Cesar Millan doesnâ€™t have a monopoly on this Dog Whisperer thing. Too many dogs, too many problems.
Thatâ€™s where Todd Langston has his back.
Heâ€™s an Orlando guy who went to Los Angeles and was once a waiter trying to find a better niche in life. He reached for the stars, but not in the stereotypical Hollywood way.
His life went to the dogs â€” sorry, couldnâ€™t resist â€” when he discovered his lifelong passion: Training dogs, but mostly humans, along the way.
Itâ€™s a volatile and challenging pursuit, even if you avoid stepping on the dog poop. Humans often muck it up with emotions, an understandable thing because dogs can bring us unconditional love, one lick at a time.
But relationships are complicated, and behavioral issues come into play. Enter Todd, the fixer.
In the spirit of full disclosure, he has worked with almost all of our dogs, and his batting average is about perfect when it comes to identifying a dogâ€™s personality and how to address a specific problem. My wife and I have tried hard to work around our emotional connections to our pets, and try to see the world through their eyes. Itâ€™s always a work in progress.
Iâ€™m not featuring him in this series because he needs the work. His journey, detailed below, has led him to become Cesar Millanâ€™s wing man as training and curriculum director at Cesarâ€™s Dog Psychology Center. That proverbial plate is usually full.
He still calls Orlando home. We met at his place for an hourlong conversation Monday. The six dogs in the house (actually eight, two were created) didnâ€™t say much in human language, but as Todd pointed out during parts of our conversations, their energy and body language opened a window into their world.
All we have to do is have the willingness to take a look.
Take us to the beginning and your pursuit of a career in dog-training. I read that you once had issues yourself with a dog you couldnâ€™t control.
My wife Jen and I had just gotten married, and we got a dog together. This was around 2004. I had a German shepherd as a kid, so I got one as an adult. But we were in an apartment that didnâ€™t allow pets, so we kinda kept her hidden. I donâ€™t know if that is the right word, but we really didnâ€™t expose her too much, and on top of that, I was the obsessive type. I wanted it really bad. I wanted to have a perfect dog. So that combination meant that I had an unsocialized German shepherd that became pretty powerful. Very early on, she was 6-7 months old and started showing signs of aggression toward other dogs, toward people.
Cesarâ€™s name was big at the time. I donâ€™t know if it was from the show or whether it was from his work in that area. I called, and I spoke to his assistant. She said he wasnâ€™t taking clients, but she gave me three names of people that he recommended.
I went to see one of these guys as a client. At this time, I had been a professional waiter for 15 years. I was sick of working in the restaurant business, and I was in the mindset of starting something new. I was going to teach people how to wait tables.
So I go meet this guy [Linn Boyke]. At this point, my dog had gotten into fights with other dogs and had come close to getting people sometimes. We meet in this former old factory in Van Nuys, California. Itâ€™s a big facility with 20 crates at the top and 20 at the bottom against a wall. Here were like 30 dogs. And all these dogs were making noise, and this guy comes out and says â€˜sssh.â€™ And all the dogs stop making noise. I was blown away.
We had a session for about two hours, and at this point, he takes my dog. My dog had only liked one person, a friend of mine. Everyone else, it was no go. He took the leash and walked her away from us. I can still see it. I talk to students about it all the time. And she comes over and licks his face. He shows us a couple of things and drops the leash. So the dog walks over to my wife and myself and gets in-between us. And he bends down to pick up the leash, and she bolts at him in the air right at his face. As Iâ€™ve found out, not all aggression is the same. The higher up you go and the more forward you go with it, the more powerful it is. If they are are going up, thereâ€™s also that element of taking you down. So my dog is launching at this guy, high aggression. And he had a martial arts background. And all I remember is that he leaned back and he moved his hands quickly and flipped her over on her side and she hit the ground. Woah. And he bent down and took a few steps back. He picked up the leash and she licked his face.
There were students there. I told them, â€˜You must see this all the time.â€™ They said theyâ€™ve never seen anything like that. And they had the same look you do now on your face.
So what happened after you picked your face off the floor?
Through the students, I found out they had a shadow program, so I came back in a couple of months and spent 30 straight days with him. I was completely immersed head to toe. I couldnâ€™t even speak. His whole concept was â€˜figure it out.â€™ In removing words, you really become the creature you are trying to understand. Dogs donâ€™t communicate with their ears. Nobody focuses on that. Thereâ€™s even a theory that barking has been an evolution for humans. Thereâ€™s very little purpose amongst themselves. Thereâ€™s meaning in bark, but they donâ€™t really use it. And wolves only use it for long distance. Thereâ€™s no instinctive reason for dogs barking. So his whole concept was â€˜figure it out.â€™ It was amazing what that did.
So I assume â€˜talkingâ€™ to your dog isnâ€™t the best way to communicate with your dog?
The concept that I stress to people is that focusing on talking to your dog is a form of human communication. Is it honoring your dog? Because your dog doesnâ€™t communicate that way. Itâ€™s our expectation that we want our dog to live in our world and we refuse to go into theirs. And thatâ€™s where a lot of issues come from. We expect so much from something that will give us as much as they can, but we donâ€™t make it easy. We make it impossible but expect perfection. And that weird dynamic is why itâ€™s so challenging.
I just came back from Costa Rica. And there were a plenty of dogs on the streets. And you can definitely question the physical condition of some of them, but you never saw one that was unstable. They were all calm. Street dogs will never be unstable because humans arenâ€™t involved. They donâ€™t get hit by cars. They keep their distance from people who want their distance.
Getting back to the States and what you do, how do we achieve that stable connection between humans and dogs?
Thatâ€™s what a dog trainer or a dog behaviorist or whatever you want to call is trying to resolve for people. Connecting their dog so they understand what they want. And itâ€™s that form of conversation that creates what people want.
This isnâ€™t an original thought, but arenâ€™t you more of a human trainer than a dog trainer?
A coach is a good word. Youâ€™re trying to create a relationship and connection between two different species speaking two different languages. Itâ€™s very easy to be confused. For example, people saying they donâ€™t want their dog to jump on people, thatâ€™s a common issue. But literally as they are saying it, the dog often comes over and puts their paws up on them, and theyâ€™ll say, â€˜Hi, sweetheart.â€™
Their dog just practiced a behavior of jumping and got a reaction for you that was very favorable. So if Iâ€™m trying to figure out what you like, and I do this and you give me a warm and fuzzy affirmation, Iâ€™ll do it again. And Iâ€™ll probably do it on those people over there, because you told me it was OK. And all it takes is three or four repetitions of something for it to become a behavior. Thatâ€™s why I feel we train the human. The dog is actually the one thatâ€™s teaching us what it needs. And thatâ€™s where you separate the different levels of dog trainers. Somebody canâ€™t really give you your dog and fix it, unless they change.
Are most situations fixable in your opinion?
Most dogs are fixable. Even in the most extreme case, but not everyone is capable of dealing with every dog. There are going to be some people that no matter how good they do the work, theyâ€™re just not compatible with that dog to make the change. Itâ€™s like humans. You canâ€™t be married to someone with too many differences. Incompatibility leads to issues. This is a greatly overlooked concept with dogs. Youâ€™re just taught that you train the dog and the dog will be loyal to you. We donâ€™t take a step back and say, â€˜Thatâ€™s not the right fit for me.â€™ We see a dog, and within 24 hours, we fall in love. Weâ€™re ready to get married, put a ring on it and walk down the aisle. And that concept is [bleeped] up. Itâ€™s all cuteness and all this emotional factor.
When I see a dog, I donâ€™t see breed, size, color. I look for temperament and energy and I know what Iâ€™m compatible with. I know what works for me in my life, and thatâ€™s what makes it natural. Cesar talks about this all the time. Itâ€™s a big topic in our workshops.
But isnâ€™t it hard to properly vet a dog when you go to a PetSmart adoption event or a shelter or wherever to pick out a pet?
Can I show you? I can bring out three dogs. There will be one dog that will come right up to you and touch you, push on you, be up in your space. Thatâ€™s a very friendly dog but thatâ€™s one you would consider a forward-style behavior. A dog that shows that much push has the ability to completely disregard you in your entirety. Itâ€™s like [bleep] you. I just moved you out of the way, and you petted me within the first four seconds of our relationship. In that world, that means a lot. Humans are like, â€˜He picked me!â€™
Now comes the dog that nobody picks. [He then points to a small dog in close proximity.] See that? She sat a foot away from you. Thatâ€™s showing trust. That relationship right away, all I have to do is nurture that and guide it, meaning I show it what I want. Itâ€™s already showing me our relationship will be great.
You see that dog over in the corner? Thatâ€™s too much distance. Thatâ€™s starting out a relationship that doesnâ€™t have trust. I have to go out of my way to make sure my energy, which is almost always going to be too strong for that dog, is soft. I have to make sure that I donâ€™t ever face that dog head on, or that I wonâ€™t raise my voice ever. Even if you are reading a book, and you say something like â€˜youâ€™ve got to be kidding me!â€™ that dog will react.
You have a front, middle and back. Who are you as a person? Front, middle or back? You donâ€™t want to be too far off from your dog. If youâ€™re a front, you canâ€™t have a back. If youâ€™re a back, you canâ€™t have a front. That little assessment people often donâ€™t do. I see it all the time. Itâ€™s about personality compatibility. That is more important than anything else.
You need to know that when a dog barks at you, theyâ€™re being demanding. You need to know that when your dog whines when heâ€™s in a crate, theyâ€™re complaining. You spoil a kid; there are consequences. You spoil a dog; there are consequences.
So how does the connection with Cesar Millan come about?
A lot of luck. Back when I was working with Lynn, there was a trainer in Los Angeles [Colleen Steckloff] who did the same program I did. I got to know her a little back. Back in 2012, they were looking to do a dog TV show with a male and female trainer. So Colleen was approached and asked to find a male trainer. I was put in that hat. Cesar was also growing his program and reaching out for trainers. I got a phone call on the golf course from someone who worked at Cesarâ€™s dog psychology center saying Cesar wants to meet you. That was the extent if it. That was on a Friday. On Monday I was in Los Angeles. I met with him, and it was a one-question interview. He asked: What comes first, energy or body language?
The other guy didnâ€™t come up with anything. And I got it right [energy].
I was supposed to work in Fort Lauderdale only. From there, I went on to do one of the workshops in 2014. After that one, it worked out. Currently I am now a training director and curriculum director. I now head all the trainers [about 20]. We do about six to eight workshops a year.
Itâ€™s been really cool to be around him and to be able to experience his wisdom and knowledge and energy. Itâ€™s incredible to have that available. I can text him and tell him I have this thing going on, and he can give me some advice. Itâ€™s an honor beyond words. Itâ€™s been an incredible experience.