Hopefully you don’t get bogged down in the literary reference, but I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. Specifically Caesar Millan, the well-known “Dog Whisperer.”
Massively successful and widely known, Caesar is even friends with Oprah! But he gained all this with a bit of old-school snake oil salesmanship. He has an exotic accent, surely he knows something we don’t, right?
Millan calls himself the “Dog Whisperer” and claims to correct problematic behaviors, especially ones he says are rooted in a dog’s need for leadership, specifically the domination of a human over a dog. In seeking improvement to the problems, he focuses on two principle psychological techniques.
First, he advocates immersion in the situation that yields the problematic behavior.
Not little by little, but all-in, aggressive immersion, called “flooding” in psychology. This does not allow gradual acclimation to the stress, but leaves the dog a choice to change or completely shut down (frequently yielding worse problems).
If your 6-year-old is afraid of the pool, maybe throwing him in from the high dive isn’t the best idea.
Secondly, he champions aggressive physical intervention to change the problem behavior to what you want. Not a gradual change via rewarding the desired behavior. He encourages active punishment to get a result, not stop a behavior, but to get what you want.
If you’ve ever been bullied, that’s the emotional equivalent in humans. Hurting the individual so they do what you want.
This is rarely successful. And it can lead to the type of confrontation where either the dog or the human is harmed, sometimes, in more than just an emotional way.
Clips are available online of Millan being mauled (thankfully in limited ways) by dogs that didn’t respond to this the way he planned. Those clips weren’t included in the TV show.
Reputable trainers and veterinary behaviorists, which is the equivalent of veterinary psychiatrists, advocate desensitization — slow changes instead of flooding — and counter conditioning — rewarding desired behavior, ignoring behavior you don’t want. These have shown to work more reliably without worsening pre-existing problems, and rarely risk any sort of injury to human or animal.
And as far as my personal view is, I agree Millan is a “Dog Whisperer,” but more the type of low-spoken sociopath from a horror movie.
Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at email@example.com.