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The Problem of Celebrity
Some veterinarians and behaviorists decry Merial’s partnership with Cesar Millan.

Earlier this month, the executive board of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the Merial’s decision to partner with Cesar Millan to promote their products. Merial is a huge animal-health company and the maker of Frontline and Heartgard. As part of the promotion, the company is offering veterinary clinics a free Cesar Millan DVD titled “Mastering Leadership!” for any client who purchases either Frontline or Heartgard this summer.

“Merial’s executives may not be aware of the fact that the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), the AVSAB, and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) have uniformly spoken out against the coercive, ‘dominance’-based techniques employed by Mr. Millan on his television show ‘The Dog Whisperer.’”

The AVSAB statement continues, “At best, the show is entertaining but misleading to pet owners. At worst, Mr. Millan’s techniques and misinformation have contributed to increased aggression and anxiety or resulted in physical injury to the pet and/or pet owner. As practicing veterinarians, we all unfortunately have seen many cases of the latter. Merial claims to ‘enhance the health, well-being, and performance of animals.’ Asking veterinarians to recommend that their clients seek behavior information from Mr. Millan speaks otherwise.”
Bark columnist Patricia McConnell supports AVSAB’s criticism of Merial and offers her own seasoned and thoughtful perspective on the problem of The Dog Whisperer on her blog, The Other End of the Leash.

In general, I’m inclined against this promotion even without Millan. I’m skeptical about direct-to-the-consumer appeals by pharmaceutical companies. It’s not that I think doctors or veterinarians should be the only ones with information, but advertising and promotion (a free training video, for example?) is rarely about meaningful education. On top of that, there’s reasonable debate over Millan's approach. Do veterinarians—with our trust vested in them—really want to be seen as promoting his ideals?

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by Anonymous | June 25 2009 |

Well, my veterinarian certainly didn't. And the interesting thing about that is that she's been in practice more than 30 years and is pretty "old school" in many ways with regard to training.

Still, she forwarded me a copy of the AVSAB position letter and said: "All the on line vets I know, especially the behaviorists are writing Merial about this very poor promotional Idea by Merial. I'd suggest regular behaviorists make a fuss too!"

Merial promotional text sent to my vet:

This summer, Merial, maker of HEARTGARD® (ivermectin) and FRONTLINE® Brand Products has partnered with popular pack leader Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, to help you promote protection in your clinic! Every week, approximately 10 million viewers tune in to Cesar’s Dog Whisperer television show. Every month, about 400,000 visit him online.

This promotion is a great opportunity for you to turn HEARTGARD and FRONTLINE recommendations into sales during this key dispensing period by offering pet owners a gift-with-purchase: a FREE limited-edition Cesar Millan Dog Behavior Video download valued at $24.95. Your clients and clinic could also win a trip to a taping of Dog Whisperer and lunch with Cesar!

You can check out the AVSAB position (scroll to the bottom of the page) at: http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/

Here is a Merial veterinary products "contact us" address if you wish to lodge a comment regarding the promotion: http://us.merial.com/contact_us/index.asp

Submitted by Kathy Konetzka-Close | June 26 2009 |

I am quite ambivalent about Mr. Milan; certainly not about the promotional tie in with Merial—I hate all that sort of stuff, and I wouldn’t have any problem if I never saw another pharmaceutical ad on television—ever. As for The Dog Whisperer, however, I do think his show has some benefit and I admit that I am an avid watcher. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, and when “it” works, it really is a happy ending for dog and owner. However, the negatives of Mr. Milan’s training methods have already been mentioned (LOVED Patricia McConnell’s blog, BTW) and they certainly merit closer inspection. Whenever he is faced with what he refers to as a “red zone” case, I can’t help but cringe because I know that those owners are going to be challenged down the road and it’s not likely to be pretty. Dogs with aggressive behavioral problems cannot be “fixed” within the context of a 20 minute segment with ANYBODY. True, Cesar has presence and certainly the dogs act differently with him than they do their caregivers but I’ve gotta think that’s a pretty short term effect. However, you can’t argue with the success of his own pack—if we’re shown a truthful view, then his dogs are extremely well behaved—and who could not love Daddy?? So here I am with my “on this hand” and “on the other hand” arguments and I’m not sure where I fall once it’s all said and done. Obviously, the disclaimer at the beginning of each show says it all…..don’t try this at home, folks, without seeking the help of a professional. Unfortunately, not everyone listens.

Submitted by calmassertive | March 15 2010 |

It puzzles me why people are so willing to worship the ramblings of a clique of vocal academics who decided to call themselves the official-sounding AVSAB, but then turn around and ignore the marvelous personal expertise learned on the street, as it were, by Cesar Millan. The September 2007 AVSAB newsletter, available on their website, includes an article by AVSAB board members applauding a fellow member for killing a rowdy labradoodle for no reason other than it was excitable. One board member, Sophia Yin, even writes she thinks families should never own young dogs, only mature well-behaved dogs. These pompous, self-righteous yet flamingly incompetent frauds claim to be dog-friendly, then advise owners to Kill their perfectly good dogs. Disgusting. You will never see Cesar recommend killing a misbehaving dog. Rather, what Cesar does is clean up the messes they quietly sweep under their euthanasia rug. The AVSAB is a fraud. Cesar, on the other hand, is the real deal.

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