The first image that comes to mind when The Dog Whisperer is mentioned, is Cesar Millan, who is well known for his amazing shows on National Geographic Channel. I must admit that I haven’t seen all of his shows, but quite some, both on my box and some clips on Youtube.
As often when mass media takes something and publishes everywhere, the public starts identifying it with one concept and one concept only. Except for the few who take time to think about matters a little bit further.
For many the concept of a Dog Whisperer means someone who magically understands all dogs he meets and can work some magical wonders with them. For us who work with dogs the meaning is wholly different.
I am sometimes called a dog whisperer myself, and it’s reasonable. I live with a dog pack and I train each dog in work of some kind. I also guide others to achieve the same results as I do. I maintain an Icelandic website – hundasport.is – about dog training through which I meet other people to train with and to guide.
Just this week I have worked with two individual German Shepherds who need guidance. Or shall we say, worked with their owners to approach understanding of their own dogs.
When I first realized that I possessed the dog whisperer talent I was as much surprised as the people around me. Regrettably most of the others where experienced dog-trainers. Their responses taught me more about human behaviour, jealousy and envy than I care to know. Something not existent, and quite incomprehensible, in my soul. Perhaps that contributes to my acquired skills.
Acquired skills is precisely what dog whispering is. It is not a magical touch, though some of us are far better than others. I have for instance witnessed people working with dogs, meeting them for the first time, who have such finess and touch in working with dogs that it amazed me. I have also seen experienced people behaving as if they are totally blind to the creatures they work with.
Yes, it is true: There are persons who have an innate ability to undertand and work with dogs. I fall into that category but in fact I’m one of the least skilled therein. It’s like when you’re good at drawing pictures, you’re better than those who cannot. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be another Rembrandt.
Someone who lives with dogs, loves them, and strives to both understand them and to mould them will learn their language and to connect with their emotional life. This is a third of the dog whisperer skill. A third is an innate ability to touch their souls, which is a natural skill. The last third is experience and ability to work with the owners, which is the most difficult part. People are very strange, you see, from the perspecive of a dog-person.
The funny thing about mass media and culture is that critisism on Cesar Millan and his methods is ‘dog biting’ and loud. Many dog-teachers, I refuse to call them dog-trainers, are head over heels in abusing his methods and work. This is even true up here in Iceland at the end of the world.
What interests me most about this loud critisism, which the mass media has been quick to take into its arms, is who the critics actually are.
I have worked with many dog-trainers and dog-teachers in the past few years. Those who are more accomplished in guiding a dog towards complicated and well honed skills are usually fond of Cesar Millan and his shows. Most of these people realize that many of his shows have shown how to help dogs which have been brought up in a household or environment totally unhealthy for a dog. Many dogs he has helped simply in order to save them from being euthanized.
Some of the clips I’ve seen on news channels and Youtube have in fact shown moments in some of Millan’s shows which might seem a little harsh. Usually taken out of context and usually shown much worse than they are. Some of the distorted shows that have been used I have seen myself and agree wholeheartedly with what Mr. Millan was doing in those shows. Some dogs he has helped I would myself hesitate to confront. And I have at times helped troubled and dangerous dogs myself.
The fact is that most of the dog-teachers I’ve met, worked with or who my colleages have worked with, have little or no experience in working with troubled dogs or training skilled working dogs. All of them have been to fancy dog-teacher schools and have pretty diplomas. And all of them are nice and friendly when they teach their courses, and all of them are outspoken in their rightful opinions. But they don’t show up on training exercises. They don’t show a dog-pack and they don’t show a proven track record of helping troubled dogs. But does the media tell the layman this? Who cares if it doesn’t help ratings.
Becoming a dog whisperer has nothing to do with fancy schools. It has to do with a positive loving attitude towards dogs, living with them, working with them, grieving with them and playing (working) with them. It has to do with naivé and genuine interest in helping other people to harmonize with their dogs and creting a balanced healthy environment for both.
With experience and honesty grows the skill to read the personality in a dog and ability to see how the owner, or the dogs past, has moulded him. Through honesty and integrity he can see the path which both have to take in order to correct what has gone wrong and learn how to find the new and healthy path. Regrettably it is common that the human – more intelligent – part of the equation is to stubborn, narrow minded and prejudiced, to see what the dog can see in an instant.
But somehow being there, for the dogs, is always worth it.