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Originally published Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Expert: It's a mistake to humanize dogs

Dog expert Cesar Millan says it's a mistake to humanize dogs.

McClatchy Newspapers

BOISE, Idaho — "Oh, isn't he cute? My little smootchie-wootchy!" Some women talk baby-talk to their boyfriend or husband.

Some folks talk baby-talk to, well, babies.

And some of us talk baby-talk — to our animals.

"You shouldn't use the D-word, as far as we're concerned," Diane Turner said. Turner is the proud owner of a pug named Madison, and, as the local pug meet-up group organizer, she's speaking for the entire pug-owner world.

"Madison is my baby, and that's the beginning and end of everything."

So, what's wrong with this picture? Some experts say that humanizing your pet — anthropomorphism — is just not the right relationship.

"People humanize dogs and don't understand their psychology as pack animals," Cesar Millan, also known as the Dog Whisperer, said on his Web site. Millan has made a business — and a small fortune — by helping people live happily with problem dogs. He's been known to turn a nonstop barker/biter into a pussycat in a matter of 30 minutes.

"I begin by showing the dog that I am the pack leader," Millan said. "I fulfill the dog's need through exercise, which is walking the dog in the correct way. I give the dog rules, boundaries, and limitations ... and then affection." Millan said that especially in America, dog owners tend to overdo it on doggy love. They "give affection, affection, and more affection, when what the dog really needs is exercise, discipline — and then affection." Turner contends that, at least for her pug Madison — and any other pug for that matter — the outpouring of affection is in no way detrimental.

"She is our baby; they're part of the family and have the consideration anyone else in the family has. They send (Madison) cards, she sends cards, gives and receives Christmas presents.

"They're obviously not human," Turner acknowledged, a bit begrudgingly, "but that doesn't make them any less a member of the family." And, she adds, it's not that Madison runs roughshod over the household. Turner believes in disciplining Madison — but more as you would discipline a child.

Millan says, though, that treating dogs like people can cause problems and, more often than not, it just doesn't work.

"Many of my clients call their dog their soul mate or their baby, but the dog tears up the furniture and drags them all over the neighborhood on a walk," he said. "The client pleads with the dog to behave, cajoles the dog, and offers her treats with no change in the dog's behavior."

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Dogs are animals, Millan said, and they respond to calm-assertive leadership — "not emotional arguments or negotiations." Dogs have found themselves in an odd predicament by living with humans, he said. In the wild, canines don't need humans to achieve balance. They have a pack leader, work for food, and travel with the pack.

But when we bring them into our world, "We need to help them achieve balance by fulfilling their needs as nature intended them to be." Millan's formula: "exercise, then discipline, and finally, affection."

"As the human pack leader, you must set rules, boundaries, and limitations and always project a calm-assertive energy." By adhering to his formula, Millan said, you'll be able to connect with your dog in a deeper way.

On the other hand, pug owner Turner said there's no need to restrict affection.

"Madison has rules, she knows she has limitations. And she is very apologetic when she knows that she's done something wrong. She comes and gives me kisses — just like a child would do."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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