Cesar Millan is the host of The Dog Whisperer, a popular dog training show on the National Geographic channel.
Cesar is a charismatic and very entertaining host, and he has made The Dog Whisperer into a big favorite amongst dog owners. As a result, he has many fans that implement his techniques on their house pets.
However, there are some who feel that Cesar’s techniques are overly harsh, and inappropriate for novice trainers (most pet owners).
In this article, I examine Cesar’s approach and discuss its pros and cons.
Cesar Millan – The Good
1. Cesar Millan educates people on being a good pack leader.
To be a good pack leader, Cesar Millan talks about setting rules and boundaries for our dog. This includes door manners, and always walking our dog slightly behind us. He also emphasizes the importance of maintaining calm and assertive energy, which made a huge difference with my Shiba Inu.
Since dogs live in a human world, they need us to provide them with a degree of structure so that they feel safe, and so that they do not harm others or themselves. They also need a balanced leader who is able to protect them, and show them how to behave in stressful situations.
These messages are extremely important, especially in this day and age where dog owners tend to overly spoil their dogs by letting them do whatever they want. Uncontrolled dogs may become dangerous and unhealthy. Ultimately, they may have to be destroyed because nobody taught them how to behave in a human world.
2. Cesar Millan gets people to fulfill their dogs’ needs, not just their own.
Most dog owners are very aware of how dogs help us live happier, and fuller lives. What is often forgotten is that dogs have needs of their own.
Cesar Millan talks about understanding a dog’s needs, and helping him be a happy, well-balanced dog through dog exercise and dog discipline. He also shows people that once they help their dogs burn some energy, the dogs are a lot more well-behaved.
Given the unrealistic expectations of dogs that are propagated by some dog movies, it is a big advantage to dogdom to have Cesar Millan spreading this message about a dog’s needs to audiences everywhere.
3. Cesar Millan shows people how to improve their dog’s behavior regardless of breed and background.
Some dog breeds have developed a really bad reputation, especially the Pit Bull Terrier. Cesar Millan does a good job of showing people that all dogs can be rehabilitated, regardless of breed and background.
His own pack consists of many Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, both of which have gotten a bad reputation for being dangerous and aggressive dogs. Cesar Millan frequently uses many Pit Bulls from his pack to rehabilitate other dogs. His Pit Bulls are calm, balanced, and very non-reactive even when faced with extremely hyper dogs.
There are a large number of Pit Bulls in shelters today, and they have a difficult time finding homes because people are afraid to adopt them. Cesar Millan and his Pit Bull sidekick Junior do great things to combat the negativity associated with that breed.
Cesar Millan’s message that every dog can be rehabilitated, gives hope to people with difficult dogs, and reduces the number of shelter surrenders. His hopeful message may also encourage people to adopt shelter dogs, and give them a second chance.
4. Cesar Millan uses his pack of dogs to teach other dogs and improve their behavior.
Cesar Millan shows people that the best teacher for a dog, is often another dog.
While we may try and learn canine body language, we will never be as adept at using it as a canine. Of course the doggy teacher must be calm and very balanced.
When looking for a trainer, try to find one that has some calm, balanced, dogs that can work with you.
Cesar Millan – The Bad
1. Cesar’s Way or the highway.
Cesar Millan has an extremely confident, charismatic, and alpha personality that makes him very successful. Unfortunately, a side-effect of this, is that people may just follow his techniques and not explore other alternatives.
His emphasis on large breed, aggressive dogs, as well as the frequent use of aversive methods, perpetuates some inaccurate myths on dog training, including:
- You cannot train large breed dogs with reward methods.
- You cannot train aggressive dogs with reward methods.
Because Cesar Millan is so widely watched, and so widely recommended by dog breeders, dog owners, and other dog professionals, there is a huge network effect that propagates and perpetuates these myths. This can lead to widespread tunnel vision, that ultimately does a disservice to dogs, especially dogs that are incorrectly diagnosed with dominant behavior.
There are many trainers who have successfully rehabilitated aggressive dogs by only using reward dog training.
I think that Cesar Millan can combat some these misconceptions by always reminding his audience to keep an open mind, and to use a wider range of techniques in his Dog Whisperer program.
2. Greater emphasis on owner discipline.
Cesar Millan greatly emphasizes dog discipline, but he is a lot less strict with their owners. Dogs with problem behaviors need a lot of attention. Frequently, owners must put in a lot of time and effort to help their dogs reach a happier and more balanced state.
The format of The Dog Whisperer show is such that Cesar has to show results quickly, to make the program interesting and engaging. Often times, there is a timer which shows how Cesar Millan solves a problem in minutes (5-15 minutes), that will actually take a lot of time and effort to truly become a learned behavior.
Even though Cesar Millan may sometimes say that changing a dog’s behavior takes time, his Dog Whisperer program shows the opposite.
This is in contrast to shows like It’s Me or the Dog, where there is a lot more emphasis on owner participation in the dog rehabilitation process, and the unfortunate consequences that may occur when owners fail to put in the effort.
3. More discussion on dog training equipment.
Cesar Millan does advise his clients to put a dog’s collar high-up on the neck, close to the head and ears. He will occasionally use his Illusion collar to keep a choke collar from sliding down a dog’s neck.
Frequently however, he just goes with whatever the owner is using, thereby implicitly agreeing with the owner’s dog equipment choice. Given that Millan is the expert, it would be helpful to have more of a discussion on the pros and cons of dog training collars.
Training collars (e.g. prong collar, choke chains), should not be left on a dog for long periods of time. They should be put on for a walk or a training session, and removed otherwise. Definitely remove a training collar when your dog is off-leash, especially when he is interacting with other dogs. A choke chain may get caught while a dog is playing or running around, which may result in injury or death.
Prolonged use of choke chains may cause injury even if used correctly. For safety, only use a training collar for a limited amount of time (several weeks). Then, switch back to a flat collar once the dog understands the rules of walking.
The Illusion collar is a modified choke collar, and the risks of using such collars should at least be mentioned.
4. Explore other forms of pack leadership.
Since our dogs live in our very human world, it is important for us to lead and guide our dogs. However, an important corollary question is what leader we should be.
Cesar Millan seems to support something more akin to a dictatorship, where everything the leader says goes, and not following a rule, brings about some kind of disciplinary action whether it be a leash jerk, a finger poke, or an alpha roll. The dog is always expected to walk close-to, but behind the human, and there is very little stopping to smell the roses.
Between a dictatorship and no leadership is a wide range of other possibilities. Note that the term dictatorial is used here to refer to type of leadership; nothing more and nothing less. Here is the dictionary definition -
Asserting or tending to assert one’s authority or to impose one’s will on others.
In terms of leadership, we want to at least consider, how much control over our dog’s behavior is truly necessary. Try to take into account our own temperament, and the temperament of our dog, to determine the best type of relationship and human-dog bond.
5. Highlight the dangers of aversive dog training.
Cesar Millan uses a variety of aversive training methods, including alpha rolls, leash jerks, and finger pokes. He often tells owners that these techniques do not cause the dogs any pain or stress, but are only meant to get the dogs’ attention. There is also an implication that these techniques are appropriate and humane because wolves do that to other wolves, or dogs do that to other dogs.
Both of these statements are not very accurate.
All aversive methods cause an unpleasant sensation, or they would not work. An aversive technique may sometimes cause stress and fear in a dog, which is why the dog avoids that behavior in the future.
Aversive training can also backfire if not executed with the correct force, with the proper timing, and with the proper redirection. When not executed properly, aversive methods may cause additional behavioral problems in dogs, including aggression.
This University of Pennsylvania 2009 study shows that at least 25% of the dogs that are trained with confrontational methods exhibit aggression during training.
Given Cesar Millan’s popularity, there are a large number of people who follow his dog behavior modification techniques just from watching The Dog Whisperer on television. Therefore, it makes sense to also discuss the risks and dangers of using his aversive methods.
As a dog owner, I would like accurate information on dog obedience training, rather than sugar coated versions.
Thank You for Your Comments
I would like to thank everyone for leaving comments and participating in this discussion. You have made me think a lot about dogs, dog relationships, dog training, and how to solve problem dog behaviors.
Many people feel strongly about dog training or dog behavior modification techniques because they love their dogs very much and want what is best for them. That is why there is much controversy surrounding Cesar Millan, and the aversive dog training methods that he uses. I have noticed however, that he is using fewer aversive methods in his more recent Dog Whisperer episodes, and is using a bit more reward, which I think is a really good thing.
Some people consider aversive methods to be dog cruelty. That is a moral judgment, and therefore best left to the theologians.
I started out with Cesar Millan’s aversive techniques.
When I tried to switch over to reward dog training, many of the people that I sought to get advice from called me all sorts of names, including cruel and harsh. Luckily, there were some that gave me good advice, and reward methods worked out very well for my dog in the end. I now only use reward obedience training on all my dogs, but messages about exercise, discipline, and energy still apply whichever techniques we use.
This article is about gathering information and having discussions about dog behavior and dog training techniques. Through discussion and sharing information, we can make better decisions for our dogs. Please help create a discussion friendly environment by staying away from personal attacks.
Personal attacks or ad hominem arguments are not only pointless, but they also discourage rational discourse and the exchange of ideas.
An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an argument made personally against an opponent, instead of against the opponent’s argument. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as an informal fallacy, more precisely an irrelevance.
A very common ad hominem is –
“You are only saying this because you are jealous.”
I believe that we do not need to reject everything that Cesar Millan says just because there are some things we disagree with. Similarly, we do not need to follow everything that Cesar Millan says, just because there are some things we agree with.
Interesting Articles on Cesar Millan
- American Humane Association: ‘Dog Whisperer’ Training Approach More Harmful Than Helpful.
- The Anti-Cesar Millan: Ian Dunbar.
- The New York Times: "Pack of Lies".
- Dog Whisperer to Critics: My Techniques Are "Instinctual"
- The New Yorker: What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.
- Wikipedia: Cesar Millan.
Cesar Millan Discussion Threads
- Yelp: Cesar Millan dog ‘rehabilitating’ techniques inhumane? (good mix of Cesar positive and negative)
- Dogster (mostly Cesar positive)
- I Remember Love Forum (mostly Cesar positive)
- Dog Explorer (mostly Cesar negative)
Cesar Millan is the charismatic and popular dog trainer from The Dog Whisperer television show. In his program, Cesar Millan applies various training techniques to rehabilitate problem dog behaviors. Should we follow Cesar Millans dog training techniques? If so, why, and if not, why not?
Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, on the National Geographic Channel, has become very well known for dealing with difficult, aggressive dogs. Victoria Stilwell is a popular dog trainer in the U.K., with her own t.v. series called Its Me Or The Dog on Animal Planet. Do you prefer watching [...]
Cesar Millan, host from the Dog Whisperer program is a very popular dog trainer. Millan is very charismatic and communicates with others in a very positive and encouraging manner. We examine Cesar Millans positive reinforcement techniques.