I didn’t want to have to make a Dog Whisperer post. There doesn’t need to be another Dog Whisperer post on the internet. To be fair, nothing is forcing me to make this post. But it’s come up in conversation quite a bit around me lately and I figured I would just write out a big response. That way the next time I am asked what my thoughts on the Dog Whisperer are, I can just sigh and give them the link to this post, so that I may go back to my merry life of inhaling some nacho Goldfish crackers for dinner again. They’re extra salty from all my tears of boredom.
The Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan. That guy. A lot of people love his show, a lot of people hate it. Pretty controversial dude – for a reason. For clarity, the main techniques of Millan’s I’m talking about are alpha rolls, his “claw” move, the “tsst!” thing, that weird backward kick to the ribs he does, staring the dog down, and generally getting in the dog’s space to intimidate and “assert dominance.”
In a perfect world, no one would take a reality TV star seriously and that would be the end of it. He is entertainment. He is not science. End of story.
A lot of people are lazy and set in their ways (myself included, sometimes). We don’t want to think and seek answers for ourselves, especially not when National Geographic is going to serve it up on a silver platter with dramatic editing and background music to keep us enthralled.
Since many of us have the attention span of a gnat (do gnats actually have short attention spans, or is that just something they say?), I’m going to try making a concise, bulleted list of the issues with Cesar Millan’s ideologies and training methods.
- None of his techniques/ideologies are based on actual scientific evidence.
- Dogs are not wolves. Even if his information on wolves was correct, it’s not wise to treat them as though they’re the same.
- Humans are not dogs. Dogs know this. It’s dumb for us to ever think we could accurately mimic dog behavior.
- He has zero credentials in canine behavior. You will not find a single certified applied animal behaviorist or ethologist who agrees with his ideas/methods. He is an entertainer. Period. (For those curious, yes, I take this same stance on Victoria Stilwell.)
- He cannot read canine body language to save his life. He sees a calm, submissive dog. Behavior experts see a shut down, terrified dog who’s learned what behavior most likely won’t get them killed. They are in self-preservation mode.
- Many of his techniques exacerbate the very problems they’re trying to resolve. Even in “skilled” hands. At best, the human’s problem is suppressed – the dog’s underlying issue is never addressed or resolved.
That’s as detailed as I’m gonna get. Many other people have already made these arguments better than I have. One of my favorite articles on this is Dog Whispering in the 21st Century by Prescott Breeden (find it here: http://prescottbreeden.com/dog-whispering-in-the-21st-century/ ).
I was going to go through and copy/paste some of the best excerpts from that article, but that would be a huge disservice to it (and the excerpts I’d want to showcase would make this post almost as long as the article itself). Please for the love of your deity of choosing, just do yourself a favor and read it. Preferably with an open mind.
Recently someone asked, “why do people hate him so much?”
I don’t have anything against Millan as a person (that would be unfair, considering I don’t know him). Trainers and behaviorists take issue with the show because people absorb it as factual when it is not. The information he is putting out is genuinely harmful to the dogs of the people who employ his methods (you can put a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer on it all you want). We wouldn’t care so much if his show wasn’t hurting anyone. His techniques are misguided and based on misunderstandings. There is scientific evidence out there showing that his techniques are not the most humane and effective way to address these behavior problems. But sadly, science isn’t entertaining and charismatic enough to get a TV show that most people would care about.