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Is the Dog Whisperer's bark worse than your dog's bite?

Despite his well-known catchphrases and camaraderie with Oprah, not everyone is a fan of Cesar "The Dog Whisperer" Millan.

While fans flock to buy Millan's "Pack Leader" hoodies and watch his show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, some owners and trainers find Millan's tactics unnecessarily harsh. Others just can't stand that ssst! noise he makes when a pet gets out of line.

"I think they need a leader, but somebody that's not going to hassle them with a lot of force and physical pushing around," says Steve Pica, owner of Dogs Gone Wild behavior counseling in Clearwater, who takes issue with the Dog Whisperer's "pack leader" approach to dog training.

Read up on Pica's and Millan's differing tactics, and decide what's best for your pet.

Who wears the pants?

Cesar's way: Be the pack leader. In the wild, dogs live in groups and look to the pack leader for direction. Your dog needs calm, assertive guidance, not a friend who will dress her in Burberry and feed her filet mignon.

Pica's way: "We kind of already are the pack leader," Pica says, noting that we control a dog's food, toys, access to the outdoors and how much attention she gets. He says Millan's pack-leader approach is based on antiquated studies on the pecking order of wolves.

How do I curb unwanted behavior?

Cesar's way: Ssst! It's that abrupt hiss Millan makes while tugging the leash or gripping a dog's neck.

Pica's way: "If you're doing a lot of jerking and pulling and yanking, the dog's going to be stressed," Pica says. He prefers to reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior, at least until the dog knows what's expected of it. If the issue is chewing, give it something even more tempting than your shoes — say, a Kong smeared with peanut butter and filled with kibble.

What's the best way to choose a shelter dog?

Cesar's way: Test-drive your potential pet by walking it around the block. You'll see how it responds to you as pack leader. Once its pent-up energy is exhausted, its true temperament will be revealed.

Pica's way: The most important consideration is how a dog responds to your family. Have everyone in the household come to the shelter so you can see how the dog reacts. The dog should sniff, lick and investigate your child with its ears back. If it seems disinterested, that's a sign of a bad match.

How can I get my dog to walk on a leash?

Cesar's way: Always walk beside or in front of your dog so she'll know who's boss.

Pica's way: The dog doesn't care about dominating you. She just wants to move forward to sniff an interesting flower or check out a squirrel, and tugging on the leash helps her do that. Every time she tugs, stop in your tracks. She'll soon figure out that to get what she wants — forward motion — she must keep a loose leash.

How do I deal with my dog's aggression?

Cesar's way: "Dogs become aggressive out of frustration and dominance. The frustration comes from a lack of exercise, and the dominance comes from a lack of calm-assertive leadership," says Millan's Web site.

Pica's way: Dogs bite out of fear, often because they've suffered previous abuse. If your pet is aggressive toward a person, like the mailman, then have him bring a valuable treat, such as freeze-dried liver, that the dog begins to associate only with that person. If your pet means no harm, but bites while playing, yell "ouch" and stop play so she knows she doesn't get to play when she's too rough. Give her your hand again, so she can practice being gentle next time.

How can I curb excessive barking?

Cesar's way: Nuisance barking is a sign of distress. Your dog likely lacks exercise or calm, assertive leadership.

Pica's way: Dogs bark because they're lonely or scared. For instance, your pet may bark at a garbage truck because it's big, loud and intimidating. The barking is an effort to send away the truck. When you're home, give your dog a treat whenever the garbage truck rolls by, and you'll change her outlook on the situation. To distract your dog when you're away, hide treats around the house or fill a Kong toy with food.

Learn more

For more on Cesar Millan's approach to training, visit cesarmillaninc.com or watch Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan Fridays at 8 p.m. on National Geographic Channel. To get the lowdown on Steve Pica's training methods, go to dogsgonewildradio.com or listen to Dogs Gone Wild Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. on WTAN 1340-AM.

Is the Dog Whisperer's bark worse than your dog's bite? 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:15am]
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