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Veterinarians React: Cesar Millan vs Dog Daddy

I recently had a "discussion" on the comment section of a TikTok video I had posted, questioning my audience as to whether Cesar Millan could cross over. This discussion was stemmed from Zak George's post asking Cesar whether his new TV series would show this.

Zak George call to action for Cesar Millan

Many laypeople and general practicing veterinarians would say, but Cesar Millan had that TV show on the air for a decade? Surely he is not abusing animals? Dr. T from TikTok even recommended his methods for 'curing' separation anxiety.

Let's get to the core features of this discussion.

#1 above all, Veterinarians should always advocate for Animal Welfare.

Within the animal welfare statements includes the Freedom from Fear and Distress. The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare were initially developed with farm animals in mind, but that does not mean that pet dogs are excluded from the basic welfare needs of animals.

Compulsion trainers use a technique called flooding. Imagine you have a fear of snakes. A therapist says to you, in order to get over your fear of snakes, we will put you in a pit of snakes until you no longer react. Tomorrow, we will do it again. Again and again. The biggest difference between a therapist using flooding as a technique for you to get over your fears and these outdated dog training techniques is called consent. YOU the human get to consent to the treatment.

In compulsion dog training, the dog never consents to this type of therapy.

A known neurophysiological response to extreme fear, when you cannot flee or fight, is the freeze response, which in humans is the equivalent of dissociation.

Dissociation is a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. 1

In human psychology, this would be deemed trauma related dissociation. Can I also say this is what rape victims have also experienced? While being raped, because they could not flee, they couldn't fight, they freeze and then dissociate. These victims are also in a position where they did not give consent. I realize this is an extreme example. I even asked my husband if this was too much. I just really wanted to get this point across. Some behaviorists will call this freeze response learned helplessness. This behaviour can very easily be misinterpreted as habituation (Sarrafchi et al 2022) while the emotions behind the behaviour are not addressed. Applying force to an innocent being, whether it is a child or a dog, causes trauma. Children of abusive upbringings can attest to this as they work through the PTSD during their adulthood, if they make it there.

When the Dog Daddy is stringing a dog up and the dog is screaming in fear, and he acknowledges that the dog is fearful, but continues to do it anyway... while also trying to justify his methods... is wrong.

#2 Veterinarians are held accountable by other Veterinarians.

All veterinarians will have a scope of practice, and the general practitioner is the equivalent of your family physician. Occasionally, your family physician will perform minor procedures and prescribe medications for mental health, but when there is a major medical problem, an orthopedic surgical issue or severe mental health issue, your primary care physician will refer you to a specialist. There are currently 22 recognized veterinary specialties in North America.

Within this list of veterinary specialties falls the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. On their website, they have a link for Veterinarians on their recommendations on how to select a dog trainer.

When a veterinarian gets a client-patient pair in their office. If the presenting complaint is a behaviour problem, let's say urination in the house, we first do a medical work up to determine if this is a medical issue.

When it comes to true behaviour problems, fear, anxiety and frustration are often the emotional responses that are occurring around these 'problem' behaviours. Some are nuisance behaviours due to poor antecedent arrangement. For example, a dog that steals food off the counters. Dogs are naturally opportunistic, so if you don't want your dog to steal the food off the counter, don't leave it there.

But let's say a dog is lunging, barking and snapping while on the leash. Without any other history or context, you cannot tell what emotions are behind that behaviour. Is the dog doing this to go towards the target? Is the dog doing this to get the target to move away? Then ask yourself, is the intensity of this behaviour normal in that context for that trigger? Then ask yourself, how long does it take the dog to recover after the incident?

Now tell me your primary care veterinarian has at least half an hour to delve into the learning experiences and history of training for that patient and then come up with a detailed treatment plan that includes behaviour modification, environmental management plus-minus medications? Some will! Some are great, but some veterinarians would rather talk about your dog's ear infection than a behaviour problem that you are having. So, your veterinarian may refer you to a dog trainer.

Who your veterinarian refers you to is important.

I use Veterinary Dentistry as an example. Twenty years ago (early 2000's) it was standard practice to have your dog's teeth cleaned and have the mobile teeth or those with deep pockets extracted without intraoral radiographs.

Now, the American Veterinary Dental College advocates for full-mouth intraoral dental radiographs before and after extraction of teeth.

AVDC statement on radiographs

If and when a veterinarian has a board complaint from a pet owner who had a dental procedure and afterward the pet falls ill, a board certified veterinary dentist will be asked to review the medical records. If that veterinarian did not perform pre and post-extraction radiographs that veterinarian could be held accountable by their governing board.

Now, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists recommend to refer to certified professionals. So you, the veterinarian who is reading this, if you have a behaviour case and you refer outside of a board certified veterinary behaviorist, you better have a close look at what credentials that individual holds. Ask yourself, would my state DACVB refer this case to that dog trainer?

From the ACVB:

You will want to interview trainers with whom you are going to affiliate. You can prescreen trainers to interview by selecting those with a certification from an organization that espouses scientifically based, humane training techniques, such as CPDT, IAABC or KPA.

Find a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who have had their knowledge assessed (CPDT-KA)

Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (IAABC) can be found here

If you do not recommend a certified professional, despite the behaviour specialists suggesting to do so, you also discount all of the hard work that these professionals have put in to acquiring their certifications!

As Dr. Amy Pike, DVM, DACVB said "you have to have a license to cut hair for the love of God but you don't... have to have a license to actually train a dog" (see recent YouTube and Podcast by Sara Ondrako).

#3 Being a Celebrity does not mean you are immune to Animal Cruelty Laws.

I discussed compulsion trainers recently. The thing is, I am not the only veterinarian who has taken a stance against The Dog Daddy.

ACVB Statement Against Dog Daddy

Punishment based training methods were predominant in the training of military dogs in the early 1900's. Yes, a lot of those methods are still used in the military and law enforcement today. Proponents of punishment and aversive training methods believe that it works better or that 'high-drive' dogs require a heavier hand. When we know that kindness and positive reinforcement work better for children with developmental disabilities, why would we choose to do otherwise? When we know that dogs respond extremely well to positive reinforcement, including the common police dog called a German Shepherd Dog, and Belgian Malinois who is highly biddable, why would we choose otherwise?

See Dr. Em's YouTube: on the Dog Daddy and on Cesar Millan

The Dog Daddy is essentially the grand-baby to Cesar Millan. Sorry Cesar, I know you're not that old, do you want him to be your son instead?

Cesar Millan as the Dog Daddy's Daddy

I do not mean this in a literal sense, I mean it in the descent of learning. Just as you have a professor in college that you really looked up to. When you hear the Dog Daddy's methods (pssstt is the same sound of the tool called a pet corrector which is a "blast of pressurized air" that is meant to deter a dog from performing 'bad' behaviours) that matches Cesar Millan's style psstt. For a young and impressionable entrepreneurial immigrant with no formal education, Cesar provided a guide to success for the young people who grew up with animals. And people will pay you for it.

Celebrity Dog Trainers are not the same as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Life experience is not a replacement for formal education, sorry Gen Z.

The problem with uncertified dog trainers becoming celebrities is that they perpetuate punishment and dominance as their main central ideologies. Then members of the public who are ignorant, lacking the knowledge of learning theory, see the number of followers or years on TV as confirmation of reliability, validity and 'evidence-based' method for training their pet dogs at home. How many people jumped at 'vaccines cause autism' when celebrity Jenny McCarthy said it did? (FYI, thus far the only thing that is currently linked to autism is older fathers).

I am constantly learning every day. I question myself and my behaviours every day. Sometimes bad things happen that are out of our control, like how Cesar's dog allegedly killed Queen Latifah's dog. I highly doubt Cesar had any control over his dog's mental state at the time. Just like he didn't have control over the dog attacking the pigs. There is an innate releasing mechanism for instinctual behaviours that we have yet to fully understand. Most of these dog owners are taken aback or surprised when this happens as some of these dogs have zero history of 'releasing' this innate behaviour. I'm not saying Cesar Millan is a bad person and I really hold hope that he will comment to Zak George's call on aligning his methods with the scientific community.

AVSAB position statement against punishment Cesar 911 TV Show

If Cesar Millan cannot get on record saying that his previous methods were unwarranted and dominance theory has been debunked, we will continue to see dog trainers like those charged last August at Cypress Arrow dog training. There really is only one dog hanging degree of separation between those dog trainers that have been charged for animal cruelty and the Dog Daddy. If we do not have celebrity dog trainers to advocate for animal welfare, we are just standing over here on our soap boxes yelling into the wind. Those with a larger audience should be using their social media influence to challenge these outdated antics. Without this, the media and social media clicks will continue to manifest more Dog Daddy's of the training world. Are you picking up what I'm putting down? Cesar, come tell us that you disown the Dog Daddy as your (grand)son, please. Wouldn't it be glorious to see Cesar Millan vs the Dog Daddy, or is it just me?

The final question is: Can prior dominance theory advocates cross-over to kinder methods?

The answer is yes!

The researcher (Dr. Mech) who studied wolves in captivity later came out to say he had the structure of a wolf pack wrong. Wolf packs were not structured through dominance hierarchy with an alpha male 'fighting' to be the Top Dog. We also know now that a dog is not trying to dominate a human. The relationship between humans and their dogs is through attachment, just as children attach with their parents. Children who grow up with a secure attachment are more likely to maintain healthy relationships when they go through social maturity. Children who received corporal punishment and insecure attachment with their maternal figure were more likely to be aggressive or anxious; notably, maternal 'warmth' was not enough to counteract the punishment. Confidence in our children and dogs is built through secure attachment; the attachment figure is there to support, guide and comfort the youngster as they navigate and learn in their environment.

Many certified dog trainers started out training with aversive methods. Many of which have crossed-over from the 'balanced' dog training world to using more antecedent arrangements, setting the dog-human pairs up for success, using positive reinforcement and if the pair is not progressing, instead of adding punishers like shock collars or prong collars, asking themselves, what am I doing or not doing that this dog cannot be successful? Then, if they are still struggling, to set their ego aside, and refer these cases to a certified dog behaviour consultant or veterinary behaviorist. Many human parents have done the same, moving from 'disciplinary' punishment based interactions with their children to a gentler and kinder approach.

The positive reinforcement portion of dog training actually entered on the heels of marine mammal trainers and zookeepers who work with no tether to their animal learners. Try asking a tiger to lay down using the Dog Daddy's techniques.

In the mid-2000's I started working as a zookeeper. My first behaviour modification subjects were the spider monkeys. I initially got trained on the South American route and the head keeper at the time used intimidation with a water hose to scare the monkeys into their indoor enclosure. One of the monkeys was easy to move because he loved interacting with his keepers, the other monkey didn't. The head keeper's method was negative reinforcement. They would not take away spraying of the hose until the monkeys shifted. Now, this method never worked for me. Both from the perspective of the intensity of the water spraying had to increase, but it was also time consuming to try to intimidate them to shift. Imagine me running around a chain-linked fence with a hose and the monkeys running behind a tree, not getting sprayed, like some sort of cat-mouse game. I quickly gave up and devised a new plan of earning the female monkey's trust. Once I determined an environmental set up that the female monkey was ok with, it was very easy for her to shift using grapes as a reinforcer for shifting. The key component to my success was antecedent arrangement - which is the VERY first step in a behaviour modification plan (see the Humane Hierarchy on IAABC). I locked the male in one compartment of the indoor housing, and then asked the female to shift. She trusted that I would not fully lock her into the indoor housing with the male. With that trust, coercion was unnecessary, and the hose was used for what it was meant for - to clean the floor.

I tell this story because people can grow and learn through their experiences. What did we learn from the dog attacking pig incident? The dog was not set up for success (nor were the pigs). The dog learns that I will get punished - if and only if I am close to this human, so be faster. Dogs will learn avoidant behaviours of the humans that are supposed to be their secure attachment figures when these humans use punishment. How many of your dogs jump on the counter - when you are not in the room - but NEVER do it when you are in the room because "they know better"?

When you know better, do better.

When you know better, do better



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