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Dog Whisperer Getting a Well Deserved Beating.

17 September, 2006

    Cesar Millan, the so-called "Dog Whisperer" star of the National Geographic cable television channel is finally receiving some of the criticism he has so diligently earned.  For those who aren't familiar with Mr. Millan, the so-called "Dog Whisperer" is a Mexican citizen who entered the United States illegally and has become a self-proclaimed expert on dog behavior and training. 

My complaint isn't about Mr. Millan's immigration status, but rather about the training methods he espouses on a nationally aired television program.  Mr. Millan's antiquated methods are based on the long out-dated and scientifically disproved "dominance theory" of dog behavior.  He teaches that humans must "dominate" our dogs and frequently demonstrates harmful and even potentially dangerous practices in order to do so.     

    Millan's recent troubles include a law suit filed by his producer on May 5th, 2006 which alleges breach of contract, fraud, animal cruelty and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other allegations. It seeks more than $25,000 in damages.

    The August 28, 2006 edition of the N.Y. Times included an op-ed piece by Mark Derr  in which Millan was described as "...a charming, one-man wrecking ball directed at 40 years of progress in understanding and shaping dog behavior ..."

    This was followed by an article by Curtis Pesman in the October, 2006 issue of Esquire magazine aptly titled "Misguided Expert of the Year" .   In that article Pesman quoted Claudia Kawczynska, editor in chief of The Bark magazine who said " My position is, Millan is a poseur.  "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."

    The popular press aren't the only ones giving Millan a figurative alpha-roll.   He has also drawn the ire of legitimate ethologists, behaviorists, veterinarians and animal welfare institutions.  In an interview published in the New York Times in February of this year, Dr. Nicolas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University 's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, observed, "My College thinks it is a travesty. We've written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years."  On On September 6th, 2006, The American Humane Association issued a press release condemning Millan's tactics as "inhumane, outdated and improper" and called on The National Geographic Channel to stop airing the program immediately.  "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.”

    There is no question that dogs need to be trained, but they do not need to be abused.  I agree wholehearted with Dr. Ian Dunbar, who wrote " Certainly, we need to control dogs - but mental control is what is required, not physical domination. Even though an ill-experienced, middle-ranking dog 'handler' might be able to jerk, hang, roll-over, and/or beat a dog into submission, what is the point of winning the battle and losing the war? What possible advantage is there in converting a 'dominant' dog into a fearful one? Both are equally as worthless as companions or working dogs. Why abuse the dog at all, when it is possible to achieve the same end using brain instead of brawn?"  ( The Macho Myth, by Ian Dunbar)