World famous canine behaviorist and “Dog Whisperer”, Cesar Millan, will be appearing at the Akron Civic Theatre at 8 pm on February 3, 2012. Like some of his recent appearances around the country, protestors plan to demonstrate in front of the theatre, handing out leaflets to educate dog owners about positive reinforcement training.
Dog trainers around the country have been calling attention to what they call “obsolete methods” by Millan. Millan received no formal training; he is a noncertified, self-taught expert. His training philosophy is that your dog needs strong “pack leadership” from you in order to be healthy and balanced. Other trainers refer to this as “dominance theory”.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) says on their website:
“Despite the fact that advances in behavior research have modified our understanding of social hierarchies in wolves, many animal trainers continue to base their training methods on outdated perceptions of dominance theory. Punishment has been shown to elicit aggressive behavior in many species of animals. Thus, using punishment can put the person administering it or any person near the animal at risk of being bitten or attacked.”
Dog trainers who use positive reinforcement training and clicker training have criticized Millan for his harsh tactics. They cite his use of force, strangulation, and trainer aggression as pushing a dog “over threshold” and into a state where they are not able to think but only react. A fearful dog relies on the back of the brain where the fight or flight instinct is stimulated, but is simultaneously cowed into not showing outward signs of its fear, making the dog even more unpredictable. Proponents of positive reinforcement training maintain that a dog that thinks with the front of the brain is a dog that is learning, not reacting. Millan’s techniques of alpha rolls and finger jabs to the abdomen might make good television, but it flies in the face of what professional animal behaviorists have learned.
World renowned animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin, wrote about Millan’s methods in her book Animals Make Us Human, Creating the Best Life for Animals.
In her chapter about dogs, Grandin points out that Cesar Millan's philosophy of being the pack leader works well in his situation — where he is working with a pack of dogs of different breeds that are living together and who may be prone to fighting. She points out that most dogs aren't living in this sort of situation.
In households where there are just one or two dogs, it may be more appropriate for the human to be a PARENT, not a pack leader. "A good parent sets limits and teaches his kids how to behave nicely," Grandin writes, "and that's exactly what dogs need, too.”
While Millan’s methods are coming under fire, he has still done a lot of good for animal welfare, including advocating against breed-specific legislation and puppy mills, and has vocally supported spay/neuter programs.
When it comes to training, he’s actually right about these things: you are responsible for your own dog’s behavior, that your pet needs lots of love and exercise, and that chaining dogs is awful.
Ada Simms, of Boom Town Canine Campus in New York organized the protests of Millan’s appearances in that state. Lauri Bowen-Vaccare of Wadsworth and Samantha Speegle or Columbus have organized the peaceful protest of Millan’s appearances in Ohio.
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