Dog Whispering – What Does That Mean?

One good thing about Cesar Millan is that he has raised awareness of the importance of having strong connections to your dog as a means to manage their behavior.

That he entirely co-opted the descriptor of "whispering" and then bastardized it quite badly is another thing altogether.

So let's set the record straight.

For starters, dog whispering takes its name from animal handling of an entirely different color - a horse of another color, actually. A 1995 book entitled "The Horse Whisperer" - a novel based on a real person that later turned into a Robert Redford movie - introduced the world to this idea of working with horses from a place of more grounded & central energy rather than dominance. For anyone in the horse world, this was old stuff. To those new to the concept it became a "shortcut description for people who communicate with horses with respect rather than through dominance."

That this plays in the canine world also isn't all that odd - at least not to those who are steeped in the realm of behavioral stability and study. Animals that operate in packs/herds naturally seek and follow a leader. The key is learning how to calibrate our human mindset into the proper energy for the given species. Wow, that sounded convoluted. Put more simply - every species has different cues and directives that they expect from a leader. Most of those are easily understood on an intellectual level by humans. What's more difficult is adjusting our human language so that we are giving those cues in the right language.

What's more important is that being a "whisperer" does not necessarily translate into someone being a great trainer. In fact more often than not, it means categorically the opposite. You see, the ability to connect with and "speak" to a dog means nothing if your job is actually to impart that knowledge to other people so they can handle their own dogs. You see, I view Cesar Millan as a truly gifted "handler" - someone whose innate gifts and skills enable him to connect with and guide the behavior of dogs. This gift is what allows him to "train" the dog (aka modify its behavior). Problem is, he doesn't pass that to people very well, which ultimately means that well trained dog goes right back to its old ways when its humans are unable (or uneducated) about how to maintain that communication link.

My other beef is a more tactical one. While he may be naturally gifted, Cesar Millan has little to no actual education or foundation in pack dynamics, canine cognitive behavioral work or any other foundation of factual or scientific research. As someone who also came to the dog training/handling space from a natural knowledge space, I certainly do not question his being just naturally gifted. That said, just as a child prodigy who shows remarkable innate skill with an instrument must study their craft, learn and practice, so too must a naturally gifted dog handler. Failing to expand one's knowledge and laying heaving on the laurels of basic talent makes a one-trick pony of anyone.

To anyone who lauds Cesar as the end-all-be-all of dog knowledge, I proffer this. There is no single trainer who has all the information and anyone who purports to be the penultimate resource is in their insistence proving their fallibility. Expand your horizons, explore additional resources and most of all find the voice that works best for you and then listen to your instinct.