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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Criminal Bastard Cesar MILAN: Leader of the PACK

We have five senses; they have a million

There is no scientific mystery about how this works. The dog’s dominant sense organ is its nose: smelling is to dogs what seeing is to us. Depending on breed, a dog gets up to 100 million times more information from scent that we do. We cannot easily conceive of all the things a dog learns about us through its nose. By smell alone a dog can tell, among many other things, whether or not we have malignant melanoma, bladder, breast, ovarian, prostate or lung cancer, long before any medical tests. Our scent goes with us everywhere: we are constantly shedding microscopic particles of dead skin that weigh 200-millionths of an ounce and are shaped like cornflakes. Each particle is laden with a unique scent—from our skin, from the four bacteria each one typically carries, from our bodily secretions and from vapors that surround us. These scent-carrying particles do not fall to the ground. They fly up, carried by air currents surrounding our bodies at 125-feet-a-second—even faster in hot weather or if we are wearing certain clothes. They change direction depending on how we move and eventually disperse 18 inches about our head. They broadcast our unique smell for many hours. Once emitted they decay, signaling time like a ticking clock.
Dogs can smell things that are far away and, because of their wet nose, detect the direction it is coming from. They can smell what has happened in the recent past. Most importantly, because of the chemical changes emotions cause and the way air flows around our body when we move, they can smell how we feel. In short, when a person has what Millan calls “calm assertive energy,” dogs can smell it. They can also smell fear, nervousness, sadness, and stress. They can see it too.
A dog’s vision is as different from ours as its sense of smell. Among other things, dogs have up to 270 degrees of peripheral vision. They can see us from over their shoulders without turning their head. Pretty much the last thing a dog does is listen. Millan: “Scent before sight before sound.”
Dogs that are already calm and paying attention can understand words they have learned in context—more than a thousand in at least one case—but verbal commands are unlikely to be effective otherwise. They will almost never work, even in obedient dogs, if the dog cannot see the face of the person talking. This is really easy to prove. When your dog is calm and relaxed, look into her eyes and tell her to “sit.” She will probably sit. Wait until she gets up. Turn your back to her and say “sit.” She almost certainly won’t. To put it another way, yelling at your dog makes no sense.
This is why Millan, despite being the “dog whisperer,” seldom talks to dogs. The closest he comes is an occasional clipped hiss—it sounds like “sssssst!”—to get their attention. Taco starts chewing on a plastic fork. “Ssssst!” says Millan. Taco looks at Millan for leadership. Millan gently removes the fork and resumes the conversation.

Wolves have each other, but dogs just have you

Our understanding of wolves was not overturned by the realization that wild packs are families. What we learned was that there were two models of social behavior: one for captive, unrelated wolves, and another for wild, related, wolves. One is more aggressive, and the other is more cooperative, but both are still hierarchical. Anyone who thinks there is no pecking order in a family has never been in a family.
The question at the center of the Cesar Millan controversy—and at the heart of understanding dog behavior in general—is which model applies to dogs? How best to train them? Their natural social group is humans, not related dogs, and even if they are with relatives, the lab in Budapest has shown that, once dogs are a few months old, they are almost completely indifferent to other family members. And their modern environment is inside a house. Is that like being in captivity, or like being in the wild?
For his part, Millan does not address his critics and cautions that there are many ways to train dogs. But the answer to this question is clear: People are the boss. Millan’s methods only have been bolstered by the spate of research on dogs and wolves. A dog’s pack, or family, is a unique interspecies group that must include people and may include other dogs. And a dog’s first instinct—unlike a wolf’s—is to look to the people for leadership. Only when it does not find that, either because its human is too abusive, affectionate, or unstable, does it start to behave more like a captive wolf with no family—aggressively questing for dominance, out of insecurity more than anything else. All along, this has been Millan’s secret to well-behaved dogs.

What humans are doing to dogs

This aggressive questing is more likely today, because we keep dogs indoors and may treat them like friends or infants, rather than giving them the reassurance that they are safe because we are in charge. Even when we do provide leadership, our dogs will organize themselves hierarchically. The process is normally peaceful, but sometimes there is a little nipping and growling. Wolves, and therefore dogs, test each other—and us—to see who should be pack leader. This is essential, evolved behavior: just as the strength of the wolf is the pack, so the strength of the pack is the leader. Anybody with more than one dog knows they sort themselves into an order, not a group of equals, typically with tests of dominance exactly the same as the ones wolves use in the wild. Millan’s explanation on how this plays out:
There are three positions: the back, the middle and the front. The guys in the back are the most timid ones. At the same time they are very sensitive, so they’re going to alert you for everything. If you want somebody to tell you when an earthquake is coming, that’s that guy. You don’t expect the rest of the guys to be as sensitive. Everybody in the pack is just as valuable. The guys in the front, those are the police dogs. They’re constantly at alert. And then the happy-go-lucky guys are in the middle. These are the guys that make sure the guys in the front and the guys in the back co-exist.
When he says this, he mimics body language for three positions: looking around timidly as the dog at the back (where Kaley Cuoco lives), thrusting forward assertively as the dog at the front (like Junior), pimp-rolling as the dog in the middle (like Taco). Millan has dog body language down cold. He does not just copy it, he reads it.
No need to whisper: Cesar Millan is the leader of the pack.Photo by: (Scott Grover for Quartz)
He is so good at it that if you slow down his TV shows, you will frequently see Millan reacting to what a dog does before the dog does it. He will reach for a dog’s collar frames before it lunges. He will start to correct a dog a fraction of a second before it misbehaves. He can read a dog as if he himself is a dog.
This also debunks the argument that Millan is out of touch and that positive reinforcement is the new, better way. The truth is the opposite. What dog trainers call “positive reinforcement” is an example of something called “operant conditioning,” a method of learning that relies on reward or punishment. One of positive reinforcement’s earliest incarnations was “clicker training,” developed by Marian Kruse and Keller Breland in the 1940s. In clicker training, a dog or any other animal—Kruse and Breland used the technique with more than a hundred species including bears, chickens, and humans—is given a reward and hears the sound of a click whenever it does something the trainer wants it to repeat. In time, the treat is eliminated leaving only the click, and eventually the click can be removed too, leaving only the training. Kruse and Keller were students of B.F. Skinner, who, along with Ivan Pavlov of salivating dogs fame, was a founder of the school of psychology called “behaviorism.” In Skinner’s view, living things, including humans, were “organisms” that do what they do merely as a result of response to stimulus. It was not necessary to understand their goals or motives—only to condition them to provide the desired response on command. This approach shaped dog training for decades.

An obedient dog is not always a happy one

When dogs first became urban pets instead of rural hunters and herders, the first wave of dog trainers, influenced by Skinner, Pavlov and others, taught dogs to perform tricks like “sit” and “roll-over” by using command-based conditioning. The goal was not happiness but obedience. Behaviorism, like breed purity, dates back to the late 19th century. By the end of the 20th century, it had been displaced by a more complete, humane understanding of what living creatures do and why, called “cognitive psychology.” Cognitive psychology treats people and animals as complicated, sentient thinkers, with behaviors that result from instinct, intuition and reason, and are often directed by goals. Behaviorists train dogs to be obedient. Cognitivists lead dogs to be happy. Millan is in this latter category, the ultimate dog cognitivist. He seeks to understand what dogs need and think and why. He is not behind the times, but way ahead of them. It is the positive reinforcers who are out of date.
Now, three years after he tried to kill himself, Millan is rebuilding. He is in a serious relationship, has a new TV show, and a new dog psychology center, where he is getting back to his roots by recreating his grandfather’s farm in Mexico—a humble place with livestock and adobe that is about as far from Hollywood as it could be, permanently occupied by the immortal spirit of his favorite dog, Daddy. Of the vital function that dogs perform, Eckhart Tolle says:
They keep millions of people sane. They have become guardians of being.
Tolle is a spiritualist, but his observation is more than mystical. It is supported by science. The findings are not as simple as dogs improving human life. It depends on the dog, and most of all, it depends on you But for all the proof that dogs need humans, a fairly consistent body of research does show benefits of the reverse. People with dogs feel more relaxedless lonely,exercise more, and are even less likely to have infants with allergies. Some of the biggest impacts of dog ownership are felt by two types of people in particular: women and single men. A single man with a dog is much less likely to suffer from depression than a single man without one.
Cesar Millan knows this firsthand. The man he is today results not from what he learned about dogs, but what he learned from them. The Dog Whisperer died in 2010. Cesar Millan and his radical ways did not. While he was saving dogs, dogs were saving him. 
Follow Kevin Ashton on Twitter @kevin_ashton. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.
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