By Daniel Stevens and Martin Olliver
A "Dog Whisperer" could suggest many things: a disciple of Dr. Doolittle, a horse whisperer gone to the dogs, or a mystical "dog man" from Mexico. It could be the name of a revolutionary new dog training method, or a scrupulously clever marketing campaign. In actuality, it could be a little bit of all of the above.
"Dog Whispering" has hit the media spotlight recently with the television series featuring Cesar Millan. Millan has astounded dog owners all over the States with his uncanny ability to solve all sorts of dog behavior problems. He has been profiled in the New Yorker and has appeared on Oprah (twice).
Any time something floods the mainstream, it gets questioned and put into check by skeptics. It gets criticized or even dismissed by voices in the field. This is a necessary process. We need to direct a critical eye at all the hype.
But the momentum of a pop culture craze is also a great opportunity to give some closer attention to the topic. In this case, the media darling of dog training offers a great opportunity to clear up some confusion and spread the latest ideas in the dog training world.
Let's start by clearing up two misconceptions:
Misconception #1: Dog Whispering started with Cesar Millan
Dog whispering did NOT start with Cesar Millan. Cesar Millan is "a" dog whisperer, who has a show called "The Dog Whisperer." Dog whispering is a training method, or more accurately, it is a training philosophy that incorporates a lot of different methods and techniques.
The tag "whisperer" is a metaphor that suggests a "natural ability" with something. It has been used to refer to a "natural" ability to communicate with anything from a ferret to a V8 engine. Others have adopted or been given the tag of Dog Whisperer and written books under that phrase, including Paul Owens, John Richardson, and the late Steve Fryer.
(That said, Cesar Millan is a genuine article, and he has a lot to offer dogs, dog trainers, and dog owners. We like Cesar).
Misconception #2: Dog Whispering is the best approach because it is the most gentle and humane
Dog whispering is humane. But the belief that dog whispering is best way to train your dog because it is the most "gentle" is not quite right. Much of the effectiveness of the method depends on establishing dominance, and making your dog aware at all the right moments that you are comfortably in charge and in control as pack leader. Accomplishing this typically involves reminding your dog through firm, physical gestures.
So yes, dog whispering methods ARE gentle compared to hitting your dog with a shovel, but actually more forceful (and effective) than getting your dog to do something by stuffing them full of hotdogs.
Even though you use physical force to establish dominance, you never act in a way that is violent or aggressive or potentially harmful to the animal. At the same time, dog whispering reminds us that dogs are not children and they feel more secure with a clear idea of a pack leader they can trust.
All in all, even though it takes a healthy investment of your time, the ideas of dog whispering are well worth thinking about
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