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How to Buy the Perfect Dog by Cesar Millan

The legendary dog whisperer and host of Cesar 911 shares his six key strategies for choosing the perfect pooch.

When Los Angeles firefighters finally tired of sprinting after their fire-truck-chasing dalmatian adolescent, Wilshire, they called Cesar Millan. Dogs charging humans, dogs biting postal workers, dogs scared of cats—Millan saw it all on his highly addictive TV show, Dog Whisperer, and continues to help pet owners on Cesar 911 (on Nat Geo Wild).

The Californian attributes his intuitive connection with animals to being raised in a pack mentality (he grew up in Culiacán, Mexico, with four siblings and several dogs), and he's also able to "retrain" most humans to communicate better with their canines. Millan helped the firefighters by teaching them to set a boundary for Wilshire by physically blocking the dog whenever he tried to leave the garage. "It was amazing," said a stunned fireman, as Wilshire was miraculously cured from darting after trucks in just one afternoon. Here's what Millan says it takes to teach all dogs new tricks—and how find the perfect pet. Buying one will add years to your life; extend yours even longer with this science-backed list of 100 Ways to Live to Be 100!

Don't be shallow

Cesar Millan

Mistake number one for many prospective dog owners is selecting a breed solely for its looks. Here's the problem: Dogs aren't wall art. They're active members of a pack—potentially your home pack—so if you buy a Labrador retriever because you love its velvety ears and sinewy build, but never exercise its need to retrieve, you're going to have a frustrated dog and a strained canine/human relationship. So step one—whether you're getting the animal from a shelter, a rescue organization, or a breeder—is to research the breed and make sure you can fulfill its behavioral needs.

Gauge your energy

Dog running on grass

Dogs are like humans: Each one has its own energy level. It's critical that you recognize your energy level–low, medium, high, or very high–and select a dog that complements it. Anthony Robbins and Deepak Chopra are both friends of mine, and you better believe they need dogs with different energy levels.

Perform a physical

Dog being checked at the vet

You can often determine a dog's general health just by looking at it, but give it a closer inspection to make sure it's not dragging its feet (a sign of bad hips) or crossing its eyes or straining to hear (two signs of bad breeding). You can test for total or partial deafness by clapping to one side of the dog's head and watching to see if it looks off in a different direction or doesn't react at all.

Give it time

Dog and owner during a sunset

Buying a dog is like buying a car in that an impulse buy is often the wrong buy. Once you click with a dog, spend a few hours getting to know it before you take it home. Oftentimes, the calm, submissive canine you bonded with in the kennel becomes a very different (even aggressive) dog once you take it outside.

Take a walk

Dog with head outside car windoow

After you buy the dog, don't take it directly to your car. Go for a walk and make it follow you. You'll establish yourself as the pack leader and begin the all-important process of bonding. And now that you've found your best friend, finish off your bucket list with this definitive list of the essential 50 Things You Must Do Before You Die!

Stock up on the right gear

Dog in a bathtub

Cesar recommends the following key products:

Vetrolin Bath
"This is sold as horse shampoo, but it's great for dogs. It never dries out the hair or irritates the skin, and it doesn't leave a residue. Plus, it has a wonderful minty smell. I follow up with the same brand's finishing spray for a long-lasting shine."

Wellness Dog Food
"When you read dog-food labels, you realize why canines develop so much cancer. This is all-natural, human-grade pet food that's free of growth hormones, steroids, ethoxyquin [a toxic preservative], and wheat gluten, which means it wasn't part of the recent pet-food recall."

Nylon Towrope
"I use this all-purpose rope as a leash. In Mexico, we had one rope for the pig, horse, cow, and dog. You can use it for a two-pound dog or a 200-pound dog. People are focused on the tool, but it's the energy behind the tool that matters."

Grooming Tools (slicker brush, shedding blades, dematting rake)
"I start with a slicker brush to remove loose hair. It's one of the most useful dog brushes because it can be used on every breed. I first discovered it at a vet's office in Mexico when I was 13. Then I use shedding blades to remove excess hair, and a dematting rake to get rid of knots and tangles."

"Garlic is a very good natural flea and tick repellant. I add a little to their dry food every day. It can give them bad gas, but it's worth it."

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