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"Everyone get on the elevator. We can all fit," the guy says and sure enough we all fit.

I'm standing in a Metro Toronto Convention Center elevator packed in with an entourage of volunteers and staff from Toronto Animal Services and International Fund for Animal Welfare, Cesar Millan's production staff, Canadian Tire stage coordinators, and three dogs.

We reach our floor and all get off the elevator, dogs first, and step onto the show floor where it looks like the MTCC has been turned into one big Canadian Tire store. The only thing missing is the Canadian Tire smell (all CTs have that smell - I think it's patented). I don't get why people would want to go down to the Convention Center to see Canadian Tire products when they could just go to a regular Canadian Tire store but I'm obviously in the minority because the place is well populated.

Cesar Millan and Lolita

We wind through a throng of people to get to the stage, the dogs and their handlers way ahead now to the point where I lose sight of them and I wonder how it is they've managed to weave through the crowds so quickly. When I catch up to them, they're already on the other side of the red velvet rope and I have to explain to security that I'm with the others. Security lets me duck under the barrier.

The dogs are panting, a little anxious, but not nearly as anxious as I would expect them to be in this new environment given that less than a week ago they were mostly running around on a reservation up north. For a few years now, TAS and IFAW have been partners in bringing unwanted reservation dogs to Toronto where the dogs are adopted out. In IFAW's latest transport earlier in the week, ten dogs were brought down.

Cesar Millan and Goldie

I don't know what the chain of events were exactly but I guess phone calls were made, emails sent and somehow or other, Cesar Millan, who was making an appearance at the Canadian Tire convention, arranged to showcase his dog whispering skills using three dogs from Toronto Animal Services. I didn't hear about the event until the morning of and then I thought, well, this is an odd enough combination that I think I'm going to have to postpone everything I had planned for Saturday afternoon and head down with the gang to check this thing out.

I did have to do some rearranging of my schedule, however, and by the time I got down to the MTCC, Millan had already picked the three dogs he'd be bringing on stage. The three chosen were the most rambunctious of the IFAW dogs: Lolita, a Black Lab mix, Dootie, a Pointer mix and Goldie, a Yellow Lab mix. The only problem was, I thought, the dogs weren't really that rambunctious. Pleasant, though untrained, tends to be the norm with reservation dogs and these three were no exception. Sure, they were somewhat excitable but nothing like any of the dogs featured on the Dog Whisperer TV shows. I couldn't help but wonder if Millan was disappointed we couldn't provide him with bigger challenges.

When I first heard about Cesar Millan years ago, a relative unknown at the time, it was from a Malcolm Gladwell article he wrote for The New Yorker (complete article is here with additional commentary here).

As Millan's popularity grew, so did the legion of critics, mostly people who disagreed with his training methods. I suspect that this anti-Milan backlash may have been perhaps a small contributing factor to Millan's suicide attempt in 2010 which was mostly triggered by the death of his Pit Bull Daddy followed shortly by his divorce.

For me, the show business of training dogs is more a problem than Milan's methods. The show business of training dogs manipulates people hungry for instant gratification into thinking they can fix a dog's problems with a few finger taps on the torso, vocalizing "ch" noises and a maintaining an internal mental state of "calm energy". Just this morning at the dog park, there was a Pug barking a little too insistently for its owners liking and the owner kept trying to chase it down while making "ch" sounds and air tapping because she couldn't reach down fast enough to tap the dog itself since the dog just kept staying out of her reach. As expected, that particular training method didn't produce the intended result.

Whatever criticisms might be applied to the Dog Whisperer TV shows, Millan himself has always been a huge supporter of both shelter dogs and Pit Bulls. And now there is a new National Geographic series featuring Millan, called Leader of the Pack, which focuses specifically on finding homeless dogs a home. From the trailers I've seen, the premise of the series is a bit gimmicky (three candidates vying for one dog) but it's a gimmick which hopefully educates and advocates on behalf of shelter dogs. Millan's doing his part for shelter dogs and that he chose to showcase today three homeless dogs from Toronto Animal Services personalizes my appreciation for this aspect of his work.

Cesar Millan and Dootie

On stage, Millan is an enjoyable showman. He is comfortable and knows how to appeal to the crowd with grand gestures and one-liners. But, the first part of the show, with Millan advising and handling the three dogs and their "problems", is a bit anti-climactic. The dogs are too well-behaved to give him much of a challenge. Lolita is supposed to be toy-obsessed but she's more interested in sniffing the floor of the stage. Dootie is supposed to be food obsessed but turns out to be just as happy playing flopsy bunny and kissing faces. Goldie is supposed to be a puller on leash but on stage she walks gently and with relative ease. I wonder if Millan is bored. I wonder if the show business of working with dogs has taken away from his enjoyment of actually working with dogs but if that's the case, he doesn't show it. His energy level is up. His smile is on. The crowd cheers and claps.
After the show with TAS' in house dog whisperer

4 Comments to “Canadian Tire, Cesar Millan and Three Dogs from IFAW”

  1. Anonymous says:

    They should have taken Bella from TAS West!

  2. My pup was lucky enough to be selected as a demo dog at his show in Toronto in November, just showing puppy behaviour. Cesar was soooooo nice and exactly as he is on TV. He was very down to earth and I was so impressed with him as a person, not just someone who understands dogs.

    I don't think all of his techniques work on all dogs, but he does give people a different perspective on dogs and is great for new dog owners who have no idea what they are doing. I really learned a lot about how dogs think and react and that dogs are dogs and not people.

    I can't say enough about how nice he is and how invested he is in dogs' well-being. Say what you want about his methods, he has the best intentions behind what he does.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I've re-read this post and can't find any information about "reservation dogs". Can you explain? (I'm in New York -- is it a Canadian thing? An indian reservation?). Thanks!

  4. Fred says:

    Hi charliedogandfriends, yes, sorry I wasn't too clear there. Reservation dogs refers to dogs originating from a First Nations reserve, many of which are located in northern Ontario or Quebec.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.