by Amy McCarthy
Dogs have been a part of the human experience for over 15,000 years. They're our companions, friends, and sometimes they even save our lives. Whether you've been raised with Fido your entire life, or are just looking for a new pet for the kids, it's important that you consider your lifestyle and your family's needs before adding a new member to the family.
Luckily, we were able to catch up with Cesar Millan, world-renowned dog trainer and the star of TV's The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan just after his first ever National Family Pack Walk, designed to bring families and their pets closer together. The event also raised money for The Millan Foundation, the nonprofit organization founded by Millan that seeks to create lifelong healthy relationships between dogs and people.
Millan chatted with us about his successful first National Family Pack Walk, choosing the right dog, and tips for getting the kids involved in the responsibility.
Parenthood.com: How was the National Family Pack Walk with Scooby Doo? What do you think families learned?
Cesar Millan: It was amazing! Scooby and the pack at Warner Bros. Consumer Products were fantastic in helping to bring out such a huge crowd to support The Millan Foundation and its goals. To have so many dogs and their humans all walking together with a shared purpose was amazing to see. When we walk as a pack, we see communities of dogs getting along with each other, we see all different people and different animals walking in one direction and bonding. I think families can take something from that. Just as a walk like this can bring us together as a community, a walk as a family can help bring us together, bring us closer.
Parenthood.com: When should you buy your child their first pet?
Cesar Millan: My pit bull, Daddy, was with me when my two sons were born, and he practically helped me raise them! If a dog has good energy, and if he is socialized early and brought up in a balanced and structured pack environment, then I would consider him perfectly safe for a family with children of any age!
Parenthood.com: What techniques can you use to make sure that your child handles your pet safely and humanely?
Cesar Millan: Teach your children, even from a young age, to practice Pack Leadership and focus on fulfilling the dog’s needs. Dogs have found themselves in an odd predicament by living with humans. In the wild, dogs don’t need humans to achieve balance. They have a pack leader, work for food, and travel with the pack. When we bring them into our world, we need to help them achiev e balance by fulfilling their needs as nature intended them to be. This takes exercise and discipline before affection, and always maintaining your calm, assertive pack leadership.
Parenthood.com: What dogs are best for kids that may be a little skittish around animals? What about active kids?
Cesar Millan: The most important thing for parents looking to adopt a dog for their children to remember is that every dog, even ones from the same breed, are different and should be evaluated on their own merits. It’s not the breed, it’s the energy level of the dog.
Certain breeds are known for certain energy levels. If you are the kind of family who prefers to sit inside with some good books and keep things nice and quiet, a high-energy dog is not a good fit for you. But if you wake up at five o’clock every morning and run three miles, then go hiking in the mountains in the afternoon, you would do well with a very high-energy dog.
Your dog’s energy should always be equal to or less than your own. Every dog owner is different. There is no one kind of dog that would make a good fit for a whole group, even as a general rule. Families who want to adopt a dog for the first time should take some time for self-reflection. Once they have identified their own energy and when they know what they want in a canine companion, they should do their research. Take time to get to know each other before you fall in love. Don’t fall for cuteness or feel sorry for them or get overexcited about getting a dog. Think about becoming part of a foster group first and get a taste for what life with a dog would be like for you. Know you’re ready and know your energy and lifestyle before you adopt.
Parenthood.com: How can kids help with the responsibility of owning a pet?
Cesar Millan: Involve the whole family in creating a calm balanced environment for a dog. To help your children understand how to be a pack leader work as a family to always follow these rules:
- Create a schedule that includes a daily 30- to 45-minute power-walk in the morning, at the very least. This is critical for your dog's health, both physical and mental, and is good for the family too!
- Set aside time every day to provide mental exercise by maintaining rules, boundaries, and limitations. When these needs are met, the affection you give to your dog will be channeled as a reward.
- Always walk out the door ahead of your dog when leaving the house. This will show your dog who is in the leadership role. On walks, make sure that your dog is not in front of you, pulling you down the street. Instead, keep your dog to your side or behind you. This will also demonstrate to your dog that you are the alpha figure.
- Give your dog something to do before you share food, water, toys, or affection. This way the dog earns his treat. For example, have him or her perform the Sit or Down command.
- Dogs seek attention from you. But by paying them that attention when they want it, you’re reinforcing the bad or hyperactive or anxious behavior that you're trying to avoid. Practice -- no touch, no talk, no eye contact -- and see how you fare. You might be surprised how quickly the dog settles down and looks to you and your children as his pack leader for direction.