He could have hanged to death


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The rain may have subsided but the grass field was still soaked from the downpour last night. Not wanting to get his feet wet, Mr P decided to take  his dog, Fluffie, for his usual morning walk under the void decks instead.

Fluffie has an endearing disposition and enjoys the affection people shower on him. He has been trained to walk unleashed by the side of Mr P, and even though he may explore a little further once in a while, he would always come back and sit by Mr P’s side when his name was called.

This morning, Mr P and Fluffie wandered to another block of flats and crossed paths with Madam Wong and her little dog, Sparky. Fluffie was keen to make contact with Sparky, but when he tried to get close, Sparky would start tugging at the leash, barking and baring his teeth, displaying every intention to sink his teeth into Fluffie. Mr P steered Fluffie away from the scene to avoid getting his dog hurt.

*

Seventy-year-old Madam Wong was about to bring Sparky home when she bumped into Mr P. Seeing how hostile Sparky was towards Fluffie, she tried with all her might to pull her charging dog towards the lift, away from the object of his agitation. As Mr P backed away, Madam Wong managed to pull Sparky into the lift with her. She quickly hit the button for the seventh floor but just as the lift doors were about the close, Sparky dashed out of the carriage towards Fluffie. Before she could react, the lift doors closed and she realised she was holding on to the other end of the leash that was still attached to Sparky’s collar.

*

Mr P was standing about four metres away from the lift when the tiny dog charged out. As the lift doors closed behind Sparky, he didn’t understand what was happening at that moment.  He saw Sparky being lifted off the ground and was dangling from his neck against the lift door. The lift seemed to have stopped at the second floor. It took him about thirty seconds to realise that the lift wasn’t going to come down and that the dog would hang to death if he didn’t do something about it. Unleashing him, he placed Sparky on the ground before seeing the end of the leash disappear into the lift carriage.

*

This is not fiction. This is a true account of what happened this morning when my father took my dog for his morning walk.

Never have I felt more passionate about the importance of educating owners about training and understanding their dogs. Because before you learn how to control your dog, you must first understand dog psychology. And no one explains this better than Cesar Millan.

I was introduced to this person when I became a dog owner myself. You see, when I first adopted Fluffy, he seemed like the perfect dog. Everyone who sees him thinks he’s well-behaved and gentle. What they did not realise is that they are making this observation based on a comparison of Fluffy’s behaviour to other unstable dogs that they have seen, primarily hyperactive and aggressive types. This is not accurate. Fluffy had possessive issues when he was given bones/treats/dental chews. He would growl when you come close while he’s gnawing at it. Things got worse when he barked and nipped at the person who tried to take the treat away from him.

I began to read Cesar Millan’s book and understood that this was not natural behaviour and should not be left alone. Subsequently, I began to watch The Dog Whisperer, a series where Cesar shows the audience how he rehabilitates domestic pet dogs. In each episode, two dogs with behavioral problems will be featured and trust me, for dog owners, you will find similarities in those problems the dog has, in you own pet. It doesn’t matter the breed or size of the dog. It is not the reason for their behavioral problems. Humans are the cause of these problems, and Cesar is not afraid to tell dog owners that.

How he explains it makes a lot of sense. He believes that every dog should be calm submissive. Being calm submissive is not a repressed state nor does it mean the dogs are unhappy. It is seen as such by humans because we are using human emotions to rationalise dog psychology.

That is why I feel that The Dog Whisperer is a series that needs to be shown on both Channel 5 and Channel 8. There is no reason to ban certain breeds here (although I think some breeds should be banned based on the fact that they are just not suitable for our climate, but that will be another topic altogether) because ultimately, it’s the owners who should be held responsible for the dog’s behaviour.

What happened this morning could have easily been avoided if Sparky was a psychologically balanced dog to begin with.

Here’s a clip from one of Cesar’s episodes and I’m sure you can find more on Youtube.

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10 responses to “He could have hanged to death

  1. Interesting topic. Yup, owners should try to understand their pets better

  2. I have watched his series when I was in States few years back. He is a gift to both loving doggies & owners.
    He made me believe that doggies can be rehabilitated.
    His favourite word used in the show & his strong belief as well. He is not here to save the dogs. He is here to REHABILITATE them.
    Amazing!

  3. Thank you, Joanne for this enlightening article. I’ve heard of Ceaser Miller on the Oprah Show. I’m a dog lover and own a delightful Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

  4. This is very interesting.

  5. I think Sgpreans has a long way to go about dog’s education. Many of them just get them without enough understanding of their future pets. And they wonder why the dogs keep barking, wonder why their dogs cannot behave etc etc …

    Before we get ours we are in the bookstore and online drowning ourselves with infos.

    And we are lucky our doggie is very well manner, doesn’t bark, friendly to kiddos and does some tricks.

    And he will be neutered soon in June.

    But to our friends here in sg, we are ‘show off’ parents who trains our dog to do tricks, and we are soooooooooooooo CRUEL that we have to neutered them. Haiz … And all we done are UNNATURAL.

    But people don’t know a trained and socialised dog can be save from a lot of troubles and problems. I have a few friends their dog are NEVER out of the house. And one of them says that because their dogs are princesses and don’t like to leave the home, watttttttt!???

    I hate the day I have to bring my dog back to singapore …

  6. check out the south park episode which did a spoof on caesar millan. It was flattering and hilarous.

  7. Hi Joanne,

    I’m an animal lover myself and have seen most if not all of Cesar Millan videos on National Geographic Channel.. I believe that he is a HERO and his works are truely awesome.. I think that every pet shop should sell his DVDs and dog owners should be responsible enough to buy it and learn more about dog psychology..

    P.S. maybe u could influence the channel 5 programme manager into airing Cesar Millan.. =)

  8. Hi Joanne,
    I’m very happy and proud you are doing what you can to improve the many dog lives here by your sharing. The community definitely needs some celebrity voice to bring awareness and propel further changes to the state of responsible and freedom of dog ownership in S’pore.

    I hope the dog welfare and leading organisations can get to hear about your passion to use you as spokesperson!

  9. Most dog lovers/ dog trainers actually do not recommend Cesar Millan. Some of his techniques do work, but at the expense of the dog. He’s been filmed/recorded to “train” dogs by force and people simply accept it because his aggression caused these dogs to cower in fear.

    I would suggest other training techniques. (:

    I mean no offence, and no harm intended.

  10. I second what Leily has suggested. Please don’t take offence to what I have to say (and you don’t have to approve this comment if you don’t wish to), but seeing as you are someone who writes intelligently, genuinely loves your dog and wants the best for him, I hope you’ll be open to another opinion.

    Alot of people have come to support Cesar Milan based on what they’ve seen on TV. But apart from him advocating plenty of exercise, there is little to agree with his methods. In both his series and books (which I own and read), his philosophies often do not translate into practical methods that the TYPICAL pet owner can employ. First of all, not every pet owner has the stature (or guts) to physically “subdue” the dog into submissiveness. So picture someone who has an aggressive Rottweiler – a dog with immense strength and a bite with a pressure comparable to a shark. (!) Few of us know what exactly goes on behind the scenes on his TV shows and how the dogs are chosen. Regardless, I recognise that Cesar takes a risk whenever he handles an aggressive dog. But just because the dog does not end up biting him doesn’t necessarily mean it’s due to his “gift”. He could have already spent time observing this dog and deemed it not so dangerous, or it could just be that the dog chose not to bite him. Dogs mostly bite in defensiveness or when they feel like they’ve been cornered. Secondly, and I’m sure you’ve heard of this, dogs have this “on-the-spot” memory thing going on, meaning that they learn what not to do when you correct them at the very moment they do something naughty, and they learn what they should do when you reward them the moment they do it. And very often, simply depending mainly on rewards will get a dog to behave (aka instead of constantly shouting NO at your dog for something he’s doing, reward him when he’s NOT doing the thing you don’t want him to, haha). It can often be very trying, but having a pet requires patience anyway. The first step in training is not proving to the dog that you are the boss, but by making sure he actually understands the instructions you are giving. Pinning a dog down only teaches him that he has done something bad, but it doesn’t mean he understand WHAT EXACTLY he’s done. After pinning the dog down, it quietens. Cesar then calls this behaviour “calm” and “submissive”. A dog that just sits there quietly is automatically a well-behaved dog? Even just thinking about it in words does quiet mean calm to you? I could be quiet outside, but in my heart I might be thinking of beating Cesar Millan up (lol, kidding!). No. This behaviour is called “learned helplessness”, where the dog simply tries not to do too much, for fear of being punished because they have no idea what has been deemed “wrong” and “right”! Cesar has merely conditioned the dog’s behaviour to what he labels as calm. It is similar to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning_chamber. The dog simply accepts, not in the positive way that we as pet lovers hope, but as in a “surrender”.

    The next point is about the theory that Cesar basically bases his entire training system on. The Alpha theory. Telling your clients they need to be the “alpha” is all well, but how about offering a structure with which they can practice being so? I too can advise everyone to be a Tokway, but what is required to be a Towkay? PR, Management skills, High IQ and High EQ and so on so forth. Cesar often mentions that owners should give a command in a calm, but firm tone that allows no questioning, and with a non-submissive posture. This is obviously correct, I mean, if you were a dog and you saw your owner cowering or not giving you clear instructions you wouldn’t know what to do! Having said that, this method of training is similar to how educators tell us humans to teach our children. That when we want our children to do something, we TELL them, not ask. In that line, Cesar is clearly using a theory that is not of his own invention or thought. To add to that, it contradicts what he says about us looking at dogs in human terms. Also, he is repeatedly enforcing the alpha notion, and often compares dogs to their wolf ancestors, which is a traditional school of thought and is not without its merits. Cesar is not wrong in attributing many aspects of a dog’s behaviour to wolves, but we must also consider that…. alot of our understanding and observation of dogs (like pack behaviour, etc.) is based on contemporary wolves, yet dogs have been domesticated since more than 12000 years ago, perhaps even before that. And while their DNA may not be much different even now, their disposition and responses surely are! A simple example would be, a dog would look at a stranger as a friend, but why wouldn’t a wolf do the same? Domestication together with evolution has caused this, right down to genes. So we must accept that as much as dogs are related to wolves and share a common ancestor, they are NOT wolves and we cannot depend mainly on our understanding of wolves to understand dogs. Also, in recent years it has been found that even wild wolf packs don’t necessarily have a “top dog”. They do have structure, but it is not like some company CEO that Cesar seems to portray. Alot of it depends on who is weak or stronger at that moment in time, the general environment they are in and alot of other factors. Wolves have been observed to display “submissive” behaviour to a particular “alpha”, and yet when it came to say, food, they would still snap to protect what they felt was their share.

    Personally, I find Cesar’s leash snapping and restraint techniques to be awful and useful only for short-term results, or if you are prepared to constantly employ those techniques for life to ensure your dog doesn’t “fall back” to square one. My point is, there have been, and still are many trainers and behaviourists who have managed to train dogs WITHOUT using those techniques that Cesar propagates. Their weapons usually consist of…… doggy biscuits, lol! (By the way, look carefully at the dogs even on TV, they are hardly what I would call happy). So if there is proof that there are methods and people who can do that without scaring the dog into fearful submission, why don’t people use that?

    The only answer I can think of is that people have been misinformed, or they want quick results.

    I am sorry to be so verbose… I’ve witnessed quiet a few Cesar wannabes who follow his methods to a T and I wonder what psychological harm they’ve inflicted onto their pets. Perhaps I am wrong and Cesar is indeed the dog’s saint, but I would rather trust pet experts – not because they’re studied and done their homework but because they’ve proven that their humane training methods do work – than to follow a self-acclaimed dog expert who has ignored so many other important factors of understanding dogs.

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