I just sent a letter to Merial titled "Please don't promote Cesar Millan's controversial training techniques."
This was in response to an email my veterinarian, Dr. Susan Harrington of the Randolph Animal Hospital, forwarded to me. It was the latest promotion from Merial for their "Frontline"® and "HeartGard"® products. The trouble was, it was cross-promoting Cesar Millan, his "The Dog Whisperer" television show, and his behavior and training video. We'd just discussed the problems we'd been seeing crop up when well-meaning dog owners attempt to use Cesar Millan's techniques on their own dogs, and Sue had asked me to provide some information to help her educate her clients as to why "dominance-based" training was not the way to go when training their dogs.
At the same time, I heard about the Merial promotion through the positive trainers' grapevine. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior had already written a letter to Dr. Scott Line, a veterinary behaviorist working for Merial. You can see their letter here: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=90029578219&ref=mf
So here's the text of the email I sent.
I'm one of Merial's customers, in that I purchase both Frontline and Heartgard through my local veterinarian.
I am also a Certified Pet Dog Trainer who works with pet dogs and their owners to address behavior problems from a simple lack of manners to aggression.
As a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I get asked a lot of non-behavior-related questions, including recommendations for flea, tick, and heartworm prevention problems. Since I use Frontline and Heartgard myself, those are what I recommend to clients and friends.
So I'm deeply disturbed to hear that Merial's latest promotion for these products will also be promoting Cesar Millan's misguided, controversial, and sometimes even abusive training techniques for modifying the behavior of pet dogs.
More than once, I've had to patch up a relationship between dog and owner that was damaged when a well-intentioned owner tried to apply techniques they saw on "The Dog Whisperer" to their own dog. In some cases the use of those techniques led directly to aggression and a bite to the owner.
Please reconsider your company's support of Cesar Millan and his television show.
There are many well-known veterinarians, dog trainers, and behavior consultants who have spoken out against the techniques used on "The Dog Whisperer" since its inception.
The average pet owner (and apparently Mr. Millan himself) see a "calm, obedient dog" after Mr. Millan has applied some of his "training" techniques. But to a person such as myself who has a trained and educated eye for canine communication and behavior, that dog looks like one who's "shut down" and suffering from "learned helplessness."
Some of the abusive techniques I've seen on "The Dog Whisperer" include:
Choking off a dog's air by twisting the collar while holding the dog's front feet off the floor
Using "flooding" (forcing the animal to face its fear by dragging it into the midst of what it's afraid of, be that a car or a linoleum floor) - a technique that can increase anxiety-based behavior problems and even create Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the dog
The "alpha roll" (which supposedly creates "calm submission" but in actuality causes the animal to literally struggle for its life -- in canine society the only time one canine rolls another on its back is when it intends to eviscerate it -- before giving up in "learned helplessness" and a brain chemistry state akin to severe depression in humans)
I've seen first-hand the damage to relationships between dogs and owners this show and Cesar Millan's techniques (combined with the "authority" granted by his celebrity status) have caused.
Please do not add to the fear, intimidation, and pain dogs suffer in the name of "training" by dog "experts" who promote outmoded ideas such as dominance, "alpha rolls," and the use of punishment as a "humane" way to teach dogs. Or to the confusion of dog owners who are told by the media that such techniques are proper techniques to use with their beloved pets.
Please cancel your contracts with Mr. Millan and design a promotional campaign that will be as good for pet dogs and their owners as it will be for Merial.
Please ask your veterinarian to write to Merial criticizing their cross-promotion of Cesar Millan. Below is some more information that you can use to educate your vet if he/she doesn't understand your concerns about the dangers of the technique promoted by Cesar Millan on "The Dog Whisperer."
The AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) has issued position statements on Dominance and also on Punishment, both of which pertain to "The Dog Whisperer:" http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=80&Itemid=366
Other info on "dominance" and the use of punishment as being detrimental to dogs and dog behavior:
"Diamonds in the Ruff" http://www.diamondsintheruff.com/whisperer.html
Doggone Safe: Wolf Pack/Dominance Myth http://doggonesafe.blogspot.com/2009/04/wolf-packdominance-myth.html
Articles from the ClickerSolutions email list: http://www.clickersolutions.com/articles/index.htm#dominance
And an excellent article by Morgan Specter: "Moving Beyond the Dominance Myth: Towards an Understanding of Training as Partnership" http://www.4pawsu.com/MOVING%20BEYOND%20THE%20DOMINANCE%20MYTH.pdf
Cesar Millan talks a lot about leadership. His words are good. But his actions promote a forceful, dictatorial kind of leadership. I much prefer a good relationship that's like that of dance partners, where there's a certain amount of give-and-take (and a lot of joy) but that the human partner leads the dance. Good dance leaders certainly don't use fear or intimidation or force of any kind when leading their partner through the dance steps!