Be the Pack Leader: Book Review

The books of my youth were consumed like popcorn during a matinee movie. I couldn’t get enough of books like How to eat fried worms, A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabitha, The girl with the Silver eyes, Judy Bloom, and my favorite, the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Fiction reading for me was awesome. It was my personal escape. I did it because it was enjoyable and fun. Reading school books for the purpose of learning, not so much.

Fast forward 30 years. Although I still enjoy reading as a concept, I’ve fallen out of practice. With my first year of dog ownership coming to a close, and me still not feeling quite the alpha, I’ve decided to beef up my dog knowledge by reading some training books. I was hoping that I wouldn’t be bored by a bunch of technical jargon, or disappointed by a “seems easy enough” step-by-step checklist that wouldn’t carry over from page to pup.

Be the Pack Leader by Cesar Millan didn’t disappoint me. It had enough anecdotal stories to make his training methods relatable, history of dog breeds to emphasize why certain dogs are the way they are, how to use a dog’s breed to its advantage, and simple recommendations on tools to use from novice to advanced level.

These are the takeaway bullet points that I’ve learned:

  • Dogs are dogs not people.Respect that and you’re on the right path.
  • Dogs have dog needs, not human. Fulfil their dog needs and you get a happier dog.
  • A dog’s personality is based on personal interest, breed, and energy levels.
  • Dog’s compatibility with each other are heavily influenced by each other’s energy level as well as scent.
  • Humans understand by names and labels. Dogs understand by use/purpose and status position.
  • Humans are more “me” oriented while dogs are “we” oriented (the pack).
  • We are constantly being observed by our dogs from whom they learn how to behave and what is expected of them.
  • If a dog is not behaving in a consistent manner in which we desire, it is because our signals to them are inconsistent.
  • An”unstable” dog’s behavior is frequently mirrored by the psychological instability of its owner.
  • Training a dog is really just manipulating its natural breed instincts in a way we find desirable.
  • Punishment is a human concept based on the idea that we have higher thinking that can reflect on our past actions. Dogs do not.
  • It’s better to correct a dog’s behaviour by discipline, not by punishment.
  • Physical correction can be successful and humane if done right.
  • A dog needs purpose
  • Spoiling dogs can actually make them lose respect for us.
  • Train your dog first for discipline and safety, tricks and talent secondary.
  • By bringing dogs into an unnatural environment, it’s our responsibility to make sure they understand it in a way that keeps them safe and helps them enjoy it.

I know there are other philosophies on dog training as well as methods, but as a whole this book made a lot of sense to me. It caused me to reflect on some of my own interactions with my dogs and how I can improve our relationship. I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to understand and help me to learn in a way that felt relative.

Cesar Millan mentioned something in his book about people feeling bad about putting their foot down. I’m definitely one of those people. I am overly nice to my dogs in a way that I originally thought they’d appreciate and be grateful for, when all along I’ve been disrespecting them as a species and individual breeds.

I have expectations for them and they have expectations from me as well. It’s time I stepped up to the plate to become the pack leader. I thought my dogs had a long way to go. But the truth is we both do. This will be the first in many book reviews to come as I continue my education of these wonderful creatures I’ve brought into my home. In addition I will be reviewing some of the tools and techniques that I am learning about.

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