What Is Dog Whispering? – Phoenix Scottsdale AZ Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
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There are more and more dog trainers out there starting to call themselves “Dog Whisperers”. So, what does that mean, and how do you know if you are working with a Dog Whisperer? And should you hire someone who calls themselves a “Dog Whisperer”?
My bottom line is this: I DON’T believe, based upon my many years of experience and study, that Dog Whispering is the all around “best” method for working with every dog. And in fact, it is often the opposite of what you should be doing with a dog.
The foundation of “Dog Whispering” is the belief that the most psychologically healthy environment for a dog is a working dog pack, and that non-medical mental disorders can be resolved within a dog pack. Thus, Dog Whispering is a behavioral modification method using human leadership and dog packs to rehabilitate dogs exhibiting aggressive, anxious, compulsive, destructive, hyperactive, and/ or fearful mental disorders.
In addition, for some practitioners, Dog Whispering also involves the use of calming techniques, sensory techniques such as massage, and homeopathic therapeutic agents, such as alternative medicines and therapies. Further, some Dog Whisperers claim to be able to manipulate mystical spiritual energy fields emanating from people, animals and the environment.
The method also teaches dog owners how to behave around their dogs, to project safety, leadership, calmness, and confidence. The method stresses that the humans in the home are to be the absolute leaders of the dogs.
I have worked with packs of stable, well adjusted dogs to help rehabilitate behavioral issues. This method is not suitable for all situations. There are sound principles behind the Dog Whispering method. On the other hand, there are a lot of quacks out there using this as a marketing tool, and are playing up on a mystique presented in the marketing of this method, which is deceptive trickery.
Like everything in behavior, this method doesn’t solve all the problems you will have with your dog. Dog Whispering traditionally doesn’t involve any kind of obedience training. Thus, this method won’t teach your dog to come when called, or prevent your dog from jumping up on the countertop and stealing your hamburger. It also isn’t as complicated as some trainers will make it out to be. All good trainers are aware of, and practice, using leadership, socialization, behavior modification, and training to improve dog behavior. The difference with Dog Whispering is a method that focuses on using dog packs to address certain types of mental disorders. The method also does not employ any kind of obedience training, thus your dog won’t be an obedient companion if all you do is employ such services.
Further, most Dog Whispering involves calming the dog in order to manage the behavioral issues. The problem with this is that most dog problems occur when the dog is highly aroused, and this method then fails to work in those circumstances.
What About Cesar Millan?
The most famous Dog Whisperer is Cesar Millan, founder of the Dog Psychology Center in Los Angeles, CA. He focuses on three elements when dealing with any dog: exercise, discipline and affection, in that order.
Regarding his method, Cesar Milan runs a type of doggie daycare. He uses
a.) a considerable amount of exercise, including the use of treadmills and backpacks, as a way of relaxing dogs to prepare them for counter-conditioning exercises
b.) packs of dogs to rehabilitate unstable, fearful or aggressive dogs;
c.) Leashes and chain collars to block jumping, whining, possessiveness, biting, aggressiveness, excessive barking, mounting, fighting, active dominance challenges;
d.) Redirection to get dogs doing alternative behaviors in play areas, obstacle courses, a pool, a feeding area, a sleeping area, and an eating / drinking area;
e.) calming techniques using hand feeding;
f.) a limited amount of obedience training, such as teaching the dogs to heel on a loose lead at the handler’s side;
g.) a “claw” technique, his own version of the “alpha rollover”, and a pursuit technique to deal with dogs that don’t show submission to other dogs or people;
h.) “flooding” for phobias;
i.) “calm / assertive” handler techniques;
j.) touch and sound techniques to interrupt, correct and / or redirect behaviors;
k.) a variety of traditional manners rules, which are implemented with the “no free lunch” type of approach;
l.) a variety of games and other “mental challenges”;
m.) human intervention; and
n.) electric collars (usually not mentioned in their marketing materials or websites)
He also believes that obedience training doesn’t fix everything, and feels that an “all positive” approach to behavior modification is not justified for many dogs, especially those that are dangerously aggressive or on the verge of being put to death for behavioral problems.
Is The Dog Whispering Method Effective?
In my experience, the Dog Whispering method is more of a last resort type of thing than a method that should be applied on every dog. And even when used as a last resort, it oftentimes doesn’t work. If you haven’t fully obedience trained your dog, then you aren’t ready for a last resort. If you aren’t properly giving your dog comfort, exercise, supervision, safe containment when unsupervised, ongoing socialization, medical care, and so forth… you aren’t ready for a last resort. If you haven’t worked with a very good professional dog trainer and behaviorist, your behaviorist shouldn’t be implementing last resort methods.
It has been oversold, however, because it has become a “new” way for trainers to charge for their services and fool the public. The use of dog packs for behavior rehabilitation is nothing new. The focus on dominance is overblown, and over used, and I’ve seen people who were bitten by their own dogs trying this stuff. Dominance isn’t continually asserted in any pack of dogs or wolves. Don’t try Dog Whispering on your own… you are about to do something pretty stupid with your dog! And I’ve seen too many people just doing stuff they’ve seen on TV without knowing that they were doing more harm than good with their dogs. The crazy claim that people have mystical powers to communicate with animal spirits isn’t new, either. But, the specific marketing of these dog pack rehabilitation methods is new.
Qualified trainers don’t use mysticism or false claims of miracle cures. True Dog Whispering can be effective for some forms of fearfulness, some forms of aggression, and for spoiled dogs. Let’s say it works maybe 10% of the time. But, it isn’t effective in many instances, and there are other techniques that are more valid and effective. The “all positive”, feel good folks that criticize the flaws in these methods have some good reasons for what they are saying, though a lot of them are also nutcases… they are in the ditch on the other side of the road themselves. Everything in life requires balance. There is no “secret” dog training method that will work every time.
I feel that the marketing of dog whispering has been dishonest. Only now do we hear that these “shamans” are actually using things such as electric collars, and other special devices, in the training. When that becomes known, then all the mysticism fall apart, and I felt ripped off. It’s been like watching a bad magic show. Electric collars are inappropriate training tools for most behavior modification problems, and for most obedience training situations. If the true “dog whispering” worked as well as it is sold, then they wouldn’t have to hide the use of electric collars.
Finally, consider this: if your dog has not completed obedience training, and you aren’t diligently doing proper management of your dog, your dog won’t be easy to live with… and YOU don’t really know what YOU are doing if you haven’t been through a number of good dog training classes and you’ll freeze or do something stupid in the face of an emergency because you weren’t trained what to do. Other dogs won’t teach your dog to come back and not get hit by a car, or to not jump up on guests, or to stay off the furniture. And Dog Whispering doesn’t involve a lot of positive reinforcement for doing the right things… and that can sabotage everything you want out of your dog.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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