What You Need to Know About Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”

What You Need to Know About Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”

< A short link to this page – http://bit.ly/ExpertsCMJAN07 >

A compilation of comments on Cesar Millan appearing in the media published on the Green Acres Kennel Shop website in January of 2007

C’mon, Pooch, Get With the Program

Dr. Dodman [veterinary behaviorist and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University] said: ”My college [American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)] thinks it [The Dog Whisperer – Cesar Millan] is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years.”

The New York Times – C’mon, Pooch, Get With the Program, By Anna Bahney February 23, 2006

A ‘tough love’ dog whisperer spurs some yelps

To call his operation a psychology center is a total paradox,” says veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of “Dogs Behaving Badly” (Bantam, $14). “I think, like a bullfighter, he understands how to approach and work around a dog, but thereafter he stops. He doesn’t understand separation anxiety. I doubt he knows what obsessive-compulsive behavior is. Basically, with a smile, he’s going to war with these dogs.”

Dodman says Millan relies on two musty tools popularized a half-century ago by heavy-handed military dog trainers and considered out of vogue amid the current emphasis on reward-based training. One is “positive punishment,” where an aversive action – “poking and jabbing and pulling and prodding” – is applied to get the dog to stop a behavior. The other is “flooding,” in which the dog is “basically drowning” in something it doesn’t like, sort of “Fear Factor” for Fido.

Imagine,” says Dodman, “if there was a new Dr. Phil for children, and he said, ‘If your kid is playing too many video games, get a big paddle and whack him on the head.’ People would be incensed.”

Newsday.com – A ‘tough love’ dog whisperer spurs some yelps, Cesar Millan has plenty of believers, including celebs, but veterinarians snarl over tactics, By Denise Flaim, May 17, 2006

Jean Donaldson on “The Dog Whisperer”

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.

‘Dog Whisperer’ Training Approach More Harmful Than Helpful

The training tactics featured on Cesar Millan’s “The Dog Whisperer” program are inhumane, outdated and improper” according to a letter sent yesterday to the National Geographic Channel by American Humane the oldest national organization protecting children and animals.

Several instances of cruel and dangerous treatment – promoted by Millan as acceptable training methods – were documented by American Humane, including one in which a dog was partially asphyxiated in an episode. “In this instance, the fractious dog was pinned to the ground by its neck after first being “hung” by a collar incrementally tightened by Millan. Millan’s goal – of subduing a fractious animal – was accomplished by partially cutting off the blood supply to its brain.”

As a forerunner in the movement towards humane dog training, we find the excessively rough handling of animals on the show and inhumane training methods to be potentially harmful for the animals and the people on the show,” said the letter’s author, Bill Torgerson, DVM, MBA, who is vice president of Animal Protection Services for American Humane. “It also does a disservice to all the show’s viewers by espousing an inaccurate message about what constitutes effective training and appropriate treatment of animals.”

– Americanhumane.org – ‘Dog Whisperer’ Training Approach More Harmful Than Helpful – September 6, 2006

Steve Dale on “The Dog Whisperer”

I have serious concerns because his [Millan’s] methods are often intimidating rather than motivating. On TV, the dogs often comply but often they’re being forced to – you can tell by their body language: tail down, mouth closed, ears back, eyes dilated.”

For me, Millan makes too many dog-to-wolf parallels, particularly that we have to dominate a dog like an alpha wolf. Although there are many similarities, dogs are simply not wolves any more than we are chimpanzees.”

Millan has himself told me his training methods aren’t replicable. The cable channel that airs his show, the National Geographic channel, apparently agrees (or its lawyers tell it to) with pop-up warnings ‘not to try this at home.‘”

“I argue that motivating leadership is far more effective than leading through intimidation.”

– Pet World, By Steve Dale December 7, 2006

Don’t Whisper – We Favor behavioral science over showmanship

I Don’t like Millan’s techniques. Many are antiquated and dangerous, for dogs and owners, in my view and that of many of behavior experts I respect (such as Drs. Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell, and Nicholas Dodman, as well as our own training expert, Pat Miller).”

Modern behavioral scientists understand that there is lots more to canine interaction than constant displays of dominance and submission, and that humans are probably at their lest effective as trainers when they try to ‘act like a dominant dog.'”

Millan’s ideal is a dog who exhibits ‘calm submission’ to its owner. In contrast, most pet dog owners I know, myself included, want an affectionate, trusting, respectful coexistence with our dogs, not wary subservience… The most effective way to accomplish this, with the least fallout or dangerous side effects, is with the dog-friendly behavior modification techniques we regularly detail in WDJ.”

– The Whole Dog Journal, By Nancy Kerns, December 2006

No. 039 Misguided Expert of the Year – The Dog Whisperer Should Just Shut Up

My position is, Millan is a poseur,” Claudia Kawczynska, editor in chief of The Bark magazine, says of the ex-dog groomer. “He is a hairdresser, not the real guy in terms of being an expert. He doesn’t have credentials. And it is shocking to me how easily people are ready to fall for it… He is doing a disservice to the real experts in the filed…He gives quick fixes, but they are not going to be a solution for most families with problem dogs.”

– Esquire – No. 039 Misguided Expert of the Year – The Dog Whisperer Should Just Shut Up, by Curtis Pesmen, October 2006

©JAN2007, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

Ouch! The Shocking Truth About Electronic Collars

Originally published in
Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints – May 2004

In my opinion it is NEVER appropriate to use electric shock to train a dog or any other living thing. There are far better ways to train, with far fewer serious side effects. However, since there are people advocating the use of shock collars, without fully understanding their dangerous side-effects, or perhaps not caring about the physical and emotional pain they inflict on dogs, I feel compelled to explain why they should be relegated to the dust bins of history along with other instruments of torture, such as the rack and thumb screws.

There are three basic types of shock collars; underground fence collars which automatically administer a shock as the dog crosses a line in the yard, bark collars which automatically trigger when the dog barks, and remotely activated collars where a person presses a button on a transmitter in order to shock the dog. In all cases the dog wears a collar which contains a box with two electrodes that press against the neck. When the collar is triggered, the dog is shocked by the two electrodes. Some who use shock collars for training dogs for competition will even place a second collar around the dog’s waist so the electrodes shock the genitals. This is allegedly necessary because a shock around the neck is not enough.

From the perspective of operant conditioning, these collars are usually used as a form of positive punishment (the dog is shocked for doing something the person does not want), but may also be used for negative reinforcement (the dog is continuously shocked until the dog does what the person wants). The latter is especially cruel and counterproductive.

While the manufacturers and advocates of shock collars may tell you that the shock is nothing more than a tingle, we know from the science of operant conditioning that the aversive stimulus or shock must be sufficiently aversive or painful in order to work. I have seen dogs with severe burns on their necks caused by these collars, in which case the pain lasts long after the shock.

It is important to remember that along with the physical pain of every shock is the emotional pain and anxiety that comes with it. Imagine your high school algebra teacher shocking you every time you answered a question incorrectly. Would you become anxious? Would you become so anxious you would stop learning? Anxiety never helps learning in any species.

The anxiety and pain the dog feels are often associated with whatever the dog was focusing on at that instant. The use of positive punishment in the form of choke collars, prong collar and shock collars can cause aggression. Both cases below are descriptions of how using the shock collar caused aggression. These people sought me out for advice, after the aggression developed.

Case #1

A happy, gregarious dog loved every person he saw. His guardian was concerned about him leaving the yard because he frequently went to visit the neighbor. They installed an underground fence system that would shock the dog several feet before he was outside of his yard. They trained the dog to the system per the manufacturer’s instructions. A few weeks after the system was installed the dog saw the neighbor out in the yard. Since the dog had always liked the neighbor he ran straight for her, focused on his human friend when ZAP! He felt a sharp stinging pain around his neck. This happened a few more times, the friendly dog always getting shocked as he ran towards the neighbor. Then one day the neighbor knocked on the front door. The dog saw the neighbor and he was afraid he would again be shocked so he bit the neighbor in the leg, before the neighbor could cause him pain.

Why did this bite occur? Because the dog associated the pain and anxiety of the shock with what it was focusing on at the time the shock occurred, the neighbor. To the dog the neighbor was the predictor of the shock, and the dog took action in an attempt to prevent the shock. Is this a one of a kind incident? Far from it. I have training colleagues throughout the country that could tell you of similar incidents. This incident could have been prevented with the installation of a good, old fashioned fence or providing the dog with supervision when leaving him in an unfenced yard. We would not leave a 4 year old child alone in an unfenced yard, why leave a dog?

Case #2

A young dog drags its guardians around on leash, especially when it sees another dog. The dog is curious and friendly and wants to meet the other dogs. The guardians are older, the dog is big and they do not enjoy being dragged around every time the dog sees another dog. They have made no attempt to train the dog, but are frustrated. They go to a pet store where some kid, who knows nothing about canine behavior, sells them a remote shock collar. They are instructed to shock the dog whenever he pulls on leash. On their next walk the dog does as he always does, he sees another dog and lunges forward, fixated on the dog he wants to greet when ZAP! He yelps, not sure why he has suffered this pain. The next time he sees a dog on a walk he immediately becomes anxious, remembering the pain he felt the last time he saw a dog. As the dog approaches he lunges but this time he also growls and shows his teeth. He is very afraid but is trying to look fierce to scare the dog away before it hurts him again when ZAP! These guardians have not trained their dog to stop pulling; all they have done is made a good dog, dog aggressive. If these people would have enrolled their dog in a training class they could have taught their dog to walk nicely without ever causing him any pain or fear.

Proponents of shock collars insist they are necessary because harsh punishment is the only way a dog can be trained. To me this says more about their lack of ability as a trainer than anything else.

One of the typical examples they use is training a dog to stay away from rattlesnakes. They insist the only way you can teach a dog to stay away from snakes is by shocking them whenever they approach a snake. Now from the examples above, it should be clear that shocking a dog when they see a snake is just as likely to teach the dog to attack it as it is to stay away.

When they bring up this example I like to ask how they would teach a 4 year old child to stay away from rattlesnakes. After lots of mumbling and posturing they agree that the intelligent and responsible thing to do would be to hold on to the child’s hand and keep them close when in snake country. I then ask if they think it would be appropriate to put a shock collar on a 4 year old child to keep them in the yard. Even they know that if they tried to use a shock collar on a child they would end up having the child taken away and they would spend a lengthy stay in a penal facility.

While I am the first to caution people about treating their dog as if it were a child, I do think we should treat children and pets with the same respect and compassion. There is NEVER a need to teach or train with techniques and devices that are designed to cause physical and/or emotional pain.

 

©1MAY04, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Book Review – The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell, PhD

SUGGESTED AUDIENCE: Dog lovers who want to improve the relationship with their dog by understanding how dogs and primates can better communicate with one another.

Back in the early 1990’s, when we still lived in Wisconsin, and before we got into the pet care business, Paula and I attended several dog training classes with our dogs, Gus and Shed. It was not until 1994 that we found Dr. Patricia McConnell and her training school, Dog’s Best Friend. This dog training class was the first that all of us, humans and dogs alike, truly enjoyed. Why? Because of Dr. McConnell’s understanding of how dogs and humans communicate and her emphasis on rewarding good behavior. Now the world can benefit from her knowledge in her new book, The Other End Of The Leash.

The Other End Of The Leash is an information-packed, yet readable book. In it, you will learn how to have an improved relationship with your dog through better communication. As a scientist who has studied both primate and canine communication systems, Dr. McConnell has a keen understanding of where the communication between humans and dogs often breaks down, creating frustration and stress for both species. For example, she explains how simple innate greeting patterns of both species can cause conflict. We know that when two people meet, the polite thing to do is to make direct eye contact and walk straight toward one another smiling. However, as Dr. McConnell notes: “The oh-so-polite primate approach is appallingly rude in canine society. You might as well urinate on a dog’s head.” The fact is direct eye contact, and a direct approach is very confrontational to a dog.

Dr. McConnell also emphasizes how dogs primarily communicate visually, while humans are a very verbal species. The picture she paints of the frustrated chimp, jumping up and down, waving their hands, and screeching repeatedly is only a slight exaggeration of the frustrated human, saying “sit, sit, sit, ahhhh please sit” while displaying countless bits of body language. Primates, including humans, “…have a tendency to repeat notes when we are excited, to use loud noises to impress others, and to thrash around whatever is in our paw if we are frustrated. This behavior has no small effect on our interactions with dogs, who in spite of some barks and growls, mostly communicate visually, get quiet rather than noisy to impress others, and are too busy standing on their paws to do much else with them.” With these fundamental differences, it is amazing we can communicate with our dogs at all.

While Trisha’s book will certainly enlighten you, it will also move you. Her description of her relationships with her own animals leaves no doubt about her love and commitment. Reading her recollection of how her beloved Luke was almost hit by a car and the passing of her little Border Collie Misty had me very near tears.

FAVORITE QUOTES: “If humans are understandably a bit slow at responding to the visual signals that our dogs are sending, we are downright dense about the signals that we generate ourselves.”

Forcing dogs into ‘submission’ and screaming in their face is a great way to elicit defensive aggression. It makes sense that a dog would bite, or at least threaten to, in this context. Within their social framework, you’re acting like a lunatic.”

It seems very human to stay fixated on the negative: ‘No!’ seems to come out of our mouths as easily as breathing. But saying no doesn’t teach a dog what to do, and it keeps the attention focused on it and nothing else.”

I highly recommend The Other End Of The Leash for anyone with a dog in their life.

©29DEC02, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Dog Training – Clicker Training: A Dog’s Point of View

By Jade Ramsdell

Jade #2I groaned in disgust when my mom came home and announced I would be attending an obedience class. Wasn’t she aware that I already knew everything? Why was this insane woman putting me through these nonsensical commands all over again? She even seemed convinced that this “new style” of training was going to be fun! UGHHHHH…Oh well, I realized that mom was determined. At my age, I was going back to school.

The first day of class arrived much too soon. Mom packed me up in the car and off we went. The previous group was just finishing up as we arrived – a bunch of immature pups. I could comprehend the logic of their being in class, but surely not me! My class was up next. They called it “Click N’ Trick.” I found it unbelievable that these humans thought they were capable of teaching me anything new. Aside from all of the basic commands, I had already taught myself to open windows, doors, even kitchen cabinets. And they thought they could train me to do more! Well, I decided to show them. I made the decision to do a perfect down stay for the duration of the class. That would definitely teach everyone that I had nothing left to learn. Maybe then mom would give up this ridiculous idea.

Everything got quiet as the instructor started explaining to the people about animal training and some weird device called a “clicker.” (Humans need lots of explanations!) This clicker thing was made of metal and plastic and the instructor was periodically pressing down in the center of it. The clicker made an interesting noise. Against my better judgment, I was actually beginning to get curious about it. SNIFF SNIFF SNIFF, I smelled food!! I am blessed with a very sensitive nose, among other things, and knew for a fact that it was good stuff. All of sudden looking bored was not so easy. I HAD to figure out how to get that food!! Thanks to my extreme intelligence it only took me a couple of seconds to make the connection. When I heard the click that the piece of plastic made, I knew food might follow. Now, if only I could discover how to make the clicker work…

The next step was the hardest. I wanted my mom to make that plastic thing click, but she was not telling me what to do. I tried sitting – that did not work. I tried laying down – that did not work. I even tried speaking – still no click. In my confusion, I started to walk away and all of a sudden CLICK! What was going on here? Mom was clicking me for going away? That couldn’t be. Then I saw it. There in front of me was a ladder. Now I understood. I was being clicked and rewarded for going to the ladder. Next I decided to see what she would do if I put a paw on the ladder. CLICK! It was unbelievable. My mom was actually encouraging me to climb ladders. I had never been to such a weird dog training class before. It was actually kind of cool!

I really like this new style of training. Nobody is telling me what to do or placing me in awkward positions. Instead, I have to figure it all out for myself, and as we all know, us hound dogs are independent thinkers.

Mom is now teaching me how to shake my head “NO” and to walk backwards (Mom is a bit of an oddball.) My sister learned how to close the refrigerator door and sit in chairs (The sitting in chairs helps her when visiting people at the nursing home.)

By the way – mom got really well trained in this class- now she has to always look to make sure there are no ladders for me to climb on when she is not around.

Jade Ramsdell

Hounddog, First-Class

Originally published in Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints, Winter 1997.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>