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The Dog Whisperer changed my life

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Everyone tries to live a certain way. Me? I assume things will work out exactly how I want, and when they don't, I turn all red and timid and stammery. Then later, in private, I stomp around and flail and complain to whatever warm body is nigh until I pass out in my jar of peanut butter. It offers solutions as well as expected.

That was the old me, I mean. Then I got a dog.

When we adopted Stuart last Christmas, we started watching reruns of the Dog Whisperer on National Geographic. I'd heard of it before, and I'd seen the episode of South Park in which Cesar Millan pinches Eric Cartman into submission, but that was it.

Cesar on the show comes into homes, says nearly nothing and stands there like, "I GOT THIS ON LOCK." The Dobermans, who were five minutes earlier eating the upholstery, fiberfill and wooden frame of the Jennifer Convertible sleeper sofa, flop reverently at Cesar's feet and do exactly what he wants, when he wants it.


So, listen. I'm a professional skeptic, and I don't believe everything I see on reality shows, unless it involves the Kardashians. I imagine cutting room floor footage exists of dogs eating babies in front of Cesar or whatever. However, in the grand scheme, I decided Cesar was just... right.

His advice is about energy, about being "calm-assertive" and not letting others dominate you. Instead of forgetting how to use your words and making a variety of high-pitched seagull noises in stressful situations, you breathe and proceed as if everything is totes cool. People dogs, overwhelmed by your confidence, will do as you say.

I've tried to incorporate this into daily life, not just with my dog. Sometimes it works. Other times, it's back to the peanut butter.

Jim and I were in the mall late recently, and became stuck inside JCPenney right after they closed the big sliding doors. Our car was at Macy's, far away. We approached the cashier, who advised us to go to a back door by the salon, twelve feet above the delivery door cordoned off with criss-crossed jewel heist lasers through which we could attempt to snake, then rappel down the side of the store with a grappling hook, then walk six miles to our car in the black of night. With the luck-o-the-Irish, we wouldn't get assaulted.

I paused.

"Could you just open a door?"

She looked stunned for a minute, unsure of what to do. But you know what? She opened a door. Calm assertive! Victory! Spectacular!

It helps to praise yourself for being calm-assertive. Cesar would call this "positive reinforcement." I did this at lunch today when I calmly and assertively requested grilled chicken on my salad instead of fried. Then, when the clerk gave me a small cup instead of a large, I handed it back and said, "I ordered a large." Mama needs her Diet Coke, and small is for n00bs. While walking to a table, I thought, "Really good job at being calm-assertive, Steph. Your heart rate is really low."

And then I SPILLED MY ENTIRE DIET COKE EVERYWHERE. Here, I'll draw a picture.

After the young lady came over with the mop, I attempted to calmly and assertively open my salad. That's when I realized it was ABSOLUTELY COVERED in won-ton strips, a direct violation of my low-carb diet challenge with Aaron. So I spent the rest of lunch sniveling into my salad and picking off won-ton strips with two fingers muddied by Thai peanut dressing. Dogs everywhere rejoiced, crashing into bathroom trash cans, pulling cookie-cakes off counters, pooping in public parks and eating it.

A girl across from me kept issuing snide looks in my direction, like, "LOOK AT THIS B. SHE'S NOT CALM-ASSERTIVE AT ALL."

I remembered my Cesar training and gave her the calmest, bitchiest smile I could muster, all smug eyes and closed lips. Brenda Walsh here will help demonstrate.


It worked! She didn't look at me again.

Thanks, Cesar.

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