TV is Educational

March 7th, 2009

I was kvetching about a year ago to Wayne about how I didn’t feel like I was making progress on my writing aspirations. Instead of making any of the suggestions I expected,  he said, “Why don’t you get rid of the cable.”

“You wouldn’t miss it?” When he moved in, six years ago, I was about to cut off the cable, but I decided to keep it, thinking Wayne wanted it.

“Nah,” he said, and that was it. I called up Time Warner and said, turn it off.

“What do you mean?” the customer service representative asked. “You don’t want tv? No tv at all?”


“No channels at all?”

“That’s correct.”

“Well, I don’t know how soon we can make that happen.”

“Can’t you just turn it off?”

“No, someone will have to come out there and do it.” He promised me by the following Tuesday, we’d have no tv. (In my neck of the woods, no cable equals no tv whatsoever.)

Wayne said, while we’re waiting for them to turn it off, we might as well watch. He can do things like that, watching some  tv and then giving it up. I’m more of an all or nothing person. I said, “No. I’m sticking to my plan.”

“Suit yourself,” he said. The following Tuesday, came and went and the television had still not gone black. On Friday I called Time Warner. They promised to turn it off. Another week later all the channels were gone except for the last five at the end of our line-up: Oxygen, Style, National Geographic, MSG, and the Soap channel. As a result, for the past year we’ve been getting the dregs of cable tv for free. I gave up trying to get TW to turn it off since it seemed like a good compromise: Wayne can watch basketball games and Nat Geo, and I’m not too tempted by anything on those stations.

Sometimes, however, like last night, when Wayne’s watching the Dog Whisperer on Nat Geo, I plunk down and can’t tear myself away. I read in a New Yorker article that Cesar Milan’s methods go against most current accepted training methods for dogs. Nonetheless, it looks great on tv.

“There’s no dog I can’t handle” he says in his intro. Then, through the magic of either Cesar himself or selective television editing, he takes the most unruly dogs and turns them into perfect pets. Most of the time. Sometimes the dogs aren’t a “good match” for their owners, and they go to live a happy life with his huge pack in Cesar’s dog psychology center.

I only sat down on the couch in the first place because we were going to watch a DVD. Then I was too tired to put one in the player. I rationalized that The Dog Whisperer doesn’t count as watching tv because I’m learning something. Maybe I’ll take something away that will turn Cleo into a dog who can socialize with other dogs without suddenly turning on them and attacking.

Cesar preaches “calm assertive energy.” He says dogs need discipline, exercise, and affection. That all makes sense to me. The key is to show the dog that you are the pack leader, and he emphasizes that walking your dog properly is the way to do it. That’s the part I’ve been ignoring. First of all, the term “pack leader” doesn’t really resonate with me because I don’t believe that dogs see humans as dogs that walk on their hind legs. If Cesar ever came to help us with Cleo, he’d be horrified that I don’t walk Cleo. She gets exercise every day playing frisbee, but no walks.

I used to try. I took her through two sets of dog training classes. I worked on the heel command with her just long enough that I think she probably now believes “heel” means “I’m about to be choked by my leash until Mom gives up.”

I didn’t give up easily. I used the choke collar suggest by the local dog training school, the Gentle Leader (as advertised on tv), a harness (all the better for pulling me) as well as her regular collar. I’ve tried “No!”  “No pulling!” “Eh!” and holding her leash so tight that she coughs like her windpipe is being crushed.

Many of my dog books claimed, the dog won’t choke itself. It’ll eventually stop pulling. I never got to witness that happen. She’d wheeze, cough, and pull harder.

The lessons at Pet Smart didn’t go well. They were based on the premise that dogs will do anything for a treat. Inside, “sit” and “lie down” came easily. Outside, she didn’t give a damn about the treats. She just wanted to lunge forward. Then I enrolled at a more professional training center with a solid reputation. They used choke collars and “leash corrections.”

“Don’t worry,” they said, “choke collars don’t really choke. All you have to do is be firm and consistent. Oh, and don’t do the leash correction wrong, or you could break the dog’s neck. Practice every day for an hour. If the dog is uncooperative it is because you’re a bad teacher. Remember, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.” Cleo and I weren’t making any progress. The trainer said that’s because “the dog has never been asked to follow any directions in it’s life.”

After that I made sporadic efforts to teach Cleo how to walk on a leash, before giving up entirely. There isn’t even any good place to go for a walk around my house without first getting into a car. There are no sidewalks. I can do a loop around the neighborhood, which generally doesn’t have much traffic, except that the neighbors tend to speed in like it’s a raceway. After that loop, it’s a major road, with no shoulder.  Last night, however, I finally got Cesar’s message. Exercise, he said is not enough. Dogs also need the structure of a walk. I had a sudden surge of optmism. I turned to Wayne. “I should walk Cleo.” He shrugged.

Today, I did it. First I played frisbee with Cleo to get some of her energy out. Then I took one of the leashes that has a loop of metal that allows you to hold the dog from just behind its ears, rather than around the neck, like a regular collar. I remembered all of Cesar’s tutelage about calm assertive energy and being the pack leader.

I made her sit and wait for me to exit the house first. I used about one foot of the leash and kept her head right next to my thigh. Everyone else said to give the dog four feet and use verbal commands, but I went completely for the Cesar method. I didn’t praise or correct verbally. I stayed loose and kept my shoulders back, and told myself, “you are the pack leader.” She never got ahead of me because I kept lightly correcting when she tried  to pull ahead, go off to the side or, lose her focus. Soon she was trotting next to me, her ears flat on back, like Cesar said they should be. The leash was only slightly taut, and not the whole time. We took two loops and about 15-20 minutes. It was my first success.

It was also kind of meditative. I practiced breathing fully and relaxing my body. I could feel my arms slack at my sides, and I didn’t stare anxiously at Cleo and my mind didn’t wander much off the  task at hand–walking easily along with my dog. A motorcycle drove by, and I could feel tension creeping into my body. “Calm energy,” I told myself. It occured to me that this walk was as good for me as it was for Cleo.

So I totally broke my “no tv” rule. I’m not sorry about it, though. I decided that maybe Cesar is right and I will take Cleo out for a 15-20 minute walk every day.

I suppose nothing is all bad or all good.

One Response to “TV is Educational”

  1. Isobel says:

    Good luck with your TV addiction recovery!

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