Pup links!

Red Aussie puppy. Click for source.

Great dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Dogs in the Workplace. Happy Bring Your Dog to Work day! While my office would frown on dogs in our space, I think Pyrrha would actually do pretty well here, particularly since I have a very quiet department. Did you bring your dog to work? Would you, if your office allowed it? (Pawsh magazine)

Travel 101: Prepping Your Pooch. I found this list of travel preparations from Vanessa–who recently made a cross-country move with her family and dog, Rufus–very helpful. I’m taking a 5-hour trip with Pyrrha in July to visit my parents and many of these tips were really helpful and insightful. Also: Doesn’t Rufus’ travel hammock look so cozy? Now that’s how I want to travel on my next road trip! (The Rufus Way)

No Party Zone. Do you avoid having house guests because of your reactive dog? Kristine shares some thoughts and a recent near-encounter with their future landlord. (Rescued Insanity)

Couldn’t Have Been a Lab; They Don’t Bite. Katie reflects on the dangerous precedent we set by breed stereotyping. Just because a dog is a lab doesn’t mean that it’s incapable of biting or showing aggression toward people. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

Bye-bye, Cesar Millan. Animal rights advocate and professor Marc Bekoff celebrates the news that Cesar Millan’s TV show “The Dog Whisperer” is being cancelled. I for one am glad to hear it. What do you think about it? (The Hydrant)

Stay Away from “Stay” with Fearful Dogs. This is an interesting perspective from a dog trainer who believes that teaching a shy dog to “stay” could actually ratchet up their anxiety levels. Makes sense to me. I’ve been trying to teach it to Pyrrha, and it does actually make her way more nervous than other commands. Maybe we’ll get there eventually. (My Smart Puppy)

Ebon’s Training History. A sweet post charting the evolution of training for a dog over the course of his life. It’s interesting to think about how our dogs change with us as we grow up. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Lessons Learned from Dogs: Morgan and Kuster. Tales and Tails is doing a really sweet series on what she’s learned from her four dogs. Here are the stories from the two more difficult dogs of her pack, the German shepherds. Very heartwarming and well written. (Tales and Tails)

Innovative Ideas: Helping the Homeless and Shelter Dogs. Discussion of a program in San Francisco that would pair homeless youth with shelter dogs. Sounds like a really great idea; looking forward to hearing more about it. (The Bark blog)

Animal Love. Just some pretty, dreamy photos of animals collected by one of my favorite lifestyle/design bloggers. (Miss Moss)

Superdog Lova. Great, playful photographs of this high-energy spaniel. Very sweet. (Ulicam)

Thoughts about Cesar Millan

Cesar's Way, by Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier

Self-proclaimed “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan is arguably America’s most well-known dog trainer, thanks in large part to his TV show, “The Dog Whisperer,” on the National Geographic Channel. I have watched his show many times myself, interested in seeing how this well-known man was purportedly rehabilitating problem dogs.

When I started my project of researching dogs, many people told me that I should read Cesar Millan’s books and watch his show. I see dog owners making that “pssh” sound and poking their dogs in the side like Millan does on his show. The general dog-owning public seems very fond of Millan and his methods.

But I’ll be honest. Based on what I had seen from his show, I was reluctant to read his books. This is because I didn’t really see Millan as a trainer. I couldn’t divine what his actual training techniques were, apart from physical corrections and murky statements about “calm, assertive energy.”

Having started my dog research among other positive training books, I quickly realized that Millan is not held in high regard among behaviorists and positive trainers. The more I watched his show, the more I realized that they were right. Millan, while well intentioned, advocates negative reinforcement and physical punishment techniques to an untrained general public.

I decided to read Cesar’s Way because I felt that I should at least read what he had to say before I completely dismissed him. My friend Liz gave me a copy of his book. I read it quickly, as it was not difficult to get through.

On the whole, I was impressed with Millan’s rags-to-riches story. He came to America as an undocumented immigrant and worked his way up from a car washer to a dog trainer. He got his big break when he was picked up by Jada Pinkett Smith, who sought his help in rehabilitating the family rottweilers. It is a nice story and as the reader, you are pulling for him to succeed and beat the odds. He certainly did.

The one other thing I liked about this book was Millan’s emphasis on exercise. Americans themselves don’t exercise nearly enough, and so it’s a no-brainer that our dogs probably aren’t getting any exercise, either. Cesar’s Way devotes a whole chapter to the importance of “The Walk” and the daily communion with your dog outdoors. I am a huge proponent of this idea and the notion of walking your dog being a time of companionship and communication certainly resonated with me.

Cesar Millan and Tony Cardenas at the League of CA Cities 2010 Conference & CA Latino Caucus

Source: Flickr, user gocardenas

But my admiration for Millan’s training recommendations ended there.

One of my main issues with Millan’s philosophy is that he is constantly comparing dogs in America to dogs in Mexico. Dogs in Mexico roamed free in packs, leash-less, without any training. I don’t deny that that sounds like an ideal life for any dog, but that kind of lifestyle is simply not feasible for canines in 21st-century America. We have leash laws. Dogs need to be neutered. They need to be trained how to walk on streets and greet people in public. Millan’s Dog Psychology Center in California is a nice idea, but it is thoroughly unhelpful to anyone who doesn’t live with a roaming pack of 30 dogs (which I imagine is most people). It’s nice that he’s able to make the dogs get along in a massive pack, but that is not how those dogs will be living on a daily basis when they get back home. Trying to make American dogs into Mexican dogs is not the solution. But that is what it seems that Millan keeps trying to do.

My second issue with Millan is his unabashed use and promotion of negative reinforcement training and physical punishments. In Cesar’s Way, he acknowledges that he is unpopular among positive trainers for his reliance on these dated methods, but he insists that they are effective. He even devotes a section of the book that recommends doing an “alpha roll” on a dominant dog, which absolutely floored me. I thought this medieval form of punishment had disappeared in the dark ages of dog training, but apparently not. This is one of the real dangers of Millan’s popularity, in my opinion. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, famed veterinarian and writer, had this to say about Cesar Millan:

Cesar Millan’s methods are based on flooding and punishment. The results, though immediate, will be only transitory. His methods are misguided, outmoded, in some cases dangerous, and often inhumane. You would not want to be a dog under his sphere of influence. The sad thing is that the public does not recognize the error of his ways. My college thinks it is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Behavioral Clinic at Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Another issue I have with Millan is his reliance on the old-fashioned paradigm of dominance and pack mentality. Millan would have us believe that our dogs are out to get us and always looking for an opportunity to usurp us. I simply don’t believe this is true, and I’m not the only one. Cognitive researcher and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin wrote directly about how Millan’s techniques are outdated and simply wrong in her book Animals Make Us Human. Dogs do not live in packs, Grandin points out, and it’s a misinformed way to think about a dog’s social unit. Rather, like wolves, dogs live in families where parents care for the pups in a partnership. Treating dogs like they are obsessed with dominance is a grave injustice to our canine companions. For more on this, I highly recommend an article published in 2006 in the New York Times by author Mark Derr, “Pack of Lies.”

The good thing I will say about Millan is that he has been successful in raising awareness of how we have failed our dogs in training and teaching. The bad thing is that the methods he advocates are archaic, cruel, and generally unhelpful to most people. But don’t just take my word for it: See a collection of qualified opinions about how we need to move away from this “Dog Whisperer” at the website Beyond Cesar Millan.

What do you think about Cesar Millan? Is he awesome? Overrated? Misunderstood?

Review: The Dog Whisperer

The Dog Whisperer, by Paul Owens

No, it’s not Cesar Millan. This is Paul Owens, who called himself “The Dog Whisperer” five years before Millan’s show appeared on the National Geographic Channel. Liz (Bo‘s mom) lent me this book and said that she’d read it before she brought Bo home.

Paul Owens wants to be the yogi for your dog training. He’s a positive reinforcement trainer who believes very strongly in Eastern principles of breathing, meditation, and holistic health treatments. I thought it was certainly an interesting approach to dog training. Aside from his breathing exercises, though, Owens doesn’t offer a lot of new information in the way of positive training. I agreed with most of what he said, but I think I’d be more inclined to rely on Pat Miller‘s straightforward and helpful training guide for my own dog.

One thing that Owens does talk a lot about is that you should never speak soothingly to or try to comfort a frightened dog. A lot of dog training books tell you this. But is it actually true? Can trying to comfort your frightened dog actually reinforce her fear? Patricia McConnell, my all-things-dog hero, wrote an insightful article on her blog, “You Can’t Reinforce Fear: Dogs and Thunderstorms,” about this very issue. I tend to trust McConnell’s word on this one. She has a Ph.D. and is an applied animal behaviorist and she has the science to back up her experience. Even though Owens is also qualified, I’m inclined to listen to McConnell on this one. I highly recommend her article and its follow-up companion on the issue to anyone who’s received this advice before.

I did enjoy Owens’ section on what we feed our dogs. Dog food is something I’ve been doing a considerable amount of research about. It’s not something that I know about and I was astounded at how complex the dog food industry can be. There are a lot of different opinions floating around about what to feed our dogs, but the general consensus is that most brands of widely available dog food are absolutely terrible. I’ve really enjoyed the content on this extremely helpful website, Dog Food Advisor. I’ve already been researching the different types of kibble that I’d feed my dog and it’s been an extremely helpful place to start.

I’m curious to hear from you on this one. How did you decide what kind of food to feed your dog? Did you ever make any changes? Since I don’t know if I’d try a raw diet right away, is there a particular brand that you would recommend?