This week, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fawning piece about Cesar Millan in the New Yorker (May 22). Gladwell shows why he's a very good writer, but not a good reporter (which may be the reason I thought his last book, Blink, was a vapid but nonethless enjoyable read). In this article, Gladwell doesn't even indicate that there is anything controversial at all about how Millan achieves his ends. No scent of behavioral science enters the discussion. There's no attempt on Galdwell's part to be objective, ferret out alternative opinions or provide balance. Malcolm is definitely not in the middle. He's wonderous.
IMO, there's great theatre but no science behind Cesar Millan's work. In fact, the only thing I sort of liked about Malcom Gladwell's New Yorker piece is that he attempts to explain why Millan's techniques "work" when Millan himself can't explain it. Gladwell turns, unexpectedly, to human dance and movement instructors and dog ethologists to explain Millan's techniques but the effort, as eloquent as it is, falls short of anything approaching a true explanation. Millan, we are to believe, is a childhood wonder grown to mystic, dancing faith healer of aggressive dogs--a dog shaman. What Gladwell doesn't write but should have is that people trying to replicate Millan's techniques will likely fail, that their situation will worsen, and they will have misled themselves into believing that punishment is the path to behavior change when it's not.