The dogwhisperer

The dogwhisperer

I have never seen him hurt a dog.

Does the TV star beat dogs? No, but his methods are sometimes unnecessarily crude, and it has been proven that physical punishments, as shown on the show, can be harmful.

Subsequently, fondue, chip, hope & joyjoy, small dogs are grabbed by the neck, lifted up and swung through the air. In Teddy, Cesar Millan hangs a labrador on a leash so that its paws no longer touch the ground. The Shadow case is particularly frightening – the footage has been reviewed by veterinarians whose expertise has shown Shadow to show symptoms of suffocation after being hung on a leash. (We have reports that the animal welfare organization that Shadow brokered to the owners at the time brought the dog back after this episode aired).

Above all, however, the psychological stress to which the dogs are exposed in this program must be criticized. Many dogs that offer avoidance behavior at the beginning of a program are driven to show aggression in the end. One such example is JonBee, a Jindo who is forced to lie on his side. After a fierce and dangerous fight (during which the dog apparently urinated), he finally gives up and turns around. The dog is not relaxed, on the contrary. It shows numerous signs of stress. His behavior is an expression of a well-known psychological phenomenon: learned helplessness, which dog trainers often refer to as “closing down””. (Update: JonBee’s owners didn’t keep it after the show. It was recently posted on a Millan supporter’s website as “mediate,” but the listing has since been removed.)

Learned helplessness was described for the first time by scientists who put dogs in a box without the possibility of escape and gave them electric shocks across the floor. At first, the dogs tried to escape, but when they were exhausted, they simply lay down on the floor, although they continued to receive electric shocks. The dogs found the electric shocks no more pleasant than at the beginning, they simply gave up.

You do not need to physically injure a dog in order to traumatize it. Some dogs manage to recover from traumatic experiences, while others leave permanent behavior problems.

Just like humans, chronic stress also causes serious health problems in dogs, such as a weakened immune system, severe indigestion or heart disease. Acute stress can sensitize the dog to certain people or environmental factors and thereby reinforce an existing negative association, so that behavioral problems escalate in the long term. Whether physical or psychological, these methods are harmful and pose great risks for dogs and their owners.

Did you ever see the show?

Yes. I watch The Dog Whisperer regularly and download the video podcasts (which were recently removed from iTunes).

I watch each episode first without sound to observe both the behavior of the dog and the behavior of the television star and how the dog reacts to the methods used. I have found that the dramatic music, the speaker, and the star’s explanations often contradict what actually happens on the screen.
Most experts and dog trainers who have made public statements about the program also watch it regularly. National Geographic sent video recordings to Andrew Luscher, behaviorist at Purdue University’s veterinary faculty, before the show went on air. He expressed strong concerns about the producers.

Your article was one-sided.

To put it very clearly: I am by no means neutral about this topic. A nutritionist would not write a neutral article about the pros and cons of junk food. I am not obliged or obliged to present an unbiased view of the program. I presented arguments based on facts.

The representation of dog behavior in the program is wrong and disregards everything we know about it today. My bias is also based on many years of personal experience, as well as the experiences of my colleagues who also experience the consequences of methods that suppress problematic behavior.

You shouldn’t criticize him just because you disagree with his methods.

Why not? Isn’t criticism exactly what advances progress in any area?
If methods can have harmful consequences and fail to achieve the claimed results, experts are obliged to criticize them. Otherwise, we would still believe today that the earth is a disk, smoking helps against hypertension, and people with autism should be cured with electric shocks and lobotomy.

You are just jealous of his success.

Many of the experts who have spoken out against the program are extremely successful themselves. They enjoy a high reputation among their colleagues, are university professors or well-known authors and speakers.

In addition, the popularity of the program has by no means led to the fact that expert trainers and behavioral consultants have fewer customers. The opposite is the case. We are experiencing a huge increase in customer interest because dog owners recognize that they do not have to live with problematic behavior of their dog. That is the only positive impact of this program. However, over half of the dog owners we advise report that they see the program regularly and have tried the methods shown, with no success or even with negative consequences.

If the show, using animal-friendly methods based on current and steadily growing scientific knowledge, were so successful and not based on the interpretation of dog behavior in the opinion of one person, most experts would sing the praises of the show and its star, like on It’s Me Or The Dog. This Animal Planet show also features problem dogs and positive reward-based solutions.

There is no envy behind the protests, but concerns about the safety and well-being of dogs and their owners.

The dogs on the show are different from the ones you work with – it’s about serious problems.

This is a common misconception. The cases shown on the show are ordinary, common cases of fear and aggression that I and thousands of other professional dog trainers work with every day.

They believe there is only one way to train dogs.

Many positive trainers, just like me, started out as aversive trainers. We switched to reward-based methods after seeing the benefits they bring to obedience training, dog sport, and changing serious behavior problems. So positively working coaches are not only aware that there is more than one way, they themselves have extensive experience with various methods, including some that are used in the program. We also have extensive experience with the consequences that such methods can have.

Dog owners should ask themselves why they should choose a method from the start that could do damage instead of trying less aversive methods first.

Positive trainers would put an aggressive dog to sleep rather than punish him for his behavior.

If you look at the numerous books of positive trainers and behavioral researchers about changing problem behaviors like aggression, not to mention the many seminars and congresses on this topic that thousands of colleagues attend every year, it becomes apparent that reward-based trainers, me included yourself, not simply preferring to put the work on problem behavior to sleep.

If it had been shown that aversive methods lead to a permanent change in behavior, we would have stayed with it. We would still use them because most positive working coaches started using aversive / constraint based methods 10, 20 or even 40 years ago.

We already know. We were there too, but didn’t stop there, but took a better, more effective path. We are just waiting for the others to catch up with us.

People shouldn’t humanize dogs like that.

Well, that’s right … unless the alternative is to treat dogs like supposed wolves. Unclear terms such as “pack leader” supposedly refer to how canids behave in a pack. Unfortunately, the explanations and recommendations in the program have very little to do with how real wolves behave in a real pack. “Treating” a dog’s behavior problems with false theories about how to behave in wolf packs is no better than humanizing a dog and could have the same worrying effects.

A serious mistake with the punitive methods on the show is that they assume that the dog will learn what it is doing “wrong””. This is how dogs are ascribed, like humans, they could differentiate between right and wrong. Until dogs develop the ability to speak and tell us what they are thinking, the assumption that dogs can follow a conscience is anthropomorphic, that is, humanizing – human explanatory patterns are applied to dog behavior.

Do not treat your dog like a human, but also not like a fake wolf. Stick to the facts, factual knowledge that shows that past theories do not apply to the actual behavior of dogs and wolves.

But he doesn’t train dogs, he rehabilitates them.

Obedience training and changing problematic behavior are not the same thing, but they cannot be completely separated. Successful dog training requires knowledge of how dogs learn and what motivates them to repeat certain behaviors. This knowledge is also crucial for being able to change behavior.

In training, dogs without any basic training are more difficult to control and less responsive to their owners. This can make behavior change (or rehabilitation) considerably more difficult.

What I often notice in the show is that in the end the dogs may no longer respond to what triggered their problematic behavior (other dogs, people, skateboards etc.), but they also no longer respond to their owners. Instead, the taut leash and the frequent leash marks indicate that the dog would not be so “calm and submissive” if the owner let go of the leash.

It is hard to imagine how someone could rehabilitate a dog without having at least a basic understanding of how dogs learn. Or why someone should skip this important learning step, which leads to more cooperation and puts the dog owner in a “leadership position””.

You can see on the show that it works.

The production company states an 80% success rate, but I have seen very little change in behavior on the show. What I see are dogs with suppressed behavior, dogs that walk on very short, tight leashes that are stiff and almost motionless after being violently thrown on their side or back, dogs that are almost severely restricted in almost every case be switched off or “shut down””.

The fact that the dog does not bark, tug on the leash or growl does not mean that it is calm or rehabilitated. If the dog cannot show behavior because a short leash or something else prevents it, then the behavior has not been changed but suppressed.

Despite the strict confidentiality that dog owners sign before they appear on the show, the stories come to light – through veterinarians and other trainers, through animal welfare organizations where the “rehabilitated” dogs end up, and through the people who get them from take over there. Despite numerous requests to the producers to release dog owners from this secrecy so that they can report their success with the methods shown, this has still not happened.

There is no evidence other than the claims made by the PR team and the recordings that the producers select. The show is a product, a million dollar business that only runs if you buy it.

It worked for my dog ​​/ dogs.

If the methods from this show have helped you and your dog and have not created additional behavior problems, I can understand that it is difficult for you to understand why they are harmful. After all, various medications and medical treatment methods have been shelved after their harmful effects have been recognized, although many people were convinced and claimed that they had helped well.

Compared to the limited number of dogs that the average owner will own in the course of his life, professional dog trainers and behavior experts who oppose these methods see thousands of dogs. And experience the significant behavioral problems that are a direct result of punitive methods.

He has no training, so what? He works with dogs every day and doesn’t just study them in a laboratory.

There are many dog ​​trainers and behavioral advisers who have no official training or academic degrees. However, these trainers attach great importance to further training and to be up-to-date in terms of dog training and behavior.

It may be true that scientists who study behavior under laboratory conditions do not always work with problem dogs. But the insights about dog behavior, including aggression, that they gain and publish are invaluable to those of us who work with “problem dogs” every day.

Ignoring over a century of scientific research into animal behavior and learning biology only aggravates the ignorance of dog owners – the main cause of problematic behavior in dogs.

Do you think people should treat their dogs like children?

Dogs and children are not the same thing. Responsible parents, however, ensure the correct nutrition and education of their children and set reliable rules and limits without resorting to physical violence. All of these principles also apply to the rearing and keeping of a healthy, well-behaved dog. So if more people raised their dogs the way they were supposed to raise their children, we would see fewer problems, not more.

In 1992, The Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science published a study with over 700 dog owners, in which it was examined whether anthropomorphic perception and handling are related to problem behavior.

“… Dogs whose owners interacted with their animals in an anthropomorphic way,” spoiled “them in a certain way or did not attend dog school did not show more often behavior that was perceived as problematic by their owners than those dogs that were not anthropomorphic by their owners were viewed or “pampered” or attended a dog school. “

Dogs don’t develop problem behaviors simply because people view and treat them as child replacements. Many other factors such as genetics, early socialization (or lack thereof) and trauma also play a role.

Positive training methods do not work with “Red Zone” dogs.

The cause of this common myth about dogs “in the red” is ignorance of stress in dogs. If a dog gets into a situation that activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), for example, the digestive system is temporarily “switched off” so that all vital energy is available to the muscles. In addition, it is said that the animal is above the stimulus threshold. d. Ü .: We would also speak of an “excessive level of arousal”]. So if you want to give a dog a treat while it is above the stimulus threshold, it will not eat it. This means that the owner or trainer has put the dog too quickly into a situation in which the dog is already reacting and can no longer learn.

Experienced dog trainers know how important it is to keep a dog below its stimulus threshold when confronted with the person, the other dog, the object that triggers the problematic behavior. In this way you can use positive training methods to change the dog’s associations in this situation.

If you want to effectively change behavior with reward-based methods, you must have at least a basic knowledge of how dogs learn. If you do not have this knowledge, you will not succeed. If you apply positive methods in this way and achieve nothing, there is no change in behavior, neither an improvement nor a deterioration. If, on the other hand, you don’t succeed with aversive methods, the problematic behavior can easily escalate.


Aggression and other behavior problems are not mysterious. We now know what triggers aggressive behavior and how it can be changed, and we no longer need to rely on the dubious interpretations of individual people. This knowledge continues to grow, scientific discoveries and research bring more and more knowledge about behavior, be it that of dogs, wolves or humans.

When working with dogs, the alternative to “aversive” is not to allow everything, not to set any limits. Modern dog trainers and behavioral researchers have been pointing out the importance of sufficient exercise / employment and reliable limits for many years before they were popularized by this reality TV show. These principles in dog training are simply common sense and are not the basis for my criticism. The reason why so many experts argue against the show is the dangerous methods and the wrong information about dog behavior.

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