I must admit, as a professional dog trainer, I’ve had my moments where I was hooked on the television series ‘The Dog Whisperer’. I too enjoyed watching the Charismatic Mexican entering the homes of dog owners being held hostage by their crazy canine kujos. And I’m going to try really hard not to sound like a middle class canine trainer who is secretly jealous of Caesar’s noteworthy Hollywood success. However,my fascination with his show was more for entertainment value than educational value. The only educational value I received from that television program was what not to do when training a dog.
That is because behind the charm, there are a whole slew of mistakes being made by Caesar time and time again.
- The most prominent error in judgement is his trademark finger jab to the dog’s neck accompanied with the famous ‘shhhht’! command. (Must be a Mexican thing). also, Caesar will often stand over the dog with an intimidating body posture finger jabbing the dog into ‘submission’. The dog will often lie down on its side and freeze for a while until Caesar decides the canine is calm enough to get back up and bounce back to normal life.The problem is that when this happens, the dog isn’t learning anything. He’s simply shutting down because he doesn’t know what else to do. Millan seems to be obsessed with the dog ‘submitting’ and although bad behavior should not be tolerated, a series of small jabs isn’t going to do the trick. in fact, his systematic intimidation can easily turn a hyperactive but friendly dog into an aggressive pet riddled with fear.
- Another problem with Millan is his constant obsession with challenging misbehaved dogs. He sees every misbehaved dog as a potential adversary that needs to be conquered. In Caesar’s world, every aggressive dog needs to get his ass kicked. This not only can make an aggressive dog more aggressive, it can be dangerous to the trainer. This is displayed in one episode where Millan fails miserably to read an aggressive dog’s cues striking the dog and challenging him with some sort of kung-fu like posture when the dog displays aggression. What Caesar assumes to be ‘relaxation’ was actually the dog fooling Caesar into letting his guard down waiting for the right moment to bite the confused Dog Whisperer.
- The last problem with Caesar’s approach is that he sees himself as an actual canine pack leader rather than a teacher. He will often demonstrate this behavior by making all sorts of movements and sounds to mimic the top-dog in a real life wolf pack. Let’s get one thing straight-only a dog can be a pack leader. And although there are some training techniques that compel the trainer to mimic the role of a mother wolf, to see yourself as a pack leader when interacting with your dog is not only wrong, it is bizarre. This may come as a surprise to Mr. Millan, but dogs know that he is not another dog. If they didn’t, you’d see a lot more male dogs fighting male homosapiens and more dogs smelling the backside of their human counterparts. Obviously this isn’t the case. We need to treat dog like they are our students, not like fellow dogs when we ourselves are people.
The truth is that there is something very romantic about seeing a problematic dog and then seeing a fixer enter the picture and solve the problem in one episode through one easy swoop of finger jabbing the neck and yelling ‘shhht’ at the right time. But this is an illusion at best and voodoo at worst. In the real world, aggressive dogs aren’t cured in a half-hour episode and hyperactivity isn’t fixed through physical domination. It would be interesting to see Caesar train a dog for an actual obedience competition like many other professional dog trainers do to earn their reputation. Then we can see what he’s really made of. My guess is that he may not succeed in the areas of sitting, staying, off-leash healing, or the recall but he’ll take first place in getting his dog to ‘submit’.
Are you a Caesar fan?…Caesar hater? Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments below.