Before yesterday, I had never heard of the Alan Titchmarsh Show. Thanks to the tip-off from some Academy for Dog Trainers colleagues who live in the UK, he has become a new hero for me and many in the R+ training community.
Typically, when I see TV shows and publications advertising interviews with Cesar Milan, “The Dog Whisperer,” I cringe. What is broadcast as an educational experience is in reality a platform for Milan to flaunt his inhumane, pain-inducing training “techniques” that have no basis in science or animal learning. (For a discussion on why Milan’s techniques are harmful to dogs, read this excellent article by Jean Donaldson, animal behaviorist and founder of the Academy). What makes these interviews even more painful to watch is the fact many dog owners will decide to try Milan’s techniques (shock collars, prong and choke collars, and physical abuse) on their own dogs.
This “try at home” danger of Milan’s techniques, as well as the responsibility Milan has for creating a slew of followers who believe in the use of force and pain to train their dogs, is precisely what Titchmarsh addressed. A lot is packed into this eight-minute interview, from Milan’s obvious discomfort (body language is a marvelous thing) to Titchmarsh’s respectful but relentless challenges. Perhaps most poignant is Titchmarsh’s refusal to accept that Milan’s “touches” used on his TV program are nothing more than a technique to “snap a dog out of it.” Titschmarsh calls out Milan’s “touch” for what it really is: physical abuse.
Another highlight of the interview is when Titschmarsh quotes a researcher who debunks Milan’s claims that pet dogs are pack animals. Using education and research to counter a TV quack’s ethos? Brilliant. And something we need more of in this profession.
Sure, Titchmarsh didn’t change the profession of dog training. But for eight minutes, he created a respectful, yet stern discourse in which he championed the welfare of pet dogs and refused to be charmed by Milan’s claims of being a canine sage. The way we, and by we I mean R+ dog trainers, are going to bring legitimacy and science into the mainstream of dog training is through just this type of discourse. Thankfully, Titchmarsh listened to the complaints of viewers and advocacy organizations upon learning Milan was a guest. Hopefully, this interview will form another crack in Milan’s already weakening reputation.
Thank you, Alan Titchmarsh.
– Maureen Backman, MS
Academy student and owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco (opening soon!)