I love dogs and watch Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer together with my daughter every Wednesday on the National Geography Channel. It always strikes me how similar dog training is to parenting.
Watching the show you will keep hearing Millan say, "I don't train dogs - I rehabilitate dogs, and train their owners", "It’s not about the dog. It's always about us", "Dogs are pack animals, they need a stable, assertive and calm owner as their pack leader", "You can say as much as you want, but the dogs are picking up what is inside of you from your voice, your move", "It's always about us. It’s up to us to create an environment and circumstances in which the dog can thrive and be itself”, "To be happy, dogs need a good job, and good food, and a pat on the head. Americans tend to over-do on the affection and under-do on the job...".
Millan repeatedly stresses that dogs need a pack leader with a calm and positive energy. He approaches dog behaviour by teaching dog owners to understand the dogs' natural needs and to respond to them properly. In his book, dogs need work and discipline. If a dog is deprived of work and discipline, it is going to have some behavioural problems.
Millan prioritises fulfilling and balancing a dog's primary needs: exercise (work), discipline and affection - in that order. In other words, it is the owner's responsibility to fulfill the dog's needs through challenging exercise; clearly communicated rules, boundaries and limitations; and affection at the right time. Millan encourages owners to give affection, but to give affection when the dog is in a balanced state of mind, not when the dog is fearful, anxious, in avoidance or over excited - when the affection itself can reinforce imbalance. According to him, a common pitfall for dog owners is to give a great deal of affection with very little discipline and even less exercise. He emphasises the importance of walking a dog, not only for the dog's exercise, but for the owner and dog to bond - with the dog ultimately recognizing the owner as its role model. He encourages owners to watch their dog for subtle cues in the dog's posture, movement and facial expression, and to eliminate poor behavior before it arises or escalates. And he also encourages owners to understand the profound effect their own attitudes, internal emotions and physical postures have on a dog's behavior, counseling owners to hold strong posture (i.e. shoulders high and chest forward) and to project energy that is calm-assertive.
One only needs to substitute "children" for "dogs", and "parents" for "dog owners" to have an excellent parenting guide. A lot of what Millan says about dog echoes what John Rosemond says in his excellent but somehow neglected book Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children. To raise happy and healthy children/dogs, parents/dog owners must first look into themselves and make themselves better parents/dog owners.
I am of course not saying that children should be treated as dogs but the basic rules are the same. After all, it is not about the children/dogs, it is about us. If you love dogs or care about parenting, don't miss the show. Trust me, it's a good parenting show.