Pet Tips

What is a Dog Whisperer – Pet tip 215

What is a Dog Whisperer – Pet tip 215

These days you hear a lot about the term ‘dog whisperer’ and most people associate the term with one particular dog trainer, Cesar Milan. Many people think that he created the term when in fact this is false. The term dog whisperer is actually a term borrowed from horse training, where certain trainers or horse whisperers seemed to be able to get horses to calm down and accept training or accept a rider on their backs. Their methods were often ‘quiet’ (as opposed to more traditional punitive techniques) to an observer as these trainers seemed to get results from quiet whispers. These days though, the term has been diluted and many people use the term loosely. Not only are there dog, horse, and elephant whisperers, but there is even a popular T.V. show called Ghost Whisperer. But back to dog whisperers, what is all this whispering about anyway?

The hard truth is that the term dog whisperer, in the minds of many people has been elevated to some type of magical connection that a trainer has with a dog, or some type of superior insight into dog behaviour. The problem is that, ‘dog whispering’ or the use of the term dog whisperer is 100% unregulated. Anyone in Canada or the USA with no experience can call themselves a dog whisperer. Even though the origin of the term implies gentle training, any method of training can be used be it gentle or punitive/abusive. Although Cesar Milan is highly respected by most dog lovers, many professional trainers find some of his methods (like lifting a dog off the ground, tapping a dog and alpha rolling a dog) too punitive. In fact several trainers (including Cesar Milan) currently calling themselves dog whisperers, have been sued because their methods have caused injury to dogs.

So where is the magic in dog whispering then; is it all fiction and make-believe? The truth is, is that if we are to see the magic in traditional ‘whispering’, it’s really just a keen understanding of dog behaviour. Shock collars, prong collars and new modern devices to control dogs are missing the basic point of ‘whispering’. That point, is that leadership, trust and respect is all that is needed in the vast majority of dog training scenarios. Dogs in the wild are pack animals with one leader. That leader doesn’t have to use a device to keep the pack in order; the leader does it through vocalizations gestures and body language.

A good example is a shy or timid dog. Sure you can approach a shy or timid dog in an assertive manner and force it to ‘obey’. A ‘true whisperer’ wouldn’t do that though; he/she would calmly approach the dog, observe all the body language of the dog (ears, tail, stance etc.) and react accordingly. That type of trainer would take the time to gently assert his/her leadership over the dog while earning the trust and respect of the dog. It might take ten minutes or a week to solve a problem depending on the dog’s history, but no abusive methods would be used. This type of trainer has experience, often years and years of it. When he/she approaches a dog (with confidence, without fear) the dog being approached is reading and reacting to all kinds of cues. These cues are subtle for both parties and often no words/sounds (or a few quiet words/sounds) are spoken.

At the end of the day different trainers will use different methods to achieve their goals. Some methods are more punitive than others; the more punitive they are, the farther they will be from the term ‘whisperer’. The magic of a dog whisperer therefore, relies on many years of experience, patience, respect and authority. It is also based on being an expert in observing and understanding dog behaviour as well as understanding how dogs read human behaviour.

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