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Dog Whisperer is Silenced


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I received several thank you notes, thanking me for Cesar Millan’s apparent cancellation from National Geographic’s WILD.And I will no doubt receive hate mail too. Thing is – this isn’t about me….

Nearly from the time The Dog Whisperer premiered (in 2004) on the National Geographic Channel, I have been critical (concerned is a better word really) about his ‘methods.’ I’ve expressed my concerns in many magazine stories, blogs which I had been interviewed for, and in my own venues in print and on the radio.

Millan’s techniques are decidedly his own, which is fine. My issue is that those methods had been punitive and dependent on immediate results, which makes for good TV, but misleads the general public. . . So much so that (before I joined the Board of Directors), the American Humane Association sought warnings about his methods, which began to appear on-screen (“Don’t try this at home”). This is the first time in dog training TV show history that such safety warnings appeared.

Despite these warnings, the show caught fire – Millan appeared on Orpah, “The Tonight Show,” TV awards shows and was espousing his take on dogs and dog training everywhere. For example, explaining to Oprah that her dog’s apparent separation anxiety was due to her not demonstrating “dominance, being the leader of the house.” Or when 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) day one, and definitely day one was not a good
scene. The dog, Bo, was in front of the President of the United States.”

Millan (with much help) wrote books, which interestingly seemed kinder and gentler than his shows….As professionals (individuals and professional organizations) intensified expressing their concerns, Millan’s camp responded much as Millan did with dogs – with punitive methods, often threatening to sue.

When the American Humane Association was targeted, by now I was on their Board of Directors;  I suggested that instead of responding with lawyers, let’s talk. And that we did. The outcome was my recommendation of a “dog training summit” of trainers and behavior experts – including Millan – to craft standards for training. I came under fire for that one. Still, to this day, I think, there’s still more that would have been agreed upon than disagreed – and dogs would have benefited.  But long story made short – that summit never happened. In part, because by now, Millan was too divisive a figure.

I’ve interviewed Millan several times, and certainly he comes across as a nice guy. And I will also say that his methods seemed to moderate over the years, though his trademark terminology did not.  I have no doubt that Millan’s foundation likely has supported good work, and I do appreciate very much the accurate  messaging around Pit Bull-type dogs.

I have always believed that he’s personally gifted around dogs, his timing and communication to canines is impeccable. He’s also willing to be bitten. If that happens in a home because Cesar’s techniques are replicated – then who loses? Of course, the person who gets bitten loses, but as a result the dog may lose a life.

In 2011, Millan moved to Nat Geo WILD.

Millan’s time in the spotlight lasted longer than other ‘flavor-of-the-month’ trainers.

Back to where I began – I was hardly responsible for Millan’s TV demise. It’s a matter of ratings, people don’t watch, and programs go away. Maybe Victoria Stilwell’s methods (as they should) resonate more; perhaps the fact that most professionals disdain most of Millan’s methods has finally trickled down to the public, or maybe the show just ran it’s course. I personally wish Cesar well.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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