Cesar's Way

cesars way

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Cesar's Way tells the story of how Cesar Millan went to California and became famous for his work with dogs. The book also sets out what Millan believes that dogs need to have happier lives and get on better with their owners. As a child, Millan had spent time on his grandfather's farm, learning from the dogs there. They were useful dogs, helping around the farm, and were well-behaved, without formal training. In contrast, in California, Millan met well-groomed and formally trained dogs with serious behavioural problems, because their basic needs weren't being met.

Millan argues that dogs need walks, leadership from their humans, and that they benefit from the company of their own kind. He emphasises discipline. Dogs need 'rules, boundaries and limitations' in order to feel secure. Owners can confuse dogs by behaving like followers, rather than leaders, for example going to greet a dog, which is what a follower does to a leader, rather than letting the dog come to greet you, which is how a leader behaves. Some dogs may even need a 'dominance ritual', of being put on their sides, in a submissive posture. Humans should prioritise exercise, then discipline, and lastly affection, in Millan's view. The Californian owners he saw often prioritised affection, and treated their dogs like humans. 

In some ways this is the story of a voyage from one culture to another, from rural Mexico to suburban and urban California. I live in rural Spain, and often hear people say that one shouldn't treat dogs like humans. There's some truth in this. Celebrating a dog's birthday may be fun, but it means more to us than to the dog. However, dressing dogs up in fancy clothes, keeping them confined, failing to help them learn social rules, and constantly gushing over them, is arguably not treating dogs like humans. If you did the same to children, it wouldn't do them much good.

It's also true that dogs need leadership, and being confident and even-tempered, like Millan´s grandfather was, is a good start. However, going up to greet a strange dog is not sensible because it may spook the dog, rather than because it means you're behaving like a follower. And, as Millan notes, putting an aggressive dog on its side could result in a bite! Lastly, though Millan puts affection bottom on his list of priorities, perhaps it needs to be redefined as meeting a dog's basic needs, rather than doing stuff, like hugging dogs, that makes us feel good. 

Review by Alison Lever

See also: Cesar's Rules