I know I am late to the Dog Whisperer bandwagon, and it is actually My Cat From Hell showing up on Netflix which first inspired me to write this. Both these shows have struck me for having one unmistakable pattern: Dog and cat owners call in an expert to change the behavior of their "bad dog" or "bad cat" only to find out it is THEIR behavior which needs changed. After a few seasons of each, seeing how our behavior affects the animals around us I can't help but ask: How far are we responsible for the "bad behavior" or others, and what if we learned to look at "bad people" the way these shows teach us to look at "bad animals?"
My Cat From Hell: Neglect Is Abuse
Cats seem aloof and almost detached, so people often treat them as decor that poops. As if all the interaction a cat needs is food and a litter box. It turns out, cats need interacted and played with. This revelation is probably 75% of the episodes in My Cat From Hell. How often do we feel we are without responsibility in a situation because we think we have done no harm or wished no ill. Perhaps people, as well, can't just "be OK" on their own, and we need to realize that bad behavior is often a sign of loneliness and isolation.
In our culture, we have an idea of “every man to himself” where we think if you haven’t intentionally harmed someone, then you have no responsibility for their behavior. What any public school teacher can tell you, if you don’t raise someone with love and intention, then you raise them to fail. So many people in this world have reached adulthood without ever learning to love, to know what it feels like to be loved, and how to show love to others. These people are then treated as if that is their inherent nature, and we despise them.
The Dog Whisperer: Learning What Power Is For
Dogs are much more hierarchical than cats, so the Dog Whisperer is a great example of the use of graceful power. various times in our lives we have power over others. As parents we have power, psychologically and legally, over our children. In our jobs we may have authority over another from ownership or management. In society, we have legal authority, law enforcement, and political office. Each time we experience power over another we have an opportunity to encourage and strengthen others, or discourage and dishearten them.
Much of The Dog Whisperer is an exercise is disciplined power. Dog owners are often either refusing to take responsibility for their pet (what Cesar Millan calls "dominate"), or using their position of power to abuse the dog. Each show is training of the owner to recognize their responsibility to accept their authority and mold the behavior of their dog. Dogs learn to trust their owners when they assume a position of strength, but also behave in a way that makes the dog feels it can trust the owner.
I know there are some animal behaviorists who think Cesar's methods are too harsh, but I think that reinforces my point. Nothing Cesar ever does is abusive or harmful, so if there are some who can get good behavior with even gentler techniques, then that just goes farther to show how much we can change our behavior to help others change. The bottom line is that when we are in power, we should be very self-critical and always explore our effect on others, instead of assuming it is "just them."
Bad Human Tricks
When people do terrible things, it is often deemed offensive to ask: What could WE do differently? We want to think bad people do bad things, but the reality is that hurt people hurt people. Forgiveness and grace are so vital to humanity because it is the only way things get better. You can complain about your child's behavior all you want, but it isn't going to change unless you change. You can complain about the crime in poor neighborhoods, but it won't get better until the neighborhood gets help. You can complain about a delinquent, but they will just keep going back to jail until they can go to a good home. It is time we realized that doing nothing is an act of neglect, not an absolution from responsibility. We are all in this together.