The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, has built a media empire on his ability to tame and train the most incorrigible of canines. Millions watch his show on National Geographic each week to see the charismatic star teach hapless owners to cure barking, jumping, aggression and fear in dogs.
But could his forceful methods be ineffective, even dangerous? Some think so. There is a growing backlash against Mr. Millan from dog-behaviour experts and dog owners who fear that he could bring punitive training back in vogue, despite long-established evidence that positive, reward-based training works.
“It was a surprise to a lot of dog trainers to suddenly see this very old-style training, and to find that it caught on so quickly,” said Stanley Coren, psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of several books about dogs, including How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind and The Intelligence of Dogs.
There’s no denying that Mr. Millan and his techniques make great television. Every episode of The Dog Whisperer features Mr. Millan swooping into the home of someone with a misbehaving dog, camera crews in tow. He certainly seems to have a magic touch – a few firm “tsch!” sounds and leash tugs from Mr. Millan and the former devil-dogs trot placidly to his side, gazing angelically at their stunned owners. The real entertainment value of the show is watching Mr. Millan teach those owners how to become, in his words, “pack leader,” dominant over their own dogs.
“I rehabilitate dogs,” Mr. Millan says in the voice-over before every show. “I train humans.”