Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pit Bull Ban Not the Solution: Dog Whisperer

Unfair pit bull ban not the solution, says celebrity behaviourist Dog Whisperer
John Mckay, Canadian Press

Cesar Millan poses with dogs.

TORONTO (CP) - Ontario's pit bull ban is an unfair law based on ignorance - because getting rid of a breed of dog doesn't get rid of the problem, says celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan.

Millan, known as the Dog Whisperer for his uncanny ability to solve canine behavioural problems, was in Toronto this week promoting his National Geographic Channel show and the recent DVD release of the first season's episodes.

"In the United States, in the '70s, they did the same thing to the Doberman. In the '80s they did it to the German shepherd, in the '90s they did it to the Rottweiler, and now they're doing it to the pit bull," he says.

"So whatever dog is in fashion, people are going to blame them for things."

Under the Ontario ban, which was passed last August, it is illegal to own, breed, transfer, abandon or import pit bulls or other breeds "substantially similar" to pit bulls. Owners who violate the law can be fined up to $10,000 and/or be sentenced to six months in jail. The court can also order a dog to be destroyed.

For the Dog Whisperer, there are no bad dogs nor bad breeds, just bad owners who need to be trained. On his show he displays a remarkable ability to rehabilitate once-dangerous pooches because he knows how to position himself as the alpha dog, the leader of the pack.

The worst thing an owner can do, he says, is to heap affection on a pet without balancing it with discipline and exercise. In the dog's eyes, that means the owner isn't a boss to be respected - and the result is a range of problems from disobedience to outright violence.

So Millan doesn't think much of the controversial Ontario law aimed at eventually eliminating the pit bull from the province.

"It's not fair," he says. "They're not going to defend themselves. They're not going to go to court and say, 'Look guys, it's not us. You guys don't walk us every day, you guys don't give us rules, limitations every day.' "

While Rin Tin Tin and Lassie are always touted as dog heroes in the movies, what about Petey of The Little Rascals, he asks. The dog with the famous circle painted around his eye was a lovable pit bull in the old Our Gang movie shorts.

Loving a dog is one thing, humanizing and pampering the animal is another, he maintains.
"It's a selfish attitude because it's what the human wants, instead of really seeing the picture - what does the dog need?"

And intelligence does not make a good pack leader/trainer, Millan says.

"I have Harvard graduates for clients who can't control a chihuahua."

In one rather scary scene from his show, Millan is seen stooping and placing his face right into a dish of dog food where a pit bull is eagerly eating. He even pokes the dog in the side of the face, but the animal respects the relationship and continues eating without snapping.

In Los Angeles, there are many homeless men who have pit bulls, he says, but they're not on a leash and yet they never attack anyone or misbehave.

"Homeless is homeless. He has no money. But he practises leadership behaviour. The dog doesn't see them as homeless. The dog sees them as pack leader."

For the record, Millan has been doing his thing for 20 years and claims a 99 per cent success rate with his rehabilitation techniques. In that time, there have been only two "bad" dogs he was unable to return to society, he adds.

Asked about his claim that he was born with his dog whisperer ability, Millan says he grew up on a ranch in Mexico where he learned animal communications skills from his grandfather.

"It's the tendency to be with animals, to spend more time with animals," he says. "So it's an innate behaviour . . . You are born with that innate ability to connect and if somebody nurtures that you can become the dog whisperer."

Yes, he has been bitten.

"Of course," he says matter-of-factly. "It's like cowboys that get stomped by bulls. Any time you're working in the world of taming animals, you're going to get hurt. But it's a rush that we get."

And his practice isn't without issues.

Earlier this month, a TV producer in Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against him claiming his dog was injured at Millan's psychology centre. Another suit filed in April claimed copyright infringement for his use of the name Dog Whisperer.

At the same time, Millan enjoys the admiration of such famous dog owners as Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith and Scarlett Johansson.

By the way, Millan has six dogs of his own: two Italian greyhounds, two springer spaniels, one chihuahua and one Chinese crested.

He's asked the inevitable dog lover's question: Why do we bond so strongly with a species that has a much shorter lifespan, pretty much guaranteeing a grieving experience as our pets grow older and die before us?

"Birth, life, death is a cycle. And they're all beautiful, you celebrate all of them," he says about the pet owner's inevitable heartbreak.

"Animals do grieve, but they move on. That's the lesson behind animals."


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