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London - British television’s mild-mannered horticulturalist turned daytime chat-show host Alan Titchmarsh rarely courts controversy.
But when he invited “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan to appear as a guest it was never going to please everyone.
US-based Millan’s unconventional training methods to rehabilitate ill-disciplined dogs, including physically attacking them, using electric shocks and spikes on collars, have split public opinion worldwide and led many to brand him “barbaric”.
A wave of protests was unleashed even before The Alan Titchmarsh Show went out on ITV on Wednesday afternoon. More than 1,000 people joined a Twitter campaign demanding Millan’s appearance be cancelled. Production staff were inundated with calls and Titchmarsh was bombarded with hundreds of emails, while a Facebook page set up by protesters attracted 1,600 followers.
And when animal welfare campaigners threatened to disrupt the live show, extra security staff were drafted in. Although Titchmarsh, 63, refused to cancel the interview, he took on his guest in an uncharacteristically confrontational style.
Titchmarsh told Millan: “You punish dogs, you hit them. I’ve seen you punch a dog in the throat to get it to behave and to most people, like myself, I would say that is totally unacceptable as a way of training a dog.”
Millan replied: “Well obviously I would respectfully disagree with that. It’s not a punch, it’s a touch.”
Titchmarsh countered: “I watched the video of it and if somebody touched me like that I would be hurt. You went for the throat and you punched the dog back and the dog bit you and held on to your hand.
“Having watched a lot of boxing matches it looked like something Henry Cooper would deliver.”
Millan again insisted that it was nothing more than a touch. “But you also work with electric shocks and collars and spikes on collars that really hurt them,” continued Titchmarsh.
“You know, this is pretty barbaric treatment. What’s your reasoning for treating dogs like this?”
Millan insisted that his methods were simply used to “snap the (dog’s) brain out of it”.
After the interview opinion on Twitter and other social media was divided, with some backing Titchmarsh, while others rounded on him for being “abusive”. In a statement read out on air, the RSPCA said: “Adverse training techniques which have been seen to be used by Cesar Millan can cause pain and fear for dogs and may worsen their behavioural problems.
“The RSPCA believes that using such techniques is unacceptable, nor are they necessary to change dog behaviour for the better when other dog trainers use reward-based methods to train dogs very effectively.”
* Cesar Millan is a self-taught professional dog psychologist who became a superstar through his hit US show the Dog Whisperer, which now airs in 80 countries.
He grew up poor in Mexico but now lives in Los Angeles and is worth millions.
His clients have included Scarlett Johansson and Oprah Winfrey and he reportedly charges celebrities $100,000 to treat a troubled dog on his 43-acre ranch. But for all the best-selling books and global tours 42-year-old Millan does not enjoy universal support. For those who applaud his work there are as many who brand him cruel.
One YouTube video shows him kicking snarling dogs. He says owners should make it clear they are the “pack leader” and insists he only uses enough force to get dogs “back below the red line” with no damage. - Daily Mail
* The Dog Whisperer is shown in South Africa on DSTV’s National Geographic Channel.