Friday, November 16, 2007

Be the Pack Leader

A friend who breeds Brittany spaniels recommended that I read Be the Pack Leader, by Cesar Millan. It's a useful book, and what Millan says makes sense for handling dogs; but unless you also watch his show, The Dog Whisperer, it's a little hard to figure out some of what he says (at least I assume watching the show would help). My favorite quote came from the introduction, when he posits the dog's credo as "I am here to live every moment to the fullest; to fulfill my own life and to help fulfill everybody else about me." I like the balance of self and other, not focused on one or the other, but both.

What struck me the most about what he says, though, is how aptly it applies to raising kids. His basic formula for raising happy, healthy dogs is Exercise, Discipline, and Affection (in that order). The same applies to kids, although the order might be reversed. Kids need affection; they need to know that they are loved for who they are, not what they do. They need discipline - not "showing them who's boss", but consistent, reliable "rules, boundaries, and limitations". And they need plenty of exercise to discharge the energy that will otherwise get them into trouble. Millan is a big advocate of psychological challenges for dogs, and giving them a job; kids also do better if their brains are engaged, and if they have a job to do in the household, a way to contribute. Kids need to know that their parents (or the adults around them) are in charge, leading the way, keeping them out of trouble. And kids do best if the adults can maintain a calm, assertive (but not aggressive) energy, confident that they know what needs to happen next, willing to stand up for themselves without picking a fight, gently keeping the kids in their place (which, unlike dogs, changes as they get older). So if you can raise a dog Cesar's way, you can probably do a pretty good job of raising a kid.

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