Animals Make Us Human : Daydreaming Do animals make us more human?

Animals Make Us Human

Getty Images

In 2003, I did a story for Day to Day about doggie well-being. One of the folks I interviewed for that piece was none other than Cesar Millan -- the Dog Whisperer. This was long before his TV show or his line of pet food and toys...

I remember going out shortly before the break of dawn with Cesar and about 15 large dogs -- an assortment of Rottweilers, Pitbulls and German Shepards. Cesar had these dogs utterly under his control. They were obedient and well behaved. Cesar told me that you had to be the PACK LEADER in order to have control over your dogs. And that seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

But then I picked up Temple Grandin's new book, "Animals Make Us Human". The book looks at the different emotional state of animals and how you can create a better emotional environments for them.

In her chapter on dogs, Grandin points out that Cesar Millan's philosophy of being the pack leader works well in his situation -- where there are more than a dozen dogs of different breeds who may be prone to fighting living together. But, she points out, most dogs aren't living in this sort of situation.

In households where there are just one or two dogs, it may be more appropriate for the human to be a PARENT, not a pack leader. "A good parent sets limits and teaches his kids how to behave nicely," Grandin writes, "and that's exactly what dogs need, too."

Alex's dog Sadie Rich Dean hide caption

toggle caption
Rich Dean

Grandin goes on to give a few examples of how to teach manners to your dogs. She recommends teaching your dog patience by making him or her wait a few moments before going out for a walk. I've been trying this out with Sadie, a Golden Retreiver Chow mix we adopted a few months ago. Sadie gets INCREDIBLY excited every time she sees me put on my sneakers because she knows that means it's time for her chance to go out in the world. Lately, I've been making her contain that excitement by sitting and staying for at least 20 - 30 seconds before we head out. And, as Grandin suggests, it does seem to make her much calmer when we head out on a stroll.

Jason DeRose plays with Ajax Willis Johnson hide caption

toggle caption
Willis Johnson

Temple Grandin suggests that dogs need at least an hour of exercise or play per day. As a rule of thumb, she says 30 minutes of walking, 15 minutes of playing and 15 minutes of learning new tricks. Our editor, Jason DeRose makes sure his dog gets much more than that (though Jason says he's not much for tricks).

"Ajax attends Doggie Day Care near our home in Santa Monica," says Jason.

So, he gets plenty of walks and playtime during the day. He's usually tired after hours with his friends and spends the evenings sleeping on a big leather chair in the living room. But Jason notes that on days when Ajax doesn't attend daycare, he can be a little agitated by nightfall even if he's had several long walks.

"We've found that a little tug-o-war right before bed helps Ajax relax."