Monday, April 25, 2011

César Millan, I Heart You…NOT!

“Incoming dog!” my husband warned me through the dense fog. We were on the beach taking my godpuppy* for his afternoon walk.

Before I could process what my husband had said, a massive, black-and-white Pit Bull was nose-to-nose with the Airedale I was leash-bound to. They took an instant liking to each other and started playing.

But the frolic was short-lived. The Pit Bull loped back from whence it had come, apparently being called by its “guardian.” I could hear the fellow scolding the pup: “You didn’t ask if you could play.”

Sounded harmless enough. I turned back to make introductions with the Pit Bull’s family and to rejoin my husband, who had stopped to take in the smells of the lake. But what I saw next is an image I can’t wrest from my mind, and it’s made it difficult for me to answer when people inquire, “How was your trip to Chicago?”

The slight, 20-something-year-old man who was calling for the Pit Bull (and before you jump to conclusions, there are lots of rescued Pit Bulls in my old neighborhood with guardians of every age, gender, and ethnicity) told the dog again, “You didn’t ask!”—then struggled to pick up what had to be a 90-pound pooch, twisted it upside down, and slammed it to the ground on its back.


I lost it. Yeah, second time this year—this lifetime—that I’ve screamed at someone. But truly, screaming was NOTHING compared to what I wanted to do to the guy.


“I have to,” he calmly replied.

“No. You don’t.”

“Yes, I do. You don’t understand—”

“I don’t have to. Nothing warrants what you just did.”

“He didn’t listen to me when I called.”

“If that’s a problem, then why did you let him off-lead?”

“I was testing him.”


That’s kind of how the exchange went. Then I left the scene, furious. Walked up to the first dog person I could find and vented about the episode. Dog people form their own communities within neighborhoods and I wanted hers to keep an eye on this guy. I wanted word to spread.

Oh. One more thing about my ridiculous tête-à-tête with Mr. Clueless. He explained that, according to César Millan, his dog needs to learn who’s dominant.

“Dog Whisperer,” my a _ _. This was outright abuse. The dog wasn’t some crazed, tear-your-arm-off-rather-than-look-at-you killer. This was a sweet-tempered, oversized, overweight pooch who looked terrified and bewildered by the guy’s actions. Lucky the jerk didn’t break the dog’s back as well as its spirit.

Even before this happened, I’d read enough about Millan to cringe whenever anyone mentioned his name as a training guru. Sure, Millan has successfully impressed upon the masses the importance of training our dogs. I’m grateful for that. But my admiration stops there. He blatantly ignores what research has revealed about the canine brain and behavior. He sees everything through a dominance filter—even when it’s a neurological or hormonal issue best treated with drugs or plant remedies. Millan is a charismatic evangelist who’s gotten too much airtime** (thank you, National Geographic).

But back at the beach: While I still couldn’t function intelligently, my calm husband intervened. I watched from a distance as he kept talking to Mr. Clueless about positive training and gave him the name of the neighborhood trainer, told him to look up Patricia McConnell on the Web, and I don’t know what else. It seemed like Mr. Clueless really didn’t know there was another way to train his pooch.

Then I felt bad that I’d yelled at an ignorant person. (Yet not bad enough to apologize.)

That’s how my trip to Chicago went. It handily snuffed out my pipe dream of becoming a humane educator or animal lawyer—too much chance of ending up in the slammer.

* Paperwork has been drawn up to make me responsible for the Airedale if his current guardian dies or is unable to care for him.
** Visit Beyond Cesar Millan on the Web for a collection of articles about Millan’s techniques. You’ll have to sift through the muck about who the original Dog Whisperer was and which trainer should have been on Animal Planet, two issues that pale in comparison to negative training vs. positive training. And if you don’t know the difference, write to me. I’ll compile a reading list for you along with trainers in your area.

[Pics from top to bottom: the godpuppy; a Pit Bull named Reggie, similar to the one at the beach but waiting in Indiana to be adopted; the view from the beach toward the park; the man who ruined my day, César Millan.]

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