It took the (now rather brilliant and wholly risen in my estimation) Alan Titchmarsh to finally speak out and offer Cesar a taste of rational thought.
So much opinion, so many complaints. By now we know what happened on the Alan Titchmarsh show this week. A giant dollop of common sense from the rooted Titchmarsh. Having had time to reflect a bit, read comments and listen to people’s views, I have learned a lot about how the celebrity machine that is Cesar Millan seems to be setting him up but seemingly, and rather oddly, for failure. Is this truly a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes and if it is, why should we applaud Alan for his stand? Why aren’t more interviewers pointing these things out?
1) Cesar Millan is news!
Good or bad, Cesar is news. The machinery of publicity means he has to sell tickets, sell his show, sell himself. Drayton Michaels (brilliant mind) posted a statement on this explaining how the Cesar machine has had many opportunities to learn and use kinder methods but has repeatedly not done this. Why? More drama and news when confrontational. Gentle methods don’t suit movie music.
2) Cesar does nice things too!
In the UK we are in the midst of a huge scandal about Jimmy Savile, a DJ and TV presenter for kids TV and massive raiser of funds for charity who – it turns out – was also allegedly a sex abuser and rapist with over 300 people coming forward to police. Nobody said a word, or if they did, it was quelled so as not to rock the boat. No-one said a word because of the charity connections and good works. Now, I am not suggesting at all that Cesar is abusing women, but we can see from his films that the dogs under his ministrations show signs of stress, asphyxiation and extreme fear reactions. Videos show kicks to the dogs underbelly (the definition of kick is to strike with the foot, which happens a lot), dogs being strangled on loops of leads and so on. No-one says anything? All praise to Alan Titchmarsh, he did not back down his questioning. The oddest thing is, Alan is criticised! But Cesar’s Way is given justification because he had his photo taken with a crippled dog. ‘Cesar does nice things too’.
3) Cesar knows dogs!
I would say he certainly does know dogs. He knows how to physically punish. He looks to be a skilled physical punisher. It takes a lot of learning to be a skilled physical punisher just as it takes a lot of learning to be a skilled positive reward-based trainer. So whilst I can see his timing is spot on, and his observation skills and positioning of physical punishment is clearly that of someone experienced, I would argue that there are better and more humane uses of our ability. An inexperienced positive punishment trainer such as any normal owner will get it wrong repeatedly. Cesar gets bitten, so they will get bitten too and probably more. In the meantime the dog is broken and is repeatedly treated inhumanely. An inexperienced positive rewarder can still get it wrong but not at such a high physical cost. This is why we CHOOSE to teach positive reward-based techniques. It is a lot safer, we still have strict boundaries and we can encourage and teach in a low-risk way that builds up the caring bond we want from our family dog.
4) Cesar is a guru!
There are so many people I love here in the dog community. Professionals who engage, who are qualified, who are experienced, who don’t pretend they are what they are not, who aren’t there to serve themselves, only the dogs and people in their care. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a yet another grinning guru. Cesar and those who attach to his coat-tails, even if they are kind to dogs, need careful observation. It might be very easy for anyone to launch into such a hot-interest profession right now, but the Animal Behaviour and Training Council are working towards bringing us together as a community of skilled, externally assessed professionals. People deify gurus. People engage with professionals. Who will help our dogs the most? No-one is perfect, but we have to try. Sign up to overseeing bodies of other pros that assess and regulate qualifications and actions. Does anyone believe they can have a try at their own dog’s spay operation? Do we watch surgery on humans and then give it a go at home? No. Because these people are qualified, registered and supervised professionals. As Cesar himself says: “I tell people to consult a professional”. If it became law, I have a feeling gurus such as Cesar wouldn’t make the cut.
I applaud Alan Titchmarsh for questioning the high-status Dog Whisperer. He has backed up the excellent statements on welfare made by the RSCPA, Blue Cross, Wood Green, and lots more worldwide organisations you can see here with a fuller explanation. I’ve made some brilliant new friends from this too, so the outcome has been very positive in building a stronger support network for us all. Let’s stand up and show people how to find the real thing in our community.