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?