Over the past three decades there has been an emergence of a wide variety of animal behaviour and animal-related charlatans.
There used to be a national roving dog psychologist who diagnosed every behaviour disorder of dogs to be attributed to hunger. If a dog chased motor cars it was hungry. If a dog bit children it was hungry. If it jumped walls to escape it was hungry. This rogue used to charge exorbitant amounts of money to do house calls and convinced ignorant pet owners to feed their pets more food. The pets were eventually so obese that besides having become so physically and physiologically incompetent the intent to overfeed was nothing more than blatant animal cruelty. Sure, an obese dog will not chase cars, jump walls or have the inclination to do anything at all. This quack had at one stage presented a lecture on her successes with behaviour problems which were proved to be fraudulent as the animals depicted with the disorder initially were not the animals exhibiting the rehabilitative behaviour.
A book was published expressing her theories of pet dogs which could never be backed up with scientific evidence or proven results.
For this reason the diligent, hard-working people who offered successful and effective animal behaviour therapy formed a national organization of animal behaviourists with a code of ethics and a constitution. It is a multi-disciplinary group involving multiple professions such as dog trainers, practicing accredited behaviourists and veterinarians.
The same trend developed internationally to avoid animal behaviour masqueraders. The truth is that some still fell through the cracks but were classical fly-by-nights. The public eventually cottoned-on to their phoney business.
Over the past decade there has been the emergence of a new group of animal behaviour hustlers who do not believe that dogs have a pack system with a hierarchy dominated by an alpha individual. This charlatan minority believe that all dogs emanate from wolves – that live in a pack, by the way; the automatic deduction is that wolves are then, apparently, the progenitors of breeds such as the Chihuahua and the Boerboel, which remains a mystery, but now, suddenly, in the 21st century these people have found it appropriate denouncing a natural system that has existed from time immemorial. With this novel concept of domestic dogs not having a pack system there is no mention of what system they live under!!
The tragedy behind these bogus trainers, bogus puppy socialisers, bogus animal therapists and bogus animal behaviourists is that they have a great marketing strategy, loads of time on their hands but their disasters, poor results and incompetence is rendering the more experienced, more practical hands-on experts inundated with having to rehabilitate those cases they have worsened through their lack of depth in handling and refusal to accept the concept of the pack system.
Most of the people with this modern theory are young and have never had the opportunity of observing how feral domestic dogs form packs in order to survive. Due to the lack of space and affordability very few homes today accommodate more than two dogs. Fifty years ago many people lived on much larger properties who owned packs of dogs varying from half a dozen to a dozen and their application of dominance without aggression used to control the conflict that always exists in a dynamic canine hierarchy. All gregarious creatures have to live by some sort of dominance hierarchy system. Mongoose, hyaena, wild dog, wolves, antelope, elephant, hippopotamus, pigs may all have different collective nouns for their pack system such as clans, herds, parades, sounders and so on. Whether it is a matriarch, a she-wolf, an alpha female or pack leader there is a dominance order system such as humans have in the army and in certain culture castes. Chickens have been domesticated longer than dogs and they have a pecking order which is controlled in high density battery systems by being de-beaked to prevent the dominant birds from pecking to death the weaker individuals. Cattle are dehorned to prevent them from damaging each other. Pigs are de-tusked to avoid fighting amongst dominant individuals in the sounder. There are intermittent reports of dogs in rural areas or townships that have packed and killed a person. Any animals accommodated in high density will strongly exhibit dominance aggression – even with canaries in an aviary one will find the alpha pair pecking to death the most submissive pair. Puppies are born with a hierarchy in their fight for the best teats on the bitch.
Two dogs are a pack. More than two dogs where more of one sex prevails will require serious hierarchy principles to avoid top-dog or bitchiness status conflicts. Understanding these rules is the basic essence of all animal behaviour therapy principles. People in the household also form part of the pack order and are also slotted into this hierarchy based on their attitude and assertiveness.
The main reason people are latching on to the no-pack, no alpha-dominance, no hierarchy theory is that they are hands-on ignorant, want attention for conniving a new concept and are part of the modern bunny-huggers who massage dogs to stop behaviour problems. What I found quite amusing is that people subscribe to an expensive course on how to touch their pets in different parts of the body to control various behaviour problems. During this course they are also taught how to use a body wrap on a dog to apply sufficient pressure with the purpose of calming any unwanted behaviour. When their assistance is requested for a vicious dog they instruct the pet owner to apply the wrap. How come the owner of the vicious dog does not have to attend and qualify for a course that lasts almost the semester of university with the cost of three months at the learning institution?!
The greatest tragedy and truth about these hoodwinkers is that they have lost contact with the reality of nature. Not only are they ineffective in solving behaviour disorders but are highly selective of the work they do. They will target mostly gullible affluent people who are always looking for an “alternative” approach and whose pets are safe to handle. When asked to deal with difficult large dogs and certain breeds they refuse to assist. These hoaxers have a vast network of puppy training classes at veterinary practices and make it a condition of every pet owner that joins their “training” not to watch Cesar Millan the “Dog Whisperer” on National Geographic. Why would that be? Is it envy of his success? Would their viewing the Dog Whisperer reveal their inherent incompetence? What goes through people’s heads to give these ludicrous conditions? Are they starting a religious cult with certain taboos? Cesar Millan is nothing short of a messianic genius in the charismatic, professional, practical, knowledgeable and competent manner in which he has saved many human-dog relationships. His skills are an inherent talent that very few people could ever learn if they lived to be as old as Methuselah. Cesar’s methods are applied by most highly effective practicing animal behaviourists throughout the world and if there are young upstarts out there who disagree with his methods, I challenge them to prove better, more efficient and effective techniques. There were e-mails circulating condemning the Dog Whisperer’s techniques. When I challenged the complainants to invite Cesar Millan to a venue to show him their approaches and prove they can do better the defamatory and envious correspondence suddenly ceased. These charlatans of animal behaviour might have read a fair amount of theory but have no qualification by experience. They let people hear what they want to hear. If you visit their homes, their own pets who they have supposedly worked on with all their tools in the box exhibit disobedience, anxiety, frustration and are downright attention-seeking brats. In fact, their dogs run the home which shows what develops from not believing in a hierarchy system….the chickens have come home to roost!
Even more amusing is the emergence of animal communicators who offer courses on how to know what an animal is thinking. I attended a lecture where the animal communicator boasted having solved a conflict between an elephant cow and her calf in the Kruger National Park. There is never an issue between the matriarch and her offspring! It is the cow that instinctively imprints conditions on that calf which then complements the instinctive patterns of elephant life. The fabrications of these animal communicators is further endorsed by the fact that if they could communicate with elephants, they could do the same with whales, using subsonic sound, which people cannot perceive. My, these people are talented! The same lady told an audience how she communicated with her snails in the garden to go and eat the cabbages next door. Almost everyone in the audience thought she was a close encounter of the third kind. She sold all her books and compact discs to a full house of gullible idiots. In a television interview a caller asked her a question about her adult established cat hissing at the new kitten arrival. The concept of normal feline responses to strange events, territoriality and the lack of social skills was never touched upon as a behaviourist should do. Her reply, on national television, with a straight face, is that if the owner of the cat had approached her at the outset she would have asked her established cat if it wanted another cat. That could have been answered naturally. Cats never want to share their territory with their own kind unless they start of as co-habiting kittens. Cats are not a gregarious species with only one exception, the lion pride.
Another case is where a cat lover phoned an animal communicator in a moment of desperation when her cat had run away. Over the telephone the animal communicator knew where that the cat was hiding and that it was safe and happy. The same self-elected animal communicator can never find out which horse is going to win the main race on Saturday. If she applied her gift she could win every race and never have to deceive the vulnerable animal-owning public.
If one had to invite a scientific expert on diseases between animals and humans or any other topic requiring thought and intelligence one would possibly have a very small audience but when it comes to aromatherapy in cats, Reiki in dogs and animal communication the masses arrive. Modern pet owners crave anthropomorphism so that they can attribute human emotions on to animals. People want an easy, lazy way out of having to train their dogs. They want excuses for all the behaviour problems in their pets. The fact that eight million pets are euthanased every year in the USA alone is a clear reflection on how dysfunctional people have become with animals. The average lifespan of a dog in the USA is reported as being three years! Most pets with behaviour issues are euthanased very young due to pet owner intolerance, disillusionment, inappropriate punishment, cruelty and laziness.
I wish to counter these comments by stating that there are super-human animal communicators who understand kinesics and instinctive animal behaviour besides an enigma such as Cesar Milan. Monty Roberts, the Horse Whisperer has not only abolished the cruelty of breaking-in horses but has brought horse training methods on to an unsurpassable, highly competent level. He is a genius, gifted and a pioneer. There are some people who work well with elephants such as Randall Moore. These people get down and dirty with the animals. They communicate with handling not by telepathy. They use body language, cues and sounds and not human language or transcendental meditation.
When it comes to animal behaviour all the academic knowledge in the world is not going to help you cure an animal behaviour problem unless you possess hands-on techniques from which positive effective results can be derived to the satisfaction of the owners and for the sake of the pet.
As a behaviourist one has to have achieved in canine obedience training. It does not help to sprout theory when you cannot demonstrate, in front of the pet owners, how to correct the disobedient pet in a practical and kind manner that the dog will understand and respond to positively.
Long live the Pack System of Dogs. My life in the army taught me about a hierarchy not a democracy.
To the Alpha female I wish to say: I am not worthy of you