I’ve been busy with other writing projects, including a fiction-writing grant application, a carnival post (with happy training video), and other stuff.
I’ve also actually been taking Barnum out, since my chair is currently functional again. (I don’t expect it to last. More on this another time.) But, for now, we are both very happy to leave the yard together. (Yeah, I’ve left the ramp for the first time in . . . how long?)
So, this is a quick post. A lot of bloggers do a “Wordless Wednesday” post. Instead, here is my “At a Loss for Words” Wednesday post. It’s a video of Cesar Millan kicking countless dogs.
These were aired on the TV program, the Dog Whisperer.
I can’t put up the actual video here, because — shockingly! — it was taken down from youtube. But you can view it where it’s still up, on the DancingDogBlog.
[Access note: Because I can't download the video, or upload it to another site, there's no way for me to caption it or transcribe it. However, honestly, I couldn't bear to watch it again anyway, even if I could. I apologize to my readers who can't access non-captioned or transcribed video.]
I just watched it. I found it extremely upsetting. I only ever watched a few episodes of the show (I’d just end up yelling at the TV), but I bet I saw him kick some dogs and never knew it. You see, he kicks them from behind, so it’s harder for people to see. What a great “training” technique. Honestly, it looks like a good soccer-pass fake. Too bad these are dogs, not inanimate objects intended for being kicked around a field.
He usually kicks the abdominal area/testicles. You’ll also see him hanging dogs by their collars (choking), and other forms of abuse he calls training.
Of course, it’s not news to anybody who knows anything about modern dog training that his methods are dangerous for people and dogs and inhumane. In fact, before the first episode of the show ever aired, the American Humane Society and various other dog behavior professionals told National Geographic that they don’t support the methods shown. They asked National Geographic not to air the show. (Note: Several months ago,I did read the aforementioned AHS position paper on Dog Whisperer, and there are multiple links to it, but the links for the original document now bring up a 404 error message. Funny how things critical of CM keep getting erased from the web, huh?) The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior wrote to Merial, asking the corporation not to support Millan’s videos.
Given this, why, you may ask, does this matter? There are plenty of good trainers out there, knowledgable people, and he is just one guy.
The biggest problem is that people buy it and buy it and buy it. I have friends who quote him. People who would never hit their dog, but who try to emulate him. Because he doesn’t call what he does “hitting” or “kicking,” he calls it “interrupting behavior” and “redirecting.”
They spout his rhetoric and take his viewpoint to heart, essentially that any means necessary to make the dog do what you want is the right thing to do. These are not bad people. They love their dogs. However, CM is selling them faulty goods.
I and countless others who have switched our methods had to understand a new underlying philosophy about training. CM and his dominance and ends-justify-the-means message interfere with the learning processes of millions of people.
The other problem is that people say, “But his methods work! He saves these dogs from being put down. Isn’t that the most important thing?”
What I hear in these arguments is, “If the dog is terrified in the process of being ‘trained,’ isn’t that for the greater good? Don’t the outcomes speak for themselves?”
No, it isn’t, and no, they don’t.
Let’s start with the “some discomfort is okay for the dog’s own good” argument. All you have to do is watch these dogs’ body language (or sometimes, listen to their yelps), to know they are way beyond “discomfort.” The dogs in this video are throwing every kind of calming and appeasement signal they can at CM, and they are punished for it. The blatant body language of anxiety, fear, and distress was the worst part to watch, for me.
Secondly, even if you think such tactics are justified, we have no idea what is actually happening because there are many hours of video edited into a few minutes. In the video montage above, you can clearly see at least two places where editors cut CM’s more horrifying kicks, such as the one to the snout. How do we know what happens weeks or months later, after the dog with behavior issues has experienced this additional trauma? Does the dog stay “calm” (CM’s term for “scared/shocked into total shutdown”) forever? Are the cameras around for that fallout?
Eileen, whom I mentioned in some previous posts, recently put up this terrific video, showing the difference in her dogs responding to a cue taught by positive reinforcement and by negative reinforcement. I told her I thought this was very brave — to go public on a mistake and own the consequences. But this is how people learn. (This video is captioned. Much of it is also narrated.)
I have certainly made my share of wrong-headed training decisions in the past, and occasionally I still make mistakes that I regret. However, unlike Eileen and me, CM has repeatedly refused — despite offers from many qualified, kind behaviorists to show him a better way — to change his mantra of outmoded, disproven dominance theory and his tactics of coercion and punishment.
Having, in fact, trained an old dog to do new tricks (with clicker training!), I know it’s not only possible, but easy. So, what’s CM’s excuse for not learning?
My dogs were getting paid with kibble, hotdogs, and cheese. CM is getting paid many millions of dollars. The value of a reinforcer is determined by the one being taught. Clearly, CM sees fame and fortune as much more reinforcing than actually helping, not hurting, dogs.
Please contact the National Geographic Channel and voice your concerns.
With a heavy heart,
Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I was mostly spared those horrors), and Barnum (I am blissfully unaware of human nonsense!)
P.S. Comment moderation is on. I once made a negative comment about a CM video on youtube and was called some nasty names. None of that will be showing up on my blog, thank you.