The Child Whisperers

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“…some parents, and even a few child therapists, have found themselves taking mental notes from a television personality known for inspiring discipline, order and devotion: Cesar Millan, otherwise known as the ‘Dog Whisperer.'” — The New York Times

Let’s face it. Child rearing is tough. My wife Tina and I know this from personal experience. For the first three years of his life, our son Blackie was a real terror — the kind of kid you wouldn’t mind letting fall off a cliff, like Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son (or Home Alone 2). We knew things were bad when we took him home from the hospital a few days after he was born and the first thing he does when he gets in the house is defecate all over my Devo record collection. Then he starts suckling on my wife’s breast! Dr. Spock doesn’t tell you how to deal with this sort of behavior, at least not on the dust jacket. These antics continued for three years. The crying, the poop, keeping us up all night howling because we forgot to let him back in the house. Our dog John Robert Eldridge III is perfectly happy to sleep outside. In fact, he likes it. What gives? Tina and I repeatedly asked ourselves.

Then one night, while Tina and I were watching The Dog Whisperer and congratulating ourselves on how well Cesar Millan’s techniques had worked on John Robert Eldridge III, we looked over and there’s Blackie, all apoplectic because Tina was sitting on the remote that controlled his shock collar. Tina and I thought, “Hey, maybe we’re going about this all the wrong way,” although neither of us had the courage to say it until a month or so later.

“You know, there’s something we could learn from Cesar,” said my wife.

“What it feels like to be Mexican?” I asked.

“No, well, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m saying is that I bet if we use Cesar’s dog-training techniques on Blackie, we could make more headway than we have in the past.” And from that moment on, our lives, and more importantly Blackie’s life, became far more manageable.

As Cesar instructed us to do with J.R. III, the first step was to identify where our creature fit into the hierarchy of his species. For example, we recognized that Blackie was:

1. A child with childish needs as opposed to grown-up needs.

2. Too much of a damned diva to drink out of the toilet like a normal person.

3. Not going anywhere soon.

Then we began implementing Cesar’s cardinal rules: Exercise, Discipline and Affection (Initially, Tina thought it was “Affectation” and had J.R. III and Blackie smoking Gauloises and toting first editions of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Oops.). First, we made sure Blackie got plenty of exercise. By stapling a filet to his diaper, we ensured that both J.R. III and Blackie could get in a good workout. J.R. III chased Blackie around for what seemed like hours! Of course, Blackie, still resistant to “order,” would typically collapse in a heap and play dead (the first “trick” he learned) in protest, his attempt to assert himself as what Cesar might call “The Alpha Child.” But do Alpha Children run around crying when a snarling Rottweiler comes charging toward their little tushies? No, they don’t. “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” we’d remind Blackie, but he’d just squall incessantly until we shelved the Tennyson and ushered J.R. III off to his Shiatsu-do massage appointment. Blackie was often hostile, but that’s where discipline comes in.

We learned from Cesar that Blackie’s shock collar was unnecessary, and in retrospect, maybe a little cruel (Child Protective Services echoed this sentiment in a caustic little epistle). Now, there’s nothing wrong with tough love, but we found that a leash pop from a simple choke chain was all we really needed to coax Blackie into heeling. Remember, mom and dad — YOU’RE THE ALPHAS. Dogs and children are pack animals, and it’s up to YOU to establish discipline so your child doesn’t wander off to Burning Man to do magical mushrooms and get in touch with his inner nude. That’s why, following Cesar’s advice, whenever Blackie would get out of line, we’d establish dominance by grasping the scruff of his neck and going, “Tsch!” Then, when Blackie could finally talk, we changed that to “Tsst!” Finally, in high school it was “I’m going to shake you until your fricking teeth rattle…Tchst.”

But, let’s not forget affection. Affection is crucial in making sure that your child doesn’t grow up to be like one of those Menendez brothers. Be sure to praise and reward your child for good behavior (they like candy, and later in life they will appreciate cash) and encourage nuzzling and licking between your child and your dog and even other children. If you feel like they still aren’t getting enough affection, you can pay for six years of college at Chico State while they loaf around studying “Modes of Being” or glassblowing or some other dopey thing.

If, after carefully implementing Cesar’s training tactics, your child is still rambunctious, ungrateful and disobedient, I’m not sure what to tell you. We’ve tried to contact Cesar to see if Blackie (or, “Timothy,” as he now insists on being called) would be welcome at his Dog Psychology Center in South Central L.A. but we have yet to hear back. In the meantime, Blackie responded to our well-intentioned inquiry in his usual belligerent fashion, biting me on the nose, urinating on his mother and kidnapping John Robert Eldrige IV, announcing that he was going to Burning Man to do magical mushrooms and get in touch with his inner nude.

Now, Cesar’s techniques may not work for all children. But they’re certainly worth a try. After all, you only get one shot at child rearing, sometimes more if you like sex. And there is at least one lesson taught by Señor Millan that every parent needs to know: No matter how much your child bitches and moans about it, Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy with Liver may not be “cool” to serve at their 10th birthday party, but they’ll thank you later for the protein.

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