Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Dog Whisperer

Yesterday at the Behavior Club meeting, one of the 4th year students on the behavior rotation gave a great overview of Cesar Milan ("The Dog Whisperer") and why his training methods are severely outdated and potentially dangerous. He is viewed by animal behaviorists and professional dog trainers as the Dr. Phil of dog training- his "training" may make for good TV, but is not the way things work in the real world. I've never actually seen the show, but had heard a lot about it. Basically, he uses very outdated "dominance theory" methods to physically force dogs to do things they don't want to do. Dominance theory states that we are our dog's "alpha dog", and to maintain our alpha status, we must treat our dogs as alpha wolves treat subordinates in the wild. This quote from an article about dominance theory sums it up nicely:
So what's the truth? The truth is dogs aren't wolves. Honestly, when you take into account the number of generations past, saying "I want to learn how to interact with my dog so I'll learn from the wolves" makes about as much sense as saying, "I want to improve my parenting -- let's see how the chimps do it!"

The point is that a) dominance theory is old and doesn't really apply to dogs anyway, and b) humans are theoretically smarter than dogs- why should we have to use physical force to get them to do what we want?

I found a YouTube video clip of Cesar's show, and then a clip of how to use desensitization and positive reinforcement instead... The dog in the first video is clearly terrified (note the profuse drooling). He may have gotten him to walk on shiny floors in a matter of minutes, but at what cost? And if he'd attempted that with a dog who had aggression issues, he definitely would have been bitten. Not the best method for dog or trainer. It is a brute force, quick fix method- no "whispering" involved.

Okay, back to work. Spring break is almost here!!

Chris's Addendum:

I think this is the money quote from the behaviorist article Megan linked too:
Millan's techniques are almost exclusively based on two techniques: Flooding and positive punishment. In flooding, an animal is exposed to a fear (or aggression) evoking stimulus and prevented from leaving the situation, until it stops reacting. To take a human example: arachnophobia would be treated by locking a person into a closet, releasing hundreds of spiders into that closet, and keeping the door shut until the person stops reacting. The person might be cured by that, but also might be severely disturbed and would have gone through an excessive amount of stress.

P.S after watching the "dog whisper" I think he would be far closer to the Dr. Laura than Dr. Phil. Down right damaging to their viewers.

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