National Geographic Cancels “The Dog Whisperer”

On July 7, 2012, many dog lovers, science-based dog trainers, and veterinary behaviorists will be celebrating the end of an unwelcome era. The Dog Whisperer will air for the last time, after nine seasons of being one of the most popular and controversial dog training shows. I will admit, my tail will be waggin’, but I don’t know for how long. Cesar Milan will be appearing in a new show aptly tilted Leader of the Pack. His website states that the new reality show will be filmed in Spain and it involves families from the UK, the Netherlands, and Italy competing to adopt an ‘unadoptable’ dog and give him a second chance. While I hope this brings public awareness to how many homeless dogs deserve a second chance, I’m also wondering why families are competing over adopting a dog in need. Last I checked, there wasn’t any shortage of homeless dogs needing forever homes.

The controversy over the Dog Whisperer has been due to training methods that are outdated and often misunderstood. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers describes the misconceptions of dominance-based dog training:

“Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an ‘Alpha Wolf’ that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs are very similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for ‘dominance.’ Wolves, whether it be the parents or the cubs of a pack, depend on each other to survive in the wild; consequently wolves that engage in aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack’s ability to survive and flourish. While social hierarchies do exist (just as they do among human families) they are not related to aggression in the way it is commonly portrayed (incorrectly) in popular culture.”

What Milan does on TV sometimes looks remarkable: an undesired dog behavior is corrected with dominance-based training methods, and a dog emerges whose compliant behavior is acceptable to the humans. What TV doesn’t show you is the long-term results that occur when aversive, dominance-based training methods are used. It’s akin to a child that is fearful when locked in a dark basement. He’ll often yell and cry out of fear. A parent could punish the child and threaten that if he makes another peep, he’d get spanked. Short term, the child will often stop crying, out of fear of being hit. However, the long-term effects are often devastating. The same is true for a dog. A dog can show signs of fear by growling and showing their teeth to another. It’s a warning side that says, “I am not comfortable right now. Please stay away.” It is not a sign of dominance, it is a sign of fear.

Next: What happens when a dog stops giving warning signs of fear?

On TV, Cesar Milan, has been very successful at getting dogs to stop showing signs of fear. But, what happens when a dog is still afraid and they learn that they will feel pain if they show their fear? They stop giving warning signs, and the next time they are fearful, they just bite without warning. I wonder if that can explain why every episode of The Dog Whisperer says on top of the TV screen, “Do not try this at home.”

Personally, I’d rather create a partnership with my dogs than be a leader of the pack and dominate them. That isn’t to say that I don’t have very well-mannered dogs. Sanchez and Gina go almost everywhere with me. They are exemplary canine citizens and I still train every day with them, including Sanchez who is nine years old. The positive reinforcement training methods I use help continually build a bonding relationship and inspires them to keep thinking and learning.

What do you think? Are you a fan of dominance-based or science-based dog training methods? Are you happy or sad to see The Dog Whisperer being taken off the air? Thanks for posting a comment and taking our poll below.

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Sandi Saad
Sandra Saad2 years ago

It's sad he's gone, I don't like the new show's concept. He helped dogs in many ways. Like letting people know about how important exercise is, he uses that way more than the being assertive thing. He lets people know that dogs should be treated like dogs. Not just sat on a sofa or carried around in a purse! Dogs need exercise and challange. You've got to know what your able to give and then pick a dog based on that. It's not fair to get a high energy dog while you sit on the couch and wonder why he won't behave! It's amazing how he was with scared dogs. He would sit for a long time with but not facing the dog until it was comfortable, moving
towards the dog little by little. I use his techniques on my dogs, none of them aggressive. My dogs wouldn't stop crying while we were eating and they where behind a gate. I'd go to them, claim my territory, they'ed move back and I'd have my arms out like he does and say no. It worked and now my dogs are quite when we eat, with corrections here or there. I didn't even touch them. I do the same when they won't potty and want to come back to the deck. I take the techniques that worked for me.
And if you have a big powerfull breed you need to know how to control them so no one or animals get hurt!

Michael H.
Mike H.2 years ago

Cesar rocks!

Cisco D.
Cisco D.3 years ago

The Dog Whisperer show should continue and Cesar should not be stopped. He is doing things the right way especially with red allert dogs. Dogs who are on the brink of being possibly put down due to misbehavior. What Cesar shows towards them is necessary, you have to be dominant towards your dog. That is an animal. It's funny how they relate his acts to what happens to children, that further more shows how stupid those critics are and are likely going to cause more animal put downs in the future.

Cesar has saved many dogs from that. People to animals sometimes need to learn the hardway in order to become straight, the thing is though dogs are very dependent on their masters teachings and the master should teach the dog that he is the superior.

Continue the show, and tell the critics that their sensitivity is actual stupidity.

Chris C.
Chris C.3 years ago

I just read today on the Animal Rescue Site that only 4% of people take their dogs for obedience training. Maybe if more people did this up front, right away, we'd have fewer dog problems. I really want to get a dog but my first allegiance is to my rescue cat, Ruby, who didn't have such a good time before I came along and does NOT want another cat . - I'm wondering if she'd like a dog. If so, and I'm lucky enough to get a big, wonderful, goofball dog, the first thing I would want to do is get the dog some obedience training.

Chris C.
Chris C.3 years ago

I think Cesar also uses his confidence as a strong tool. But any kind of aversive, dominance-based training methods should not be used. I've seen others over the years on Animal Planet who seemed to use loving, non-agressive methods VERY successfully.
I'm wondering WHY they are cancelling the program?

Maggie Kearns
Maggie Kearns3 years ago

Cesar is great! He's done more for dog rehabilitation than anyone else. What I see is jealousy from all other dog trainers. How sad.

Heather M
Heather Marv3 years ago

I enjoyed his show.

G S.
v s.3 years ago

I am Pack Leader and I dont necessarily have to "dominate" my dogs as you call it. Caesar has had an impact that many other trainers will never achieve. Calm assertive does work with many dogs. Many owners do not follow through and do not train "everyday" as you do. They probably think that giving their dogs commands throughout the day is abusive. I am sorry to see the show go and I look forward to seeing his new show.

Susanne J.
Susanne Jurek3 years ago

What I do not understand is why people cannot see the difference rehabilitation and training.
Cesars way of training NORMAL dogs do not differ much from other clever trainers.

To me it seems that when he helps people to rehabilitate bad behaving, nervous, scared, aggressive and dominating dogs, he helps people to handle the dogs in a better way than they have done and helps the dogs to find out how to be normal dogs.

I would like to see some documentation that the dogs stops showing signs of their fear, aggression and so on. I have never seen any of that kind.

Sometimes it makes me cry when I see how he handles these dogs. But when I see them afterwards it makes me warm inside.

What Cesar says is that he cannot always help. If the owners cannot/will not coorporate they cannot help their dogs. You cannot show those cases on TV. You cannot exhibit people that way. (Sorry I am Danish - do not know if exhibit is the right word to youse).

Cesar does what people think is bad to do to the dogs. And it is not his intention that people should do it themselves. But I would like to hear what others suggest to do!

There has been a lot of trainers in TV-programs in Denmark. And I think he is the best. Because he trains the owners. Most trainers forget to do that. My dogs are 8, 5 and 3 years old. After I began train them after Cesars TRAINING-methods they have been much easier to walk and to handle. They are beginning to accept that I makes the rules for how to behave i

Susanne J.
Susanne Jurek3 years ago

Caprice. You are so very right. What I do not understand is that also some professional trainers cannot see thet. I expect professionals to be able to read dogs. And Cesar remembers to read people too. What he is amazingly good at. I have never met at trainer who remembered to do that.
I wish those people would sit down with an open mind at concentrate on what he is really doing. Because then I think they would change their minds.