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What’s wrong with the Dog Whisperer?

PuppyFollowing my recent pean to the Dog Whisperer, many folks left comments or sent emails suggesting that DW is too controlling.  A blogger named Riot opined that Mr. Millan places too much emphasis on dominance, and also ‘dogged’ Mr. Millan for being overly self-promoting.  I’ve been thinking about these comments a lot, and I appreciate the opportunity to consider these other views.

First, let me say, I agree with Riot that Mr. Millan’s promotional approach is hardly sotto voce.  In that sense, I suppose, he can be likened to the effusively telegenic Dr. Phil.  I tend to recoil from advice offered by highly self-promotional people like Dr. Phil and Mr. Millan, and I’m not alone in that tendency.  But, I also try to evaluate why there’s such craving for the advice they offer.  It seems obvious that many people have trouble dealing with themselves and their loved ones, which includes their pets.  Since Dr. Phil doesn’t offer much help in dealing with pets, Cesar Millan has stepped into fill (and enthusiastically market) that realm.

Both Dr. Phil and Mr. Millan emphasize the idea of personal responsibility.  In Mr. Millan’s case, that means the responsibility of owners to take care of their dogs.  For example, in one episode the owners were distraught because their dog was eating everything in the house.  The first question that Mr. Millan had (after listening to the human version of the problem) was: "what, besides this wonderful home and the food you provide, do you do for your dog?" 

The family looked around completely perplexed by the question.  He explained that their dog needed to expend lots of energy, then asked how often they walked the dog.  The mom said "oh, about 3 times a week."  And the walks were short because the dog was "hard to handle on a leash."

Okay, problem identified.  Now, how to solve it?  First, Mr. Millan showed them how to handle the dog on a walk.  Then he told them that they needed to walk him for at least 45 minutes every day. After the dog’s energy was spent doing something enjoyable it turned out he was easily taught not to chew on household objects.

Interestingly, the family was at first taken aback that they’d have to ‘rearrange their schedule’ to accommodate their pet’s need for exercise.  But, in the end, it turned out to be a blessing.  After a few weeks the dog was happier and calmer. And the dad was happier too because, as it turned out, the walks helped him to lose weight that he’d been struggling to shed.

So, how could Mr. Millan have handled the situation better?  It’s hard to say.

The dog didn’t seem to be unhappy, and neither was the family.  No doubt about it, though: Mr. Millan clearly guided everyone with a firm hand.  Was he too dominant?  Maybe he should have been more sympathetic to the demands that a 45 minute daily walk would place on the family’s busy schedule.  He could have said, ‘well, okay, do as much as you can.’  Then they wouldn’t have felt so ‘put-upon.’  Of course, everyone was happy in the end.  Still, he could have been a little less pushy.  Right?

I have trouble figuring out how Mr. Millan could be less dogmatic (pun intended) in his approach.  I’m more interested in how quickly he brings about effective change.  Not so much in the dogs as in the owners.  Anytime I see people successfully changing their habits I’m pleased, and when I see it happen quickly I’m completely amazed. 

Listen, I’m all in favor of people taking a relaxed approach to life. But making changes is hard, and it doesn’t happen without a firm commitment.  Mr. Millan’s firm guidance seems to come from the heart, and he gets good results.  So, what more can I say?  Let’s face it: I’m completely fascinated by the Dog Whisperer.

And I’m glad his message was broadcast firmly enough to get my (often divided) attention.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

5 Comments

  • Juanita Cooke says:

    Too bad there is not a Child Whisperer.The calm, assertive,dominance that works so well to turn a out of control, unbalanced pet into a well mannered, repectful companion should be an eye opener for parents of out of control kids. You needn’t yell at, punish or mistreat animal or human.This man speaks common sense. He is able to get his point across and change bad behaviors without being abusive.He gains respect and acceptable behavior by his methods. I really respect the man and his knowledge. I’m sure his children are respectful and well behaved too.

  • GoldcoastGirl says:

    I have a neighbor who started using the “tsh” noise that Mr. Millan makes, and her dog stops in his tracks at the sound of it! My dogs certainly don’t, though.

    Ernie, I just thought you may be interested to know that people all over the place are stumbling onto your site. I work for a software firm in California and was doing a search that led from safety websites to cartoon safety to your article on the Florida Safety Crab mascot. Intrigued, I continued surfing around your site. Very interesting! Keep up the insightful musings!

  • fp says:

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  • deltadiva says:

    I agree with you and the dog whisperer.

    I come from a long line of farmers and dairy people and although I didn’t grow up on a farm I spent many summers on my relatives’ farms. Animals like to know who is in charge and if their needs are sufficiently met they will work hard to please them. Mankind and the animal kingdom aren’t that different.

  • MAD says:

    Millan’s techniques are commendable, and effective. I have tried some of what he has recommended on my little fido, and it works. Sure, he preaches dominance, but a loving form of dominance, and then only for the purpose of properly “balancing” your dog’s life.