How come Cesar Millan, a dirt-poor former illegal alien from Mexico, with a strong accent and no college degree, has risen to the top of the dog world while Ian Dunbar, with perfect English, some obvious money, and veterinary and animal behavior degrees behind him, remains virtually unknown?
It's not that Ian Dunbar does not know how to train an animal -- he does. He understands operant conditioning. He is not a fool or an incompetent.
I have no doubt he is brilliant. I assume he has impeccable timing and can train anything.
So why has the world not beaten a path to his door?
I have an idea.
Watch the video, below, and pay careful attention to the first minute and a half.
Ian Dunbar says some smart things at the end.
He talks about the lack of thought that goes into solving common canine problems.
He says if calling your dog always means the dog is leashed up and all play is over, don't expect it to come!
Full applause for the last four and a half minutes of this presentation.
But what about that first minute and a half?
At the start of this talk, Ian Dunbar tells us he is a FAILURE AT DOG TRAINING.
Listen to what he says.
He says you can tell people what to do, but no one listens.
You can tell people what to do, but they they are not going to do it.
Whoa! Think about what he just said.
Ian Dunbar is saying people come to him for help, they pay money for help, and then he prescribes a solution.
But then the owners do not take his advice.
An amazing statement.
Now has he considered WHY?
Let me make a suggestion: Has he considered his presentation?
You see, most people have never heard of Ian Dunbar, just as once-upon-a-time (and not so very long ago) they had never heard of Cesar Millan.
Ian Dunbar claims he knows dogs, but most people have never seen him in action, and they have no proof of that.
People are naturally going to be a little bit dubious.
They are going to look for evidence of real expertise or its opposite; fakery.
Does this guy know what he is talking about? Is he a truth-teller?
Dunbar's speech is his "job interview".
For most of the people in the room, and everyone who will watch this video, his presentation is the answer to the question Do I want to buy his book? Do I want to hire him to train me and train my dog?
The first question of every job interview is almost always the same: "Tell me about about your last job, and how you did it."
And what is Ian Dunbar's answer to that predictable question?
Basically, he says: "The main problem in my last job was that my boss was an idiot and my co-workers were incompetent."
Think about it.
Isn't that exactly what Ian Dunbar is saying here?
You see, if you are a professional dog trainer, your client is your boss; they are the ones paying you, and they are the ones who may (or may not) recommend you in the future.
And, to put put a point on it, they are also the folks whose behavior you want to ultimately change and shape.
Dunbar seems to show a kind of exhausted contempt for dog owners, including his own clients.
"I am leading," he seems to say, "and so many of you are simply too stupid to follow."
Not exactly the right message!
Cesar Millan has a different approach. He begins with a simple question: How can I help?
He does not begin by telling dogs owners they are idiots; he begins by asking how he can be of service.
Yes he will lead them forward (rather quickly), but he never starts the lesson by "jerking on the leash" as Dunbar does here.
Question: Who do you trust more, the person who asks "How can I help?" or the person who says with exhausted disdain, "Look, I will repeat what I have already said, and you have already ignored."
Now let's look at how Dunbar talks about his co-workers.
The co-worker in question is Cesar Millan. That is who Ian Dunbar is slagging here, and everyone in the audience knows it.
And here's the thing: Cesar Millan is the most famous and successful dog rehabilitator in the world!
Has Ian Dunbar thought about that for even one dispassionate second?
You see, when an unknown person with unknown success slags a known person with known success, there is a massive credibility problem.
Most folks have seen Cesar Millan work half a dozen miracles on the National Geographic Channel, and they have seen his books in the store (even if they have not yet read them).
Oprah Winfrey says Cesar Millan is a God, and Barack Obama says he would be happy to have him visit the White House.
His reputation precedes him.
And yet Ian Dunbar, who most people have never heard of, much less seen train a dog, slags Cesar Millan right at the top.
And look how he does it!
Dunbar never comes out and actually mentions Millan's name. Instead he slips into a sly passive-aggressive style to talk about "a bloke on TV."
No doubt, he thinks he is being cute, but in fact he is displaying a failure of character.
A passive-aggressive style is not a position of strength. It is a sign of weakness.
Dunbar is not even content to tell the truth. He claims Millan has said "becoming a stronger leader" is how you end a dog's chronic backyard barking.
There is not one person in that audience who has ever heard Millan say that.
And whether they have watched every episode of The Dog Whisperer or not, most of the audience will intuitively know it is a lie.
In their mind, they are saying,
"There is something wrong here.
I have never heard of Ian Dunbar before, but Cesar Millan did not become the most famous dog man in the world accidentally.
Millan came from nothing and is now on top, while this tired-looking British guy who obviously came from some money and thinks we are all idiots, is on the bottom.
SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH HIS STORY!
And bang, right there, Ian Dunbar has lost credibility and some respect.
And here's the funny thing: He did not have to shoot himself in the foot. It was unnecessary.
Dunbar could have reached across the table and said, "There are a million ways to train a dog, but the tapestry of every method is sewn with the same three threads, which are at the core of all operant conditioning."
That story is told in 20 seconds.
He could have explained the difference between dog training and dog rehabilitation.
That story is told in 15 seconds.
And then he could have gone on to explain why people so often fail in their training... And how he can help them all succeed.
Ian Dunbar does not tell his audience they can succeed!
He tells them they will probably FAIL because they are idiots who will not listen to him.
And here we come to the crux of the problem .... and how ironic it is!
You see, Ian Dunbar thinks to be a leader you proclaim your leadership. Look at my degrees! Feel the searing force of my self-proclained expertise! I am an expert!!
Millan thinks something different. He thinks you are a leader when others follow.
Millan thinks his job is to "train people," not insult them.
And he thinks people will follow if they see what can be done
Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with Ian Dunbar's training methods. I am told he is a brilliant man, and I take it on faith that he can train anything.
He and Millan are actually using the same core techniques, even if they are using a slightly different language and have a different mix of methods, which reflects the different goals of training versus rehabilitation.
But, according to his own presentation, Ian Dunbar is a failure as a dog trainer.
And why is he a failure? Because he is not very successful at training people. The people will not follow.
Click and treat, Ian. Click and treat.
And I could say the same for many other wannabe-a-big-name dog trainers who also have miserable presentation skills. Some are goofy, some talk to their audiences like they think they might be retarded, and most swirl around the arcane lingo of operant conditioning without ever talking in plain English or using simple words like "consequence."
No wonder Millan owns so much of the waterfront -- look at what he does through demonstration, and what he is competing against in terms of presentation!