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Denial. Denial. Denial. People who don’t see abuse and torture when they are looking right at it are in denial. Denial is a very dangerous state of mind, it allows for all sorts of atrocities to go unchecked.

I thought about this when I read the always-on-top-of-current-dog-news Mary Haight’s new post: “Cesar, Abuse Is Not a Training Tool.” She includes a video to back up her argument. It’s a must read.

UPDATE (3/26/11): The video Mary Haight linked to has been taken down. However, you can find an extensive list of both articles and videos at Leah Roberts’ excellent site, Dog Willing.

Mary asks: “How can so many people, including professionals, watch him abuse, and yes, torture dogs, and think it’s okay?” This is a really important question that we need to deconstruct.

I took a crack at it the Bonfire of the Insanities: Dumbinance Strikes Again, a post that I wrote 16 months ago. It’s all about denial. You can read below.

It’s deja vu all over again. That’s what occurs to me lately when I reflect on the abusive treatment of dogs in the name of training.

In my previous life I founded Denver Safehouse for Battered Women and taught classes on violence against women at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Rapists don’t think they rape. They’re just have sex with a woman who really wants it anyway. Men who beat their wives aren’t committing felony assault, they’re just showing her who’s boss.

The perpetrators were not the only ones in denial. Our entire culture colluded with them.

Rape was just another name for sex, it wasn’t assault. Some scholars argued that rape was impossible. Not so many years ago in Colorado it was legal for a man to rape his wife because within marriage the law assumed that marriage was just another way of saying sex-on-demand.

Beating up one’s wife was an acceptable way for a man to manage his unruly woman. Police turned a blind eye to women beaten within a inch of their lives. I know this to be true because I was on the front lines at the beginning of the so-called battered women’s movement. Every place we turned to for help—police, social services, mental health—turned us away or gave the woman bad advice, namely, some version of “It’s for your own good.”

With both rape and battering people assumed “she was asking for it” and that it was “good for her.” As for the the man, well, he was just asserting his rightful superior role. And the few who said, well maybe he hit her a little too hard, quickly qualified their statement with “It wasn’t that bad. It didn’t really hurt. I mean he didn’t break any bones.” Sound familiar?

I know from that experience that changing the perceptions of a culture entrenched in denial is like trying to right a monster vessel adrift at sea. It’s slow going, but it can be done. And, it’s still a work-in-progress.

I am not equating rape and battering with kicking a dog. Actually, I just said that because I don’t want to offend people who might take offense at that analogy. In my heart of hearts, though, I see the abuse and torture of dogs in the name of training or behavior modification as criminal acts against sentient beings, and frankly I think those who commit those acts should be treated as criminals by the law.

We can be begin our rehabilitation by asking ourselves, those of us who see nothing wrong with kicking dogs for their own good: What would you lose if you saw CM kicking a dog as abuse, as the deliberate infliction of pain? What would change for you? How do you feel about that?

Bonfires of the Insanities: Duminance Strikes Again (Redux)

Dominance theory, or dumbinance theory as I prefer to call it, reared its howling head again, this time as a prescription for child rearing—“Becoming the Alpha Dog in Your Own Home.” (As of today, the most popular article in the NYT.) Meet Cesar Millan, the new no-nonsense nanny. Here. In the New York Times. Again. (In case you missed the last exercise in fawning over Millan by the national paper of record, go here.)

To mark this dubious occasion I decided to get out ye ol’ bellows and stir up some embers of thought ignited by thisbonfire of the insanities.

Insanity? You betcha. It’s downright crazy to look at one thing and see another, or not to see anything at all. Take dog poop. Poop is poop. Not chocolate puddin’. If you think poop is puddin’, you are in denial.  And, I don’t mean you’re cruising in a river in Egypt.

My aim here is to clear the smoke from our eyes so we can see what’s what, and stop convincing ourselves that that stuff we’re eatin’ is puddin’ and not poop. It’s poop!

Let’s begin with this quote from the Times article exhorting you to be the alpha dog in your own home, Cesar-style. It’s attributed to Allison Pearson, author of the novel “I Don’t Know How She Does It” about the pressures of contemporary motherhood. She said, “Unlike modern parents…dog trainers don’t think discipline equals being mean.”

Ah. Come again? Cesar Millan doesn’t dish out mean “discipline”? Is there more than one Cesar Millan? Did I miss something? I don’t think so. I’ll make a bold statement here. I am not crazy. Cesar ain’t dishing out puddin’.

Just to be fair, if Pearson was referring to the likes of Ian Dunbar or Karen Pryor or Pat Miller or Trish King, to name just a handful of excellent dog trainers who don’t think discipline equals being mean, I’m with her. They rely on thescience of behavior and research that shows, time and again, that putting your energy into positively reinforcing your dog for doing the behaviors that you like rather going on a search and destroy mission for the behaviors that you don’t like, not only gives you a well-mannered dog, or child for that matter, but a relationship based on trust, not fear.

But, given that the Times article was about Cesar Millan, presumably, that’s who Pearson was talking about. (Or, the author of the article, by leaving the reader to make her own inference, makes it appear Pearson was referring to Millan. Allison, who were you talking about?)

Am I saying that Cesar’s style of discipline is mean? In a word, yes. In fact, it’s beyond mean. It’s sometimes cruel and abusive. When Cesar forces a fearful dog-aggressive dog to confront his fear by bringing the dog face-to-face with another dog and then strangles the dog with a choke collar for struggling to get away, or for aggressing, that’smean. When Cesar drags a Saint Bernard who is fearful of stairs up a flight of stairs by the neck to get him over his fear of stairs, that’s mean. When he wraps a shock collar on a dog’s neck and shocks it to make it stop chasing the cat as the owner looks on, visibly shaken, that’s mean.

Do I think Millan thinks he’s being mean? No, I don’t. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t.

I think Cesar Millan is in denial about what he’s doing to dogs in the name of “discipline”. And, his placid demeanor enhances the delusion. Think about it. If he yelled in anger as he kicked, slapped, pushed, and choked dogs, we’d be appalled. We’d call the SPCA. We’d boycott National Geographic Channel and it’s advertisers.

Let me be clear. Millan does deserve credit for not flying into a rage when he disciplines a dog. For that he is a decent role model. Indeed, the first rule of dog training is Do not rage at your dog. If you are frustrated, or angry just stop interacting with your dog until you calm down. (Take note. This is good advice to follow with your child or your spouse or your friends.)

But unfortunately Millan’s self-styled calm-assertive veneer polishes the illusion that his discipline does good, not harm. Choking a dog into submission while remaining bucolic makes it appear as if the medicine is going down like, well, puddin’. Presumably if Millan is placid and not acting out of anger then he’s not hurting the dog either.

So when his disciples repeat and repeat, as if in a trance, Cesar says anything that works is okay as along as you don’t harm the dog, they’re in denial too. And when the National Geographic Channel and the New York Times further aids and abets this lunacy, we are entering the realm of collective consensual denial of harm.

But, hey, so what?

Here’s what. Denial scrambles reality. Denial allows us to do harm without recognizing our actions as harmful. Denial invites us to rationalize harm away.

Take blame the victim, for example, as in “he’s a red zone dog.” Cesar’s methods are all that will work. (Not true).

Or, minimization as in it’s not so bad. That’s a good one. I wonder if Bella, the American Bull Dog, would agree that it wasn’t so bad when Millan activated the electric collar he put on her to teach her not to guard her food. (For an excellent deconstruction of this episode of the Dog Whisperer go here.)

Denial also provides us with cover for not doing the right thing, for not taking a stand against harm.

We have a choice. We can clear the smoke from our eyes, point out poop when we see it and haul it away. Or, we can keep on chowin’ down the puddin’ around the bonfire of the insanities. What are you going to do?

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28 Responses to “Let’s Call Kicking a Dog What It Is: Abuse”

  1. hornblower says:

    Glad to see this video continues to get traction online. It’s been floating around for over a week, a previous upload of it disappeared off youtube…. but it popped up again & more and more people are commenting. Good.

    I wanted to talk about the calm discipline issue a bit. You know, there’s a whole ‘traditional parenting’ thing happening where severe punishments are meted out, spanking with tools such us wooden spoons and rubber hoses, and one of the mantras is that it must be done when the parent is calm and quite placid. I always imagine the parent having a sad little smile as they repeatedly hit their terrified and in pain child.

    I think there’s something odd about our approval for ‘discipline’ handed out in a calm way. I can understand a parent losing it, getting so frustrated and swatting their child on the bottom. I can understand how that would happen. No, it shouldn’t happen, but I can understand it.

    What I can’t understand is an adult taking the time to think about it and calmly saying – oh yes, I’m now going to inflict pain on you. That seems so much more wrong.

    In murder we discuss premeditation for a reason. I don’t see why it’s not an issue when the case is assault.

    BTW, I suspect the reason he (& the harsh parenting methods) are enjoying such popular support has lots to do with an evangelical resurgence. Messages of dominion over animals (& children) are very common in some religious circles so this approach fits into their hierarchical worldview.

    • Therese Malone says:

      “I wanted to talk about the calm discipline issue a bit……
      I think there’s something odd about our approval for ‘discipline’ handed out in a calm way. I can understand a parent losing it, getting so frustrated and swatting their child on the bottom. I can understand how that would happen. No, it shouldn’t happen, but I can understand it”

      I too have always had an issue with the ‘calm, assertive manner’ thing when punishment is being meted out by CM. Never really understood it….it smacks (pun intended) of being done in a calculated way. This is very, very scary as something done in such a deliberate fashion rarely has a cut-off point – so who is it really in ‘the red zone’?

      • I can understand the admonition to not rage at your dog and not interact with your dog when you’re upset with her or him. That’s the time to just give it a rest. But, I have to agree there is something creepy about a person meting out abuse on another being, dog or person, with a placid demeanor. Maybe if a person rages at someone else, as in your example, we feel we have a sense of where they are coming from emotionally, even if the behavior itself is unacceptable.

  2. The idea that a dog is able to differentiate between being taught a lesson versus being threatened when they are hit, kicked, choked or shocked is ridiculous, yet is routinely assumed.

  3. Mary Haight says:

    Glad my post inspired another – and one with so much “meat” to it;) Your background and comparison of women (and children’s) “place” in society vis-a-vis abuse, authorities looking the other way, etc., is a most appropriate analogy. That denial would continue to cause so much pain and anguish for our faithful loyal dogs is really beyond me. This show has been airing for close to ten years? Quick fixes like kicking, choking, shocking – that are *not* fixes at all – really do mark who we are as a culture. Ends justify means.

    Just a couple of years ago I had the idea that CM at least did some good things for pit bulls in danger of losing their lives. I don’t know how anyone could think that now, especially given the work of Bad Rap on the MV dogs. No choking, no electric shock, and will wonders never cease, a couple of therapy dogs and wonderful pets resulted. Imagine that – all without abuse applied as a “training method.”

    It’s so important to pass on this message, and keep reminding people many of whom are still so unwavering in their support and praise of CM they will not see the unacceptable treatment be meted out. Maybe one post one day will help them open their eyes.

    And I rather like the idea you mentioned of boycotting NatGeo’s advertisers…sounds like a movement that several of us could team up to keep in front of the public -maybe Change.org and BTC4Animals would be willing to help?

    • Hey Mary. Somehow your great comment ended up in my spam folder! Go figure.

      Your comment about pit bulls is a good reminder that even though he might have raised awareness about the breed, his so-called rehabilitation methods are so wrong–morally and technically. I used to think/say the same thing.

      Thank you for your inspiring post.

  4. Thank you so much for such a reasoned comment on what we all know as abuse. I have just circulated widely here in South Australia and hope that this message will continue to spread. Education I see as the key and with logical no nonsense analogies like yours I believe we will (eventually) break through. There are still battered women and children out there but at least now their plight is taken seriously. Having personal experience with abuse and having the intellect to “get out” before it happened again, I feel so much for those poor four legged friends of ours who don’t have that option.

  5. JK Anderson says:

    On my facebook, I posted the link to “Cesar, Abuse Is Not a Training Tool”. I hoped it would help explain to my friends why I was apposed to his training methods. I would like to propose a boycott of Petco. Their training methods no longer allow that kind of training, but they promote Cesar’s books, toys, collars, food, and even fortified water. He even has his very own section at Petco. If we could avoid shopping for pet supplies when they could be found elsewhere and when we must go to Petco, let the manager and clerks know we do most of our other shopping somewhere else, because we are opposed to the promotion of Cesar and let them know why. Thank you for your blog, I’m loving it. I found you from the feed from Dog Star Daily. I’m looking forward to part 3, Ian Dunbar’s SBDT “(with feeling)”

  6. David Collinson says:

    There are abusive dog trainers, but Cesar Milan is not one of them. To equate holding onto a lead with strangling, or foot taps with kicking, is bizarre. Can you tell me what humane society or police force has taken action against Milan for his treatment of dogs? Surely the evidence of abuse, if that is what it is, is readily available. Or do those hundreds of hours of tape simply showing a man using non-cruel, non-harmful techniques to help dogs, who might otherwise be put to sleep, instead learn to adjust to their home environment and help their owners make that environment acceptable? Hysterical references to battered wives and children are entirely inappropriate. Shame on all of those who are slandering a man who does so much good work.

    • Adam says:

      Cesar Millans methods are not “non-harmful”, in fact they are far from it.
      I made this point on Mary Haights blog about the subject and will re publish it here again for educational purposes.

      Many of the behaviours our good friend CM tackles can be dealt with without confrontation or this completely misplaced notion of dominance. He DOES subject dogs, and indeed, many other animals to severely stressful situations with his use of ‘flooding’ that by today’s standard of treating behavioural issues should never be used.

      Lets not forget the overwhelmingly obvious use of violence too in ‘controlling’ a dog that he provokes into a response in this video posted on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQUegRGo0kw He first places the dog in a volatile situation, gives a kick to illicit a reaction and then proceeds to choke the life out of it whilst the dog is fighting for its life. The dog then collapses and our mate CM tells the camera that the dog is now submissive and calm. How about, the dog passed out from asphyxiation? That would be far closer to the truth.

      Positive methods can be used to tackle almost every situation and that includes aggression. Suggested read here would be, Click to Calm by Emma Parsons.

      Please also see this scientific paper on the use of positive methods over dominance in obedience training. http://www.azs.no/artikler/art_training_methods.pdf

      I would also suggest reading the following blog that helps to outline the origins of the domestic dog and can help you understand why pack leadership is misplaced in an animal that does not use this structure historically. http://darrennaish.blogspot.com/2006/10/controversial-origins-of-domestic-dog.html


      Oh, and to suggest a reason why nothing has been done about his obvious abuse on animals. I think you’ll find that he has a pretty decent legal team that helps him stay in the public eye as a good trainer. “Here, have some money Humane Society to leave Mr Millan alone.” or something like that.

      • Anthony Holcomb says:

        I watched this youtube video. I see a dog who is redirecting on the human handler (cesar) not a dog who is being choked. I see Cesar simply using the leash to protect himself from the dog who actually did make contact biting him not a person who is choking a dog. Your rhetoric and propaganda is silly. Cesar uses tons and tons of positive R!!

        • Surely we must be watching different videos. Or, we see VERY different things going on. Which, is, in part, my point. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to view the video any longer as it’s been removed. Again.

          • Anthony Holcomb says:

            I clicked right on the link provided above and it came right up. We are watching the same thing!! Right away the dog redirects on Cesar, he uses the leash to protect himself. Your simply interpreting somthing different to push the agenda. Cesar’s cloths were torn and skin broken due to the dogs redirection. After awhile the dog exhaust himself and gives up. Immediately Cesar relaxes the leash. This is not choking a dog out. All you see is Cesar holding the leash in the air protecting himself from a large Malamute who is clearly try to bite him and in fact did and because of this you claim he’s choking the dog, When in fact he is, like I said, protecting himself. Dog trainers need to come together and find a common ground. Again, we are watching the same thing!! :)

            • We are going to have to agree to disagree. We might be watching the same thing, but we are seeing entirely different things. And, as I said, that is my point. Many CM fans don’t see what to me and many other is obviously abuse, or at best, totally misreading the dog’s stress signals, or noticing them and in the face of them continuing to use aversives on the dog. I find this absolutely unacceptable.

              I’m not sure what video you are referring to, but the one embedded on Dancing Dog Blog is down. However, there are a slue of videos of CM abusing dogs. You can find them here: http://dogwilling.weebly.com/tv-trainers—dont-try-this-at-home.html

              • Anthony holcomb says:

                Im referring to the video Adam posted at the beginning of this thread. The youtube clip. The Malamute. I will look at these videos on the link you posted. You need to take a clear look at the video im referring to.
                Cesar has become to big now. Spend your energy helping those you can with the methods you choose. This is the land of choice and people should be allowed to choose. There is more than one way to train and reward a dog. As well as punish. Not everyone in the world wants to feed or bribe there dog to train them. Just as well as not everyone wants to use aversives. There are people out there that want what you have to offer and then others who want cesars leadership ways. The are many different ways to train a dog and no one superior way over another. I have seen dogs trained both ways at highly competitive levels. Both dogs looked happy and placed well.
                Just keep in mind that not every dog in the world is food motivated and how humane is it really to starve your dog just to motivate them for training?
                In case your wondering I use all the quadrants and keep a very open mind when it comes to training a dog or behavior modification. Like food, aversives have there place in the dog training world. Its knowing when and how to apply them. Positive reinforcement is great. Dont get me wrong, I use it, but but a well timed correction never hurt anyone or dog for that matter.
                This debate can go on forever, thanks for taking the time to share your points on what you feel cruel is, but if that was really the case, Cesar would not still be on tv.
                Take care

                • Well, as I said, we’ll just have to agree to disagree about many things. I don’t have the time or inclination to rehash things I’ve already said in this post and others. As for your last comment, I don’t believe that. I do contend that many of the things, not all, that Cesar does are cruel and just plain wrong-headed and he’s still on TV. Being on TV has only to do with how much money he brings in for NG.

  7. Kayla says:

    Your idiotic post make me sad. It is unfortunate that you use your past domestic violence to capture peoples attention because it just furthers the myths going on around. Pathetic is more like it. As someone who is currently working in the field, front lines are all around me I have to let you know how ashamed I am to be in the same field as you The advice you give is beyond old school, and majorly useless. YOU continue the domestic violence circle with the advice and crap you put out on this blog. “oh its everyone else fault” “oh society won’t help” “Oh I am such a victim” Just don’t interact with people if you are raging- not at all what domestic violence and or any type of assault is not about rage it is about power and control, oh wait that would mean you would have to admit Cesar has some sort of control over the dog. You put any progress women had made back 50 years with this post. Ridiculous.
    By the way, just so you know Ms. Haight adors with one of the most medically abusive trainers I have ever seen in my life. If your dog shows any sort of issue, put a pill down it’s throat. Frankly their understanding of basic science and positive reinforcement is 7th grade level at best, but hey, putting your dog into a medically induced stupor till they bite someone with no warning signs, that is so much better for society.

    • No need to feel ashamed, I’m not longer in ‘the field.’ You say: “Just don’t interact with people if your are raging…” Have you considered taking your own advice?

    • Trish says:

      No Kayla, your post makes you sad. Yes abuse of any kind, is about control and power and in this case it would appear that CM is using unsuitable methods to control and dominate the dogs. His relationship with the dogs is destructive and unnecessary when far better methods are available. Therefore he may be viewed as an abusive trainer. If this offends anyone then they need to consider why they cling to his methods and why they are not prepared to listen to other points of view. In my opinion any trainer who seeks fame and fortune out of their ‘profession’ should be very carefully evaluated on the true nature of their methods and behaviour.

  8. Susan Mann says:

    Wonderful post! I find it so appalling that people cannot see clearly what CM is doing to many/most of the dogs he trains. There was some talk about him meeting with Dunbar and a few others, we were hoping he would be influenced to modify his training methods, but haven’t heard anything in quite a while, so don’t think it happened, or if it did, it didn’t dent his enthusiasm for using violence in his “training.” Of course, the very things that make his training so bad are what makes for “good” TV, and watching a truly good trainer work sub-threshold, never get bit or attacked, is not likely to attract TV viewers.

  9. Pup Fan says:

    Well said. A really thoughtful post – I’ll be sharing it.

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