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Evaluating Cesar Millan's Dog Rehabilitation Methods
Say NO to coercion and say YES to rewards
Dog lovers watching the television show ''The Dog Whisperer'' are often amazed of how charismatic Cesar Millan rehabilitates dogs using his special charm and what he calls ''calm, assertive, energy'', however, the art of rehabilitating dogs is certainly not something that can realistically be accomplished in such a short period of time, especially when durable results are desired. Learn more about his rehabilitation methods and why they are often a topic of strong debates.
Evaluating The Dog Whisperer's Rehabilitation Methods
Cesar Millan may appear to have the magical touch of an ''illusionist'' when it comes to rehabilitating dogs, but things shown on television can often be deceiving. Often, scenes are cut out, and of course, as mentioned, no dog can be realistically ''fixed'' in a half-hour episode. Following are some considerations to keep in mind, and several reasons why Cesar is frowned upon by many dog trainers and dog behaviorists.
- A State of Helplessness
Cesar's rehabilitation efforts often show dogs which in his words are responding to his ''calm assertive'' energy . As much as this appears to be an almost magical approach, most likely dogs are instead displaying a psychological condition known as ''learned helplessness''.
Learned helplessness is a concept discovered by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. The condition tends to occur when dogs are repeatedly exposed to an aversive stimulus they cannot escape from, which causes them to surrender and resort to a ''helpless state''. To further prove this helpless state, is the fact that dogs in Cesar 's hands often display ''calming signals'', signs of stress which can be quite subtle to viewers, but of significant importance. Calming signals in layman terms, are simply a dog's way of saying through body language ''please don't hurt me''.
- A Cookie-Cutter Approach
The Dog Whisperer's fans may often notice that Cesar uses similar approaches for most of his cases. This ''size fits all' training approach basically treats all dogs the same regardless if they are misbehaving due to aggression, hyperactivity, fear, or anxiety. Aversion-based training is a prehistoric training method, which teaches dogs to behave in order to avoid discomfort of pain, and it can have a deleterious effect on dogs, especially those acting out of fear or anxiety.
The Dog Whisperer often is also fast to label a dog ''as dominant'' a term that is overused and misused nowadays. Dogs he claims to be ''dominant'' therefore, are unjustly and wrongfully labeled as so, when in reality, they are simply acting out of fear, anxiety or other emotions.
- Working Over Threshold Levels
One of the main problems with Cesar's behavior rehabilitation is that he works dogs "over the threshold". Because his show only lasts one hour, to attain fast results, he uses mainly flooding, a behavior modification method where a dog is fully immersed to stimuli perceived as frightening, rather than the more humane desensitization, which takes much longer. Because he works with dogs over the threshold, to gain control of the dog, he invests in kicks, alpha rolls, helicoptering and other coercion-based methods to bring the dog to a subdued, helpless state which he erroneously calls "calm submissive".
- Aversion Based Training
Cesar's rehabilitation efforts often include aversive training methods dog trainers used about 20 or more years ago. Today, positive reinforcement training, a new philosophy adopted by a mainstream of trainers who chose to train using scientifically-approved methods, is the prevailing trend taught in reputable dog training schools.
Cesar's methods include, but are not limited to: alpha rolls, kicks, leash tugs, hanging, pinning, use of choke chains, prongs and electronic collars. Several of these training methods are downright dangerous because they may trigger a dogs' defense drive. It comes as no surprise, therefore, why the program has a disclaimer discouraging viewers from ''attempting such methods at home''. Cesar also still resorts to the " dominant alpha wolf theory", comparing dogs to wolves based on Robert's Shenkel's studies conducted in 1947 at the Zoological Institute of the university of Basel in Switzerland. To learn more about this read: Shenkel versus Mech's Studies on the Alpha Wolf Role.
Note: Following Cesar Millan's methods is also dangerous business, indeed, according to veterinarian and animal behaviorist Sophia Yin,"dog behavior experts agree that dog owners who mimic what they see on television is one of the contributing factors for the 4.7 million dog bites that occur each year."
Cesar Kicking Dogs
The Original 'Dog Whisperer''
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Not all of Cesar's advice however can be condemned. In fact, some of Cesar's books contain some good advice for dog owners. He often emphasizes the importance of daily walks, which can be a blessing for dog owners who still believe dogs can stay enclosed in a yard all day and be happy. He has also helped dog breeds that have received a bad reputation, courtesy of breed specific legislation and the press.
Accusations of alleged dog abuse have however further added to the bad and the ugly of Cesar Millan's career. Doctor Nicholas Dodman, Director of Animal Behaviour Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine states that Cesar's methods are based on flooding and punishment and therefore, the results, despite being immediate, are ultimately transitory. He also claims that ''his methods are outmoded, dangerous and often inhuman and the saddest part is the public does not recognise the error of his ways".
* Dispelling the myth: Many viewers and fans of Cesar believe he is the ultimate ''Dog Whisperer''. However, not many know that this charismatic public figure is actually not the authentic one. The first, real and authentic ''Dog Whisperer'' is truly Paul Owens, a reputable dog trainer using positive training methods and author of the bestselling book ''The Dog Whisperer, Beginning, and Intermediate Training for Puppies and Dogs''.
* Note: many trainers and organizations have serious concerns over the use of aversion in dog training. According to Welfare in Dog Training "Aversive training techniques, which have been seen to be used by Cesar Millan, are based on the principle of applying an unpleasant stimulus to inhibit behavior. The use of such techniques may compromise the welfare of dogs and may worsen the behavioural problems they aim to address, potentially placing owners at considerable risk. A number of scientific studies have found an association between the use of aversive training techniques and the occurrence of undesired behaviours in dogs."
Alan Titchmarsh defines Cesar Millan's methods 'BABARIC'
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