On Dogs, Homework and Earth, Wind & Fire


It’s been a while. I think I’ll just jump in and start flailing...

BARK Magazine - vs - Cesar Millan

When we got our first Standard Poodle, Louise, rescued from the streets of Springfield MA back in 2003, she was aggressive to other dogs. We dropped her off at a trainer’s house, Sherrie, and after acclimatization to her behavior dogs and 5 days of work we had an ambassador. In fact, people were finding *our* number so that they could bring their puppies to Louise at the park for socialization.

We learned that dogs can change, so when Louise passed and we got Roscoe (raised as a pup, and now also ambassadorial) and Bessie (rescue, fearful, aggressive) we also got the myriad of books, saw trainers, and went to lecture after lecture on dog training. There were so many schools of thought, it was expensive, and our heads were spinning. But we persevered. We don’t have much money but we aren’t poor, so we thought it the least we could do rather than put this dog back out into the animal rescue system where, in all possibility, she’d be euthanized.

Then came The Dog Whisperer on TV, and we jumped on that bandwagon. Then we jumped off again as word came from the animal behavior community that his methods were medieval. BARK magazine took up the call and editorialized throughout their magazine, with respected behaviorists aboard, that the guy was a fraud, and basically destroying advances made in behavior training in the last 5 decades. Blanket condemnation. A true Kanye West move in the world of animal behavior.

There was a war on, and all we wanted was to make it so that Bessie didn’t try to eat Winnie, the neighbor’s chihuahua, and simultaneously pull our arms out of their sockets.

So, what to do? We still don’t know. And so many of the methods out there are so at odds to each other that the dog owner becomes their own behaviorist, candy-boxing what does and doesn’t work, and then feeling reprimanded for doing that. Hundreds of dollars later in books and trainers and there has been some change in Bessie’s (and our!) behavior, and so far the one thing I’m sure of is that while Cesar’s methods may be outdated - with the equivalent of Alpha rolls, flooding to get a dog used to a situation, backwards tap with the foot to break the dog’s concentration, etc - he was accessible. Most everyone else and their methods are not.

That’s a broad swipe, I know, and it might even seem apologist. You can take or leave his methods. However, so many people have no idea there is even such a thing as a professional dog behaviorist, much less a BARK magazine. And who are these “so many people”?

- People who bring home a dog for a birthday, Christmas. Surprise!! A sentient being you have no idea what to do with or how to take care of! Thanks Daddy!!

- People who mindlessly cage dogs all day outdoors - quick story on this one… do you know that there are rescue organizations who’s sole methodology is to cross state lines to “liberate” dogs inhumanely kept or caged? They cross state lines because the local laws make it harder to be pursued and prosecuted for theft if you are from out of state!!

- People who could never afford a dog trainer if they did know that they existed.

- People who have no idea what to do with dogs, period.

Oh, the list goes on. Getting a dog is easy. Keeping one healthily is not. You can laugh at those Sarah McLachlin commercials if you want to, but that stuff is the real deal. Animals get abandoned for so many reasons, and some of the root reasons would blow your mind.

I have an acquaintance, we’ll call her Mindy, that runs in the opposite direction I do on many mornings, so we pass and chat. A few years back she had gotten a Lab, we’ll call him Laddie, and he was a chewer, a little aggressive, guarded food resources, etc. but they just kept on with him. A year back we passed and I asked her how he was doing and she told me he had snapped at one of the kids and was not very good with other dogs. A few months back I asked again about him, and the tears were not the sun in her eyes because she was running east. They had him put down because he had finally bitten each of the kids - teenagers too boot - and she and her vet finally viewed at this animal as a lost cause. And this was a family of some means.

I watched a mess of his new show Cesar 911 recently on the National Geographic Channel (that’s weird in itself, right? I still so very much expect zebras galloping and topless African people eating strange ferns when the remote hits that channel…) and if that stuff he does is abusive, well then you didn’t grow up where I grew up and see what I saw folks do to “get a dog to behave”. Although it’s not his sole MO, Cesar got his start working with dogs that were surely red-lined enough behavior-wise that the only final option was ... you-know-what.

BARK, and the more formal animal behavior community - you have failed. No one knows that you exist or who you are. And that’s your fault.

I know who Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar, and Karen Pryor all are. Only because I have had the time to research, read, work with trainers. And I really do believe in positive reinforcement in working with animals - as it’s the one thing that most of these trainers and behaviorists can call a common through-line. And I get it that the Alpha roll has been widely decried as a method of working with dogs. Yet many modernist dog trainers hold dear the work done by behaviorists that watch wolves in the wild, where dominance and hierarchy are ever present. Oh for the love of Dog…

Make up your mind.

Make up your mind, positive reinforcement animal behavior community.
And then make yourself available.
Convince your ranks and the editors of the elitist doggie magazines, with their ads for custom collars and knit doggie hats, to legislate to make it harder for just anyone to own a dog. We can’t own goats or a horse here in Arlington MA, why should people who have no idea what to do with a dog even own a dog (and oh dear God, please don’t start talking to me about our freedoms)?
Give John and Janie Q public something to hang their dog-having sensibilities on. Lobby to bring back something akin to Patricia McConnell’s Public Radio program Calling All Pets. Yeah, in fact, scrod the magazine - get your own damned show.

Make up your mind. Your time is better spent in these magazines admitting how divergent and inaccessible you are. Let me help. Cut and paste this into your editorial page, or in your vet school newsletter:

“Whilst we do not fully condone all of the methods of the so-called Dog Whisperer, some of them being counter to our core ideas of positive reinforcement etc, we do fully realize his importance in the animal behavior community in:

1) giving the populace the opportunity to realize that dog behavior is actually an issue that can be addressed in the first place.
2) saving a certain number of last-chance, red-lined animals from certain euthanasia by something other than our most vaunted means.
3) the fact that a lot of what he does is not all Alpha-rolly and actually aligns with what we do."

Oh and Cesar, maybe you could invite other behaviorists to your program to show "another way". Don’t be such a hog. You’re saving dogs, right? Get outta the vacuum created by your head up your own dog-whispering ass. You might even find common ground, eke out some credibility, or at least start a conversation rather than condemnation.

Oh, and TV Producers? We’d certainly have viewpoints to choose from if there were a Dog Training Smackdown rather than that sickeningly cute Doggie Superbowl that’s on in January.

Look, I have been guilty of all of the school’s methods; Alpha rolling, of clicking that clicker, whistling, hand signaling, and treating like mad. And I haven’t landed anywhere squarely yet. But you can ask anyone that knows me and some that don't whether we take good care of our dogs. Particularly this one that needs that special attention - we do all we can to keep the wolf away from the door.

Pun fully intended.

Too Much Homework -

A neighbor, who’ll go nameless, when asked how his kids were, complained, “I mean, readin’, writin’, and 'rithmetic - you know - the essentials - I get that. But my kids, all they seem to do is homework. Some of it just seems like busywork to me…enough is enough…”

And no, I’m not worried about him seeing this.

Language Of The Oppressor -

Please help me understand something. When in discussion with a Hispanic person, and the conversation turns to the omnipresent “Why not learn English?” elephant in the room, and the answer becomes, at some point, the historical battlecry “Because Spanish is our language and English is the language of the oppressor”, why isn’t Spanish also considered the language of the oppressor? Look, I’m not looking to force someone into cussing me out in any of the languages of the Taino-Arawakan peoples of the past, but what is the statute of limitations on categorizing one group of people or another or their language as oppressive?

Hmmmm...Proto Wolf, Local Moron, Spanish, or Arawak. Apparently I’m the brainless dolt, as I have mastery of none of these…sigh..

Addendum ... I just noticed ... Earth Wind And Fire -

What do you think drives their tunes? Careful of my word usage here. Horns are ever present, Maurice's & Phillip’s voice are unmistakable, and Verdine White will go down as one of the most creative and grooving bass players to…well, ever…the vocal chorus hooks are otherworldly, even if the rest of the lyrics are often unintelligible, particularly when Maurice is singing (funny how you never see Maurice and D’Angelo at the same place at the same time..coincidence? I think not!!).

What drives these tunes is Al Mackay’s guitar. Period. It’s just there. And he plays left-handed guitar.

updated: 5 years ago