At a time when I sometimes despair about the world Alan Titchmarsh supplied a ray of hope. Alan is an unlikely hero of mine given my inability to garden in any way shape or form and he was not someone I thought of as a hard hitting interviewer – until yesterday.

Yesterday Cesar Millan appeared on the Alan Titchmarsh show. Complaints had been received by the show as soon as it was made public that Millan would be appearing. It seems those complaints were listened to, but instead of cancelling the guest, the show chose to continue with the interview but ask those awkward questions that others have shied away from in the past. I have sympathy for others who haven’t asked those difficult questions. Rumours abound about Millan’s posse threatening legal action against those that question or disagree with the Millan enterprise and it’s hard to stand firm when you feel like your a lone voice, I’ve had that feeling myself. So to see the mild mannered Alan Titchmarsh to question Millan on his techniques including asking why he uses punches, kicks, shock collars and prong collars was something of a revelation. Millan looked uncomfortable and couldn’t answer a single question. His ramble towards the end of the interview about using food that somehow morphed into using a parrot to control a dog was ludicrus.

Millan also showed some interesting body language, many of which when seen in a dog we often call “calming signals” – lip licking, curling into himself to appear smaller, turning away. I wonder whether Millan will recognise these signals in himself if he ever watches the interview back – he certainly doesn’t seem to be aware of them when the dogs he works with show the same signals.

 

 

I think the greatest thing I took from the interview was Alan’s mild manner in asking the difficult questions, he didn’t back down but neither was he aggressive. This is something I can struggle with when faced with someone who believes Millan’s and other similarly aversive techniques should be used, because I passionately disagree.

Millan’s followers seem to have a zealous faith for their guru and it can be hard to stay unemotional in the face of their passionate pleas “but he’s the dogs’ last chance”. The fact is that Millan *isn’t* the last chance for many dogs, and he certainly isn’t for the majority of the dogs in the UK whose owners choose to replicate what they see on TV. And even if the dog *was* on it’s last chance does that make it OK to use fear, mental and physical abuse to change behaviour? Never mind the fact that using fear and coercion to change behaviour is somewhat unpredictable, and then you have the problematic spontaneous recovery that can occur meaning the original behaviour that you thought you’d “punished out” reappears.

You see I just can’t see the logic in using those methods, it just seems too risky to me and so I find it hard to understand when people defend Millan so fervidly. I often advise to watch his shows with the sound off – he uses magician-like showmanship (and clever editing I’m sure) to misdirect the audience from what he is actually doing to the dog, with the sound off you are less influenced by his redirection. Watch the dog, watch the body language, watch the avoidance they show, even the ones that end up acting aggressively will show avoidance beforehand – the aggression occurs because they weren’t listened to and so were given no choice.

I hope that people’s eyes were opened by the Titchmarsh interview, let’s call a spade a spade and see Millan’s techniques for what they are – abuse.