Cesar Millan Crosses the Line Again

A pig-killing dog leaves the Dog Whisperer gasping for air.

Posted Mar 09, 2016

[IMPORTANT UPDATE, March 11: Last night NBC News, Channel 4, in Southern California reported that L. A. County animal control officers and sheriff's deputies had opened an investigation of Cesar Millan for animal cruelty for the attack on the pig in the February 26 episode of Cesar 911.  In defending Millan, NatGeo WILD issued additional footage of the dog's "rehabilitation."   The story has gone global. Here is the Channel 4 clip.]

[Note: The video clip of the Cesar 911 episode to which this posting refers appears to have been removed from public viewing on YouTube.  A partial clip and commentary can be found here.]

On March 7, staff writer Christian Cotroneo reported for The Dodo, the website devoted to “the love of animals” on Cesar Millan’s “worst dog-training idea, ever,”  that is, a particularly demented plan to reform a pig-killing French bulldog by giving him a “positive memory” with pigs upon which he can build a less lethal relationship with all other life forms.  Millan, the self-proclaimed dog whisperer who has attained cult status by showing hapless dog owners how to become “pack leaders” by giving their animals “discipline” before “affection,” has raised the hackles of serious animal behaviorists and dog trainers even before his program first aired on the National Geographic channel in 2003.  Since then he has become a one-man conglomerate, with spin-off television programs, a magazine, best-selling books, and a hugely successful website. 

Mark Derr
Source: Mark Derr

But all along, he has had his critics, including me, as most readers of this blog know.  In 2006, I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times criticizing Millan’s approach to training and his antiquated view of dominance hierarchies.  Other critiques have followed, including a number of essays by my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff and protests from the leading animal behaviorists in the country.  Criticism of Millan routinely draws vitriolic, sometimes threatening, responses from his followers.

The current controversy surrounding Milllan focuses on an episode from his new program Cesar 911, in which he addresses problem cases. The clip was posted on You Tube on February 25 and has raised a ruckus in social media said Cotroneo in his response to the show. (A noted above, the clips have largely been removed from public view.) In the episode, Millan puts a pig-killing French bulldog into a fenced training area stocked with pigs with the intent that he will learn not to attack but to love pigs.  While on a long line—an extended lead—held by Millan, the dog seems fine, but when his human companion unlooses him on Millan’s order, Simon turns demonic.  He rips one pig’s ear.  He escapes Millan’s desperate lunges—“I’ve got it,” the dog whisperer says at one point.  At another, as Millan tumbles to the ground gasping for air, he mutters, “This is teaching.”

But what is taught and what is learned?  Certainly the best learning outcome would be for National Geographic to take a stand for dogs, pigs, and other animals and remove Cesar Millan from the air until he reforms his act.