When the stay-at-home orders began in mid-March, many Americans made beelines for their local animal shelters to either foster or adopt adorable dogs.
All over the country, shelters normally faced with the terrible task of euthanizing unwanted animals because their kennels were overflowing were able to happily report that their cages were nearly bare.
Dog trainer-to-the stars and animal behaviorist Cesar Millan -- you know him as the "Dog Whisperer" -- has no doubt that the dogs were fostered or adopted into loving homes. His question is whether these new pet parents are committed to the long-term task of caring for their new family members, a commitment that requires more discipline and mental stimulation than a steady diet of kisses and treats.
In May, L.A. municipal animal shelter officials said they were worried about a resurgence in pet drop-offs, in part because of COVID-19 job losses that have made it difficult for people to afford pets. Los Angeles Animal Services announced June 3 that they were opening two pet food pantries. Assistance is by appointment only at the city agency's shelters in Chesterfield Square and East Valley.
Adopting a dog to keep you company in isolation "is like getting married for all the wrong reasons or having children for the wrong reasons," said Millan, who will begin filming another 10 episodes of his popular "Dog Whisperer" TV show in July. "When the human response is to think of yourself first, then the outcome in the future is not going to be good."
If someone has a puppy and that puppy is a problem, "then the owner wasn't honest from the beginning," Millan said. "People say, 'I'm going to get a puppy. (But) I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know if I want to care for them for 13 or 14 years, and I don't know how much it will cost ... I just know I want a puppy.' Dogs hold on to honor, integrity, loyalty, trust, respect and love ... so that puppy knew the moral code was broken from the moment it was adopted."
Dogs are pack animals that instinctively look for a leader, and if their humans don't provide that leadership then the dogs get confused and lose respect, especially if their bad behaviors are "rewarded" with endless treats and affection.
"Humans are the only species who follow unstable leaders," said Millan, who still trains dogs at his Santa Clarita ranch, Cesar's Way. "Dogs live in a way that's natural, simple and profound. If your energy is not aligned -- if you live in chaos and are not calm, they will not follow you. They'll learn to live with it, but that doesn't mean they're OK."
For instance, he said, if your dog jumps on you, you can interpret that as, "Oh, my dog loves me," but eventually, it's going to be a problem for you and anyone else who comes around. Dogs need boundaries, just like children, Millan said, but "if your energy is off, if you're not calm and full of love and joy, they can ignore you."
Dogs basically have three reactions, he said -- fight, flight (or avoidance) and submission or surrender. Submission is the place you want them to be, because nobody listens when they're in fight or flight mode. "When Oprah is on TV, all those woman are in the surrender state," Millan said. "That's the most powerful state of mind, because you're listening, surrendering to information. It's what people call 'openminded.'"