“Alpha” retired; “Dominance” debunked
People around town are constantly asking me, in a humorous tone of course, “Are you the Florida Dog Whisperer?” This happens particularly often when I’m getting out of my vehicle, as it is wrapped with the company logo and a huge “ZEN” across the side. I generally answer with a quick, “no, not me,” or “you got the wrong guy,” since the obvious reference is to Cesar Millan, a huge star no doubt, but someone who has a much different philosophy on dog training than my own.
Millan is hugely popular and very charismatic, which is why people are drawn to him. He claims to “train people and rehabilitate dogs,” by being “leader of the pack.” But, instead of “whispering” to them, what he is really doing is coercing the dogs into calm submission by extensive exercise, discipline, and then affection. While none of this is especially bad for dogs, the manner in which it is done, is bad for dogs.
Cesar claims that there are only two positions in a relationship with your dog, leader or follower. And with that, in the blink of an eye (along with a hit television show) he brought back the long retired “alpha” and “dominance” theories that have been debunked for around 30 years. These theories were replaced with kinder, gentler, and more science driven techniques, known as positive dog training, which are still used by the majority of reputable dog trainers today, as well as backed by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the American Kennel Club, and others.
I know everybody must be up in arms now, because it appears I am attacking a beloved figure in American culture, as well as a belief system of sorts. Before you start sending me hate mail and death threats, let’s discuss the history behind dog training, and the true science behind it. Tune in next week as we begin the discussion with a history lesson.