Friday, April 10, 2009

The Smoke of Cesar Millan

Well it is a very encouraging sign for the real estate market that I have been positively too busy to blog in recent days. I miss it. Today I post a response to a friend who asked about whether Cesar Millan's "Dog Whisperer" show is legitimate. It is not.

Most alarming is the lawsuit in California Superior Court against Millan's training center by a producer of "8 Simple Rules" (John Ritter's final series).

From the news article:
Hours after dropping the dog off at the facility, Suarez claimed a worker called to inform him the animal had been rushed to a veterinarian. He later found the dog "bleeding from his mouth and nose, in an oxygen tent gasping for breath and with severe bruising to his back inner thighs," the lawsuit claims.

The facility's workers allegedly placed a choke collar on the dog, pulled him onto a treadmill and forced him to "overwork." Suarez says he spent at least $25,000 on medical bills and the dog must undergo more surgeries for damage to his esophagus.
If true, that is unconscionable and Millan should be forced out of his show to clean up his center and techniques. My response to my friend's question is below. Many friends recall I volunteered in the Behavioral Unit of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, where I adopted my 7-year-old neutered pit bull, Tank, and also where I am a member of The President's Council.

There are many better "Whisperers" out there. Do a search on Amazon and find the other popular behaviorists - particularly "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell.

Positive dog training is a superior method. Dominance will be part of any behavioral practice because obviously dogs are pack-oriented and just want to know what their role is, what their job is, trust they will be fed and cared for, etc. Much of Millan's basic work is not unique to him. What is unique is his over-insistence on and use of forced domination. As guests of his show will tell you behind the scenes, the show often gets its video of a dog in a good moment but Millan rarely solves any problem.

It's sort of like that fraud John Edward, the purported psychic who communicates with the dead, and the mother of all such fraudsters, James van Praagh (currently a producer of a fictional program I like, "The Ghost Whisperer"). At least he's doing obvious fiction now.

Remember Edward's show (van Praagh had a short-lived show, too) where he just did cold readings on his studio audience? Well eventually it came out from attendees that they actually would film his studio sessions for up to 6 hours just to produce 22 minutes of footage. Now his TV specials heavily rely on a reading of a celebrity or lengthy narratives about a subject - which leaves only a few minutes for his "reading" - and nobody knows how long a session actually lasted and how many things he got wrong.

Millan's show is much of the same. I would call it entertainment, but his show is documentary-style and it misleads his audience, often to the detriment of their dogs. That's morally unacceptable.

Millan likes to parade his pit bulls on the show, but it just plays into the breed stereotype as if it gives him credibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that any behaviorist / trainer worth their salt can tame a pack of pit bulls - they're the most trusting, smart, loyal, human-loving breed there is.

It's why fighters exploit them - the dogs aren't vicious - they're just trying to please their human. It's why the Michael Vicks of the world and punks like him stand right next to the dog in a fight to egg the dog on during the fight and doesn't get bitten -- by either of the fighting dogs. If the pit bull shows any instability, it gets put down -- that's always been the history of the breed. You think scumbag dog fighters want to work with unstable and unpredictable dogs? They fight dogs for the money (and the blood).

Point of order - I find pinch collars to be very effective in communicating with a dog on a leash. If used effectively, with a sudden light jerk but not sustained, it can make the dog pay attention and obey better. But it takes super human strength to choke a large dog with a pinch collar -- and despite their appearance, pinch collars are not "sharp" -- the ends of the links are dull.

Pinch collars actually cause less "strangling" than conventional collars because the "quick jerk" method helps snap a dog into attention and compliance, which is safer for the dog when on a leash. Pinch collars are better than "gentle leader" collars which seek to better control a dog's muzzle, which don't work and dogs hate them. (Pinch collars should always be stainless steel and of the highest quality, only purchased from reputable trainers.)

Any sustained pulling on a collar no matter the type and no matter from which end of the leash -- it's a bad thing and must be stopped. You can't just throw a strong dog on a leash -- dogs require leash training so they know what to do.

When dogs understand what to do and what's expected, and if the dog trusts they benefit from obeying, they are all too happy to do it.

Dog psychology is not rocket science. Dog psychology intersected with the foibles of human psychology -- now that's a little more complicated and causes most of the problems.