Monday, 14 December 2009

Cesar salad days - with a touch of Marmite?

Cesar Millan is definitely dog behaviour Marmite.
For the record, I think he's probably a very charming man and a fascinating person. I've read his life story and it's a great read.
But Dr Ian Dunbar he is certainly not.
Some of the stuff that makes great TV is badged with 'don't try this at home' for a very good reason.
Long ago we decided editorially that we'd not be giving Cesar and his methods any more oxygen than it already gets.
His methods are 'boil in the bag' frozen cod in cheese sauce from the 1970s and we prefer our skate wing with capers and a lemon butter, delicately cooked by Rick Stein, to use another food analogy (is it time for lunch yet?).
It's great rating TV, but it's just not cerebral stuff. If I sound like a dog behaviour snob, it's true.
Long ago we decided to fill our pages with positive training messages and people that have science-based, intellectually sound approaches to our best friend - based on respect and trust.
We'd even thrown ourselves behind a strong campaign to 'ask why and say no' if your trainer starts getting all dominant and punitive. An attempt to reverse the retro trend back to bullying our dogs into quite literally submission with alpha rolls and the like.
Then this month we carry a half page advert for Cesar Millan's roadshow. And boy does he look like a rockstar! Look at the size of those venues - unprecedented.
So why, I hear you ask is this advert appearing in Dogs Today?
Have we gone mad?
For the record. We did not solicit Cesar’s advert, their advertising agency approached us and you're as surprised as me as to why we were chosen as we've not exactly been quiet about not being a fan of Millan.
Should we have banned his advert?
Our new ad sales person had no idea that CM was such a bone of contention when she took the booking. She had no idea why we all groaned! No one imagined in our wildest dreams we'd be on Cesar's shopping list.
Too late to have diplomatically run out of space.
This had become an issue as fundamental as 'do you allow the BNP on Question Time'. 
Let's look at precedent.
We have even taken adverts from the Kennel Club in the past even though we obviously have serious issues with them. Does the acceptance of an advert mean an unqualified editorial endorsement?
Does the Daily Mail taking an advert for cheap lager mean they're backing binge drinking?
Do they get letters when they take those adverts?
We ban people advertising electric shock collars and electric fences, and we'll not be accepting any adverts from people who breed pups without health testing their mothers, but can we afford to be so very choosy that we only take adverts from people and companies we are totally ethically aligned too? Where do you draw the line?
We hold our right to editorial freedom above all else and I actually love the fact we can campaign hard for things, and we celebrate the fact that we won’t bend our editorial just because there's a wealthy advertiser with some money to spend.
If we didn’t take Cesar’s money would he cancel his tour?
Would he change his methodology?
He’d spend the money he's paying us in another magazine that will publish all his press releases, put him on the cover, worship at his alter of success.
I’d rather our intelligent and informed readers see his advert than him place it elsewhere.
Plus there's a percentage of our readers who do want to know he's on tour - even if it's just so they can let the paint dry on their placards in good time! And there are others who will argue they are capable of editing out the bits they don't like and that they still like their toast liberally spread with a bit of Cesar. For many watching his show is a guilty pleasure. We don't have to agree with Simon Cowell or  Bruno  to watch Saturday night TV do we?
I increased the size of the complimentary APBC advert to a half page in the same issue to help balance things, as I did still feel guilt. And you will see we have very strong editorial about positive reward-based methods in the issue and all others.
Publishing is a juggling act, but I hope you think we made the best call.
We retain the right to say what we like on the editorial pages thanks to people buying adverts on the pages inbetween. Without adverts we can't afford to come out - it's as simple as that. It's part of the equation.
We are confident our readers can tell the difference between adverts and editorial and will make up their own minds whether to follow Millan or the other path which we try to make as enticing as possible in the 14 pages written by positive dog trainers in that same issue.
And yes, we'll be publishing a letter or two in the next issue to reflect this so you can stop writing as we've already got plenty to choose between!
Come on all you reward-based lovely people don't go all punitive on me. We're doing our best to do the right thing.

6 comments:

Becca said...

Excellent post Beverly

I admit I was surprised to see the advert when I first read thorugh the magazine but after thinking about it realised that a) It didn't reflect the views of your excellent magazine and how much work you do for positive training and b) at the end of the day you need the advertising for the magazine to run.

Keep up the good work, Dogs Today remains the only Doggie magazine I buy because of the excellent articles and the honesty you show.

Tc27 said...

I've just got to find that pair of scissors! :D

Nell said...

I cannot comment on all CMs programmes as I have only watched a few and that was enough for me. Those I have watched showed, I personally feel, a lack of understanding of modern reward based training and a prominent use of aversive and cruel methods. I have personally witnessed in these programmes pinning down of dogs, sharp sudden digs in the ribs, yanking of leads and the use of both prong and shock collars.

A thread re this including several clips from his show and comments from other societies can be found on the Agility Net forum on www.agilitynet.com under Training and Behaviour. Please take a while out of your precious time to look at it and study the films (the advise given in the thread is to watch with the sound off and note the body language of the dogs not Cesar's commentary).

As a house and life sharer with two wonderful working sheepdogs and fan of these gentle intelligent dogs the clip of the terrified border collie reduced me to tears and I still cannot get out of my head the damage that must have been done to an already sensitive and frightened dog and what happened to him once the cameras stopped rolling - some threads have stated that his teeth were filed down to make him 'safe'.

Allegedy, a previous programme from Feb 15th showed a husky type dog named Shadow being strung up until his tongue turned blue and he collapsed on the ground when he was further pinned down into 'submission'. I have not been able to confirm this as the recording of this programme has since been removed from the CM website following distribution among horrified dog lovers.

The only way to make your mind up is to watch the evidence and then if you feel move to speak out like me do not be afraid to do so. The dogs cannot speak for themselves - it is up to us.

Nell

Tc27 said...

It is said that Cesar's people remove many videos that show him apparently harshly treating a dog. But on his own National Geographic site you can see many examples of bad correction and wrong rehabilitation.
For example, dragging a huge dog up stairs to overcome the dogs fears of stairs can be seen here...
http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/dog-whisperer/3727/Photos#tab-Videos/06243_00

My point is, there are videos out there 'promoting' him clearly using dated and harsh techniques. Therefore he must think what he is doing is ok!

Many organisations, such as the RSPCA and Dogs Trust have spoken out against harsh methods and have come together to put out a mutual statement which can be seen here...
http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org/

The timing is not coincidental!

Tc27 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I couldn't even watch most of the video of the poor st bernard being dragged up and down the stairs.. How can that be a good training exercise for a dog that is clearly terrified and being dragged around on a choke chain!!!! My Jack Russell as a pup had a fear of going down the stairs, I sat him on a low step and encouraged him to go down them on his own using positive reinforcement with toys and treats, it took one go and he never had a problem since. I can imagine that poor st bernard must be even more terrified of the stairs than ever before and probably now hates choke chains..