Q: I listen to you on the radio, and feel that you don't agree with Cesar Millan's approach to animals. I want to know why. I've watched many of his videos on how to correct behavior problems, and found them interesting. I think establishing myself as a pack leader is good idea. -- K.G., Cicero, IL
Q: I've been watching "The Dog Whisperer" for about two years and have been very impressed with Cesar Millan. So I decided to see what others say. I've been surprised at negative reviews such as yours. I began to think we couldn't have been watching the same show. I love the emphasis on the dog being quiet and calm, and behind the owner before going outdoors. It's obvious Millan is affectionate with his dogs, who are quite well behaved. I don't sense anything abusive. I love Cesar's way. Why don't you? -- S.B., Cyberspace
A: I haven't mentioned Cesar Millan in a column since sometime last year, yet hardly a week goes by without letters like these.
First, I have no qualms about Cesar Millan personally. In fact, it seems he really cares about dogs. I believe he is blessed with an amazingly intuitive understanding of dog behavior, exceeding that of most people. However, on many of the shows -- particularly earlier episodes -- his methods caused many animal-behavior experts to gasp.
One of his repeated themes has been forcing dogs to "face their fears." Well, that does little to change their emotions. If you are deathly afraid of spiders or snakes, and then I seal you off in a room filled with them, you'd perhaps panic at first but finally find yourself helpless and pretty much give up. Is this truly an effective or humane method to readjust fears?
When it comes to correcting behavior problems, Millan's response is sometimes inappropriate to the issue. For example, on my radio show, he explained that a dog with separation anxiety has the problem because there's no leadership in the home.
When it comes to being a pack leader, I contend that dogs know we're not dogs; few of us smell or act like cocker spaniels. Certainly, dogs do look to us for leadership. I'm all for being a benevolent leader. Teaching dogs is most successful when it's fun for them (and for us, too). Providing leadership through motivation (rather than intimidation) creates a better-behaved and more secure best friend.
As for an owner going outdoors first, presumably this is one way to establish your dominance. However, there's no science to demonstrate any truth to this concept. It was simply made up by Millan, or someone else, based on what alpha wolves do. I'm not sure what alpha wolves have to do with dogs, or that alpha wolves often find themselves going through doors!
I love any emphasis on rewarding quiet, calm behavior, or for that matter, rewarding any behavior we like. And there's much more Millan suggests that I agree with.
Still, consider that "The Dog Whisperer" is the only dog-training show ever that has warnings popping up on the screen asking viewers not to attempt these methods at home.
All dog trainers evolve. My hope is that Millan is evolving and eventually will catch up with everyone else.
Q: Please remind people to never their leave pets in a hot car. Every summer, pets die who don't need to die. -- N.S., Indianapolis, IN
A: You're right that dogs (and cats) die in hot cars. Even if it's only 80 degrees outside (which doesn't sound so bad), in 15 minutes, even with windows cracked open, it hits over 115 inside a car (according to a Stanford University) study. You wouldn't sit very long in a car with the temperature at 100 degrees. These are deadly conditions for dogs; they don't cool themselves as efficiently as people because they don't sweat (except for a little from their paw pads). It many cities, counties and states, it's illegal to lock a pet in a hot car.
My real hope is that if you see a dog locked in a hot car, you'll attempt to find the owner, or simply call law enforcement. Now that so many of us carry cell phones, this is easy enough to do.
Tying a dog outside while you go into a store can also be lethal. Leaving the pet in the sun with nowhere to go is downright cruel and might be hazardous. Tying up dogs is generally not a good idea anyway, since they can get loose and run into the street or be stolen. If you can't bring your dog into the store with you, either leave the pet outdoors with a second adult, or leave your dog at home.
Q: Recently, you wrote a blog post after Spain won the World Cup listing dog breeds originating in Spain. I thought it was interesting because I hadn't heard of any of the breeds. You can tell I've never been to Spain! Are there any cat breeds that originated in Spain? -- N.D., Naperville, IL
Q: What about Spanish cat breeds? -- S.L., Quebec, CA
A: There are no cat breeds which originated in Spain. Sorry.
Here are those Spanish dog breeds once again (read details on the blog post at www.chicagonow.com/stevedale): Burgos Pointing Dog (Spanish Pointing Dog or Perdiguero de Burgos), Canary Warren Hound, Catalan Sheepdog (Catalonian Shepherd), Galgo (Spanish Greyhound), Mallorquin Bulldog (Ca de Bou), Perro de Pastor Mallorquin (Perro de Pastor Mallorquin), Presa de Canario (Canary Dog), Pyrenean Mastiff (Perro Mastin de los Pirineos), Spanish Hound, Spanish Mastiff and Spanish Water Dog.
Q: What brand of cat litter do you recommend? We recently adopted a cat from our local animal control and I'm curious what type you like. -- B.H., Las Vegas, NV
A: What I like, or what you like, for that matter, is irrelevant. It's what your cat likes that counts. In general, cats prefer non-scented clumping litters. However, just as individual people have their own toilet preferences, so do cats. It's always a good idea to not make drastic changes, so sticking with whatever the animal control facility was using is a good idea if you only have the one cat you adopted. If there are other existing cats in your house, add a litter box with the litter the shelter used, then gradually replace it with the litter your other cats like.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD@STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.