In April 2012 I wrote an essay called "Did Cesar Millan Have to Hang the Husky?" that has received more than 58,000 hits and has generated 159 comments to date. My essay began: Because of what I do, I'm always getting emails about the latest information on animal cognition and animal emotions and also on animal abuse. I usually receive reports or videos of abuse in research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and rodeos or on factory farms but from time to time people ask me questions about dog training. Last year I received a video showing Cesar Millan (aka the "dog whisperer") hanging a husky who was ill behaved. This treatment of a sentient being named Shadow sickened me and I soon discovered that many others also were horrified by this so-called "training" session. (For further discussion please see Psychology Today writer Mark Derr's essay called Pack of Lies.)
I also wrote, "Indeed, Shadow was put in his place [by being strung up] and this degree of trauma likely will have a long term effect as does any other abuse to which an individual is exposed, intentional (as in this case) or unintentional. We know that dogs and other animals suffer from long-term depression and PTSD after being traumatized and training techniques that cause trauma shouldn't be sanctioned and should be strongly opposed."
So, how did this sort of abusive treatment affect Shadow? As predicted, and as no surprise, Shadow was severely traumatized. Just today someone sent me a note called "A Cesar Millan Story" from the woman who first adopted Shadow and who able to get him back after he was strung up and put in his place by Mr. Millan. After being strung up Shadow bit the woman with whom he was then living when she was punishing him for getting into her vegetable garden.
Shadow's original rescuer writes, "I found out that the scene where he bites Cesar they had been working him up for an hour before they got that clip, turns out it is all about the show and not the dog. They deliberately bait the dogs to get them to react. We did contact the producers and I think they persuaded the woman to give Shadow back to the rescue, as she was determined to not give him back to us, she even refused to talk to the lady that runs the malamute rescue."
Fortunately, Shadow has recovered from his abusive treatment.
Quick-fix training techniques based on severe intimidation and various forms of psychological and physical abuse need to be removed from training protocols and our objections to these methods need to be louder than mere whispers behind closed doors. Shadow's saga, his very sad story, forces us to think about who we are, who they (other animals) are, and how we must treat them.
Dogs expect us to treat them with dignity and respect, and when they become challenging and try our patience, we must never ever forget that they are sentient beings who thoroughly depend on our goodwill. It's a dirty double-cross to intentionally abuse them and commit them to a life of fear. It's a betrayal of their trust that we will always have their best interests in mind. It also demeans us.
The hearts of our companion animals, like our own hearts, are fragile, so we must be gentle with them. Let's openly and graciously thank them for who they are, for their unfiltered love, and embrace their lessons in passion, compassion, empathy, devotion, respect, and love. Surely, we will never have any regrets by doing so, and much pure joy will come our way as we clear the path for deep and rich reciprocal relationships based on immutable trust with our companions and all other beings. Elliot Katz, founder of In Defense of Animals, suggests we drop the word "training" and start using the word "teaching." Training often becomes synonymous with "breaking." Training should not mean breaking their fragile hearts. Shadow is a very lucky dog.