In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk on Twitter about Cesar Millan, otherwise known as The Dog Whisperer, and his dominance-based training methods for dogs.
In February 2009, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a "position statement" about the use of punishment for behavior modification in animals, detailing 9 possible adverse effects of using punishment when training dogs. While not naming any trainers by name, the statement was written to counter Millan's techniques featured on his National Geographic channel show, The Dog Whisperer.
According to an article by Timothy Kirn for the VIN News Service:
"The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it," the position statement says.
That statement was initiated with Millan in mind, says Dr. Laurie Bergman, of Norristown, Pa., a member of AVSAB's executive board.
"We had been moving away from dominance theory and punitive training techniques for a while, but, unfortunately, Cesar Millan has brought it back," she says.
Read full article
In June 2009, Merial, the manufacturer of Frontline and Heartgard, announced a partnership with Millan to promote these products. The promotion included a free Millan training video with purchase and other prizes. Calls to oppose this partnership where issued by both the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB).
Why all of the fuss?
I do not watch much television, and haven't seen a full episode of The Dog Whisperer. A few days ago, I received an email from a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior, urging me to watch this Dog Whisperer video clip. I admit, it was a difficult video to watch. In this video, Cesar Millan uses a choke collar to subdue an aggressive dog, finally pinning it on the ground. Millan is bit several times in the process, and I question the health of the dog during this clip (blue tongue). Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, offers her commentary of the video here: dog training gone bad.
Edit 09/06/09: It appears that the National Geographic site moved or removed the video clip. Here is a longer (3:25) clip of that episode from Comcast:
"Shadow, Jake & Riley and Norton"
Because so many people have asked:
To answer the "what else can be done about the dog-aggressive dog" question, here is a similar situation with an alternate viewpoint. It is narrated to describe what is happening.
There are strong opinions on both sides of the fence. Millan has ardent fans as well as vocal detractors. Behavior is a complicated subject, one that we are still learning about. I believe that all behavior problems should be first evaluated by your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical problem. Humane treatment is essential. Through education and awareness, people can make informed choices for an effective, non-damaging behavior modification program. It may be necessary to interview several trainers or veterinarians before a good match is found.
If a "professional trainer" such as Millan can be bit several times in a few minutes, so can you. Or worse. What are your thoughts on dog training methods? Are you more or less likely to buy products that feature a celebrity spokesperson? Please add your comments below.
Update July 22, 2009:
Show what you know: Can you help this person and her dog? Let's put knowledge in action. Constructive advice welcome.
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Photo credit: Military Working Dogs © gopal1035 on Flickr