Monday, March 30, 2009

dominance theory???

Veterinarians Concerned About Outdated and Confrontational Advice Given by
Cesar Millan The Dog Whisperer

In an article written by Timothy Kim for the VIN News Services (5FEB09), an
on-line resource for veterinarians, representatives of the American
Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) have expressed concern about
dog training advice given by Cesar Millan, on his reality TV show, The Dog
Whisperer. The AVSAB is so concerned that they have issued an official
statement (Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior
Modification of Animals -
dominance statement pdf ) to counter the unfortunate
pervasive influence of Millan's show.

In their position statement the AVSAB demonstrates that the dominance theory
which is the core of Millan's approach, has been rejected by animal behavior
experts and can actually cause serious fear aggression in dogs. In the
article, Dr. Laurie Bergman, of Norristown, Pa., a member of AVSAB's
executive board was quoted as saying "We had been moving away from dominance
theory and punitive training techniques for a while, but, unfortunately,
Cesar Millan has brought it back."

Dominance theory has typically been presented as the reason for a dog's
misbehavior. Its basic premise is that the dog is a pack animal like a wolf
and all packs are ruled by the dominant alpha male. Millan essentially
believes that in order to counter a dog's misbehavior, or as he sees it a
"grab for power," a person must be the dominant alpha male and must use
force and coercion to get the dog to behave and submit.

The article describes Millan as using a number of assertive techniques
".negative-reinforcement, or correction. alpha rolls (the dog is rolled onto
its back, a submissive position) and flooding (the dog is exposed to
something that causes it anxiety and is not allowed to escape, to
desensitize it). He also has been shown choking a dog on the end of a leash
until it fell onto its side, gasping for air." These techniques are of great
concern to the AVSAB which has also adopted a position statement on the use
of punishment for training animals
(avsab position statement pdf).

The theory of dominance hierarchy was set into motion in 1922 by Thorleif
Schjelderup-Ebbe and his research on chickens. It was popularized by the
Monks of New Skete with their publication of How to Be Your Dog's Best
Friend. This now very dated book, takes the premise that if we want the best
relationship with our dog then we should treat them like an adult wolf would
treat a wolf puppy, at least according to the Monk's understanding of that
scenario. Many of their key recommendations focus on fear and physical

Thanks to the work of Dr. L. David Mech, a senior scientist with the U.S.
Geological Survey, we now know that dominance theory does not apply to
wolves in a natural, wild (non-captive) environment (Alpha Status,
Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs pdf
Research by Dr. Ray and Lorna Coppinger (DOGS: A New Understanding of Canine
Origin, Behavior, and Evolution (Scribner, NY, 2001; Univ. Chicago Press,
2002) has helped us understand that while closely related to the wolf a dog
is not a hunter or a pack animal. Dogs are primarily scavengers and when
living feral often live alone or in very loose groups.

So what does all of this mean? It means that the dominance theory spouted
for years by many in the dog community is a poor model for describing wolf
behavior and is an even worse model for training your dog. Unfortunately,
just like there is still a Flat Earth Society there are still those like
Cesar Millan, who hang on to a dog training model that is erroneous and
based on creating confrontation and fear.

The AVSAB is not the first to question Millan's techniques. On February 23,
2006 the New York Times quoted Dr. Nicholas Dodman [veterinary behaviorist
and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University] as saying
''My college thinks it [The Dog Whisperer - Cesar Millan] is a travesty.
We've written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog
training back 20 years.'' Later that same year the American Humane
Association stated "The training tactics featured on Cesar Millan's "The Dog
Whisperer" program are inhumane, outdated and improper"

Kim's article concludes with a statement by Dr. Sophia Yin, a member of the
AVSAB executive board, warning dog guardians to avoid dog trainers and
others who: continually tell owners that they have to be the "alpha," warn
owners not to use rewards too much, and uses pinch collars or shock collars
on dogs in a training class. "The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not
refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate
dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that
follows from it."


Anonymous said...

A Shock Collar is a safe, effective and humane way to train your dog.

stacy said...

yeah, right. and cattle prods are perfectly acceptable to use on misbehaving chilren. NOT!

JenJen said...

That sucks that they have that on TV. Yuck.

Susan Smith-Alltop said...

hello... update your blog.... just wanted to let you know I was thinking about you, friend. hope you, dh & the little girlies are wonderful. Love~S

stacy said...

SUSAN!!! how wonderful to hear from you... i got a couple other blogs, too. this one has gotten neglected, hasn't it? email me! friendstacy at gmail dot com :-)

Eric Spears said...

I wasn't aware that thinking had changed about dog dominance/behavior. That's good to hear. It fits with my belief that competition and "survival of the fittest" have been emphasized way too much, at the expense of cooperation & love in nature, which I see all around me.

Anonymous said...

Well I to but I dream the brief should secure more info then it has.

Anonymous said...

Hmm that's quiet interessting but honestly i have a hard time understanding it... wonder what others have to say..