In Which We Whisper to The Dog Whisperer

Saturdays can be so boring. That’s why we’re pleased to announce our editor-in-chief will be blogging every sabbath about emerging trends and people. Now you won’t have to be bored if you’re not a college football fan. Hallelujah.

Dog Wars

by Alex Carnevale

If you watch television and film, you see all manner of assertive, confident people. You rarely meet the meek ones.

Cesar Millan doesn’t train dogs, he trains people.

Even though they’re supposed to eventually inherit the earth, the meek ones go on living. They work jobs, they go home. They don’t yell at anybody, they don’t diss a proud American woman on their tumblr, and they don’t whine about their iPhones. They just exist. They watch American Idol. They raise children quietly, helping them when they can.

These folks depend on the kindness of others not for sustenance, but to make their lives a little more pleasurable. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being this kind of person. But you may not be as good with dogs as say…


While the rest of the dog training world focuses on making your dogs more like the meek, Cesar brings the pack mentality to daily life.

He is willing to stretch his pack metaphor to his wife, who is named Illusion purely for my own entertainment, and to his children, who he sometimes treats as he would a dog on his own show. To raise a dog that both has good behavior and loves you is easier than raising a child with those characteristics.

We are far too buddy-buddy with our children. When you are as rich as the characters on your favorite sitcom, you can afford to be flip. When you grow up in the hood or on a farm, the stakes are higher.

Cesar’s approach is that you must be the leader of the pack, and the rest will follow. Aided by his trusty pitbull Daddy – quite clearly the happiest dog in the free world – Millan goes into homes and explains whatever bad behavior is going on using this metaphor.

Cesar’s training methods aren’t universally admired:

There is a quiet battle being fought in dog-training circles, and Dunbar, though he didn’t pick the fight, represents one side. The mild, very mannered Dunbar is armed with degrees and scientific study: a veterinary degree and a Special Honors in physiology and biochemistry from the Royal Veterinary College of London University, a doctorate in animal behavior from the psychology department of UC Berkeley and a decade of research on the olfactory communication, social behavior and aggression in domestic dogs. All this, plus decades of dog-training experience.

The return to dominance training such as Millan’s, Dunbar says, is a disservice to dogs more than anything else. Though Millan gets results, Dunbar notes that most people don’t have Millan’s strength or skill, and even fewer keep dozens of dogs. “I teach methods that a supervised 4-year-old can use,” Dunbar says. Having been called as a witness in high-profile Bay Area bite trials – he was one of a team who evaluated one of the dogs involved in the deadly attack on Diane Whipple in 2001 – he is all too familiar with the violent underbelly of dog aggression. Fear, he underscores, doesn’t train a reliable dog.

Claudia Kawczynska, editor of Bark magazine, is one of Dunbar’s many fans. “It’s irritating to see Millan treated as the expert. Ian is an animal behaviorist with decades of experience,” she says, “He should be where Millan is.” Kawczynska likens the Millan cult of personality and popularity to the anti-science, anti-academic sentiment she sees prevalent in American culture and politics. “Millan lived on a farm, so what? He’s good looking, but he’s not smart about dogs. It seems people don’t want their experts to be educated.”

Daddy and Cesar

Daddy helps dogs that visit the Dog Psychology Center – parked bizarrely in the South Central section of Los Angeles. Daddy is a nice dog, always willing to sniff the appropriate ass. Millan himself has an incredible story. Like many of our best Americans, he entered this country illegally.

Cesar’s use of his own physical prowess was described by someone as boring as Malcolm Gladwell, who somehow managed to glorify a dog trainer into a 10,000 word article. Fortunately, he gets the good deets:

“He’s beautifully organized intra-physically,” Karen Bradley, who heads the graduate dance program at the University of Maryland, said when she first saw tapes of Cesar in action. “That lower-unit organization—I wonder whether he was a soccer player.”

When Cesar was twenty-one, he travelled from his home town to Tijuana, and a “coyote” took him across the border, for a hundred dollars. They waited in a hole, up to their chests in water, and then ran over the mudflats, through a junk yard, and across a freeway. A taxi took him to San Diego. After a month on the streets, grimy and dirty, he walked into a dog-grooming salon and got a job, working with the difficult cases and sleeping in the offices at night. He moved to Los Angeles, and took a day job detailing limousines while he ran his dog-psychology business out of a white Chevy Astrovan. When he was twenty-three, he fell in love with an American girl named Illusion. She was seventeen, small, dark, and very beautiful. A year later, they got married.

“Cesar was a machoistic, egocentric person who thought the world revolved around him,” Illusion recalled, of their first few years together.” His view was that marriage was where a man tells a woman what to do. Never give affection. Never give compassion or understanding. Marriage is about keeping the man happy, and that’s where it ends.”

Early in their marriage, Illusion got sick, and was in the hospital for three weeks. “Cesar visited once, for less than two hours,” she said. “I thought to myself, This relationship is not working out. He just wanted to be with his dogs.” They had a new baby, and no money. They separated. Illusion told Cesar that she would divorce him if he didn’t get into therapy. He agreed, reluctantly. “The therapist’s name was Wilma,” Illusion went on. “”She was a strong African-American woman. She said, ‘You want your wife to take care of you, to clean the house. Well, she wants something, too. She wants your affection and love.'” Illusion remembers Cesar scribbling furiously on a pad. “He wrote that down. He said, ‘That’s it! It’s like the dogs. They need exercise, discipline, and affection.'” Illusion laughed. “I looked at him, upset, because why the hell are you talking about your dogs when you should be talking about us?”

“I was fighting it,” Cesar said. “Two women against me, blah, blah, blah. I had to get rid of the fight in my mind. That was very difficult. But that’s when the light bulb came on. Women have their own psychology.”

Cesar truly is one balanced mofo, until a dog starts really misbehaving. Then he starts tssting the hell out of them and grabbing them by the collar and rssting, which he refers to “the way their mother grabs them.” Usually the dogs look more surprised than submissive.

“I teach owners how to practice exercise, discipline and then affection, which allows dogs to be in a calm, submissive state,” he explains when asked to clarify. “Most owners in America only practice affection, affection, affection, which does not create a balanced dog.

“Training,” says Millan, “only teaches the dogs how to obey commands – sit, roll over – it does not have anything to do with dog psychology.”

james herriot

“He has nice dog skills, but from a scientific point of view, what he says is, well … different,” says Dunbar. “Heaven forbid if anyone else tries his methods, because a lot of what he does is not without danger.” “Don’t try this at home” messages are flashed throughout the show, and in September, the American Humane Association requested that the National Geographic Channel stop the show immediately, citing Millan’s training tactics as “inhumane, outdated and improper.”

Writer Mark Derr, in a recent New York Times editorial, went as far as to call Millan a “charming, one-man wrecking ball directed at 40 years of progress in understanding and shaping dog behavior.

We’d suggest Mark Derr is wasting his energy ripping the wrong person. For the people that Cesar meets, they generally grow to love and respect him. Hell, Cartman’s mom even thought they were friends.

Cesar might as well be asking them, “What don’t you like about yourself?” because for most of the people he helps, he’s fixing them. Sure, sometimes Cesar heads out to a farm to spay a ferocious feral dog, but mostly he teaches poodles to get off the bed.

I think Cesar is a good man, but sometimes this dude gets in a room and just has no idea what the fuck to do, so he just starts ad-libbing. He has done things with dogs in small rooms that just make absolutely no sense, and then the show cuts to him explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing. The people who have the troubled dog are like, “whatever, when can we visit him, 3 months?”

Dogs are a lot of work, which is why I cringe whenever someone is like, “I want a puppy like on the site with the LOLcats!!!” I personally think it’s weird to have a dog in New York City. If I was a dog I wouldn’t want to live in New York City, so I don’t have a dog.

People don’t care about their dogs. If you’re a good dog owner, you need to monitor your dog’s behavior, and you absolutely need to say Tsst to that fucking dog every time it does something you don’t like. This is the brilliant philosophy of Cesar Millan.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He blogs here and here.

“Bitch” – The Vaselines (mp3)

“No Hope” – The Vaselines (mp3)

“Oliver Twisted” – The Vaselines (mp3)

“The Day I Was A Horse” – The Vaselines (mp3)


The King Of Comedy

Jayne Mansfield

Photosets Galore


4 thoughts on “In Which We Whisper to The Dog Whisperer

  1. I am glad you at least included Ian Dunbar in this piece as he is actually where its at. The positive reenforcement method he helped develop would not make for good television because it is time and energy consuming, but it works, without the use of choke collars (which can cause long term damage to a dog’s esophagus and/or trachea) or some of that other inhumane crap Cesar Milan uses. People want a quick fix and thats why the Dog Whisperer is so popular. There may be a few decent tools in Milan’s toolbox but he is such a TOOL himself, I usually can’t stomach watching a full episode anymore.
    This Recording still gives me the vapors even if we do disagree on dog behavior theory.

  2. “If you watch television and film, you see all manner of assertive, confident people. You rarely meet the meek ones…”

    Writing is the famous profession for meek people.

  3. “some of that other inhumane crap Cesar Milan uses.”

    This is the problem with North American dog lovers and some trainers. Dogs are NOT human. They don’t know who James Herriot or Cesar Millan is, nor do they care. They shouldn’t be treated like “humans” because that is not what they are. Have you ever seen how a mother dog responds to a badly behaving pup? They don’t sit down and reason with them, making sure they give “positive reinforcement.”

    I for one am glad that we are returning to more dominant techniques. Dog training has been overrun by overly sensitive wimps who worry about hurting the dogs feelings.

  4. you are all full off crap cesar has great techniches i watch all his shows and I myself admire the man so what if hes from mexico and his center is not all that nice atleast hes dogs are happy and it show he takes care of them

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