Cesar Millan – Take 2

Seems Cesar has a way of stirring things up wherever he goes. He’s attracted a fair amount of attention here in Shanleyville. Irma, a thoughtful reader, left a comment on why she found Cesar’s approach useful for certain situations. She brings up some valid points.

Different trainers become popular with different people for different reasons. Obviously, the Dog Whisperer show has struck a nerve. I don’t find that surprising; there are a lot of dogs who need more training. And there are a lot of people who have problem dogs and don’t know how to help them. I’m just saddened that, with all the progress and advances in training and all the truly great trainers out there, it’s been an old-fashioned, punitive trainer like Millan who’s risen to the top, in the public eye.

First, let me state: I’m not a rabid positive trainer type. But I will always opt to try a positive approach first. I think it’s possible to create a healthy balance of respect, communication, and relationship building–without the need for intimidation.

While I agree with Millan’s message in theory–discipline, exercise, and affection–I have a big, big problem with his application. Specifically, what bothers me about Millan is how he’s leading people to believe that it takes a heavy hand and a dose of special “energy” to train dogs. When, in fact, many of his methods could actually harm a dog. Choke chains and leash pops in the wrong hands are an ugly sight, especially when there are so many better ways to teach a dog to walk on a leash. And I don’t know any decent trainer who relies on flooding the way Millan does. I also take issue with his dog-side manner; his “don’t waste your time or mine” attitude. When is learning ever about shutting up and not asking questions? Just zip it and listen to Cesar, seems to be what he’s often saying. That goes over like a lead balloon with me. How about you?

While Millan does use some principles of dog behavior (much of it outdated), he oversimplifies the process of training, which, in reality, may take days, or weeks, and sometimes months of daily consistency (setbacks included) before one can expect to see reliable results. In short, there’s a lot more to dog training than good “energy”, mixed in with a few sharp collar yanks and a lot of “cchhhhtttttt’s”. Just watch the dogs’ faces. They’ll tell you. The dog being forced to walk across the slippery floor isn’t getting over her fear. She’s just more terrified of his “calm, assertive energy” and relentless punishment than she is of the floor.

Dog Whisperer, in my opinion, isn’t a show about dog training, or educating the viewer, but rather a show about Cesar doing his thing. But don’t take my opinion, check out what the real experts are saying.

The kind of trainer I want to work with is a thinking trainer with a long history of experience, and a variety of training tools–rather than a “one size fits all” approach. I want a trainer who, rather than being on a power trip, is more interested in educating. Trainer’s like this are out there.

Magic sent me on a long journey to try to find such a trainer. I eventually did find what I was looking for in Suzanne Clothier, who also happened to live nearby. The good news is that there are many terrific, experienced, knowledgeable trainers all over the country who don’t need to rely on punitive techniques to get results. If you’re in need of one, check out the APDT list or the IAABC list to find a qualified trainer near you.

Okay. That’s all the airtime Cesar’s going to get from me. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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