What The Dog Saw

by Dr. Christopher on May 23, 2011

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Have you ever wondered why you’re attracted to certain people more than others? 

Or wondered why certain people make better leaders and others better followers?

It turns out, the same traits that make you more attractive to the opposite sex, more attractive as a leader, and more likely to succeed in life, are also the same traits that allow you to have a more well-behaved dog.

Cesar Milan, affectionately known as “The Dog Whisperer” and author of Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems, has mastered control over dogs and more importantly, over humans by learning to control his posture, movement, facial expressions, and energy.

Understanding how a dog sees you can help you not only be more attractive to others, but also help you have better relationships with your kids, family, friends, and business associates. 

Does your dog see a pack leader?  Or the runt of the pack? 

Let’s see.

Why is Lassie so smart?

In a classic experiment performed in 2001 (Human-like social skills in dogs?), chimpanzees and dogs were required to extract clues by observing a human.  Food was hidden in one of several containers by a researcher out of sight of the animal.  The animal then had one chance to find the food.  Chimpanzees found the food in no greater ratio than by chance.  Dogs, however, scored wonderfully, fully utilizing human cues to find the food.

This experiment teaches us why Lassie is so smart and dogs have become “Man’s Best Friend.”

Being able to learn from humans allows man and dog to have a symbiotic relationship.  Humans benefit by training dogs to hunt for animals, fetch dead animals, find specific scents, round up herds, or provide companionship.  Dogs are rewarded because of the high social skill they have evolved with increased rate of survival by being fed and loved by a human.

Humans benefit from high social skill similarly. 

How The Dog Whisperer Whispers

Through Cesar Milan’s posture, movement, gestures, and energy, he has mastered the position of pack leader when it comes to dogs.

Dogs are social animals.  The strongest, smartest dog that increases the survival of the pack is the pack leader.  It is his role to direct the pack to find food, to hunt, to fight, and to keep the other dogs in check.

Cesar is the pack leader in every environment. 

When he meets submissive dogs, he stands with his chest out, face up, shoulders back and faces directly at the dog.  These postures let the dog know, “He is big.  He must be in charge.”

If a dog is more dominant or aggressive, he does not face the dog directly and actually positions his body on an angle, never provoking the dog’s aggression.  Cesar lets the dog (temporarily) be the pack leader until he takes Cesar in as part of the pack.

In the pack leader position, if a dog bites him, he bites it back (with his fingers and thumb made into a “C” shape) in the neck.  The pack leader would never be bitten without biting back. 

When he walks the dog (or from the dog’s perception, goes exploring new territory), he leads the dog, walking ahead of it with calm and poise.  A leader leads.

When he feeds the dog, he makes the dog sit before presenting the food.  He then puts the food down, making the dog wait for his cue to eat.  The dog knows who is responsible for his survival.

In this way, Cesar, through his postures, movements, gestures, and energy, has learned how lead the pack and dominate dogs to obey as he wants.  This same energy allows him to teach (or dominate) humans how to control dogs (and humans).

What The Human Saw

Here’s where it gets interesting.  The same cues that dogs read about other humans, humans read them too.

Have you ever been stressed out and vented to a good friend or family member?  I’d bet that the person you were comfortable enough to vent to looked into your eyes, mirrored your emotions in her face, was facing you and had her protective exteriors down.  If this person was looking at her cell phone, with a very high or very low emotional level, or had her body posture angled away from you, would you have been as likely to vent?

Have you ever witnessed twenty-year-old men, laden with extreme testosterone levels, display dominance to each other?  Often, the bigger men pick fights on those smaller to them.  But when an even bigger man walks onto the scene, the bully’s mouth was kept shut.  You can show strength, dominance, or aggression by staring at another without blinking, just as an aggressive dog would.

Even babies will smile at you if you smile at them. 

Each of these scenarios shows how humans read other human beings to learn about the individual, whether another person is showing compassion, aggression, or happiness.

What You See

Here’s the trick.  You can control not only how others think or see you by paying attention to the way you hold your body, but also control how YOU see or think of yourself.

You can instantly bring ease to a stressed mind by taking a deep breath and dropping your shoulders back and down.

You can instantly bring energy to a tired body by making a fist and shaking it, saying “Yes!”  (Doing this anytime you feel strength or happiness anchors or links the feeling to the physical movement.)

You can instantly bring security and confidence by standing with your chest out and chin up.

Here’s my theory.  A person who leads with a confident posture, who loves with empathetic eyes, who defends what is worth defending with confidence, is a happy person. 

That makes learning how to control dogs, a big deal.

What does your dog see when her owner comes through the door?

Dr. Christopher Stepien is a chiropractor, chronic pain specialist, and A.R.T. provider, and clinic director of the Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic in Morristown, NJ.  He practices out of Crossfit Morristown.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dr. Chris June 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm


This article is consistent with this blog post. Very interesting.

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