Ask Ethel: Ethel Meets the Dog Whisperer
Any time I divulge my dog's idiosyncrasies – say, her tendency to interrupt intimate moments or her refusal to be alone for 10 minutes without going insane – the response usually ends up being, "You should call the Dog Whisperer!"
Yeah, like I have him on speed-dial.
Little did I think that one day, the Dog Whisperer himself, the shaman, the pope, the human healer of dogs, would be coming to our offices and that he might actually whisper to Ethel.
Well, Cesar Millan was here, and he met Ethel, who was on her absolute best, most angelic behavior. Upon seeing her wander around the studio, he said, "She has a beautiful energy." And from the back of the room, I thought to myself, But! But! She's so crazy sometimes! I swear! Help me! Help her!
So I babbled on to Cesar about Ethel, and the way she hates when my boyfriend and I do things with each other and leave her out sometimes.
He asked me questions to flesh out the issue without seeing Ethel's behavior in action. I told him that we try our best to ignore her when she sticks her head between ours and licks us to death. He said that ignoring her can solve the problem, but we would really have to ignore her.
"Ignoring means being quiet from the inside out," he said. "You can't be thinking about her. Completely disconnect." So we'd have to turn to stone, or stop and do something else. No giggling, no chortling, no wondering about what she's doing, no acknowledgment of any kind.
What about this amendment? Ethel seems to act out in spite by tearing through the trash or peeing in the house. He said that then I would have to address the problem, but wait until she was in a calm-submissive state.
"She becomes aware, she goes through the process, she reflects, then she transforms. Those are the four stages that a dog goes through."
He said that I wasn't firm enough when touching her. "They want to do what you want them to do," he said. She didn't feel safe with me, when as her Mom, I was supposed to give her that feeling of security. Being too soft with her made Ethel turn into the leader.
I have to admit, he might have lost me somewhere in there. I realistically had no idea how I was going to become calm-assertive so that she could become calm-submissive, how I was going to let her know that I'm the boss, not her. I could imagine myself trying and pretending, only to fail miserably. And despite his very generous efforts to explain the concepts to me, I haven't quite figured how I'm going to stop being a doormat and start giving my dog the kind of boundaries she needs.
It might have been a self-fulfilling thing: call yourself the Dog Whisperer, and people are going to expect that you to have a kind of omnipotence. Cesar Millan may be famous, he may be rich, but he can't have a meal out in public or walk down the street without being stopped by someone who desperately wants Fluffy's myriad problems solved this instant by the guy who's so good at solving every other dog's problems.
I certainly burdened him with mine, and in spite of my attempts at being reasonable, I secretly wished somewhere deep down that Cesar would make Ethel's desperate quirks vanish. It won't surprise you to hear me say he couldn't – but, as always, we're working on it.
Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can't figure out? Try Ethel – she'll do her best to help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message on Twitter or Facebook.
Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: Gentle Giant Turns Psycho on a Leash
Ask Ethel: My Two Dogs Are Destroying My House!