Friday, June 6, 2014

The Damage of the Dog Whisperer

I’ve now been training dogs for a decade. I find Cesar Millan’s training theory and advice appalling. As a scientist, it is obvious that his factual statements and derived conclusions are entirely wrong. As a trainer, I can tell how stressed and unhappy - not cured - the dogs portrayed on his show are. It’s covered up by rhetoric, the soundtrack and a voiceover. Tens of scientists, trainers and behavioral science organizations have spoken out against his theories. I’ve seen dogs mistreated by well-meaning owners who took his advice unquestioningly. I wrote this paper as a cumulative work for an intensive independent study last year on canine cognition and applied training theory.

Please read this. Even if you don’t own a dog. Then share it. The only way to help a lot of misinformed owners and mistreated dogs is by making the correct information known.

(I had to omit footnotes because it was ridiculous, but I’m happy to provide specific references/page numbers upon request.)


Theories of canine psychology and training derived from legitimate behavioral science have progressed greatly in the last fifty years. Unfortunately, the public’s most beloved source of information – The Dog Whisperer by Cesar Millan - advocates a theory in direct opposition to this progress. For the last eight years, Cesar Millan has put forth an abusive training theory predicated on disproven science, fallacious logic, and incorrect assumptions. Described by a New York Times affiliate as a “one-man wrecking ball directed at 40 years of progress in understanding and shaping dog behavior[1],” Millan mixes an overly simplistic and incorrect view of canine social structures with a lack of scientific knowledge. His philosophy centers around two main theories; that canines have an innate and ingrained need to function according to a ‘wolf-pack’ social structure, and that dogs need to live ‘as they did in nature’, before human intervention. Because the concept of dominance theory is central to Millan’s training philosophy, many other crucial aspects of a dog’s environment and psyche that should be addressed when dealing with behavioral issues are completely ignored. As a result of the Dog Whisperer’s popularized methods, many dogs with simple issues are handled badly and likely abused in the name of ‘pack theory’. The worst part is that the entire situation could be avoided easily. It requires only a small amount of research into the social and psychological lives of the common canine to understand where Millan’s theory goes wrong. Read the entire article

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