Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dogs and Color Categorization: An Exploration

Liz R. Kover
Professor Stanley Coren
LIF 515
December 15, 2014

Are dogs able to recognize that two items belong in the same category based solely on the sameness of their color? Comparing and contrasting my experiment with Betty to John Pilley’s experiments with Chaser, and others.

Chaser the Border collie, now famously known as the smartest dog in the world, has achieved “academic” heights previously presumed out of reach of the canine mind. Not only was John Pilley’s groundbreaking research with Chaser a game-changer in the specific areas of animal behavior he aimed to address, such as a dog’s ability to acquire language skills and properly interpret syntax. But because language comprehension is a definitive benchmark used to measure intelligence in human beings, Chaser’s achievements are fueling an entire paradigm shift -- altering not only what we know, but in fact the very nature of our inquiry into further understanding. For ages, scientists have turned to non-human primates in pursuit of insight into human intelligence. However, the dog -- once considered a useless study subject in this realm –is now of ultimate interest as a species whose convergent evolution with humans informs the development of both our species’ cognitive make-up as socially cooperative (“pack”) animals.  Thanks to Chaser, Rico, and other dogs like them, the modern comparative framework puts a dog’s cognitive capacity being on par with that of a human toddler. With this in mind, researchers are simulating all kinds of cognitive psychology experiments that were originally conducted with children, now using dogs as study subjects in place of two or three year-old humans.

Many studies have established that obvious (i.e. easy to observe and stable in time) cues such as color and shape are used for categorization in infancy and early childhood (Nazzi & Gopnik, 2000). Therefore, using the resources I had at my disposal– namely a six month-old black lab puppy named Betty, among a few other “supplies” – I set out to watch a dog’s mind work with my own eyes. I designed an experiment that combined elements from a few studies I found fascinating, including John Pilley’s, to determine whether or not Betty could recognize color as a cue for categorization. I “informally” hypothesized that given enough time and practice, and a failsafe experimental model, it is likely that dogs could learn to identify two objects as belonging to the same category based solely on the sameness of their color. I reached my supposition based on the following information revealed by previous studies:

(A) Contrary to popular belief, dogs have and use color vision.
(B) Dogs are able to identify individual objects by given names or labels.
(C) Dogs are capable of recognizing objects whose names they have learned as independent from the commands with which the objects are associated.
(D) Dogs are able to understand that one word might apply to both an individual object, and a category within which that object belongs.
(E) Dogs respond to non-verbal communicative cues from humans, and infer their meaning.
(E-1) Dogs are able to translate two-dimensional representations of objects as commands to retrieve the three-dimensional objects they represent.
* * *

My own study is a work in progress; it will require more time and trials to complete, which means I do not have conclusive data to report. Rather, I will compare my project to the studies on which I based my hypothesis and experimental design; and will share the (inconclusive) data I was able to glean from the work I did with Betty, which paints at least part of an emerging picture, if not an entirely polished piece.


Using a clicker and training treats, I rewarded Betty for indicating two different objects by the proper-noun names I had given them. For simplicity’s sake, I named a yellow plastic puzzle piece toy “Yellow”, and will refer to it herein as YO (yellow object); I named a blue rubber bone “Blue”, and will refer to it herein as BO (blue object). I first introduced (BO) by setting it on one of three equidistant “X”s I had drawn on a large piece of white cardboard, and said to Betty, “Where’s BLUE”? When Betty touched or nudged the object with her nose or paw, picked it up, or obviously gestured in its direction by staring at it, I clicked and rewarded the behavior. Then we did the same with the yellow object (YO). Next, we repeated several trials during which both BO and YO were options. I made sure to move the items from one X to another randomly between trials, so that Betty was not simply conditioned to pick the object from one particular spot on the piece of cardboard.

I had then planned to introduce two variables into the experiment: First, I would interchange the blue rubber bone with a square pad of Post-It notes that was virtually the same shade of blue, (herein I will refer to it as bp for “blue paper”), and interchange the yellow plastic puzzle piece toy with a pad of Post-It notes that was virtually the same shade of yellow (herein referred to as yp for “yellow paper”). I would repeatedly present her with two items at once in one of three randomly-ordered contextual set-ups: Either (a) both original colored objects, or BO & YO, (b) both colored squares of paper, or bp & yp, or (c) one object and its oppositely-colored square of paper, or BO & yp/ bp & YO. *Had Betty chosen a colored pad of paper when presented with one as an option, she would’ve been choosing it by virtue of its color alone, as the colored pads of paper shared no other similarities with the original objects besides their color. They were different in texture, size, shape, and weight; and Betty wouldn’t have seen them before they were brought into the experimental context. [*We did a brief few trials using this set-up, which you’ll see at the very end of the video on YouTube. But we didn’t complete nearly enough trials to obtain significant results one way or another.]

Next, I would have the original blue and yellow objects set up on the X’s, as before. But this time I would hold up either the blue Post-Its or the yellow ones, and see if Betty would infer that by showing her the paper, I wanted her to select the object that was “the same” as the paper. I will go further into the implications of what this test would reveal shortly.


Dogs’ eyesight directly affects the efficiency with which they navigate the world around them. Consider the keen visual acuity it takes for a dog to hunt, or in fact become a vehicle of sight for a person who’s lacking it. While dogs’ visual prowess primarily lies in capturing fast-moving objects and/or those skittering across the landscape in low-light, studies have clearly documented that dogs possess and use color vision as well. Human eyes contain three types of color-receptive cones; therefore we are able to perceive a richer, more saturated, and wider color palette than dogs, whose eyes are equipped with only two classes of cone photopigment. In other words, humans have trichromatic vision, while dogs’ is dichromatic. The visible spectrum in dogs is divided into two hues: one in the violet and blue-violet range, which is presumably seen as blue by dogs, and one in the greenish-yellow, yellow and red range, which is probably seen by dogs as yellow (Miller and Murphy, 1995).

When designing my experiment, I had to be certain that Betty would not only be able to see the individual colored objects I was using, but also discriminate the two colors from one another. In other words, had I chosen objects that were green and yellow, there likely would not have been enough contrast for Betty to perceive a difference. Or had I chosen a red object and a green one, Betty would likely have only seen two shades of gray with little variation in between. I chose the colors I did because wavelengths at the two ends of the visible spectrum in dogs’ visible field – blue at one end and yellow at the other end – likely provide the most saturated and contrasted colors (Miller and Murphy, 1995).

In addition to merely having the anatomical capacity for color vision, studies show that dogs make use of the potential therein implied. Recent research out of the Royal Society has shown that dogs use chromaticity over brightness to glean information from colors in their environment. Scientists tested dogs’ preference when choosing test stimuli that differed in both hue and brightness. Incidentally, these researchers used yellow and blue for their experiment like I did, but they used two highly contrasted yellows, one bright and one dark, and did the same with dark and light blues. From their results, the team concluded that under natural photopic lighting conditions, color information may be predominant even for animals that possess only two spectral types of cone photoreceptors (Kasparson, et al. 2013).

Chaser the brilliant Border Collie ultimately learned to identify 1,038 objects by name over a three-year period. Assuming she and her person, John Pilley, trained 350 out of 365 days per year, approximately 4.5 hours per day, then one could assume they dedicated an average of 9.5 hours of training time to each object. Betty and I were able to dedicate approximately 1/5th of the necessary amount of time and practice it would take for us to achieve comparable results. After 100 trials of having Betty choose YO or BO, she was barely choosing correctly above chance, and seemed to be guessing for the most part about which object was which. When both objects were present, Betty chose correctly 56 times, and incorrectly 44 times. Had we had more time, and had she learned to identify each object in reliable “Chaser fashion”, our experiment would’ve moved beyond the theoretical and hypothetical stages. But alas, it did not. Betty’s age, breed, and level of previous generalized training must also be considered. Betty is a six month-old Labrador retriever in training to become a service dog for a child with autism. She is an intelligent dog, by my subjective account, but I wonder how the experiment might’ve gone differently if she were a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd, for example. I understand this is a variable in all canine cognition experiments that involve participants of only one breed, and especially for those involving only one participant. Had Betty had more time to practice identifying objects by name, I am sure we could’ve gotten to the “meat” of the color categorization hypothesis more quickly. As it stands, we have no conclusive results to report just yet, though we plan to continue working on it.


Critics of the Rico language-learning study questioned whether or not Rico understood that the phrase “fetch sock” represented two independent morphemes – that objects are independent in meaning from the activity requested involving that object (Pilley and Reid, 2011). Pilley countered this criticism by conducting “Experiment 2” with Chaser, to determine whether Chaser treats the name of an object independent in meaning from the command given in reference to it (Pilley and Reid, 2011). Chaser was asked to act upon each of three named objects, “Lips”, “ABC” and “Lamb”, whose proper-noun names she had previously learned. While Chaser’s action of “taking”, “pawing”, or “nosing” an object when commanded to do so determined that she did, indeed, understand the action and object as independent from one another, what I did in my experiment with Betty indicated something altogether different, but still important and interesting.

I started out asking Betty to “get” (pick up in her mouth), “go get” (go a distance and pick up in her mouth), or “touch” (with nose or paw) either the blue object or the yellow object during the “learning the proper-noun name phase” of our experiment. I also used commands such as “drop blue”, or “give yellow”, while we were just “playing around” with the toys, so as to identify the objects by their given names as much as possible, thereby reinforcing the information in Betty’s mind. During this phase, I was impressed at Betty’s ability to discriminate between commands that required subtly different physical actions on her part – such as “touch” and “get” - especially when no context change occurred in between trials. That being said, after a while, for the sake of keeping it simple, I omitted the use of different action commands, and replaced them with just one word (or its conjunctive phrase): “WHERE’S or WHERE IS”. So I would say “Where’s blue?” or “Where’s yellow”. Interestingly, Betty would do one of five things when commanded only with “Where’s” or “Where is”. She would either (a) touch the item with her paw; (b) pick up the item with her mouth; (c) nudge the item with her nose; (d) nod her head quickly in the direction of the item; or (e) look obviously in the direction of the item, staring at it for a couple of seconds. To my mind, this implied that Betty was making an inference as to what I wanted from her. I had not previously used the command “Where is” in any other context, so she figured out on her own that all five of the aforementioned actions accomplished what I “implied” I wanted from her. She figured out that I wanted her to indicate, in one way or another, which object I was asking her about. I found this fascinating, especially in concert with all the other research findings that support social and cooperative learning in both species as related to our convergent evolutionary paths. This was yet another example of how dogs have evolved to read subtle human cues in novel situations, in which there has been no prior training or experience.


Another elemental criticism of the Rico study that John Pilley aimed to counter in his study with Chaser had to do with distinguishing between proper-noun names given to objects, and common nouns that represented categories. For instance, if Pilley had named a stuffed round object of Chaser’s “Ball” (let’s call the character “Ball Jones”), that would be distinctly different than him picking up a ball, and calling it “a ball”. In other words, Ball (Jones) with a capital “B” refers to an individual, named object, whereas “ball” with a small “b” refers to an item that represents a category of objects that fit the physical and functional description of what a ball is: it is spherical, it rolls, it bounces, etc. Pilley notes that categorization in animals has been widely studied in animal cognition in the last few decades, and a few studies have in fact demonstrated that dogs can form categories (Pilley and Reid, 2011).

Chaser learned the categories “ball”, “frisbee”, and “toy”. She could determine the sameness of balls and other balls, frisbees and other frisbees by their shapes; while she seemed to determine that toys – categorically – were items that served a particular function; that is, toys were things Chaser was allowed to play with. She even distinguished her toys from other objects that were similar in the house, but which were non-toys. For example, one of Chaser’s toys was a sock (let’s call him Sock McGillicutty, Sock for short), but then there were other socks in the house that were not for her to play with, and which she left alone, never confusing them with her toy sock.

In my experiment with Betty, I aimed to see if she would be able to categorize objects when the only likeness they shared was their color. In my experiment, I used the proper-noun names, Yellow with capital “Y” for the plastic puzzle piece and Blue with a capital “B” for the rubber bone. (For continuity’s sake, we could call these two characters “Yellow Johnson” and “Blue McGee”). In this case the categorical symbols were not common nouns, but rather adjectives. In other words, the yellow and blue post-it note pads represented the color categories (yellow with a small “y” and blue with a small “b”). Say I laid out the blue bone, “Blue”, and the yellow Post-It notepad, and asked Betty, “Where’s yellow?” In this case I would not be asking for “Yellow Johnson”, the proper-noun-named individual. Rather, I would be asking her to show me which item before her belonged in the category of “yellow things”.

Were Betty and I to have made it further into our experiment, we would have practiced generalizing and discriminating, as Pilley did with Chaser. I would’ve laid out several yellow objects, and several objects that were not yellow (and had no yellow in them), and asked Betty to bring me the yellow objects. Or, I would ask her to bring me a (pink object, for example), leaving one pink object in a group of yellow objects, to see if she could determine which one was pink based solely on the fact that it was not yellow.


Dogs have been shown to infer from two-dimensional images that the experimenter wants them to choose an object that the two-dimensional image depicts. For this reason, I imagine Betty would/will be able to infer that when I hold up the yellow or blue Post-It notepads, I am asking her to choose the colored object whose color corresponds with whichever notepad I am holding up.

In 2009, the Dog cognition “dream team” at Cambridge University and Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology published a paper called Domestic Dogs Comprehend Human Communication With Iconic Signs. In it, the authors examined dogs’ ability to infer the communicative intentions of humans when given an abstract, non-verbal cue to fetch a referent object. In their paper, they point out that infants are able to make appropriate inferences and behavioral responses to adults’ communicative intentions (Kaminski et al., 2009). Evolutionarily speaking, this adaptation allows infants to benefit from adults’ guidance prior to the development of language comprehension. By the time a baby has reached two to three years old, he or she is able to infer from being shown a replica or photo of an object, that the adult showing the baby the icon wants for him or her to produce the real thing. Due to the emerging acceptance of a dog’s cognitive capacity being on par with that of a human toddler, it made sense for the dogs to have excelled at this particular test. That said, the notion that dogs are capable of handling the dual representation of an object that is both a replica of another object, and an object in its own right, is rather mind-boggling.

In this study, researchers investigated the skills of domestic dogs – some language-trained and some not – to make appropriate inferences and behavioral responses to human communicative intentions as expressed in their use of iconic signs, specifically physical replicas and photographs (Kaminski et al., 2009). Again, test subjects chosen for this study were Border Collies (one of them being Rico), who had overwhelming success with fetching objects when they were shown – in a “communicative context” either photographs of said objects, or smaller, physical replicas of them. The dogs even succeeded at choosing objects represented by the photographs, over identical copies of the photographs, when both were options. This further supports the truism that dogs infer meaning from what humans communicate to them, even when there is a level or more of abstraction involved.

This concept played a role in my experiment with Betty, however it translated differently than in the Kaminski study.  When I interchanged the colored Post-It note pads with the plastic and rubber toys, and asked Betty, ”Where’s (Y)ellow/(y)ellow” (or (B)lue/(b)lue), I was asking her to interpret and understand the pad from three different perspectives: The (yellow) pad was an object in its own right (though unnamed and unfamiliar to her); it was a representation of the named item, “Yellow”; and by virtue of its color, it represented the category into which both it and its referent object (YO) belonged .

Had we reached the point in our experiment where I held up the Post-It pad silently suggesting that Betty show me its match, (and were Betty to have succeeded at this task), it would show what Kaminski’s study showed: that dogs’ skills in using human forms of communication are flexible as they generalize immediately to a new perceptual modality (vision vs. audition) (Kaminski, et al., 2009).


Friederike Range and his team at the University of Vienna, reasoned that “although domestic dogs are on the brink to become one of the model animals in animal psychology, their categorization abilities are unknown”, and that “this is probably largely due to the absence of an adequate method for testing dogs’ ability to discriminate between large sets of pictures in the absence of human cueing” (Range, et al. 2007). So, while Kaminski looked at dogs’ ability to draw conclusions about the task at hand based on non-verbal communication between the dogs and researchers, Range wanted to zero in on dogs’ ability to complete categorization tasks without outside help.

As of 2007, when this study was carried out, it was only one of two known categorization studies using dogs as subjects, the other being an acoustic stimuli categorization test to see whether or not dogs could discriminate dog from non-dog sounds. As was true for my experiment with Betty, the authors of this study had to fist take into account evidence for dogs’ ability to see in color. They determined – as did I – that although dogs have reduced color perception, they expected no severe physiological limitations of the dog’s ability to classify color (photographs), provided the category-specific aspects were not restricted to shades of red or very tiny fragments of the pictures (Range et al., 2007).  Originally, I was using a third object in my experiment: along with the blue bone and yellow puzzle piece, I introduced a hot pink collar to Betty as well. I reasoned that, even if she saw the pink collar as a shade of gray, it would still be different enough from either the yellow or blue objects that she would put it in a category all its own. I later removed it though, because we weren’t progressing very quickly with two items, so I thought I would make it easier by eliminating a third.
The question most relevant to the Range study and my own, was if the dogs would be able to distinguish between category-relevant and category-irrelevant features (Range, et al., 2007).  When I asked of Betty that she identify the yellow Post-It note pad as “(y)ellow”, after having been taught a plastic object with which the notepad shared one feature, its color, was called “(Y)ellow”, I was looking to see if she would practice a category-specific strategy. A category-specific strategy would require the subject to extract and combine the features common to most (or maybe even all) instances of a class and then react in the same way to all stimuli possessing those features (Cook et al., 1991). In other words, even though Betty had learned the plastic object by its name, “Yellow”, she would’ve also chosen the yellow notepad when I asked her to show me “yellow”.

All of the dogs in Range’s study eventually mastered the task of classifying photographs according to the presence or absence of dogs in them, and could transfer this practice to novel and even contradictory stimuli. Betty and I will need more time and practice before we can report on her ability to classify yellow or blue Post-Its as belonging to the same category as congruently-colored toy objects.


While achieving significant results showing that dogs’ cognitive capabilities are very similar to humans is exciting, results that disprove these types of  hypotheses are just as valid and notable. While it is important to recognize similarities in human and canine minds, it is just as important to appreciate dogs and human beings, respectively, as unique and different beasts altogether. With results pending on my own experiment, the reality could go either way. Dogs may have and use color vision, and they may utilize it in ways similar to human beings when categorizing information in their environment. But then again, they may not.

A recent study on shape bias in dogs, for example, questioned whether or not dogs (in this case a five year-old Border collie named Gable) use an object’s shape to generalize it to objects in the same category. Using an experimental paradigm originally established to examine shape bias in children, researchers showed that when (Gable was) briefly familiarized with word-object mappings the dog did not generalize object names to object shape but he did to object size. Another experiment showed that when familiarized with a word-object mapping for a longer period of time the dog tended to generalize the word to objects with the same texture. These results show that the dog tested did not display human-like word comprehension, but word generalization and word reference development of a qualitatively different nature compared to humans (van der Zee et al., 2012). Again, results that illuminate the differences between the human mind and that of Caninekind are equally valuable to an overall understanding of who both we – and they – are.
* * *

Father of evolution Charles Darwin said, “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind”. The nonhuman primate mind has long been considered the closest “in kind” to humans’. But today, dogs are ushering in a brand new era of cognitive exploration, leading us to look at animal behavior as related to social learning, cooperation, and communication between and among species. During the domestication process, dogs developed innate sensibilities to human emotional states, communicative cues, and comprehension of verbal language. The results of Chaser’s and other dogs’ studies are as much an existential statement on the meaning of intelligence – and the existential quandary of being - as they are a declaration of these particular animals’ beyond-impressive ability to learn, remember, and categorize objects. Rather than asking merely “how intelligent are dogs?”, Chaser, and other canine pioneers have us asking, How might various manifestations of canine and human intelligence have developed in the scope of our convergent evolution as interspecies partners? And, putting to good use what we’re learning from dogs in research settings we might ask, How can we use our findings to better communicate with the dogs in our lives whom we love so much, and seek so desperately to understand?

You can watch video of my experiment with Betty here: http://youtu.be/hIV8Y2L_G_k?list=UUeZtG7Bv7VQhtERlQ_tPs7g


Pilley, J.W., Reid, A.K., (2011) Border collie comprehends object names as verbal referents. Behavioral Processes. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.11.007

Miller, P.E. and Murphy, C.J., Vision in Dogs. (1995) Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol 207, No. 12, pp. 1623-1634.

Kasparson, A.A., Badridze, J. and Maximov, V.V., (2013) Colour cues proved to be more informative for dogs than brightness. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280: 20131356. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.1356

Kaminski, J., Tempelmann, S., Call, J. and Tomasello, M. (2009) Domestic dogs comprehend human communication with iconic signs. Developmental Science. Vol 12, No 6, pp. 831-837. DOI: 10.1111/j. 1467-7687.2009.00815.x

Range, F., Aust, U., Steurer, M. and Huber, L. (2007) Visual categorization of natural stimuli by domestic dogs. Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-007-0123-2

Van der Zee, E., Zulch, H. and Mills, D. (2012) Word Generalization by a Dog (Canis familiaris): Is Shape Important?  PLoS ONE 7(11): e49382. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.oo49382

Nazzi, T. and Gopnik, A. (2001) Linguistic and cognitive abilities in infancy: when does language become a tool for categorization? Cognition. Vol 80. B11-B20

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Landscape Within

After a brutally, impossibly hot summer in Bakersfield, the relief of autumn has finally settled in. I could not be more grateful for this, as exercising outdoors during summertime in Bakersfield is probably a lot like dancing in an aluminum suit across the surface of the sun, wearing a hat made of fire. 

With the change in weather, I've been able to get out and do the things that I not only love, but which sustain my physical and psychological wellbeing. It is amazing to me how much my perspective changes with one good workout. Doesn't matter what kind of workout really (though rollerblading is REALLY FUN), just one session of moving the body, elevating the heart rate, and sweating out the frustration and stress of daily life as a human being. 
Any given landscape simply looks a thousand times better WHEN I AM MOVING THROUGH IT than when I am sitting in it, stagnating. Physical movement biochemically adjusts the "internal landscape" of my brain and body chemistry, such that the world outside becomes more enticing, engaging, and empowering than it is otherwise able to be. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Whisper To A Scream

Liz R. Kover
Professor Amy Cook
LIF 580
August 15th, 2014

A Whisper To A Scream:
Contradictions and Curiosities in the War Against Cesar Millan

“All the scientist creates in a fact is the language in which he enunciates it.”
– Henri Poincare

Any positive reinforcement trainer will tell you that ‘you kill more bees with honey than vinegar’. In other words, offer positive feedback and watch desirable behavior increase in frequency; sling mud and you’ll see what is undesirable rise up. I wonder then, why the behavioral experts who so vehemently disapprove of Cesar Millan would attempt to “train him out of ” his ways using punishment as their go-to method. If saving dogs from (perceived) harm is truly the mission of the movement against “dog whispering”, why not employ methods that are strictly positive in dealing with the perceived problem? Could eliciting a response of ‘learned helplessness’ be the real goal? Attempt to break the spirit of a successful “newcomer” by claiming he is reviving disproven, antiquated ways from the dark recesses of history when in fact, he is bringing to light something that before him had yet to be illuminated? There are millions upon millions of people who proclaim that life for them and their dogs has changed for the better in light of Cesar Millan’s teachings and techniques. It seems very insulting to assume that all of these people simply “don’t know better”, or have blindly bought into the devious scam of an illusionist. I see something altogether different, and that is an historical pattern of “schools of thought” vying for the position of Pack Leader within academic circles.
While Cesar Millan is the present focal point of controversy, the debate between behaviorism - and ideologies that threaten to reveal its limitations - is long-standing. Modern day positive reinforcement dog training evolved from Skinnerian roots, and has changed very little at the core of its ideology. Skinner maintained that “behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences”, and that as the consequences contingent on behavior are investigated, more and more “they are taking over the explanatory functions previously assigned to personalities, states of mind, feelings, traits of character, purposes, and intentions” (Chomsky, 1971). Skinner’s confidence that scientific inquiry into behavior would continue to strip away the existence of autonomous intention seemed unshakable. Until he attempted to cram the dynamic innateness of language acquisition into a Skinner box, at which point the foundation of his logic began to crack. Actually, the logic itself isn’t flawed; the fallacy is in professing that logic alone explains the “internal state” that Cesar Millan refers to as, simply, energy. “Dogs use energy to communicate. Energy is what I call beingness. It is who and what we are in every moment” (Cesar’s Way, web).
            Inarguably, B.F. Skinner sought to eradicate words like “beingness” and “energy” from the vernacular he so carefully ascribed to behavior. These words implied the existence of emotional states in both human and animal, which would not fit inside the confines of laboratory conditions. A ‘technology of behavior is available’, Skinner argued, which would more successfully reduce the aversive consequences of behavior…and maximize the achievements of which the (human) organism is capable. But the “defenders of freedom oppose its use” (Skinner, p. 125). Undoubtedly Skinner would’ve seen Cesar Millan as a defender of freedom – as do I, which is why his principles ring so true.
            When the intellectual quandary of language acquisition arose, Skinner grasped desperately to keep the abstractions of “beingness” under a tightly closed lid. But alas, Nature is messy and spills over. Try as science might to contain it, the vast scope of “freedom and dignity” that arises innately from within the experience of living, behaving, and “being” will always be one step ahead of our ability to objectively explain it. And, just as the science of cognitive psychology evolved to bring internal states of mentalism into the realm of scientific validity, the emerging, interdisciplinary science of Anthrozoology aims to understand both human and animal behavior in context of how “human beingness” relates to, affects, and is in part defined by, the beingness of other animal species. The human-canine relationship is at the heart of this developing field. According to the Animals & Society Institute, Human-Animal Studies (HAS) is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field that examines the complex and multidimensional relationships between humans and other animals. HAS comprises work in several disciplines in the social sciences (sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science) the humanities (history, literary criticism, philosophy, geography), and the natural sciences (ethology, veterinary medicine, animal welfare science, and comparative psychology) (http://www.animalsandsociety.org/pages/human-animal-studies). Being that the modern science of dog behavior is so focused on the co-evolutionary influence our respective species have upon one another, I imagine that what critics today claim are wrong or “anecdotal observations” of Cesar Millan’s about the influence of a person’s energy on the behavior of his dog, are actually the scientific data of tomorrow.

Any whose contributions to a well-established field challenge its hard-won tenure in the “lay consciousness” faces severe opposition. One such revolutionary is Dr. Jane Goodall. In 1960, Jane was in her early twenties when the man known as the father of anthropology, Louis Leakey, selected her and two other young women with no formal education – Dian Fossey and Beruti Galdikas - to venture to Africa, observe apes in the wild, and report back on what they saw.  Leakey chose these three specifically for the absence of academia’s influence, which kept them unbiased, and unlikely to have expectations related to a predetermined hypothesis.
The successful objectification of behavioral observation was not merely a breakthrough in a field, it marked the foundation for a field of its kind to exist in the first place. It is not surprising then that when Jane Goodall - a young woman who had never heard the word ethology when she unwittingly helped to reshape it - was inserted into the Ph.D. program in ethology at Cambridge University in the early sixties, she was ridiculed and cast out by the academic elite. Said Jane, “It was a bit shocking to be told I had done everything wrong. Everything.” (David Quammen, National Geographic Magazine, 2010).  She writes in National Geographic Magazine, “I believed that having a degree of empathy for my subjects could help me detect slight changes in their mood or attitudes and provide insights into their complex social processes. I think time has proved me right.”
Critics accused Jane Goodall of scientific sacrilege for her heart-centered approach, by which she ascribed personalities to wild chimpanzees, and wrote about the exchanges of energy between them and her as they accepted her into their community across species boundaries. But it was exactly who she was and how she did her work that led to her allowance into the chimpanzee colony by its patriarch, whom she called David Greybeard. And it was because of her acceptance into their world that “the definition of man” is what it is today. Jane Goodall may not have had the “seal of approval” from the academic elite back then, but in trusting instinct to inform intellect, she understood more than could be expressed in the confining language of science.
Dr. Goodall’s work was instrumental in shifting paradigms away from the mechanics of animal behavior to the far “messier” internal dimensions of animal life and relationships. As Cesar Millan explains dogs’ behavior in the context of their unique canine-human-family-packs, Dr. Goodall exposed chimpanzee behavior as seen in the interrelationships of one wild chimpanzee colony. Similarly, Cesar Millan explains dogs’ behavior as being inextricably interrelated with their “packs” - or modern day social groups comprised of human family members and other animals.
Behaviorism states that it is an animal’s environment that predicts its behavior, but “positive reinforcement training” does not take into account the role of other dogs and “family members” on the behavior of each individual in the group.

So much of the anti-Cesar Millan rhetoric boils down to semantics. For example, people jump all over his use of the word “alpha”. Simply stated, the alpha male or female is the member of a group of social animals that holds the highest rank. This is what CM means when he talks about a pack, and about holding the leadership role within your pack. If human beings aren’t the “alpha” members in a family pack that involves both people and pets, everyone is in trouble. The animal in this position within the social system may have preferential access to mates, food or space. The term was popularized with regard to the gray wolf by L. David Mech in 1970, (and later disavowed by Mech himself, who said his observations of captive wolf groups comprised of unrelated members wouldn’t accurately reflect the behavior of wild wolves or domesticated dogs). What he discovered instead was that the alpha members of a wolf pack are a breeding pair, and they and their offspring form a pack. Mech said of gray wolves, “In our experience, the most usual context of dominance behavior in free-ranging wolves is that of parent to offspring” (Mech, David and Cluff, Dean, Prolonged Intensive Dominance Behavior Between Gray Wolves, 2010). That being said, Cesar Millan’s metaphor of dog+human family members = pack makes perfect sense.  
            A study from 2008 out of the U. of Florida suggests that wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues under certain conditions. “Although earlier studies suggested that wolves could not follow even simple cues such as tapping or proximal pointing, later research indicated that highly socialized hand-reared wolves could find food under easier conditions, such as when a container indicating the correct location was touched by a human (Udell, Dorey and Clive, Wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues, Animal Behaviour, 2008). While this does not prove that wolves and dogs are “the same”, it does suggest a correlation between the effects of environment and rearing conditions on canines – wolves and dogs alike – which might imply that the social structure comprised of a human-canine family, or “interdependent interspecies pack” must be analyzed by a different set of guidelines altogether than wild wolves, captive wolves, wild domesticated dogs or domesticated dogs as independent groups. Because humans and dogs have co-evolved since the “caveman hunted alongside the wolf”, our respective evolutionary paths have been inextricably linked and undeniably one has influenced the other in fundamental ways. It only makes sense that CM’s metaphor of people-and-dog-family-pack will be the hybrid human-canine social structure that Anthrozoologists will soon define in scientific terms.

Contrary to the misinformed claims that CM is a domineering authoritarian overseer of his pack, he teaches us about calm-assertive leadership. Any regular viewer of Dog Whisperer knows that e-collars, alpha rolls and dominance plays in response to aggressive dogs in attack mode comprise a very small percentage of CM’s dealings with dogs. According to the infamous bell curve, there will always be extreme cases on either end of a spectrum, and while 100% positive methods will work in 96% of cases, those fringe 4% will require the use of alternative methods. In response to misrepresentations about his “signature methods”, CM and the producers of Dog Whisperer did a show-by-show breakdown, watching hundreds of hours of television and counting when a particular technique was used in any given episode. They examined in detail 317 separate cases of problem dog behavior across 140 episodes, and charted which of CM’s dog rehabilitation methods and tools were used across the board.
Critics may be surprised to learn that CM never once introduced a prong collar, introduced a choke chain in only 1% of cases and an e-collar in 3% of cases. In 17% of cases, the owners chose to use a prong collar. Cesar teaches that any and all of these items are tools which, if used correctly, can be effective. But that it is the energy with which we communicate calm-assertive leadership to our dogs that makes the real difference. Calm-assertive leadership was discussed in 98% of episodes, discussion of body language in 91% of episodes, the importance of exercise in 72% of episodes, the power of using other dogs to help balance the troubled dog’s energy – or what CM calls the “power of the pack” was covered in 63% of episodes, and positive reinforcement was used in 67% of episodes!
Those who misunderstand CM claim that CM looks at dogs as though they are “in an ego-driven race to become the leaders of the free-world”, and that “it is only when we misinterpret canine behavior that we start to think dogs must be trying to achieve a higher rank than us.” (Stilwell, Train Your Dog Positively, p.21). CM teaches that dogs must respect humans as “pack leaders” in order to maintain structure in a household. Whether one is a mother or father, the President of the United States, a dog trainer, or a dog’s human guardians, leadership qualities are obviously qualities one should procure and project to those who depend on them for guidance, protection and direction. “To positively influence your dog’s behavior, you must always begin by being a positive, confident, calm and assertive human. This is the definition of true leadership” (Cesar’s Rules).
 Let us look at the terminology CM uses for which he is so harshly criticized in terms of parenting. Three themes can be identified in assessments of parenting style over the past 50 years (Skinner, Johnson & Snyder, 2005). The first tenet of a motivational relationship between parent and child is love and affection. Many who denounce CM and call him cruel are very wrong in their estimation that he withholds affection. He simply instructs people to give affection at the appropriate times, so as to reinforce a calm state of mind. This is akin in positive reinforcement to ignoring behavior that is undesirable while giving attention to that which is desirable.
The second theme is parent provision of structure. Referred to in work on discipline and authoritarian parenting, this theme suggests that clear and consistent expectations and limit setting are advantageous to children, especially in terms of their internalization of rules and the development of self-efficacy (Skinner, Johnson and Snyder, Six Dimensions of Parenting: A Motivational Model, Parenting: Science and Practice, V. 5, No. 2, April-June, 2005). CM says the role of the pack leader is to set “rules, boundaries and limitations”. Dogs need to know that their pack leader is clearly setting the rules, boundaries and limitations for their life both inside and outside the house. - Anger, aggression, or abuse toward the dog will not establish you as pack leader; an angry, aggressive leader is not in control. Calm-assertive energy and daily, consistent leadership behavior will make enforcing the rules easier (Cesar Millan, Be The Pack Leader).
In preeminent positive reinforcement trainer Dr. Sophia Yin’s “Program for developing leadership in humans and impulse control in dogs”, Dr. Yin says “you gain leadership by controlling all the resources that motivate the pet and requiring the pet willingly work for play, treats and pets instead of getting them for free” (Yin, Teaching Fido to Learn, loc 44 of 370/kindle book). Here, Dr. Yin uses terminology that alludes to an alpha wolf or other animal playing a dominant role in a group who controls the resources, and therefore creates order among pack members. Patricia McConnell says “the key is to understand that dogs will work to get something they want…make obedience relevant to life, so that your dog begins to learn: “Oh I see, the way to control my environment and get what I want is to do what she asks.” Cesar says essentially the same thing: “Waiting is another way that pack leaders assert their position. Puppies wait to eat, and adult dogs wait until the pack leader wants them to travel. Waiting is a form of psychological work for the dog. Domestication means dogs don’t need to hunt for food, but they can still work for it. Establish your position as pack leader by asking your dog to work” (Cesar Millan, Be The Pack Leader). CM talks about the critical importance of being the pack leader precisely so that your dog will not feel responsible for creating order out of chaos, and will understand what is expected of him, so that he can work to earn the resources you control.
The third theme is that of autonomy support, suggesting that better developmental outcomes accrue if parents (pack leaders) interact with children (dogs) in ways that do not compromise their freedom of expression or intrinsic motivation (Skinner, Johnson and Snyder, Six Dimensions of Parenting: A Motivational Model, Parenting: Science and Practice, V. 5, No. 2, April-June, 2005). While many dog trainers focus only on conditioning responses to human cues, CM stresses the importance of fulfilling your dog’s needs on the “animal” level, as well as the breed-specific level. Meaning, if you have a herding dog, that dog is hard-wired for running and corralling animals; it is in his blood. If you do not live on a farm with a flock of sheep, you will need to fulfill your dog’s genetically-ingrained needs by providing some outlet through which he can honor the “herding energy” within him. If it is not actual herding, he will likely suggest the dog does agility training. CM works with a lot of German shepherds, highly intelligent working dogs that need jobs in order to be fulfilled. When they are not fulfilled, and are therefore what CM calls imbalanced, they will redirect their energy counterproductively, into activities like digging, barking excessively, or fixating on shadows. CM says “Breeds were created for different reasons – some dogs were bred as companions, some as herders, and some as protectors. But each was bred to draw out and focus on desired instincts to create dogs that excelled at particular tasks. Although the animal and species aspect of dogs are common to all of them, breed can sometimes affect behavior, and it is also sometimes necessary to consider breed when working with a dog, whether just for training, by giving them an appropriate job, or in rehabilitation (Cesar Millan, Short Guide to a Happy Dog).
I relate these ideas of CM’s to the idea of encouraging individuality and freedom of expression in one’s children. In the parenting literature, support for autonomy extends beyond allowing children freedom of choice and expression to communicating genuine respect and deference, and encouraging children to actively discover, explore, and articulate their own views, goals and preferences (Skinner, Johnson, Snyder, 2005). Most importantly, labels like “positive” or “high quality” parenting typically include parenting that is not only warm but also high in structure and autonomy support. And an optimal parenting style (e.g. authoritative) is one that combines high structure and high autonomy support (Skinner, Johnson, Snyder, 2005). All of this being said, I believe most experts in parenting in concert with experts in canine behavior (in the context of a wolf pack being akin to a family group, with the mother and father wolf its leaders) would agree with CM’s formula for balance, fulfillment and pack leadership.
To hone Cesar’s methods, one must learn precisely that which cannot be taught in a classroom. Rather, becoming a calm-assertive pack leader begins with a long, hard look in the mirror. It involves taking daily inventory of what energy you are projecting, not only to your dog, but to the world. It is more a spiritual practice with daily mistakes born of simply “being human”, while always striving to maintain balance, and get better at your job as guide, teacher, parent and trainer. It is something that must be brought to life from within a person’s conscious mind, a form of controlling one’s own behavior in order to see positive effects in the outward behavior of one’s dog. I, for one, begin again each morning with the goal of calm-assertive, self-assured, effective and efficient leadership in mind. And I end each day reflecting on where I’ve grown, and where I still need work. Ultimately, as human beings, our very best is all we can do. And luckily for us, our dogs see in us the pack leader we should all see in ourselves.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Dog's Life...A Life's Work

When one thinks of a dog's life, one typically envisions a mutt stretched out in a sunny spot on the living room floor taking an afternoon nap; a happy-go-lucky puppy with her tongue hanging out as she enjoys the wind in her face on a car ride; a bounding buddy happily chasing a ball. These simple things indeed represent the joy of a dog's day-to-day existence, and they are sublime. 

That being said, balance is key in everyone's life - human and dog alike. Imagine a life with all work and no play, or all rest and no work. A part of us remains unfulfilled when any of the fundamental elements of a well-rounded life are missing. 

Considering the countless horror stories we encounter in dog rescue, we know it is a blessing when dogs have loving homes where they are well-fed, played with amply, and well-rested. Thank GOD for that. But when, in addition, dogs are given the opportunity to WORK, miracles happen. 

Like humans, dogs have so much to give. Not "merely" unconditional love and nonjudgmental partnership (as if that weren't enough), but potential to reach the implications of higher expectations. By having a job and doing it well, dogs are given the opening to become empowered, be productive, and feel proud! It is our role in their lives not only to love and feed them, but to believe in their potential, and foster its growth. 

The two fine gentlemen pictured here are a perfect example of partners that will fulfill their own and one another's great potential by working together.

Tyler is on the left, his gorgeous one year-old German shepherd, Aries, is on the right. Tyler returned not long ago from serving our country overseas. While I don't know details about what Tyler experienced, I can see in his eyes and feel from his heart that it was painful. Aries was surrendered to the shelter by a family that adopted him as a rambunctious puppy, then failed to teach him how to behave and gave up on him as though he had somehow failed them. Inherent in their relationship is the chance for both of these wonderful guys to see what they are truly made of, which is GOOD STUFF! By bringing out Aries' potential as a service dog, Tyler's potential as a calm, confident pack leader will naturally emerge. And my own potential as a teacher and facilitator will also expand! Aries and Tyler have already made tremendous progress together in only a few sessions, so I can only imagine how far they'll go.

How do you and your dogs bring out the potential for greatness in one another? 

Dog Speed and God Bless -

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dogs, Kids, and Learning: A Comparative Exploration

*  Please excuse the non-MLA citing of references. I have yet to edit them. 

While anthropomorphism can be a slippery slope to unrealistic comparisons between humans and animals, to deny the similarities between the ways in which dogs and children learn would be intellectually dishonest. And in doing so we would miss an opportunity to better understand the minds of two animals that have co-evolved alongside one another for the mutual benefit of both species over many thousands of years. Because dogs’ and humans’ respective evolutionary paths have become so inextricably intertwined, it makes sense that many of the mechanisms for learning in one would be reflected somehow in the other.
One of the most influential contributors to the modern school of “dog teaching” is Bonnie Bergin. Dr. Bergin is renowned for creating assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities and mobility issues. Not only was Bonnie ahead of her time in believing dogs could be trained to complete such complex tasks as opening doors and turning lights on and off; she saw in dogs the cognitive capacity to think and solve complex problems; to piece together information and truly learn. For a human child’s learning and behavior to be deeply influenced by an adult person’s thoughts, feelings and communicated sentiments makes sense. What researchers are discovering today is that dogs are influenced by their human trainers in the same way children are.    

In Bonnie Bergin’s book, Teach Your Dog To Read, Bonnie states “If she doesn’t catch on at first, never laugh at her or show disappointment. Frustration, anger and disappointment, just like praise, can serve as reinforcers” (Bergin, 2006). An encouraging attitude or spirit is key with regard to learning in both dogs and children. According to prominent voices in child learning and development, encouragement is a key concept in promoting and activating “psychological hardiness” in individuals (Griffith & Powers, 1984).

Because dogs and humans are both highly social animals, social learning theory applies to both species respectively. There is also research into the theory that social learning in domestic dogs has been heavily influenced by dogs’ co-evolution with humans. In other words, dogs learn from their own canine social groups as well as from their human group or “pack” members. Social learning can reduce the costs (e.g. time, effort, risk) involved in the acquisition of resources or new skills (Mersmann, Dorit et al., 2011). Furthermore, the capability to use information provided by others is a prerequisite for the evolution of culture (Mersmann, Dorit, et al., 2011). One context in which information is passed between members of a social group is play, and the benefits of play are very evident in the learning processes of both children and dogs. A study on children living in Mother Teresa’s Orphanage in Dehli, India, looked at the effects of daily playtime on orphans’ psychomotor and social development over a thirty day period, as compared to a group that received only the minimum of care as in feeding and bathing, but were denied social interaction. As hypothesized, the children who were able to play each day, even for a short time, became more active, responsive and independent (Taneja, et al., 2002).

Similar studies in shelter dogs show congruent results. Aimee Sadler is a veteran animal trainer who specializes in dogs’ behavioral problems. Aside from working with private clients, she helps shelters form playgroups as a way of socializing dogs, and ultimately making them more adoptable. Sadler states, “Play groups are a natural way for dogs to blow off steam and counteract the stresses of shelter life. Through group interactions, dogs teach each other how to behave, addressing such problems as resource guarding, dog-on-dog aggression, and on-leash reactivity” (Animal Sheltering, November/December 2011). The playgroups provide much needed and sorely lacking stimulation in the areas of physical exercise, mental engagement and stress relief. And perhaps most importantly, carefully structured playtime provides the foundation for social learning among dogs, many of whom have never been properly introduced or otherwise interacted with other dogs, which is a fundamental reason dogs end up in shelters to begin with. Furthermore, watching dogs play is a major learning opportunity for human caregivers, and seeing different dogs’ social skills and play styles helps them make better adoptive matches. In summary, giving kids and dogs a chance to thrive and learn from their peers in social situations is just as critical to health and well-being as is eating and sleeping.

Another intriguing area of study in a world evolving at warp speed is the application of technology to enhance learning processes, or enable entirely new ones. Children naturally explore and learn about their environments through inquiry, and computer technologies offer an accessible vehicle for extending the domain and range of this inquiry (Wang, et al., 2009). Researchers from Mount Saint Mary College and University of Virginia conducted experiments to look at early childhood education software and its effects on inquiry-based learning and complex problem solving. In essence, inquiry-based “teaching” is the allowance by teachers of their students to ask questions, encouragement to be inquisitive and explore the world around them, and learn how to ask even more complex questions. In controlled experiments like this one, technology was used to present problem contexts pertinent to the inquiry subject matter and guide learners into encountering complex domains that are productive for learning (Reiser, 2004).

Because we also live in a world where humans’ relationships with dogs are evolving at the “speed of life”, new technologies are emerging that will enhance those relationships. Not only are there whimsical smart phone apps that allow dogs and cats to take photos of themselves, but some highly innovative technologies are being designed with the goal of empowering assistance dogs to do their jobs more efficiently. One such project is discussed in research coming out of The Open University in London.

With the objective in mind of easing diabetic alert dogs’ stress when their human partners fall unconscious, an emerging field called Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI’s) aim is to design canine-friendly technological interfaces for working dogs. When training a dog to perform a command or set of commands, setting the dog up for success is critical to the dog’s ability to learn the task at hand and perform it effectively. It is unfair to set a dog up to fail, such as when we ask him to do something that he must face with an automatic disadvantage. One type of potentially stressful task that assistance dogs face is assisting their humans in using technologies that were not designed for them, but rather for humans. For example, mobility service dogs learn how to execute tasks such as opening doors, loading laundry machines and pressing elevators or button-operated doors. And they are often performing such tasks at a deficit because their own physical capabilities are very different from those of the human users for which the tools were intended (Robinson, et al., 2014). The research team from The Open University is working on building a prototype for an intelligent canine user alarm interface, which would not only alert outside sources for help in emergency situations, but also give feedback to the dog by interpreting sensory information or the dogs’ body language. The researchers concluded that an effective system will make it clear to the dog not only how he can interact with the system, but also when he has interacted with the system successfully (Robinson, et al., 2014).

The Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (2008) reports innovative training utilizing an advanced GPS system through the collaboration between Leader Dogs for the Blind and a tech company called HumanWare. The device gives audible, step-by-step directions for a programmed route, and notifies the user of upcoming streets and landmarks (Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, November 2008).

Not only do proper social conditions and technology helps kids and dogs learn, exercise does a mind good as much as it does a body. From the crisis of inactivity that has befallen both children and pet dogs, comes research from the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois. Researchers there are looking at the positive effect aerobic exercise has on children’s learning and memory capabilities. Poor physical health in and of itself is bad. Worse still it represents a person’s health in its entirety. And according to this and other studies of its kind, poor physical health effects cognitive health negatively. In children, lower amounts of fitness have been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement (Raine, LB, et al., 2013).  

While – to my knowledge – there are no studies at present to determine whether or not a dog’s physical fitness correlates with their cognitive function, it only makes sense to assume that it does. There is, however, plenty of anecdotal and some scientific evidence to suggest that exercise has a marked positive effect on dogs’ behavior; and that dogs who engage in physical activity regularly are less likely to be destructive and suffer from psychological and emotional barriers to well-being than more sedentary dogs. Experts at The Behavior Clinic at Cummings School of Medicine, Tufts University, advise that “A tired dog is a happy dog”, and suggests providing exercise and environmental enrichment to stimulate the dog both physically and mentally is critical to over all health and functionality. Aerobic exercise stimulates the production of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that helps to stabilize mood and produce feelings of contentment, which can help relax an otherwise anxious or aggressive dog (vet.tufts.edu, 2014). They also remind us that a fat dog is not a happy dog, but one whose health is at serious risk.

The further we travel in our co-evolutionary journey, the more dogs and humans learn about the world -- in our respective ways that are species-specific; and as a reflection of ourselves in one another. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Rebuttal to Cesar Millan's Critics

The more I absorb Cesar Millan’s teachings, the more shocked I am at the aggressive barrage of insults aimed at him at any given time. This is my response to the claim that Cesar Millan has “set dog training back 20 years”, as noted by Dr. Nicolas Dodman, Professor and Head, Section of Animal Behavior, Director of Behavior Clinic, Tufts University - Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Dodman’s credentials are impressive; there’s no denying that. In fact, most of the professionals with negative things to say about Cesar have multiple degrees of higher learning following their names. At first glance, this would seem to imply that Cesar might actually be doing something harmful in his work with dogs, considering that all these experts agree on as much. But after further investigating their claims, I’ve noted that these naysayers don’t simply disagree with Cesar’s methods. They attack him personally. One such character is Ian Dunbar, a positive-reinforcement based dog trainer who calls himself the Anti-Cesar Millan. There is also an entire Facebook page dedicated to Anti Cesar Millan “fans”.

Cesar’s critics claim this is because of their concern for dogs, but I’m not buying it. Disagreeing with someone’s training style is one thing. But when one feels the need to attack another’s character, there is a personal vendetta playing out. And really, this type of emotionally charged mud slinging does nothing to create a sensible argument for consideration. Notice that Cesar Millan does not have to drag others’ practices through the dirt in order to justify or promote his own. Cesar’s way stands on its own merit, and his positive influence on the world’s dogs and people speaks for itself.

I suspect that Cesar’s doubters are defensive, because despite the daunting nature of their educational credits and expertise – valid though they may be - I imagine they might lack the primal, intuitive connection with dogs that Cesar so naturally embodies. Because Cesar has manifested his incredible Life’s Work without the preordained authority granted by degrees of higher education, perhaps his success threatens Dr. Dunbar, and others like him, whose perceived self-importance and prestige may be based on their impressive titles. But then, all great revolutionaries are confronted with the backlash of bruised Egos. Such is why the oppositional movement attempting to discount Cesar’s methods as “inhumane” and “abusive” – though ludicrous - comes as no surprise.

Another example of a “refuted revolutionary” in the world of human-animal relationships, (and another great hero of mine), is Jane Goodall. Along with fellow famed primatologists, Dianne Fossey who studied gorillas, and Beruti Geldikas who studied orangutans, Jane was chosen for her mission in part because of her lack of a traditional education. At that time, animal behavior curriculum was based on the robotic “reward/punishment” system of B.F.Skinner, who believed that animals were not sentient, living beings, but lifeless machines that functioned solely on a black and white, cause and effect basis. Louis Leakey –the Father of Anthropology – specifically chose the three women because (a) They were female, and would thus bring a different, more organic and empathetic perception to the study of animal behavior, than what (for example) watching lab rats push levers for cocaine could offer; and (b) Because their minds had not yet been inundated with the accepted academic philosophy of the times, which left their minds open to learning about the animals’ natural state of being through untainted observation.

Given the freedom to connect with chimpanzees instinctually and spiritually, rather than methodologically, Jane Goodall shifted the whole world’s comprehension of what Great Apes actually are, and who we (human beings) are in their reflection. Just as Cesar does, Ms. Goodall faced violent opposition from people whose belief systems and schools of thought were threatened by her work, and its implications for the future of their field.

I believe what might truly upset Cesar’s critics is that his methods involve something more organic, intangible, and difficult to master than typical training methods. Cesar’s way involves leadership based on humility and hard-won confidence, rather than systematic control of an animal’s behavior through practicing quantifiable steps. Cesar’s way involves his unique life experience, his particular energetic aura, his ability to influence dogs’ behavior without the aid of food or conditioning, and the conscious practice of Instinctual Intelligence, which he has cultivated by tapping into his Inner Animal, using it as his primary form of education. To hone Cesar’s methods, one must learn precisely that which cannot be taught in a classroom. It is something that must be brought to life from within a person’s higher consciousness.

Cesar is spearheading an inevitable revolution. And the higher truth will overcome the weakening belief systems of the disappearing present. Eventually, the old ways will die out, just as useless appendages evolve out of a species over time. And as they do, the climate will turn from one of hostile opposition, to one that enables the Whisperer within us all to be recognized, and to thrive.