What about the Dog Whisperer?
Students often "compliment" us by saying, "wow, you're just like the Dog Whisperer." While we know they intend the comment in the spirit of giving us the best of praise, we cringe on the inside as we thank them for their appreciation of our talents as teachers and trainers.
Why do we cringe? Here are links to articles by some of the best in the business that best explain why we are not particularly flattered by the well-intentioned comparison and do not agree with his style of training or 'behavior modification'. His philosophy is simply not ours.
photo of Lucy courtesy of Marty Beck
"Humane leadership allows the dog's capacity to think and feel to be used for learning rather than defense and avoidance." - Dee Ganley
It is important for people to understand the impact, both short and long term, of what they do to their dogs in the name of "training" and "behavior modification."
You will not learn old-school punishment based methods at DITR.
No, we are not "like the Dog Whisperer."
Diamonds in the Ruff trainers have a philosophy of "first do no harm" - which means "training for dogs and their people" doesn't involve hurting or scaring your dog. There are far more effective and enjoyable ways to get reliable results in dog training.
We encourage you to watch the Dog Whisperer with the sound off and just watch the dogs. Watch their expressions and stress levels. Note their response to his actions without hearing his explanation. Click here for a wonderful narrative of such a viewing by Helix Fairweather.
Now take a look at this dissection of body language from his television show:
What did Holly learn? That appropriate, peace keeping signals don't work. That the only way out of the situation is to fight back.
So, why all the hoopla?
Millan is absolutely
Our family dogs desperately need leadership, exercise, attention and to be a valued member of our family "pack" - not bored and alone with a bare few minutes of our companionship each day. We can't expect our dogs to be perfectly behaved by treating them like "children in fur coats" or by spoiling and over-loving them with no structure or respect for their true canine nature. Thank you, Mr. Millan, for sharing this message in each episode and for being a catalyst for discussion on dog training methodology and the need for building a healthy relationship with our canine friends.
Steve Dale, certified dog and cat behavior consultant who writes a twice weekly syndicated newspaper column states, "Nobody disagrees with Millan when he says that dogs don't get enough exercise; in fact, behaviorists have been saying this for decades. And nobody disagrees with Millan when he says that dogs need to understand their place in the family -- again, leadership skills have been preached by behaviorists for a long, long time." Dale goes on to express his reservations, "But you don't have to dominate your dog to be leader -- which is exactly what Millan preaches. And that's why reputable trainers and behaviorists are horrified that Millan's outdated and overbearing methods have attracted such a following." So the issue is "dominance" vs. leadership. Confusing compliance with submission.
"Cesar's Way" is not
The "dominance theory" was made popular in the 70's and early 80's. It supports the expectation that a dog should obey because the human is the master - the alpha. If the dog doesn't, we can say the dog is being purposely disrespectful or vying for pack leadership. The dog is "dominant" and must be made to be "submissive." Within this model, punitive action would be "justified" to reassert the human as leader. The Monks of New Skete published "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend" in ‘78 - another book with an amazing amount of great information for pet owners, if you discount the parts describing the execution of the "alpha roll" where the dog is lifted and propelled onto its back and forcibly pinned there until it ‘submits' - stops struggling. Inexperienced pet owners are often bitten trying to master this maneuver. Over the years, the Monks have revisited their recommendations and revised their text.
Calm and assertive.
Cesar Millan demonstrates this virtue - an effective trait we should all strive to achieve. How many of us are able to remain neutral and unemotional when our dog is fighting back or has pushed us to the limits of our patience? There is a fine line between "assertive" and aggressive. Cesar may get it, but too few viewers understand the difference. Even fewer can muster the mystical "energy" of the charismatic Millan.
Not all pet owners are created equal. In the wrong hands, the drive to be dominant is a slippery slope that can result in mistreatment - if not abuse. It gives justification and perhaps alleviates guilt in using physical punishment to keep disobedient dogs in line. Under the "us against them" premise, a frustrated pet owner might lose his temper and rationalize that "the dog deserved it" - so it's "okay" to get physical with your dog for the sake of making it be obedient. This step backward in training perspective causes current day trainers to take issue. The family dog does not lie awake at night plotting to take over the family.
"Do not try this at home."
Mr. Millan himself ends up bleeding in more than one episode. Is it because the dog was "that bad" or because the dog was pushed beyond its limits? Should a novice pet owner attempt to correct a dog that is "that bad"? Could he recognize when his dog is approaching its threshold and about to bite? Ethical considerations aside, we would have to agree that it is inadvisable for an inexperienced owner to attempt these methods without the hands-on coaching of an experienced trainer.
Most troubling, children often copy how the adults in the family handle the dog. Children who mimic the techniques will be more likely to be bitten. At what cost to the family's relationship with the dog? American College of Veterinary Behaviorists president Dr. Debra Horwitz states, "We have serious concerns. For one thing, many of the techniques shown on television are very difficult for owners to accomplish and may result in injury to them or their dogs and neither are they the more updated training techniques that are now used."
The Monks have re-released "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend" with 40% new material and the following notation: "The Monks of New Skete advocate the philosophy that "understanding is the key to communication, and compassion with your dog; whether it is a new puppy or an old companion." And from "The Art of Raising a Puppy": "We have learned that our monastic environment offers us a unique perspective. Here we are forced to re-examine our attitudes about everything, including dogs. We are constantly challenged to become more open to the language dogs use to communicate with us." This season, Millan looks into the camera and tells viewers there are other training methods out there.
Thank heavens we are beyond the once-common practice of rubbing puppies' noses in feces or tying dead chickens around their necks in the name of training. No one passes on the horrifying advice of a best selling book published in the 70's by a Disney movie trainer which advocated "filling a hole with water and submerging the dog's head" to discourage digging. Humane societies are still called to investigate cruelty cases regarding brutal training methods promoted in once-popular training manuals, but thankfully less frequently than in years past.
Our perspective of what constitutes kind and fair treatment continues to evolve as our understanding of canine behavior grows. "Calm, assertive energy" doesn't necessitate force or intimidation. You can be a kind, benevolent leader without physical domination.
Dr. Sophia Yin, who teaches at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine – Davis, and is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Behavior says, "Yes, owners should be calm and assertive and it's true to help dogs, we need to be in charge. But dominance and leadership are two different things. Dominance is defined as the use of force to gain priority access of the things you want, so animals compete for food, toys and favorite resting areas by fighting. Leadership is the ability to convince others to do things they normally wouldn't do otherwise. A person can be a leader by bullying, or by providing incentives and rewards; in other words convincing followers you're working for the same goals. Would you rather follow a leader like Castro or Ghandi? It's no different for dogs."
From the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: "We share a common vision of a better world for companion animals. ... a humane community in which all animals are treated with kindness and respect." Diamonds in the Ruff is devoted to promoting a a human-animal bond that is rich and rewarding for both ends of the leash, where public and pet safety and the animal's physical and mental well-being are a priority.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
--Ghandi, In Philosophy
Talk Softly and Carry a Carrot or a Big Stick? - Jean Donaldson
Millan has been the target of lawsuits, including one claiming that a Labrador was choked at his Dog Psychology Center.
Excellent radio interview regarding Cesar Milan - click here
from Andrew Luescher, DVM, Veterinary Behaviorist, Purdue University
on the International Positive Dog Training Association website, scroll down on the main page to the article.
Apparently National Geographic sent him copies of the show prior to season one. This was his review.
"Practices such as physically confronting aggressive dogs and using of choke collars for fearful dogs are outrageous by even the most diluted dog training standards. A profession that has been making steady gains in its professionalism, technical sophistication and humane standards has been greatly set back. I have long been deeply troubled by the popularity of Mr. Millan as so many will emulate him. To co-opt a word like ‘whispering’ for arcane, violent and technically unsound practice is unconscionable.”
—Jean Donaldson, Director, SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, San Francisco.
... Author of "Culture Clash" and "Dogs are From Neptune".
We would be flattered if they were referring to the original Dog Whisperer, Paul Owen, a highly respected and well-known dog trainer / behaviorist who wrote an excellent book by that name in 1999, before Millan's TV show came on the scene. He has the following comments about Cesar.
Quote from Paul's website
Why Alpha Rolls are a Bad Idea
The Problem with Punishment
Learning Dog Training from Television?