Cesar Millan – the Dog Whisperer

I know The Dog Whisperer seems like an odd choice for this site, but it’ll make sense when I’m done. Really.

Cesar Millan is a dog behaviorist – not a trainer, but someone who really understands how dogs think, and how to communicate with them like another dog would, and how well-intentioned owners can inadvertently encourage aggressive or fearful behavior. In his own words from the intro: “I rehabilitate dogs; I train people.”

As you watch, you may notice that most of the owners he meets with are women who don’t realize it’s good to dominate the dog, or don’t know how. They associate dominance with aggression and cruelty, and submission with fear. They think they can love the dog’s issues away because as women they’ve been trained to cooperate and tolerate. Sometimes Cesar even makes the point that it can be harder for women to become good dog owners, due to this lack of assertiveness training. But a dog in a human’s worl doesn’t need the pressure of thinking he’s in charge and out of his element, so Cesar teaches (mostly) women how to project authority in their energy, to which dogs are very sensitive, and give the dog the security of knowing its human is a good leader.

I always thought the show had a side effect of empowering women. I came to see it more as an underlying theme when Cesar made comments to the effect that once you learn to exert authority over a dog, it can have a ripple effect of empowerment throughout the rest of your life. But a few nights ago, I saw an episode in which he said something that utterly blew my mind.

He was explaining to a woman that in the dog world, a female can be a pack leader just as easily as a male, and that with elephants, it’s always females in charge. She was surprised, by the way – we’re so conditioned to think male dominance is a natural, not a contrived state. Then Cesar went on to say that women are meant to be ruling the world, rather than just their families; that we’re really designed to be the ones in charge, and there would be less war and poverty and so on if we were. He finished by commenting that he’s from a third world country (Mexico) in which women aren’t really allowed any power outside the home, and it’s his hope to see a woman running the world before he dies.

I just about fell off the couch.

He’s right, you know. Oh, my ideal would still be that we seek out the best individuals for leadership roles, regardless of gender, class, race or lifestyle, and put them in charge. But we’ll probably never reach my ideal until we’ve first taken power away from men and given it to women. Because women – whether due to biology or centuries of conditioning – are better at compromising and sharing authority; we’re less violent, and more prone to thinking solutions; we’re better at subjugating our egos and putting the needs of the many ahead of our own desires. And we have a natural built-in authority, designed to make us strong mothers, but equally good for making us strong leaders.

Conversely, men have proven themselves prone to aggressive and/or violent solutions, selfishness when leadership is most needed, and the tendency to mistake intimidation and extortion for authority. Interestingly, this is the sort of behavior you see from dogs who feel they’ve been pushed into an unsought and unwanted position of authority. Do men really want to be in charge, or do they just not realize we have the power to rethink the solutions prescribed by our ancestors?


  1. Gategrrl says

    For a while there, I watched The Dog Whisperer religiously. I loved it.

    I remember one show in particular where he went into a home where this woman had bought this little Chihuahua for her SON (he was about 16 at the time, and 18/19 when the show was filmed). And she was a DOG TRAINER herself!

    The film crew showed the little mutt growling and snapping at her son, and anyone who approached her – and when the mutt did that, she’s place it in her lap and pet it. She actually told Cesar that it was her BABY.

    Cesar got particularly frustrated with this bitch (the woman: I still can’t think of her as anything else) when she REFUSED to consider her own son ahead of the dog, and told Cesar that the dog was more important than her son!

    Cesar was shown being utterly taken aback and saying there was nothing he could for her/dog if she wouldn’t put her son ahead of the dog. He almost walked away, you could tell. I have a feeling someone convinced him to give the dog owner another go, for the boy’s sake.

    Well, he did finally get through to the bitch, and later the son was shown with the dog, and the dog was behaving normally. But it was remarkable that the bitch put a dog before her own kid. And technically, it was her kid’s dog, not hers.

    Some people…

    But yeah, I think he’s got an awesome handle on how dogs tick, and how to behave around them, and I like that encourages people to behave like the *boss* and be assertive and to realize how much their own behavior warps their animals: and maybe, just maybe, they might realize how they’re warping their own children or relationships. But I doubt that.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    That woman sounds like an extreme case. There isn’t anything you can do for a person if her mind isn’t open.

    A lot of the owners they show do have open minds, fortunately, they’re just ignorant of certain things, and they’ve been socially conditioned in ways that… well, obviously aren’t working out that well for us humans, either. There’s something about reducing behavior to simple animal terms that really makes you wonder how much of the psychological garbage and conditioning we carry around is unavoidable.

    I realize you were punning with the word “bitch” in that comment, but for anyone else reading this, I want to note that we really discourage the use of gender-biased slang on this site. :)

  3. sbg says

    I think I love him. 😉

    Seriously, though, he makes a lot of valid observations about women that many guys are really uncomfortable with. It was always my mother, for example, who was “in charge” in my house growing up. My dad was the breadwinner (really, there wasn’t much of a way for my mother to work outside the home until we were all gone. Now she works.), but my mom decided exactly how the bread was to be divided. It seems clear to me who’s got the actual power in that scenario.

  4. Gategrrl says

    Sorry about that — but honestly, what else to call someone who puts her son last (she did eventually “see the light” of course) past the family dog?

    Dork? Twit? Ninny? Jerk? Asshole? (those’re about the most ungender-biased curse words I can think of) When do you call a spade a spade? Oh, shoot, spade also has a nasty subtextual meaning, if you know the history behind it.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    I just wanted to point out that you were using it as a pun, not just as a term of abuse, so that if someone uses it as a term of abuse, they won’t be confused about why I let someone else use it.

    The point of the rule for the site is to reduce gendered insults: asshole would have been acceptable. 😀

    On a side note, it’s sad we don’t have any really good snappy slang insults for selfish jerks, since we have so many of them.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    In rural and southern areas, where women are thought to be most submissive, it’s been my observation that MOST women make an art form of controlling everything in their sphere, but in a way that makes it seem like they’re just daft little silly things with no authority. They manipulate their men like musical instruments, and the men don’t seem to realize every decision they make is actually being made by their wives.

    It made me wonder if the men didn’t prefer acting on decisions to making decisions.

  7. scarlett says

    Try something like ‘pathologically selfish and closed minded’, or, that all-encompesser, ‘thoroughly rotten human being’.

  8. scarlett says

    That makes me think of a scenario from ALl Saints, where the ED is ru8n by this grumpy old autocrat who love sto make mincemeat out of the ward’s head nurse. The newest one, Gabrielle, gets around this by feeding Frank information so suddenly he gets these bright ideas to do X, Y and Z which, what to you know, were exactly what Gabreille wanted all along – and which she wouldn’t have gotten by coming out and saying ‘I want’.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about weather it’s empowering for women to take these roundabout ways to exert power and get what they want, or if it’s untimately disempowering, because they should be able to come out and say ‘I want’ without being made to look liek demanding brats.

  9. Gabriela says

    It’s empowering in a subversive way, but ultimately it just helps the cycle go on. I think it’s against my nature to be manipulative, and it’s annoying too. But until a way can be found to be direct without losing, there doesn’t seem to be much choice. Also, I don’t believe that women have a natural built in authority designed for motherhood, simply because it makes it sound like we’re meant to be mothers and that it’s unnatural to not be one.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think it’s disempowering when a woman chooses scheming over a more straightforward approach. It’s different when it’s clear that she has no options but to scheme (Scarlett O’Hara, in many cases). But when she COULD just say what she wants and risk people thinking that’s not ladylike, I don’t appreciate her choosing to manipulate instead.

  11. scarlett says

    Well, in this case, Frank had established that he used every bit of clout he had to say ‘no’ to anything that inconvenienced him – something which three Head Nurses had already found out. Gabrielle’s tactic was to suggest it in such a way that he thought it was his brilliant idea. She basically tried a more manipulative approach on someone it had been long established didn’t respond to well to the upfront apprach.

    In that particular case, it made sense. But it felt like it was encouraging women to get their way through manipulating, rather then being upfront – and holding their ground if they were told ‘no’.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    We are biologically designed with the capability of being mothers, not the necessity of being mothers. I do think certain personality requirements are built into that system, and I do know more truly authoritative women than truly authoritative men. But in no way was I connecting biological capabilities with destiny.
    We’re also designed to kill creatures tooth and nail. Doesn’t mean it’s unnatural for us to refrain from hunting.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    OMG, I just saw part of this story on a special episode called “Cesar’s Toughest Cases”. I noticed he concentrated on teaching the boy how to handle the dog, like he didn’t trust the mother to keep up the training (good call, IMO).

    I can understand her uncertainty about how to discipline without hurting, and her confusion about giving affection at the right time – most of the owners have trouble with that stuff. But even though they didn’t play the clip of her saying the dog was more important than her son, that vibe came across, and it was creepy. I couldn’t decide if she was passively-aggressively attacking her son via the dog, or if she was just… I don’t know: maybe the boy lost her interest when he grew up to be his own human being, and she prefers the dog, which is permanently cute and little.

    I felt for the dog, too. It was pretty sweet, given a chance to just be a dog.

    Cesar handled the woman very well, but there’s only so much you can do with someone if their mind is closed.

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