Cesar Millan Celebrates 20-Years of Damaging Dog Training, And It’s Worsening Today


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Cesar Millan is making media rounds, celebrating 20 years since he first appeared in The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. Millan’s presence on TV has dissipated in recent years, but his type of training has tragically made a roaring comeback.

In a story in This Dog’s Life, Andrea Huspeni authored one of the most complete stories I’ve read about Millan. While Huspeni didn’t contact me, she could have, as Millan has more than once called me his “nemesis.”

I was newly on the Board of Directors of the American Humane Association at the time when Millan’s show had skyrocketed in popularity. I passionately expressed concerns to my Board colleagues that Millan’s techniques were inhumane. I pointed out specific episodes where either Millan apparently restrained the dog’s behavior – for now – by force.  And because he’s on TV, I was concerned others, especially children, will follow his example.

Armed with scientific evidence – even nearly 20 years ago, American Human approached Nat Geo about taking their hit show off the air.

We were laughed at.

American Humane returned with a “compromise idea” to place warnings on the screen, such as “The Dog Whisperer is a trained professional” or “Many of the techniques seen here are for entertainment purposes only” or “Viewer discretion advised” This is the first dog training show in history which warnings were displayed.

By now Millan was a People magazine star and best-selling book author, appearing on The Tonight Show, Oprah and more. Still, we thought questioning Millan’s techniques combined with growing negative press, which myself and the late Dr. Sophia Yin led the charge, his ratings would plummet. Instead, the opposite occurred.

Even President Barak Obama enlisted the Dog Whisperer. Millan told CBS News that President Obama’s dog pulls on the leash because the President isn’t being a leader

“If your dog doesn’t learn to follow, you’ll never have a disciplined pet.
I’ve seen them (President Obama and Bo) From day one was not a good
scene. The dog, Bo, was in front of the President of the United States.”

Of course, the truth is pretty simple, Bo never learned to appropriately walk on a leash. However, Millan was then and as far as I know continues to sell the notion that we need to dominate dogs. Allowing your dog to walk in front of you or to exit the house before you – as only two examples – demonstrates your dog is a leader and not you. This concept is ridiculous, and totally not based on any science whatsoever.

There’s nothing subtle about Millan’s forceful methods so in one column I said he is not actually a dog whisperer but rather a dog screamer. I think that statement, which resonated, was at least,  in part, what prompted Millan and his producers at  Nat Geo to threaten to sue myself personally (which I’ve not previously revealed publicly) as well as to threaten American Humane (and various others) with a lawsuit. They never followed through on these threats.

With the grandfather of dog behavior, the late  Dr. R.K. Anderson I suggested a meeting of minds from all dog training perspectives – including Millan – a sort of summit to write principals to be followed by all trainers, all sponsored by American Humane. A few invited individuals wouldn’t attend because they were worried Millan would. In the end, Millan was a no show. Those who attended this historic event did craft basic guidelines for dog training, which were at the time published by American Humane. However, quickly after leadership and focus at American Humane changed.

Here’s an example of Millan’s outdated methods: In one episode, a Great Dane was phobic, truly terrified, about tile floors. The consensus among trainers would be some version of a gradual approach, over time motivating the dog of his own will to step on to the tile, and rewarding for managing the courage to overcome. Depending on the severity of the fear, a veterinary behaviorist or veterinarian may recommend an anti-anxiety drug before initiating therapy, particularly if the dog is generally anxious.

Instead, Millan literally forced this Great Dane to face his fears by placing him on the floor, and letting the trembling dog deal with it. No praise was offered when the petrified pup did manage to take a step. Millan isn’t big on praise.

If you put yourself in that dog’s place, imagine being deathly afraid of, say, snakes on a plane, and then forced to ride in an airliner filled with snakes. Sounds like a bad horror movie, right?  Well, Millan’s answer to dealing with fears and phobias is for the dogs to face their fears head on (called flooding, a technique universally considered inhumane).

For a time, Millan’s use of shock collars and force began to fall out of favor as finally did Millan. But then along came social media. Dog training is a totally unregulated profession, and it’s now the “Wild West” in social. Dog trainers seek to become social media stars, as they deal with problematic behavior with force and shock collars, supposedly demonstrating their individual “magic methods.” Arguably, their combined reach has a greater impact when compared to Millan. And no one is minding the store as American Humane did all those years ago, and if animal welfare groups step up, there’s zero ability to do much about it.

This is all why we do need enforceable basic standards. Meanwhile, the public always must seek a credentialed trainer. At a time when there are more dogs than ever and our bond is more intense than ever, unfortunately there are people taking advantage and harming dogs in the process.