You’ve seen it happening all over America lately. Maybe it’s even happened to you. You’re cooped up inside during the pandemic with extremely limited human contact, so you decide to bring a little extra companionship into your life by adopting an adorable four-legged friend from the local animal shelter.
You make haste, because you’ve heard the shelters are emptying out faster than the toilet paper shelves at the supermarket. You sweep up the first little canine cutie that gazes at you with big brown eyes, and voila—instant love and affection.
But not all goes exactly as you’d planned. You quickly realize that a dog has wants and needs that you may not understand. Maybe it makes a toy out of your favorite shoes or, heaven forbid, uses your bed for a bathroom. You start wondering: Was adopting a pandemic pooch such a good idea after all?
It’s time for a reality check from Cesar Millan, who starred in “Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan” for nine seasons.
The famed dog trainer has been busy lately preparing for his new show, “Better Humans, Better Dogs,” to premiere on Nat Geo Wild in early August. He’s also helped create the Halo electric collar, which can maintain boundaries inside the house and work as an electric fence outdoors.
Millan has also been doling out plenty of advice to pet owners struggling to keep their fur babies happy and healthy at home during a pandemic. He says it’s never too late to start giving the right amount of “exercise, discipline, and affection,” which are essential to all pets (humans, too, for that matter).
He advises you not to beat yourself up because you’re not the perfect dog parent at the very beginning. There have even been doggie adaptation problems in the the most prominent home in the country, the White House. You’ve likely heard about President Joe Biden‘s German shepherd Major, the first rescue to live in the official presidential residence. When he first arrived, things got awkward when he became agitated, jumped, barked, and even nipped at a secret service agent.
But the majority of dog behavior issues, including Major’s, are caused by the environment and the people around them, according to Millan.
“Major doesn’t need to be sent out to a trainer; it’s the people in the White House who need to be trained to follow a safe protocol with him,” Millan says. “You have to introduce your dog to a stable environment and show them the rules, boundaries, and limitations—and you have to be consistent.”
The good news is that it’s never too late to make things right. If you try to look at things from the dog’s point of view and make adjustments to accommodate it, you and your four-legged friend should be able to live together in peace and harmony for years to come.
Millan took time recently to speak with realtor.com, giving homeowners some valuable tips about blissful co-habitation with any canine—whether it’s a pandemic rescue or from a breeder, or however it ends up in your lives.
Ideally, what’s the first thing we should do when adopting a dog?
When you enter into any relationship, whether it’s human-human or human-animal, there should be education. Many people enter into a relationship with an animal thinking all the dog needs is the same affection and love that they themselves want. But there’s a lot more to any relationship than just affection. So education on how a dog communicates and what a dog wants and needs is the most important first step.
If people have problems with their dogs, it’s probably because they’re not educated. The dogs are the reflection of human knowledge.
What are the most important things to consider when adopting a dog?
You need to become clear about three things:
1. Environment—is it safe and appropriate for the dog? How does it compare to where the dog came from? Will the dog feel secure there?
2. Family or human beings in the environment—who will be interacting with the dog? Will small children be playing with the dog? Are you getting the dog for an older person? You need to understand what’s best for the dog and the people in your specific situation.
3. Agreement—all the humans have to be in agreement on how the dog is treated, and be committed to following through, especially in the first 21 days when you bring the dog home. If everyone doesn’t follow the same rules, the dog could become confused and frustrated.
What if I live in an apartment and don’t have a big backyard for the dog?
Sometimes people who live in apartments have fewer issues with their dogs because they walk them several times a day, and they get a lot of exercise and stimulation outside the home. They have an advantage over people with huge estates who let their dogs just lie around the house all the time.
If a dog is tearing up the house or chewing up belongings, what’s the best way to correct this behavior?
It’s important to understand that that kind of behavior is a sign of frustration or boredom. That dog is just getting rid of energy through destructive behavior. Our responsibility to our dogs is to provide exercise, mental stimulation, and affection. And if he doesn’t have those three things, that’s when he might display the negative behavior. So you need to understand that you might be causing the behavior, not the dog.
What’s the best way to relieve a dog’s frustration and boredom?
You have to give your dog plenty of exercise. It’s especially important to take the dog out for a long walk first thing in the morning, when you first wake up. A tired dog is a happy dog. A walk in the morning is good for you too! Exercise plays a big role in having a good, healthy, peaceful life, for animals and humans.
What’s the best way to communicate with a dog?
Be clear with your commands and energy. If you have a conversation with your dog, and say something like, “OK now, you be a good dog and sit and wait for Mommy and I’ll be home pretty soon and then we’ll have fun when I come back,” that confuses the dog. It’s just a bunch of words. Establish short, clear commands.
How can dog owners returning to the office make sure their pooch remains calm at home alone?
That nice, long walk before you leave is essential. Also, I created the Halo electric collar to maintain boundaries. It teaches dogs to be respectful and reinforces rules and limitations, which make your dog feel safe and eliminates confusion.
Anything else I can do to prepare my dog in advance for my going back to the office?
Start practicing social distance. Let your dog know he doesn’t have to be with you every second of the day. Don’t allow him to follow you everywhere. Let the dog know that it’s OK to go rest somewhere without you, and that you will return. You might start with telling your dog to “go to your place,” when you go to the front door. She’ll learn to trust that you’re coming back.