School in an Uproar After Cesar Millan Gets Honorary Degree

Some students at Bergin University of Canine Studies are demanding their money back from the school, which generally teaches reward-based dog training.

Cesar Millan an honorary degree from a college that teaches positive dog training.
Cesar Millan got an honorary degree from a college that teaches positive dog training. A lot of people aren’t happy about this.

Cesar Millan, known to many as “the Dog Whisperer,” is one of the most polarizing figures in the world of professional dog training.

Petful readers might remember an article last year chronicling the Cesar Millan controversy. That article prompted hundreds comments from impassioned readers on all sides of the issue.

What’s the big deal, you ask?

Millan’s self-taught handling techniques are often considered to border on abusive and go against what current research says about dog behavior and how dogs learn.

Bergin Invites Millan to Speak

Bergin University of Canine Studies, a small institute in Northern California, offers degrees in canine science. Bergin claims to teach a positive-reward method of working with service and companion animals.

Bonnie Bergin, president of the college, shocked many when she recently invited Cesar Millan to speak there while offering him an honorary degree. The announcement and subsequent visit last month made donors, supporters, potential students and alumni question the legitimacy of the college.

As an alumni myself (class of 2012), I’m somewhat ashamed to be linked with an institute that has associated itself with Cesar Millan. I hope the event was just a miscalculation in judgment and not an indication of how the institute is now training its dogs.

Bonnie Bergin said in response to the uproar:

“It is our obligation as an educational institute, and mine as an educator to present opportunities to our students to be exposed to many training perspectives.”

The Trouble With the Honorary Degree

If Millan had only stopped by and spoke with students, as many other well-known dog trainers have done in the past, and did not receive an honorary degree, I think the criticism would be less harsh.

An honorary degree signals a prior connection with a school and that the recipient has made a considerable contribution to a field of study that deserves a high level of academic recognition.

Yet Millan’s tactics sometimes include dominating a dog, intimidation and even physical punishment.

How Faculty and Students Reacted

  • Marc Bekoff, PhD, an animal behavior and cognition professor who has taught at Bergin, disassociated himself with the institute when he asked to be removed from the faculty list.
  • A current student told me that some students are asking for their money back.
  • According to many comments on Facebook, the school faculty has “tarnished their reputation, lost potential students, and should be embarrassed and ashamed.”

Clarissa Fallis

View posts by Clarissa Fallis
Clarissa Fallis is a canine behaviorist and trainer from Upstate New York. She has attended Bergin University of Canine Studies, State University of New York at Cobleskill and Animal Behavior College. She is competent in training all breeds and ages of dogs, though she prefers hounds because of the challenge they present.

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