Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What bullies do

It had to happen. I'm just surprised it didn't happen sooner.

Last week, a group of animal behavior organizations issued a statement that criticized the use of aversives in dog training--specifically citing trainer Cesar Millan as a proponent of such use--and invited him to comment on the statement. Mr. Millan's "comment" came the very next day: his representatives demanded immediate retraction of the statement. They also warned the organizations that failure to do so would put those organizations at risk for being sued by Mr. Millan for libel and for threatening his business.

With the money he's earned from his books, magazine, DVD's and other enterprises, Mr. Millan probably has unlimited funds--or at least very deep pockets--with which to wage a legal battle. And because the organizations' statement originated from a United Kingdom website, he's also got the advantage of waging such a battle where the laws heavily favor libel complainants.

As far as I know, none of the organizations has publicly revealed how they will respond. Some, particularly those with healthy treasuries, may choose to call the Dog Whisperer's bluff. Others, especially those who lack such resources, may choose to exit the battlefield. Those in the latter category may feel as though they've been blackmailed into keeping silent, even though they have the expertise and scientific research to clearly demonstrate that they are in the right. They may feel they have no choice to do anything but withdraw, because to do otherwise would jeopardize their very survival.

This is what bullies do. They threaten people or groups in ways that jeopardize the well-being of those people or groups. The fact that those who are threatened--in other words, the defendants--are in the right doesn't matter. Even if those defendants were ultimately exonerated in a court of law, many would understandably decide that bankruptcy is too high a price to pay for such exoneration. And that's not even taking into account the emotional stress involved when a plaintiff with unlimited funds decides to take aim at one or more defendants that lack such resources.

I've seen first hand--and on more than one occasion--how well-heeled bullies get their way with those who are attempting to do the right thing. I've witnessed the anguish that objects of such bullying tactics endure. Where once I'd have urged those defendants to fight, now I know better. If my only weapon were a water pistol and someone aimed a cannon at me, I wouldn't bother firing my water pistol. I'd get off the field of battle pronto. Anyone who says they'd do otherwise either has more weaponry than the bully does, or simply doesn't understand.

It's hard to walk away from a battle when you know you're in the right. Sometimes, though, walking away is a matter of self-preservation. Sometimes it's better to retreat and regroup--and do so with the knowledge that there's always another day, another time and another place.


Anonymous said...

"Last week, a group of animal behavior organizations issued a statement that criticized the use of aversives in dog training--specifically citing trainer Cesar Millan as a proponent of such use--and invited him to comment on the statement."


You are mischaracterizing the press release, which repeated spurious and disproven lies and slurs against Cesar and was specifically timed to interfere with his planned UK speaking tour and create a climate of ill will toward him before his visit. In America we call that a tort - interference with someone's ability to do business. And it is actionable. In addition, many of the statements in the release are lies based on oft-repeated myths about Cesar that began even before his first show aired 6 years ago. In both the UK and America, that's called liable.

THAT is what bullies do - try and turn an audience against a man before they have had a chance to see and hear for themselves what his actual - not rumored - message is.

FALSE: The release issued no such "invitation to comment." In fact, Mr. Millan has repeatedly offered to meet with some of these groups to allay their misconceptions. They have either refused or not responded. Let's hope they do open the doors to respectful dialogue in the future.

It's easier to remain convinced of your own rightness when you don't even open your mind to another point of view.

You say, "It's hard to walk away from a fight when you're in the right."

That's precisely the reason Mr. Millan's attorneys have stopped taking this kind of slander lying down. Expressing one's opinion of Mr. Millan's methods (which are myriad, by the way - there is no "one dog fits all" approach - and include positive reinforcement techniques) is one thing - trying to back that opinion up with lies dressed up as fact is another. None of the position papers in the addendum are peer reviewed scientific studies that definitively prove one method better than another. That's because, as far as our research has shown, there aren't any.

Who is really the bully here? Mr. Millan has never, ever spoken ill of another colleague, even those who have furthered their own careers by bashing him. He and his organization work tirelessly with over 350 shelters across America to keep dogs alive that would otherwise be euthanized because of ill-informed owners. And those "unlimited resources" you claim Mr. Millan has? A significant percentage of nearly all his business endeavors goes to his non-profit foundation, which gives the money directly back to the shelters that desperately need it.

The bullying here comes from those who adhere with religious fervor to a "positive only" philosophy of behavior modification, and refuse to acknowledge that this simplistic "one size fits all" approach does not always save animals' lives.

- An insider fed up with the demonization of a man who cares deeply about animals

Susan said...

I would have liked to have known what your name is so that I could respond directly to you. Email me directly -- you can find my addy pretty easily -- and I will be happy to engage in, as you call it, "respectful dialogue."

joyce kesling, CDBC said...

I too would be interested in knowing who the responder is...leaves one questioning "who is the bully" here, the person now responding in an attempt to further redirect well documented abusive treatment of dogs on a national television show free speech allows, at least here in the United States!

It would be interesting to see Mr. Millan engage in a discussion with persons like Nicholas Dodman, Andrew Leuscher, Pat McConnell, Sophia Yin and other professionals with backgrounds in animal behavior, if not specifically dogs and foundation in learning theory.

Joyce Kesling, CDBC
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant

EmilyS said...

can we get a link to that statement so we can judge for ourselves?

Susan said...

Here it is:


joyce kesling, CDBC said...


Thanks for providing the link for the position statement...i was unaware of this one.

Is this something I can also cross post to my blog (position statement), i might also want to include a link to your blog.

I glanced through a couple of their papers, well written 8-)

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the "respectful dialogue" to this video would be?

The Husky dog was not being reactive at all until Cesar unmistakably KICKED him just about five seconds in in order to provoke a response. Then the Husky appeared to me to be fighting/struggling to breathe while being hung up by Cesar. Then when the Husky goes to the ground in a state I will leave to veterinarians to describe, Cesar thinks it's all because the dog submitted to him.

I do believe that Cesar cares deeply and is sincere in his belief that what he is doing is the right thing. I just think that he couldn't be further from the truth.

Susan said...

Joyce, feel free to link to my blog; I've already linked to yours :) As far as I know, linking to the position statement is okay, too, although I have no ties at all to any of the organizations who signed on to it.

And to the anonymous poster who wonders how to have a respectful dialogue in light of the video that she posted the link to, I take your point. I was trying to show respect and courtesy to the initial anonymous poster. I'll confess here and now that I did not look at your video. I was sure that I would find it unbearable to watch.

Pai said...

My god, that video clip is appalling. I guess a dog is being 'dominant' because it has the GALL to fight to breathe and defend itself!

PBurns said...

This post mostly gets it wrong, as the anonymous poster correctly points out.

For the record, I was sent a link to >> http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org/ by one of the people who helped put it together. I found it to be a naked smear job on Cesar Millan, cobbled together by people and groups looking for publicity and unable to raise money or gain enough attention for their own "click and treat" puppy training campaigns.

My missive back to the person who sent me the link was that "I will NOT not support this campaign and I question its intent. Not even Bob Bailey is a pure 'click and treat' trainer, and he's the man who invented the technique!"

Let us be clear here: the bullys here are these U.K. groups who have contrived a crisis and then cold-cocked Millan by suggesting he is doing something he is not.

Millan is NOT training puppies, nor is he training a little Chinese Crested (Pai's breed of choice), nor is he abusing dogs.

Do you know what people with adult dog-aggressive dogs are told by most dog trainers? They are told that their dog has a "genetic problem" and needs to be put down.

Cesar does not. And he proves, again and again, that he is right.

I am glad Millan is threatening to sue, as he has certainly been libeled and defamed. I will say as much in the article I will be writing for a U.K. dog magazine in the next few days.

The simple truth is that there are a LOT of ways to train a dog. William Koehler's methods work, as do Ian Dunbars. Ditto for Victoria Stillwell, Barbara Woodhouse, Tamar Geller, Cesar Millan, and almost all the rest.

ALL of these folks have trained a lot of dogs successfully, and anyone who tells you differently is a liar.

Most of these folks are training puppies or dogs without serious problems, however. Do all of them know what to do with a large dog-aggressive adult dog? They do not. That is not a dog they want to tackle -- some of them will suggest a one way trip to the vets office instead.

To be clear, the attack on Cesar is NOT because his methods do not work or because he is harming dogs in any way. This attack on Millan is simply a marketing ploy by trainers and philosophers who are in the sales business and who want to sell their method of training and get on TV themselves, but can find too few takers. Others are in the direct mail business. At least one is in the business of selling defective, diseased and deformed dogs.

I find it a laugh riot that anyone thinks aversives are a horror. Really? Is there anyone reading this who does not train their own children with "aversives?" Is there any job site that does not use "aversives?" Is there any society that does not use aversives to force compliant behavior? What, you have never gotten a speeding ticket? Never been towed? Never been put in a corner when bad as a child? Never lost your car privileges as a teenager? Never had a cross word with your boss?

Does anyone reading this actually own more than one dog? You see, dogs do not "click and treat." They play, they bark, they use body position, and YES they put in their teeth at times in order to punctuate their paragraphs.

Oh! My! God! That dog is using an "aversive." Quick, someone call the professional animal behaviorists to lecture that is NOT to be done.


Pawsy said...

A good behavioural trainer does not need to physically manhandle a dog to rehabilitate it.

A good behavioural trainer has a large 'toolbox' of knowledge and methods at their disposal before they have to lower themselves to pinch, poke, prod, pin down or otherwise physically correct a dog.

A good behavioural trainer knows that a fearful dog tucks it's tail between it's legs and that raising it's tail for it will not make a ha'porth of difference as it was not the act of tucking its tail between its legs that made it fearful in the first place! It was the circumstances!

Such ignorance amazes me in a person claiming to be a professional and I find it sadly indicative of a society all too ready to punish and manhandle in order to control.

Be gone little man and take the APBC up on their kind offer of showing you how to do it properly if you want to continue as a dog 'psychologist'.

Donald McCaig said...

Some years ago I was on a three way conference call/interview with WIlliam Wharton, "Birdy" and Vicki Hearne "Adam's Task". Wharton who was, I gathered, a "positive" trainer berated Vicki, who used modified Koehler methods, as an"animal abuser." Vicki said, "In my state, sir, animal abuse is a felony. Are you accusing me of committing a felony? If so, are you aware of our slander laws ?

I always thought that was a pretty good answer.

Donald McCaig

Susan said...

Berating anyone in a conference call is never okay.

And Mr. McCaig, your "Nop" books make me cry (in a good way).

Pai said...

I think most people do not have a problem with 'aversives' per se, the issue with many of Cesar's techniques is that they are often over the top and completely inappropriate -- like the case of the video linked here of the Husky mix he clearly kicks and then strangles for no apparent purpose... I'm not sure what the dog was expected to 'learn' from that exercise. To me, such a 'technique' being labeled simply 'aversive training' on the same level as a leash correction, is completely ridiculous. Cesar doesn't go that far in EVERY case, but he does it enough that people have a very understandable problem with it.

Anonymous said...

Susan's writing about "what bullies do" is a stunningly beautiful example of what the best writing does -- inform, entertain, engage, cause the reader to think, debate, argue, laugh and/or cry. Several respondents think this post is an attack on a popular dog trainer's methods. Maybe, but Susan has elevated a blog post here from simply a whimsical thought to something much more. She has taken a situation -- perhaps Mr. Milan, perhaps not -- and used it to tell a much larger, more important story. That is good writing. We should all be so courageous.
L. Rehkopf

snickdog said...

To the initial 'Anonymous' poster -- did we read the same press release? I did not read of any "spurious and/or disproven (which is not a word, btw) lies and slurs against Cesar". What I read was "Aversive training techniques, which have been seen to be used by Cesar Millan." Just saying... techniques that the man has been SEEN using (on video, no less).

I have watched nearly all of the programs at one time or another, and in just about every one, he uses aversive training techniques - some of them he 'hides', like the time he hid the remote control for the shock collar he slipped on the dog (Why would he hide this if it was a good thing, something everyone could benefit from?). You can find most of his videos on-line through various services, and if you watch them, with a behavioral eye toward what 'aversive' means, you will see this yourself. By the way, aversive is defined thus: "adj. Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus, as in techniques of behavior modification." Basically, anything the animal will work to avoid is an aversive. Because of the time frame he works in, Mr. Millan can do no more than suppress behavior, and behavior suppression is not a long term solution, as evidenced by many articles in well-known newspapers relaying accounts of Mr. Millan's 'successes' -- including one who went on to have its canine teeth removed because the owner could not continue to 'suppress' the dog's behavior(by the way, the definition of 'suppress' is "To put an end to forcibly; subdue" -- the word 'forcibly' is key here, as 'force' is a commonly used aversive method).

If you want to talk about the law, in the US you cannot sue for libel (not "liable"), slander or defamation of character unless you can prove that the things being said aren't true. Think about it -- for YEARS, ever since Dr. Andrew Luescher, DVM, was first given the initial tapes to review by the National Geographic Channel before the show aired, all of the major veterinary and veterinary behavior organizations have stated -- in PRINT, and in recorded interviews, exactly the same thing that this press release has stated. And, Mr. Millan has not sued them -- can you tell me why?

He's got a ton of people HERE to go after: Dr. Andrew Luescher, Dr. Nick Dodman, Dr. Sophia Yin, the entire AVSAB just to name a few... could it be that the above names have scientific fact on their side, proving that these methods can create more harm than the supposed good they do, and that even 'hard' dogs can be trained without them? Or, did he just wait until now because the defamation laws in the UK are extremely lax?

- a professional who works with 'hard' Nordic breeds...

snickdog said...

To PBurns -- please read my post to the initial Anonymous poster.

As well, I am always amused by those who state that any word against Mr. Millan is from either:

1 - a 'jealous' trainer trying to get more publicity
2 - a trainer who works with 'easy' dogs or little Chinese Cresteds
3 - a trainer who tells people to put dogs with aggression issues down.

For # 1 -- I have more clients than I can handle (and I don't even advertise). Nope, don't need to put anyone down... I just care about life. For me, the first "OMG I cannot believe what I just saw!" moment came during the Jon Bee episode, and was cemented by the episode mentioned here with the Mal cross (he looked like what we in Nordic breeds call a 'Mal-Berian', half Sibe, half Mal). There's just something about the physical signs of hypoxia in an animal that's being held aloft by a sliding piece of chain until it urinates and passes out that really gets to me. I was then, and continue to be, appalled to see the near-strangulation of a living, sentient being on television for the entertainment purposes of this society.

For # 2 -- I specialize in the so-called hard to train, stubborn, aggressive working breeds. I have worked with hundreds of both human-aggressive and dog-aggressive cases successfully, to the point that the dogs have become loved members of the family again. I do not, and will not, use any aversive techniques. It's pure physics -- you get what you give...garbage in, garbage out.

For # 3 -- this one really annoys me. NO TRAINER ever has the right to tell an owner to put their dog down -- no TRAINER should be saying this, because they are then practicing veterinary medicine without a license. I would NEVER hold myself to such a position as to make a call over the life or death of a loved pet for any reason. That's ethically WRONG, and if you know of any trainers who do so, I would encourage you to report them to whatever local authorities you have.

All methods 'work' in the fashion that they were designed, and by using the principles of learning that are evident in ALL life forms, human and non-human. I can suppress behavior all day long, but have I made a lasting change? Only as long at the suppressing element is in the picture... is that what I want, is that what's best for the client and the dog? Not if I'm worth what they pay me... they want the behavior to change for the long term.

So, I don't suppress behavior -- I manage the environment and teach acceptable alternative behaviors instead to create a new habit.

Unfortunately, it's not really exciting to watch... no snarling Mutual of Omaha moments, no blood, no ripping of shirts, no obnoxious voice-overs spouting weird myths... but the behavior is changed without using aversives, and the relationship between the dog and owner is preserved, and in some cases, enhanced.

THAT, my dear, is what it's all about... creating an enhanced relationship for BOTH parties, not just the person.

- a professional against the use of aversive methods when training ANY life form

Pawsy said...

Snickdog, your posts have been a welcome addition to this thread! I am impressed and so glad that you joined in. You have said it all so well! Kudos to you! :o)

joyce kesling, CDBC said...

To PBurns,
First, I want to thank Jo for already covering some of what I also took exception to what was said. Since those issues have been covered so elegantly, I’ll focus on the remaining issue, do you have some kind of problem with clicker trainers and/or someone who might use a clicker as part of their tool box or options in training specific behavior?

Personally, I took exception to what appeared to be lumping all dog trainers who focus on using positive reinforcement as a first option as “clicker trainers,” I prefer using the term LIMA (Lease Intrusive Minimally Aversive) because like you I agree, it’s impossible to train any animal using purely positive reinforcement. Positive and negative events are individually experienced e.g. simply turning away and ignoring any animal can be aversive, and in the case of dogs or any other species other than humans, you can’t ask them!

I don’t work with all “soft” dogs and/or “puppies” I presently have a Doberman, my second in 10 years and a JRT (both rescues) that you are quite familiar with and I appreciate that you work with your dogs using their natural function/purpose. However, I don’t do any “digging” and/or “Earth Dog” competing, I focus on teaching dog owners behavior that seems to work as alternatives. But when I train I take the individual dog, problem, family’s ability into consideration when I make suggestions on training, I don’t use a one size fits all training methodology, I found it insulting that you apparently have all dog trainers lumped into one category, minimizing one’s flexibility, knowledge and ability.

Believe me I can handle large “hard dogs” but I don’t have to “manhandle” them to train. What Cesar Millan does is considered “manhandling” and this is not considered a training method and as others here have already said, only the “manhandler” can keep the dogs behavior suppressed, this leaves others vulnerable. Risk assessment must always be considered when handling and/or working with an already established aggressor. Read Pageat and others!

Nell said...

I cannot comment on all CMs programmes as I have only watched a few and that was enough for me. Those I have watched showed, I personally feel, a lack of understanding of modern reward based training and a prominent use of aversive and cruel methods. I have personally witnessed in these programmes pinning down of dogs, sharp sudden digs in the ribs, yanking of leads and the use of both prong and shock collars.

A thread re this including several clips from his show and comments from other societies can be found on the Agility Net forum on www.agilitynet.com under Training and Behaviour. Please take a while out of your precious time to look at it and study the films (the advise given in the thread is to watch with the sound off and note the body language of the dogs not Cesar's commentary).

As a house and life sharer with two wonderful working sheepdogs and fan of these gentle intelligent dogs the clip of the terrified border collie reduced me to tears and I still cannot get out of my head the damage that must have been done to an already sensitive and frightened dog and what happened to him once the cameras stopped rolling - some threads have stated that his teeth were filed down to make him 'safe'.

Allegedy, a previous programme from Feb 15th showed a husky type dog named Shadow being strung up until his tongue turned blue and he collapsed on the ground when he was further pinned down into 'submission'. I have not been able to confirm this as the recording of this programme has since been removed from the CM website following distribution among horrified dog lovers.

The only way to make your mind up is to watch the evidence and then if you feel moved to speak out like me do not be afraid to do so. The dogs cannot speak for themselves - it is up to us.


Karen Wild; ABIPDT said...

To initial 'anonymous' poster. The word is 'libel' not 'liable'. Important difference.

Excellent blog, keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

It would be advisable if PBurns researched who the groups in the UK are and what their roles are as he has misrepresented them in both respects.

Retrieverman said...

Cesar Millan's defenders are nothing more than a bunch of McCarthyites who don't realize they are McCarthyites. I wash my hands of them.

It's all about ego. It's never about the dogs. It's never about science. It's about defending outdated methods using dodgy science and folk ethology.

When I started criticizing the man on my blog, it was as if I blasphemed. I don't know if it's blasphemy, but we'll see if it's libel.