills grew, and his reputation began spreading. Soon he was being called by the "beautiful people" to help them manage their poorly controlled dog pets. Cesar then founded the Dog Psychology Center of Los Angeles and became television's "Dog Whisperer."
Watching Cesar in action is like watching any consummate artist or professional. He consults at the various homes of clients who need help with their dogs, and their dogs are always seriously out of control. Some are vicious, the ones he calls "red zone dogs," while others show every other manifestation of maladaption to their environment. Often in seconds, Cesar effects positive results, which build with time and effort to radical adaption of the dogs. Cesar says that no dog is too much for him to handle.
You must watch the program to see what he can do with a dog or a vast number of dogs.
But, what about the comparison of this book with that by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you might well be asking?
Very well, here is how they compare.
Cesar takes in data about the dogs, their owners, their environment, and compares these data to the vast knowledge he has built up about dog psychology. Then he intervenes by specifically tailoring his interventions to the exact needs of the owners and dogs. He operates by principles which he has so successfully developed.
Cesar's vast knowledge began with the often repeated words of his grandfather, to the effect that you have to know the nature of the dog and the nature of dogs, from Mother Nature herself, if you expect to work with them effectively. This is another way of phrasing the famous dictum of Sir Frances Bacon, "Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed." Put another way, you take in the facts of reality through your senses, integrate them with all you have learned previously, and go back out into outer reality to act.
This is profoundly philosophical, although I am sure that Cesar himself would never phrase what he does with any such high-falutin' term as "philosophical." Yet, it is.
The reason why Cesar is so successful is his unwaivering dedication to reality and to knowing the truth. Apparently nothing stands in the way of these, at least for his dog work (I do not know anything about him outside of this book and his television programs). Cesar does what every liberal arts professor and every graduate of every teacher college ought to do, but never do. He follows no agenda. He follows the truth, wherever it goes. As a result, he seldom fails.
Cesar Millan blends metaphysics (the fundamentals of all that exists) with epistemology (knowledge built upon that metaphysics) and acts morally (with honesty and integrity) to intervene effectively. Ayaan Hirsi Ali showed us in Infidel, her growth from abused, ignorant, impoverished child to consummate adult, as a process of self-directed metaphysical and epistemology growth, and moral action. In those ways, these books have common grounds.
Cesar has learned the nature of dogs, and he never forgets this. Some of the essentials come from the fact that dogs are really wolves behaviorally, regardless of breed or size. They are pack animals, and they must have a pack leader. If a human owner fails to be that pack leader, the dog will be forced to act in that capacity, usually with very bad results. Acting as the pack leader involves the dog recognizing at some level that the human has role-reversed with him, and the dog finds this role-reversal to be extraordinarily disstressing. Dogs' undesireable behaviors are the consequence.
Humans who role-reverse treat dogs as though they are humans. They give them affection, affection, affection and try to bribe them into proper decorum. Dogs come to disrespect humans and act accordingly--their genes make them when they are forced into role-reversals. Cesar says that he "rehabilitates dogs and trains humans." He diagnoses the exact nature of the role-reversal and calls on the cognitive faculties of the human to change to become the pack leader. Almost every specific situation differs, so it is almost impossible to boil Cesar's methods down to a few hard-and-fast rules. Cesar's genius parses it out, however.
Humans must learn to be the pack leaders. They must exercise their dogs properly first. Dogs in nature walk 30 or more miles a day; this is why dog energy must be utilized as fuly as possible daily or it will channel itself into bad behavior. Next comes discipline. Disciple teaches, not punishes. Dogs must be treated as dogs, not as though they are humans. When a dog is back in "balance," then it is eligible for affection, but not one second before getting into a "calm, submissive state." Even though these three steps may seem stupidly simple to write and say, they are very complex concepts. Any one left out at any time or employing them in any other order than exercise-discipline-affection will result imbalance the dog. Read the book for the myriad, complex reasons behind what might seem to be simplistic statements but are not.
When a dog returns to its state of nature, it is a happy, undistressed dog. When a human acts as pack leader consistently and corrects any maladaptive dog behaviors immediately as pack leader, the human merits the respect of the dog, and this results in proper dog adaptation.
One of the most important sections of the book is the section on how to introduce a dog to your home, whether you acquire a puppy or adopt a stray. This process takes about two weeks, but it pays off for the life of the dog by preventing immediate maladaptation. It involves establishing yourself as pack leader.
A word to the wimp-souled: If you do not want to become pack leader for your dog, don't get a dog or get rid of the one you have. Being a pack leader is simply a leadership position that dogs require from you, and, if you are one who feels that you must interact with your dog with nothing but affection, you will get maladaptive behavior until you become the pack leader. Your dog is a dog, and he or she never wants to be your pack leader. It wants to follow you as a member of your pack. (There are many fruitful, human applications of Cesar's method as well.)
After watching many episodes of the "Dog Whisperer," my wife and I have coined the expression, "That dog is not 'Cesared'." Chronically barking dogs, fence-lunging dogs, killing dogs are just a few dogs that are 'unCesared.' Every time we see some dog pulling its owner along by the leash, we see role reversal and know that the dog considers itself to be that human's pack leader because the owner does not consider the dog to be a dog. Yet, correcting all of these is so do-able. Getting a dog "Cesared" makes the dog and its owner harmonious and happy with each other.
This simple book gives the reader so much more than its 300 pages suggest. Even if, like us, you do own a dog, you get to visit a fabulous mind. If you are a dog owner, you can use this book to get right with reality, for the sake of you and your dog.
You cannot put this immensely readable and enjoyable book down without a sense of high admiration for Cesar Millan. He has earned it all, and justice demands that we recognize him for it.