This week, a German magazine* reported that Cesar Millan, presenter of National Geographic's hugely popular and equally divisive show The Dog Whisperer, would not be allowed to train dogs in Germany because he failed to pass the required exam.
This will not come as a surprise to Millan's many critics, who point to his training techniques as proof of his lack of knowledge. For example, he often fails to properly characterize a dog's behavior - he frequently describes stressed-out, shut down dogs as "calm". He also claims that dogs have a similar "pack mentality" to wolves, which he claims to justify his use of harsh physical punishments to create "submission."
According to the article, Millan's team put in an urgent application for a license to train dogs so that he could do hands-on demonstrations at a show in Hanover. Millan took the test with the help of an interpreter, but failed to meet the required standards. Although the show will still go ahead, Millan will not be legally permitted to touch any dogs in a professional capacity. He will effectively be muzzled.
Despite the professional training world being pretty much in agreement that The Dog Whisperer is a fraud at best, animal abuse at worst, Millan's popularity on and off the air is still high. One of the reasons for this is a lack of regulation of the dog training industry as a whole. Germany is the only country to have enacted a law to make dog training a "protected profession", meaning that an exam has to be passed before a person can call herself a dog trainer.
If regulation were to happen in the United States, we could ensure that trainers using outdated, inhumane and ineffective methods like Cesar Millan's no longer had access to employment in the field. We could ensure that all trainers had a basic knowledge of animal welfare, dog behavior and learning theory. This would benefit dogs as well as their guardians, who at the moment are faced with a training market saturated with "quick fix" claims, flashy adverts and underhand tactics, with very little guidance for how to tell the charlatans from the true experts. It's time to follow Germany's lead and adopt a standard of regulation for dog trainers. Maybe then, the likes of Cesar Millan will have to find another day job.
*Read the original article in German, here.