13 March 2016

BEHAVIOUR - Cesar Millan Animal Cruelty Investigation Reignites Dog Training Debate

The investigation of self-proclaimed “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan for animal cruelty has sparked more debate in the animal behaviour and training community and beyond.

An incident on his show, Cesar 911, involving a dog that has attacked and killed pigs, and injury to a pig during the dog’s rehabilitation has raised questions about his methodology.

The situation has prompted the American Humane Association, who for 75 years has monitored the use of animals in film, to call on the entertainment industry to also allow them to monitor reality television shows to ensure the safety of animals.

The TV personality has come under fire before - with his approach to training criticized for its focus on negative reinforcement (punishment) and being too harsh. In 2012 Millan faced criticism after hanging a husky by his neck during training.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) appears to take a stance counter to Millan’s methods, saying, “Dog training and behavior modification strategies that rely primarily on misinterpretations of wolf behavior are irrelevant, ineffective and can lead to serious negative complications. The APDT's position is that physical or psychological intimidation hinders effective training and damages the relationship between humans and dogs.”

The APDT also supports the LIMA approach to behaviour modification and training – Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive. 

Others have taken exception to Millan branding himself as a dog behaviourist when he has no formal training.

In order to become a board certified veterinary behaviourist, one must obtain a veterinary degree then complete additional training, generally for at least three more years in a recognized program.

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the leading professional organization in North America for the study of animal behaviour, provides certification. Its requirements include a Masters Degree or PhD along with professional experience in order to obtain certification.

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants also requires different levels of education for certification by their organization.

So, if there are all these different certification options and associations, why is there such a huge debate over training methods and education?

The dog training and behaviour industry is unregulated.

There is no governing body that requires any level of experience or training for someone to be able to call him/herself a dog trainer or behaviourist.

Until there are regulations in the industry and standards everyone is required to meet, it is likely the debate about training methods and approaches to behaviour problems will rage on and posts praising Cesar Millan for turning a dog’s life around, and posts attacking his methods will continue.

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