Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Journey Beyond Whispering

My Journey Beyond Whispering

By Ligia Morris in Beyond Cesar Millan

I can't remember precisely which year, but on or around 2003, 2004 - I started watching the "Dog Whisperer" show on Nat Geo. I'm not a professional dog trainer, yet it's always been something I was interested in. I earned a living in the film, TV and entertainment industry as a costume designer and lived in Los Angeles, California, at the time.

What got me interested in the show:

1- It's name - which was taken from "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman - whom I had known and read about..
2- the title "dog psychologist" - who could ever imagine that the Nat Geo channel would put a show on the air with a "psychologist" that isn't?
3- The 5min. "quick fixes" and results shown.
4- The Nat Geo brand association.
5- His "saving" pit bulls from death row.

I'm going to back track a little, just to throw some perspective of where I was coming from. I had moved to LA from NYC, there I had 2 Daschunds that I brought with me to LA. In NY, I had trouble potty training my older female - so, I got my first dog training book "Dog Friendly Dog Training" by Andrea Arden. In order to understand how to apply what was written in the book, I hired a trainer from the humane society,  recommend in the book. So that was my approach to dog/animal training. I'd see or read something interesting and if I had the opportunity or the money, I'd hire them. Besides, back then there weren't so many youtube vids for us to see trainers applying their techniques.

I moved from a kitchenette type apartment in NYC's East Village to a nice house in LA with a nice back yard and behind the back yard a huge park-like lot called the "The Red Line Trestle Footings". The perfect place to have the dog breed of my dreams: Fila Brasileiro - I did a lot of researching online for a good breeder [that is an whole subject of its own], got a lemon from a highly recommended breeder. That first Fila died at about 1 y/o from an "immune mediated disorder"; it brought me to tears. Although, later, I realized how fortunate I was, because the dog was highly reactive and would bite me if I approached when he was barking at the gate. That is not part of the traits of the Fila. However, I had hired a dog trainer to guide me on how to deal with that dog and used some reward training, but also recommended a prong collar. She had been to several Ian Dunbar seminars.

After "Biggie's" death, I was very sad.. My husband bought me another Fila as a gift. This time we got a "show" quality Fila Brasileiro. A note of caution: "pet quality" for some breeders, is code for "vet quality". At this point, the "dog whisperer" show had debuted on Nat Geo and I saw an opportunity to call his "psychology center" for a consultation.

My gorgeous dog Cherokee was around 5 to 6 months when he met Cesar. My Daschunds were probably 3 and 2, respectively. They got along pretty well. He walked in with me and one could definitely sense he had an effect on the dogs. I concede he does have "something" about him that effects the dogs. However, he immediately pointed out to me that I should be dominant over them, that my dog Cherokee was competing with my other little Daschunds for supremacy. Plus, he showed me how to walk my Fila pup - all this with a lot of tsssts - leash jerking, claw hands on neck and body. I look back at it now and think of how intimidated my little dogs were of all that and how my 6 month old Fila shut down. CM, told me that my FB dog could not wrinkle his nose to the little dog, which he said I wasn't aware of because I didn't understand dog body language. I tried to tell him how things were friendly and easy going at the house and that all I wanted were some pointers if there were something to happen out of the ordinary. He was not hearing any of it and basically said the FB was not a breed for me, I would only be able to handle him if I had an Alpha personality, which I didn't, in his opinion..

After that visit, I started convincing myself that everything I had done till then was totally wrong and I was a major wuss. The stuff he showed me looked like it had immediate result, that day at my house. But, I didn't know I'd be gifted with the long term side effects that would present themselves later [the gift that keeps on giving]. Cherokee and Tex (Daschund) were friendly with other dogs before that day. But, after my consultation and my newly developed leash skills - a radical departure from what I had learned from more positive trainers till then, they became increasingly unfriendlier and reactive to other dogs. To the point where I could no longer take them to the park and I had to walk them only late at night, or very early in the morning. Every meal from then on, was tense, because they all had to eat together and I had to stand over them.. I'd become an uber control-freak about discipline. I became a defender of CM and I recommended him to friends! Even fellow Fila Brasileiro enthusiasts did not approve of his methods. Curiously and specially the folks that dealt with Filas in rescue and ACO friends.

The positive part is that I did take my dogs out for walks every day and they got exercise. Can't say the same about canine social skills.

On one of my trips overseas, I called the "psychology center" to board my dog there for 15 days. Because of his breed, it was nearly impossible to board him anywhere else. He was accepted there. It was more like a boot camp. Several pit bulls and pit mixes, and human monitors ready to tssst at any movement that remotely resembled interaction between dogs. Little dogs were kept together and they all slept in the same cushion in a room. Big dogs were made to stay together, as well as eat together. and many had shock collars on, at the time I really didn't know what they were.. . Cesar explained how things were done there, I took photos of my dog as a souvenir of my celeb experience, said goodbye  and was off to my trip - entirely relaxed and sure things would work out fine.

When I picked up my dog from the psychology center, I noticed he was injured on the eye lid, and I questioned the monitor what that was about. I didn't get a straight answer because the person had not been there earlier and didn't see anything. Also, my dog had an electric collar on. I got home and waited to talk to the person that was his manager at the time. I was told is that my dog was a fighter - that is part of the breed characteristics [total nonsense] and I signed a waiver, there was nothing to be done..

Well, that episode opened my eyes quite a bit. After that stay, Cherokee's behavior became very bizarre when I left the house. He would follow me. Nothing could contain him. He would act very distraught if I left him. On the other hand, I started getting involved in volunteer training for Search and Rescue with him. I had become much interested in the work dog world, including taking my Daschunds for earth-dog trials. I learned so very much of reward training with the officers from the Sherrif's office and the earth-dog people. That's when I began to realize the effect os aversion and coercion in training. My fila had been damaged by those methods and developed an anxiety disorder. He had developed noise/storm phobia associated to separation anxiety, which he had never presented before those 10 days he was "whispered to"..

He became too big of a dog to follow through with the S&R, so then I took some herding instruction with him. He did well in that also. I learned he wasn't a full blooded Fila, that he had some mastiff in him - that's a whole other issue, though.. However, he learned to be a very well socialized dog, thanks to the herding and S&R, he does get along with other dogs pretty well too, well part of that might be from the shock collar training I suspect; but he paid a high price. I've been able to manage his anxiety disorders, only through positive techniques, relaxation protocols, bands and DAP. But, it's not going away as can be seen in th video. The long term effects of CM's influence [including his use of an electric collar] on my dog have been devastating to him.
Cesar Milan has a television show.  I am a professional that is involved in the entertainment Industry - The show's producers have a script to follow, and they must keep those sponsors. They heavily edit the footage to make long processes and mistakes look instant and to cover up some of the even harsher techniques he uses.

Also, other things one can't even imagine, which I know that happened at a herding instructors facility, but are protected by confidentiality agreements and other waivers. Cesar is self-taught  and he doesn’t even appear to understand why what he does works [or their long their term effects, for that matter]. There are professionals out there who really do understand the whys and hows of dog behavior and their consensus is that Cesar’s explanations are mostly nonsense. Bottom line is: Cesar is training for television entertainments, he uses difficult techniques with hocus-pocus explanations and that, in spite of his macho prowess, he frequently gets hurt!.

The reward that has come from my experience with CM is that I have learned to be an ok trainer myself, and have learned about Quandrants, operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, scent articles, stock-dog and livestock handling, evolution of dogs, wolf behavior, etc.. I have met many different trainers and learned incredibly efficient methods that require everything but force and are a lot of fun and partnership for me and the dogs!. Today, my dogs live with me in Brazil, on a farm. I have 3 more pure-bred Filas which I am attempting to teach snake detection, but all of them work with stock, in fact one of them got a 3rd place in a USBCHA event against 10 border collies, 2 rotties and  2 GSD's. I consider myself a cross-over hobby trainer, I use clicker, herding techniques, search and rescue techniques, SATS. I read a lot, and research as much as I can. I hope that from my recount, I can steer people toward a different direction, specially one that might spare their dogs.

Please attribute to Ligia Morris

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