Over the past couple of years there has been a lot of controversy surrounding National Geographic’s series called the Dog Whisperer starring Cesar Millan.
The Dog Whisperer show is currently in its sixth season and recently received the 2010 People’s Choice Award.
Millan’s empire has grown and I have to say that no matter what you think of him or the Dog Whisperer series you gotta want a business manager like his!
In addition to the popular television series, the Dog Whisperer’s activities and products include:
- licensing his name to pet products (lots at Petco),
- co-inventing the Ilusion dog collar with his wife,
- forming the Millan Foundation,
- connecting with his fans through a regular newsletter,
- presence at social media sites such as Twitter, MySpace,
- has produced several Dog Whisperer books and DVDs,
- conducts live and online seminars and coaching,
- maintains several websites such as Cesar’s Way and Cesar Millan Kids,
- appearances and product selling on popular channels such as QVC pets,
- and most recently has launched Cesar’s Way magazine.
Did I miss anything?
Oh yeah, you can also get a Cesar Millan calendar!
No matter what you think about the show or the man, you gotta admit he is quite the marketing machine.
When the first season of the Dog Whisperer show began to air a public relations officer asked me my opinion about it.
First I started with a disclaimer–but not one like Nat Geo has to repeatedly splash on the screen of the popular television show.
I’ve never met him, or worked with him, but can assure you that the only thing two animal trainers agree about is what the third is doing wrong.
LOL you think I am kidding. I’m not, it happens to be true.
I even saw that Nat Geo used my quote when combating some bad press over the Dog Whisperer and you rarely hear about any of the lawsuits settled out of court like this one.
Anyway, I also told her that Nat Geo was smart in that they selected a charismatic Latino to hit that growing demographic.
Now fast forward to present day and you’ll find that Cesar Millan is uber-popular. That status has created two main vocal camps of people:
Camp One: The Tribe
In the first camp are those who make up his tribe. They are those who love him and think he is great. They will also support and defend him to no end. Even though they have never met him in person, these people feel that they do know him and want to come to his aid if something negative comes to light.
Camp Two: The Horrified
In the next camp are those who are unhappy that National Geographic, long known for their innovative exploration and reporting, has seemingly sold out in exchange for ratings. This camp spends time working at damage control in an industry that still has no real regulations. Some in the dog training world began to move away from what is seen on the show just 15-16 years ago.
Personally, I think it is time to move forward and quit wasting energy on bashing or protecting a celebrity whose enormous following will probably increase despite whichever camp you support.
When you step away from the emotion and attachment to having it the way you might want it, there is both pro and con about the show and influence Millan has.
Let’s call it the pros and cons of Cesar Millan.
Pro Cesar Millan: On the one hand, the guy has show that a Latino can bust out and take the lead. (LOL, no pun was intended—but hey, why not?!)
Pro Cesar Millan: The Dog Whisperer has actually shown people that they need to train their dogs, something that was once not really prioritized but that now is considered a requirement instead of an option.
Pro Cesar Millan: Dog trainer phones are ringing more frequently since people who catch the show are motivated to change their dog’s behavior and know they need help.
Con Cesar Millan: The drawback to the Dog Whisperer show is that the methods being shown are considered archaic (and harsh) in comparison to other methods that are available today.
Con Cesar Millan: Not everyone can safely emulate the techniques shown in the Dog Whisperer series. Hence the need for the numerous disclaimers that seemed to appear after a lawsuit against Millan.
Con Cesar Millan: People mistakenly believe they are seeing real time training accomplishments and think they can get the same results quickly. They fail to understand that they are viewing edited clips of events that happen over time.
Now when my phone rings and someone gushes over Cesar Millan, I inform them that I do not use that type of methodology in my training and ask if that is an issue.
If it is, I give them Millan’s phone number and move on.
The problem is that too many people are not moving on.
Instead some waste a lot of time screaming (pro or con) about Cesar Millan and the Dog Whisperer series.
In my opinion, gleaned from the school of hard knocks, the best way to implement change is to be the change you want to see.
So while I understand the irritation and concerns prompting a position statement (and also from IAABC, AHA, ACVB, AVSAB, et al) and other opinions at About.com, blog posts, and forum discussions about Cesar Millan and the Dog Whisperer series, and even a website dedicated to moving people Beyond Cesar Millan–let’s all move on to something more constructive.
When I began training animals there was no such thing as an “animal behaviorist” and all trainers had to apprentice.
I apprenticed under some animal training icons and innovators and kept training and continuing my education in other related topics.
So I paid my dues and for an education and so have a degree in animal training and management. I believe the best blend is to take the tools in your training toolbox and use the best ones.
Some tools get buried in the bottom and might stay in the box as historical treasures.
For instance, I have choke chains that I use as distraction devices and a brass clicker that is 30 years old. (Believe it or not, we used to use bike buzzers and door bells before clicker training became the rage.)
Gosh if we were more innovative back then we’d all be retired–but we were the anomaly back then instead of mainstream.
In fact, we all got a lot of grief for our innovation.
My point is that your box should be full of stuff and that it is good to learn by talking training with those on every side of the fence.
We might not agree on our methodologies but most of us have the same goal of helping animals stay in the home and of getting them to behave well.
Hopefully we can implement change through example and through more humane methods of training instead of getting into the “us and them” camps that seem to spring up all the time.
I remember one of my most controversial animal training columns that brought out a lot of hostility because I dared to help someone who owned an animal that was not held by a “specific” or “sanctioned” group.
At least we knew people were reading it!
Our job as trainers and behavior consultants is to help people and help the animals they own or that are in their care.
What other people think is really not too relevant.
Personally, I am tired of reading both offensive and defensive commentaries about the Dog Whisperer series.
I also hate to break it to some of you but Nat Geo is not going to change a very popular series that is hitting a growing demographic and that maintains huge ratings.
My advice to progressive trainers/behaviorists who are passionate about their field?
Get to work.
Be the example people will talk about.
Then perhaps you’ll land a show that will leave the Dog Whisperer series in the dust–or perhaps you’ll find another way to move progressive and innovative training methods to the forefront.
Okay, take a deep breath.
Knowing my readers, I am sure you have something to say. It is a rare individual who doesn’t have an opinion on the Cesar Millan or the Dog Whisperer series.
Please read the comment policies first and then leave your comment below.
Be sure to let me know what camp you belong to (if you have a camp) and what other ideas you have on this topic.