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Dog Whisperers: What All Dogs Want Their Owners to Know

By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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Dog whisperers. Dog whispering. What's it all about?

"Get out of the trash, Spot! Spot, don't chase the cat! Stop jumping on me, Spot!" Is it time for Spot to find a new home? No. Does Spot simply need another dog to play with him? Probably not. Is Spot in need of an outlet for his energy and some calm, assertive guidance? Yes! There are many theories on dog training and behavior modification, and some owners are turning to the advice of animal experts calling themselves "dog whisperers". While the new age of pet and owner training brings controversy, it also brings peace and order to some families who were stressed by problems with their dogs.

The art of dog whispering is being popularized by the talented Cesar Millan. Millan televises interaction with his clients in "The Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic channel. He works to train the owner to communicate with the dog and be the dog's "pack leader". Throughout the course of the TV episode, Cesar works with the owner and the dog, giving tips and examples of how to handle the problem. The dog usually shows significant improvement by the end of program. His views and ideas on Dog Whispering are shared on his website, www.dogpsychologycenter.com, and in his book, Cesar's Way.

Dog whispering is more than basic obedience learned in puppy classes. It involves an understanding of canine communication and an intensely strong human-animal bond in order to work together as a team. Dog whispering uses voice and body language in a gentle but assertive approach to communicate with and train a dog.

At the heart of dog whispering is the need to treat the dog with respect and as a dog, not as a human. Dogs are pack animals and need leadership from the alpha member (or boss) of the group. It is important for communication and leadership to be consistent.

Dog whispering allows the pet to understand that the owner is the alpha member of the pack. This dominance is expressed through methods such as the owner going through a door before the dog, by requiring a dog to sit-stay before eating, by not allowing the dog in front of the owner when out for a walk, and by many other forms of body language.

Dog whispering emphasizes calm and assertive vocal language. When speaking to a dog, it is important to not yell corrections or give praise wildly as this may signal a loss of control to the dog. Millan has made the "ttssss!" sound a popular alternative to "No!" for correction. Whichever term is used, consistency, calmness and firmness are the important part.

Exercise as an outlet for excess energy is extremely important in the success of dog whispering. In the wild, dogs are constantly traveling and chasing prey. Domestic dogs need regular activity too to keep them physically and psychologically healthy. Exercise, such as a walk or run, at consistent times each day will help use the dog's extra energy. The dog then won't feel as much need to burn energy on negative activities, such as digging in the trash or chewing the couch.

The post-exercise period is an ideal time to work on behavior modification because the dog will be less hyper and more able to focus. Also, the exercise strengthens the human-animal bond, and the dog becomes eager to please.

Providing the dog with a task or job is another method of physical activity that is also mentally healthy for the dog. In the wild, dogs work together to function as a team, each with their own tasks. Some trainers recommend regularly giving a companion dog a weighted backpack to carry. Backpacks designed for dogs' bodies can be purchased at a pet store. Allowing a dog to pull an owner on a sled or on rollerblades or regularly playing games of fetch are other ideas.

Establishing hierarchy and providing positive outlets for energy lays the foundation for a well-behaved dog. A dog whisperer's work has more to do with modifying the human's behavior rather than the dog's. The owner of a destructive, aggressive, fearful, or disobedient dog is probably inadvertently encouraging the dog's negative behaviors. Providing the owner is willing to make lifestyle changes with the dog, a trainer can teach dog whispering techniques to help with the situation.

There is some controversy in light of these dog-training techniques. Much of it comes from lack of education about what dog whispering involves. The term "dog whispering" may bring up images of telepathy, spiritual communications, and other abstract, alternative ideas. In reality, dog whispering is merely getting to the core of a dog's mentality.

Dog whispering is founded on the structure and function of canine families in the wild. While there is much human-dog communication involved in this form of training, there is nothing magical about it. Although, to those families who have witnessed the power of dog whispering on their own previously uncontrollable pets, it may seem nothing short of a miracle.

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Dog Whisperers: What All Dogs Want Their Owners to Know




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