Cesar Millan is host of The Dog Whisperer, a popular dog training show on the National Geographic channel.
Millan has a charismatic personality, and his show is very entertaining. As a result, he has made The Dog Whisperer into a big favorite among dog owners everywhere, and his many fans implement his techniques on their family dogs and puppies.
However, there are some who feel that his techniques are risky, and inappropriate for novice trainers (most pet owners).
In this article, I examine Millan’s approach and discuss some of 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, 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, we need to provide them with a degree of structure, so that they feel safe, and so that they do not inadvertently harm others or themselves. They also need a balanced leader who is able to protect them, and show them how to behave in unfamiliar or stressful situations.
These messages are extremely important, especially in this day and age, where owners have a tendency to spoil their dogs and let them do whatever they want. Untrained and unmanaged dogs often become stressed, frustrated, and ultimately develop behaviors that are dangerous to the people around them. In the end, they are surrendered or 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 of us 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.
Millan talks about understanding a dog’s needs, and helping him be a well-balanced canine through dog exercise and dog discipline. He shows us that after our dog burns some energy, he is more calm and well-behaved.
Given the unrealistic expectations of dogs that are propagated by some Hollywood movies, it is helpful to have a popular spokesperson spread this message about considering a dog’s needs, to audiences everywhere.
3. Cesar Millan shows us that dogs can be retrained regardless of breed and background.
Some dog breeds have developed a really bad reputation, especially the Pit Bull Terrier. Millan does a good job of showing us that all dogs can be rehabilitated, whatever their breed or history.
His own pack consists of many Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, which he uses to help retrain other dogs. These wonderful ambassadors are calm, balanced, and very non-reactive, even when faced with extremely hyper dogs.
Sadly, there are a large number of Pitties in shelters today, who have a difficult time finding homes because people are afraid to adopt them. Millan and his sidekick Junior, do great things to combat the negativity associated with the breed.
His message that every dog can be rehabilitated, gives hope to people with difficult dogs, and reduces the number of shelter surrenders. This 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.
Millan shows us 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 another dog. Of course the furry teacher must be calm and very balanced.
When looking for a trainer, try to find one who understands dog psychology, has a good rapport with our dog, and has well-behaved canine assistants who can help with training.
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 his frequent use of aversive methods, perpetuates some inaccurate myths on dog training, including:
- You cannot train large breed dogs with non-aversive methods.
- You cannot train aggressive dogs with non-aversive methods.
Because he is so widely watched, and so widely recommended by dog breeders, 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. Misdiagnosing a problem behavior, leads to administering the wrong treatment, which may worsen our dog’s conduct and lower his quality of life.
Non-aversive methods that center around the control of resources are safer, and often more effective at addressing problem dog behaviors, including aggression. There are many trainers who have successfully rehabilitated aggressive dogs by only using resource control techniques.
I think that 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 program is such that Millan has to show results quickly, so that it is interesting and engaging. Often times, there is a timer which shows how he solves a problem in minutes (5-15 minutes), that will actually take a lot of hard work to truly become a learned behavior.
Even though 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 chain 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 equipment.
Aversive collars such as prong collars and 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 an aversive collar when our 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 applied correctly. For safety, only use an aversive collar for a limited amount of time (several weeks). Then, switch back to a flat collar once our dog understands the rules of walking.
The Illusion Collar is a modified choke collar, and the associated risks 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 them. However, an important corollary question is what type of 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 correction, 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. A dictatorial leader is one who makes all the decisions, does not allow others to question those decisions, and will administer swift punishment to those who do not comply with his demands. 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 are only used to get a dog’s attention, and that they do not cause the dog any pain or stress. It is often implied 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, otherwise they would not work. Some aversive techniques may cause pain, stress, and fear in a dog, which is why the dog avoids that behavior in the future.
Aversive training can also backfire if not performed with the proper amount of force, timing, and redirection. When not executed in exactly the right way, these methods can 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 Millan’s popularity, there are a large number of people who follow his techniques, just from watching The Dog Whisperer program on television. To prevent widespread misuse, it is important to at least inform his audience of the specific risks and dangers associated with dominance and pain-based methods.
As a dog owner, I would like accurate information on obedience training, rather than sugar coated versions.
For those who continue to insist that aversive conditioning is not unpleasant, here are two dictionary definitions of the term aversive.
Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus, as in techniques of behavior modification.
~~[The American Heritage Dictionary]
Tending to avoid or causing avoidance of a noxious or punishing stimulus.
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, training, and how to solve problem behaviors.
Many people feel strongly about this topic because they love their dogs very much, and want what is best for them. This is why there is a lot of controversy surrounding Cesar Millan, and the aversive training methods that he uses. I have noticed however, that he is using fewer such methods in his more recent episodes, and is using a bit more reward training, which I think is a really good thing.
Some people consider aversive methods to be dog cruelty. That is a moral judgment, which is best left to the theologians.
I started out with Cesar Millan’s aversive techniques.
When I tried to switch over to non-aversive training, many so-called positive trainers, called me all sorts of names, including cruel and harsh. Luckily, there were some that gave me good advice, and resource methods ultimately worked out very well for my dogs. Now, I predominantly use resource control techniques, but messages about exercise, discipline, and energy still apply whichever approach we use.
This article is about gathering information and having discussions about dog behavior and dog training. Through discussion and sharing information, we can make better decisions for our dogs. Please help to 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/mean/prejudiced.”
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.
It is most important to keep an open mind, evaluate techniques objectively, and to listen to our dog.
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)
alania Keymel says
I have a question I want to find a balanced rottie or pit bull or a great Dane rescue to train them for a service dog for me cause I have migraines and fibromyalgia two knee replacements my balance is a problem and my migraines effect my sight can u help
I don’t think I will be much help here as I have little experience with service dogs. This site seems to have some very useful information on finding an appropriate service dog –
Lesa in Delaware says
I just wanted to say that its nice to see a discussion that doesnt include “bad mouthing” Ceasar Millan. You made so many good points and I commend you on doing so. As a lifetime dog trainer myself I just wanted to add to some of the things you discussed. The biggest problem that I encounter on a daily basis is the inability of dog owners to avoid humans from treating their dogs like people. Dogs DO NOT rationalize as we do…no matter how much you think they do. They react to your own body language and tone and a condtioning response we give them. Every time your dog acts crazy and you pet and say “ok, its ok” you are totally praising bad behavior. So their conditioned response when they see you is to act in that way that gets them praise. Alot of the big pet stores treat train. The dog isnt thinking about “oh Im sitting yay!” Its thinking “I want that treat-its food” and will do the “trick” as I call it. Dog behavior and the Ceasar methods work the instinctive insides of a dog. He isnt harsh, he isnt mean, he is acting like a dog would act. I tell my clients to watch wolf behavior. The way they interact with each other and you will find a lot of simular behavior in your own dog. Dogs are family memebers to us, we are a pack to them only. You mentioned Ceasar not talking about equipment enough. Im glad that he doesnt because Ive seen it MANY times in my career. You show how to use a leather collar-you train the owner, the dog. But at the end of the day-most dog owners are lazy and will NOT follow what you teach no matter HOW long you talk about it. Its been my most frustrating issue with dog owners over the years. I believe that is why he doesnt emphasize it. Plus, in the long run, equipment shouldnt determine your dog. Behavior and respcet should. Lastly, people wanting dogs should really really research breed based on their own lifestyles. Ive seen numerous cases with clients who picked a dog because it was cute. If you are a person who cannot walk a dog at a fast pace or get involved in agility type activity-please please please do NOT get a border collie type breed. If you are a timid person, please please please do not get a pitbull, a bulldog, a rottweiller, or a mastiff because you want protection. It NEVER EVER works out in the end. Cheers and have a great day!
Yes, I definitely agree that we shape a dog’s behavior through operant conditioning techniques. In operant conditioning, there are two classes of techniques – reward techniques (positive reinforcement and negative punishment) and aversive techniques (negative reinforcement and positive punishment).
As you know, reward training does not just include giving treats. Reward training includes both positive reinforcement and negative punishment techniques. Positive reinforcement is used to reinforce desirable behaviors and negative punishment is used to discourage bad behaviors. According to dog psychology and dog behavior, both reward and aversive methods can be used to both encourage good behaviors and stop bad behaviors.
As you say, dogs are not humans. Similarly, humans are not dogs. When we try to bite a dog’s neck with our fingers, the dog does not suddenly think that we are a dog or even a mama dog.
Rather, we are applying an aversive stimulus to a sensitive part of the dog (his neck). If we apply that stimulus with the right timing and the right force, then we will get an aversive response from the dog and he will be discouraged from performing a given behavior.
A very common aversive stimulus is pain. Leash corrections, for example, ‘work’ by applying a pain stimulus.
I agree that it can be a challenge to convince people to change. However, I also believe that most people love their dogs very much, so if they see that changing their ways is important and will result in significant positive results, then they will make the effort to change.
As you say however, it can be difficult to execute certain methods well, which is why aversive methods are risky. When not applied properly, aversive techniques can cause aggression, stress, and degrade quality of life. Similarly, using the wrong equipment on the wrong dog can cause bad results.
That is true and I agree.
I am preparing to become a dog owner, and have been reading a lot about living with dogs, including watching The Dog Whisperer. Just tonight I found your website, and look forward to .
I must take issue with your cavalier reference to the Penn 2009 study on aversive techniques. If one reads the linked article, it becomes clear that the “aversive techniques” used by the dog owners are clearly NOT techniques that responsible trainers using aversive techniques would use: 43% HIT the dog, for heavens’ sake! It’s irresponsible on your part to equate without qualification the “aversive techniques” used by Millan and other trainers with “aversive techniques” used by desperate nd/ignorant dog owners.
That said I look forward to reading your other blogs. I always appreciate it when people approach topics, especially controversial ones, with an open mind and balanced attitude.
Note – the percentages add up to more than 100% because some people do multiple of these things.
As described in the paragraph above, these were the aversive techniques most commonly used by dog owners in the survey.
Here is another excerpt from the article –
Perhaps you are questioning the study itself, in which case it is best to take it up with the behavioral scientists and their students at UPenn.
Indeed neither I nor the study say that aversive techniques will never work. However, the results show that they are risky and can cause more behavioral issues.
There are also studies on the use of shock collars and choke collars.
Congratulations on your new future dog.
Hi! I think your blog did a pretty good job on the “goods” but I do disagree with a couple of your points on the “bads.” Re: point 1, I agree. Cesar doesn’t leave much wiggle room. On point #2, I strongly disagree. Cesar says all the time in his shows that most problems aren’t with the dogs, its with the owners. I enjoy watching him listen to an owner that he thinks is out of their minds as submissive to their dogs, especially the amusement you can see when he’s addressing owners of territorial or aggressive toy breeds. Point 3 is accurate, he doesn’t spend much time on equipment. And point 4, also pretty accurate. Point 5 of downplaying the role of “aversive training methods.” Every single episode commercial break return warns not to attempt these techniques without the help of a professional. I agree with you that you have to know your dog and let common sense prevail in this area. As for causing discomfort or unpleasant sensations for the dog, I think that this is a teaching tool for any situation. If we get a speeding ticket in our adult life, it causes a degree of discomfort. A “bite” with the hand that Cesar utilizes hardly causes true pain to my dogs, when they play with one another they use more force than that. He encourages with alpha rolls to make it a pleasant experience for the dog once calm-submissive.
I have used his techniques to great success in my formerly “incorrigable, unsocialized, fearfully aggressive” dog. I am happy to report that Cesar’s methods when applied consistently over time worked wonders for him. He is more than happy to offer his belly for a rub now, has a very happy life with his fur sister and fur cousins, when he’d previously been unable to be anywhere near other dogs d/t his aggression. He formerly couldn’t be around anyone but our family members as he’d bitten guests, and he’s now free to roam the house when company is present. I could go on about his success but I will stop there. Suffice it to say thanks to Cesar, we have a much happier family with our dog who we had been considering euthanizing prior to his rehabilitation. He was a major liability and is now a well-adjusted member of our family. And yes, the original problem was me, his owner and my fears that traveled down the leash to him!
Thanks for your very well thought out comment.
You are absolutely right that aversive techniques can work. This has been proven by many years of study in animal psychology. Both reward techniques and aversive techniques can be used to modify dog behavior.
However, aversive techniques are a lot more risky. As you say, it needs to be applied with the right timing, right technique, right energy, and on the right dog. Applying aversive techniques, especially physical aversive techniques on the wrong dog will bring bad results for both dog and owner.
This message is a stroke of genius. It allows the show to feature more risky aversive techniques without putting the network and others at risk for any financial or personal liability.
To me, it is a strange message. Which techniques should I not attempt? Some of them? All of them? In that case, is the show only for entertainment and I should just ignore everything that Millan says?
Millan is charismatic, and a very effective communicator. I think it is only natural that we will follow the advice of someone whom we respect and who comes across as so effective over the t.v.. I see people alpha rolling their dogs here, there, everywhere – often times for exhibiting normal dog behavior.
Very interesting example! A speeding ticket, to me, is more like a reward technique – you are taking away a resource – i.e. money or freedom to drive from someone who is exhibiting an undesirable driving behavior.
This is very different in my mind compared to a physical aversive technique. There, you are adding an aversive stimulus – often pain – to deter a behavior.
You bring up a very good point here – physical aversive techniques are often based on the degree of force applied. Too little force, and the dog will just ignore it, too much force and the dog will become overly stressed and be unable to learn. The degree of pain felt by the dog, I imagine, will be based on the temperament of the dog and the level of force applied.
Some sensitive people ‘feel pain’ when others may not. Some dogs get very stressed even from a yell and no physical touch at all. Pain/stress is relative.
You are right that a tap can be used to startle someone if it is wholly unexpected – but this would only work if you use the tap very rarely. The ability to startle is quickly lost in cases where the ‘touch’ is used over and over again. In those cases, it is the amount of ‘force’ that matters.
I write more about the magical touch here is you are interested …
Also dogs have great control over the placement and force of their bites. When they are young, they learn what level of force is appropriate during play because if they hurt their siblings, there is a squeal and play stops. Through this process dogs learn bite inhibition which is a very useful skill to have.
Your comment really made me think and it made me realize that people’s opinions on dog training techniques are often highly determined by their own experiences with their dogs – that is only natural. You have had great success with alpha rolls etc – and so in your experience they are a useful and effective tool. I, on the other hand, have had bad experiences with aversive methods and so I have a negative perception of them.
It is just not possible to stay truly objective when it comes to our dogs – similar to our kids.
One thing we can do though is to look to scientific studies that have been conducted on dogs and other animals.
Another thing that has been interesting for me is to also look at what different dog-breed communities say about the techniques in general. There definitely seems to be a general slant towards or against the techniques depending on type of breed.
This makes sense because certain breeds have temperaments that are very unsuited towards aversive methods – including truly stubborn and truly independent breeds.
Aversive techniques can work. If they didn’t work at all – there would be no issues because nobody would use them. The question, I think, is not whether aversive techniques work but whether there are alternative techniques that work better.
Thanks for the very interesting discussion.
The Blue Cross says
UK animal welfare, behaviour, training and veterinary organisations1 are warning of the possible dangers of using techniques for training dogs that can cause pain and fear, such as some of those seen used by Cesar Millan, who has announced a UK tour next year.
The organisations have joined forces to voice their serious concerns about techniques which pose welfare problems for dogs and significant risk to owners who may copy them. These concerns are shared, and the statement supported, by similar organisations around the world2 and in continental Europe3.
Aversive training techniques, which have been seen to be used by Cesar Millan, are based on the principle of applying an unpleasant stimulus to inhibit behaviour. This kind of training technique can include the use of prong collars, electric shock collars, restricting dogs’ air supply using nooses/leads or pinning them to the ground, which can cause pain and distress. The use of such techniques may compromise the welfare of dogs and may worsen the behavioural problems they aim to address, potentially placing owners at considerable risk. A number of scientific studies have found an association between the use of aversive training techniques and the occurrence of undesired behaviours in dogs.
1 Dogs Trust, The Blue Cross, Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), The Blue Dog, Wood Green Animal Shelters, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), The Kennel Club, Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, Canine Partners, UK , Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB), Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK (APDT, UK), UK Registry of Canine Behaviours (UKRCB), Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group (CABTSG), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and British Veterinary Association (BVA).
2 Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Australian Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group (AVBIG), American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Inc. (CCPDT)(USA).
3 European Society of Clinical Veterinary Ethology (ESCVE), European College of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine – Companion Animals (ECVBM-CA), the Flemish Veterinary Working Group on Ethology (VDWE) and Norwegian Association for Pet Behaviour (NAPB) Norsk Atferdsgruppe for Selskapsdyr (NAS).
The organisations believe that the use of such training techniques is not only unacceptable from a welfare perspective, but that this type of approach is not necessary for the modification of dog behaviour. Dog trainers all over the UK use reward-based methods to train dogs very effectively. Where dogs have behaviours which owners find unacceptable, such as aggression or destruction, qualified behaviourists achieve long term changes in behaviour through the use of established and validated techniques of behaviour modification without subjecting dogs to training techniques which may cause pain or distress.
We urge dog owners to carefully consider the help they choose to train their dogs or tackle behavioural problems. Anyone can call themselves a behaviour expert, but we believe that only those with a combination of appropriate qualifications, up to date knowledge as well as skills and experience should be treating dogs, and should only do so in a way which does not put the welfare of the dogs at risk.
Further information on:
• the misconceptions which underlie the use of aversive training techniques
• the development of behaviour in dogs
• the problems associated with the use of aversive training techniques
• finding a suitable trainer or behaviourist
can be found at: http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org
I have a pitbull, a pitbull PUG mix, and a basset hound.
With my Pitbull I found that treat training caused him to be way more excitable and very difficult to work with. I adopted some of Cesars methods “the Shh” and the use of the “finger nip”. I have found that using the shh and hand nip seems to work incredibly well with him as long as it is properly timed and applied,(if I’m off by a few seconds he just seems confused) and I have now gotten to a training level with him where I am using him for hearding as well as starting his training as a search and rescue dog.
With the pit mix I’ve used treat and affection trainig- With him I have also adopted some of Cesars methods- and again they have worked well. The use of a treadmill, the “shh”.
I do firmly believe that each dog is different, and each dog has to be trained differently. I personally refuse to use a choker collar on my dogs, and would rather exert the extra hours of training and practise to achieve my goals with my dogs.
Great job on writing such a great article.
Very well said. As long as we are flexible, and keep our dog’s interests and needs as our top priority, everything should work out well.
I feel the same way.
Sadly dogs have very few rights and protections in our laws. Even if they are attacked by another dog, there is very little we can do. And certainly they have almost no rights when it comes to a human.
SPr!te !s mY f@voRitE says
Ok, I didn’t read all of the comments, so I’m probably repeating what has already been said. I also apologize for commenting so late. I just feel the need to say something. Here is goes…
I am a big fan of Cesar Millan and his ideas (etc.). As for positive reenforcement, when the dog achieves a calm and submissive state, he/she is reenforced with affection which he/she has earned. Reenforcment, in my opinion, is meant for tricks, not for rehabilitation. Again (I havent really read any replies from you over this subject) at the beginning of the show, it is stated that you should consult a professional blah blah blah, you know what I mean. Therefore people who are using his methods on unstable/aggresive dogs are not Cesar Millan, and ‘should consult a professional’. When walking a dog, I believe that the pack leader (me!) decides when he/she “stops to smell the roses” (idk). No matter what state of mind the dog is in, it can always recover. A touch or a yank on the collar at the wrong time is not going to send the dog into a deadly and irreversable state of mind. What you are calling aversive methods are methods that nature uses on dogs, but nature knows how to use them, and the dog is rewarded with a balanced state of mind. (aversive method using) Professionals are the closest we can get to nature, but affection is also given as a reward.
“The Cesar way is not the only way”
If people are dumb enough to missenterpret what is said than shame on people (lol). Cesar rewrds humans the waay he does becaus they are humans. Dogs are not humans. Dogs are dogs.
If anything I’ve said makes no sense it is probably because I am 14 years old and it’s 2:00 a.m.. I would love to say more but I will try tommorrow when I’m not falling asleep.
Peace Love Music
Im going to bed.
Thanks for dropping by. And no need to apologize – there are lots of comments so I am sure nobody reads through all of them. And I appreciate all comments, so it is never too late to leave one. 🙂
“Reenforcment, in my opinion, is meant for tricks, not for rehabilitation.”
I think many people think this from watching Cesar Millan. However, reward techniques can be used to both train good behaviors (what you call tricks) and to stop bad behaviors (what you call rehabilitation). Even Cesar Millan will sometimes use food in his rehabilitation process.
Both reward techniques (which most people associate with food but it is much more than that) and aversive techniques (leash corrections, alpha rolls) are based on a behavioral psychology process called conditioning.
Here is an article of mine on dog psychology and conditioning that may be of interest –
It deals with conditioning as well as what you call nature’s methods, etc.
“A touch or a yank on the collar at the wrong time is not going to send the dog into a deadly and irreversable state of mind”
Studies show that aversive methods when used incorrectly can encourage even more aggression in dogs whereas reward methods did not encourage any aggression.
“If people are dumb enough to missenterpret what is said than shame on people”
Nobody is perfect and people will always make mistakes. When people make mistakes in dog training, it is often the dogs that pay the price for those mistakes. Aversive techniques are a lot more risky than reward techniques and that should at least be mentioned so that people understand the risks that they are taking with themselves and their dogs.
And you definitely made a lot of sense even at 2 am in the morning 🙂 Happy summer.
I want to point out something that many negative posts about Cesar across the internet seem to be on the wrong track about. In Cesar’s show it is very clear that the methods he is using are for rehabilitation, not training. To me, these are very different. Most of the dogs Cesar works with are very aggressive, and for most of his clients, this aggression needs immediate rehabilitation. Rehabilitation and training are different things in my mind. You rehabilitate the dog to lower their aggression, then train them in the proper behavior. Cesar frequently advocates reward training in the Dog Whisperer, and mainly uses dominance as a source of rehabiliation. Now I’m not sure of his method for raising a dog from a puppy….but I think there is a clear misconception that Cesar only uses dominance theory when other methods might be more suitable. To sum up: Cesar seems to rehabilitate dangerous behaviors with dominance theory, but his training methods beyond that seem to be very similar to what 90% of the population does with their dogs anyway.
The methods used for rehabilitation and training are at their root based on behavioral psychology and operant conditioning. Both aversive methods and reward methods can be used for training and rehabilitation.
You are definitely right that Cesar Millan does use several reward training techniques including body blocks, and no-talk-no-touch-no-eye-contact. However, he often does not present them as reward methods.
Sometimes he also uses food, but that does not happen very often. Sometimes he also speaks out against reward training and implies that such methods are only appropriate for teaching tricks and not for rehabilitation – which is not true.
Both reward and aversive training are based on operant conditioning, and both can be used to shape behavior – whether it is to teach new behaviors or stop old bad ones (what you call rehabilitation).
Sadly this is probably on the true side. This is because the majority of people use aversive techniques to train their dogs. Traditionally, that was the dominant paradigm used in dog training and more generally in animal training, i.e. using whips and chains on lions, tigers, and bears.
Nowadays, experts have realized that animals including dogs perform better when they are motivated through reward methods. That is why even lions, tigers, and bears are now trained using reward methods. The dog training world is slowly changing, but popular trainers on television that support the use of aversive methods slow down this process.
Check out Animal Planet’s Brad Pattison beating up his student’s dog. This guy is one flaming a-hole. http://blip.tv/file/1789530/
Okay, let’s see if I can start another argument. I just saw the newest Animal Cops: Phoenix episode on Animal Planet, and I was flabbergasted by the incompetence exhibited by what seems to be the entire Humane Society operation there. One case involved a rambunctious emaciated dog with a stomach full of rocks, and those rocks needed surgical extraction, but the doctor killed the dog instead because she thought it might not survive the surgery given his emaciated state. Unbelievable, rather than give the happy energetic dog a chance, the Vet just went straight to kill it. I was stunned.
Next they went to a house with 2 dogs in the backyard that were clearly not aggressive, although they were barking behind the fence, so they got 3 people to manhandle these dogs back to the ‘shelter’, where professional evaluators completely misread every behavior cue the dogs were making so they killed the first one and would have killed the second one except for a rescue guy in San Diego said bring him to me, which they did and of course the dog was fine. I’ve never seen an entire show filled from top to bottom with people who don’t know behavioral squat about dogs. I was screaming at my TV at several points, which if I were in Phoenix I’m afraid might get me euthanized for insurmountable aggression. Agggghhhh!! It’s quite the helpless feeling knowing that none of these euthanasias were called for. Sometimes I wonder if I would be happier not knowing what I know. If I could drink a bottle of blissful ignorance I would have to seriously consider it, but in the end I would have to pour it out and settle for an Anchor Steam instead.
I await your viewing of this new episode, whence hopefully you will concur.
Actually I have stopped watching the Animal Cops shows. My favorites were Detroit and NYC. The Phoenix one always had some cat up on a tree, and the people were always climbing trees – lol. I have to admit that the first time the put on the tree gear it was pretty cool – but after that I just was not too interested. The Florida one was cool for a bit because there was this crazy alligator guy who would go into a pool with the alligator without any equipment. He really has no fear. I would love to have him around when a dog charged me 🙂
Ok – I digress …
Re Rocks in stomach –
I think the issue here is one of how to allocate resources. Many shelters will euthanize dogs that have a low chance of adoptability or a low chance of survivability so that they can use their already limited resources on dogs with better prospects. Not saying that I support it – but it is a difficult issue.
This is another reason why I stopped watching the Animal Cop shows because some of the shelters featured have this type of policy and it is heartbreaking – even though I can understand the reasoning behind it. I really like DogTown because they try to save every dog, but city shelters often do not have that luxury.
Re barking dogs –
Same thing here. Dogs that they are unsure of, wrt. temperament they will just euthanize because it may take a lot of resources to rehabilitate them and ultimately they may still need to find homes with more experienced owners. With them it is a numbers game. They have many other dogs with no temperament issues whatsoever, so they choose to spend their bucks on those dogs. Again – not saying it is right.
The ASPCA is usually very good about rehabilitating all of their dogs, and that is why I like their Animal Cops best. Plus they are full police officers, so they also tend to get a lot more respect from the dog owners, which is great to watch. Also love watching the people getting hand-cuffed and arrested. You never get that in the Phoenix one.
See you tomorrow 🙂
The thing about watching these ‘evaluator’ people is that they not only can’t evaluate, but they actually create and exacerbate the very behaviors they say they don’t want. They take a starving dog, give it a bowl of food, then poke it in the face with a teasing, fearful uncertain approach, in effect Daring, just Daring the dog to assert itself in front of weak energy so as to encourage it to learn to guard its food. You (well maybe not you, but I, at least) can see that the dog is just getting Goaded Into a behavior he had no prior interest in exhibiting, in exactly the way one would use if one Wanted to Create the behavior. Then after Teaching the dog to be aggressive they say See, it’s aggressive, kill it. I’m surprised these people have brains enough to dress themselves and not make messes in the house. The kicker for me is the irresponsibility of Animal Planet’s production staff putting this stuff out like it’s supposed to be educational. Just watch Millan explain and show how he enters back-first into a fearful dog’s cage to slowly gain its trust, then take it for a relaxed and trusting walk outside for the first time in its life, as compared to these Phoenix morons giving full eye contact to the dog cowering in the corner, dragging it out terrified and deciding to kill it. Kudos to National Geographic Channel for showing Millan show how it’s supposed to be done, and shame on Animal Planet for their narrative editorial support of such ‘professional’ ignorance and ineptitude.
You are right about the vets in NY versus Phoenix. Several NY episodes of Animal Cops have the vets rescue dogs from the brink of death, (Buddy comes to mind), investing tons of time and in an inspirational and successful effort, and I’m sure the surplus of animals applies to NY every bit as it does in Phoenix. The DogTown vet, too, goes to great length to save his dogs. Also Houston. The Phoenix story leads the viewer to believe the dog was killed for sound medical reasons, not to conserve resources. Being somewhat medically inclined I can safely say there was No valid medical reason given not to operate on that dog. If resource shortage was the issue then the narrative should have made a point of pointing that out, which it did not, so I don’t think that was why they did it.
I am definitely against instigating/daring dogs to show aggression. I think that the best way to treat many fear issues is through a slower but more effective desensitization process where the goal is to help the dog slowly make positive associations with objects that were previously fearful or threatening. To be fair, Cesar Millan uses that same “daring” process of triggering aggression – he just follows it up with a correction.
Truth be told, I really have nothing against Cesar Millan – the man. However, I do think that reward techniques are more appropriate for most pet dogs and they are also more appropriate and less risky in the hands of most pet owners. Yes any technique can be misapplied, and that is why education is so important. Cesar does a good job of that but at the same time he also encourages the use of aversive methods. Many of the people who use his methods do not apply them correctly. Ultimately, it is their dog that pays the price.
I just saw the puppy mill episode of Cesar Millan and I really liked that episode. I think that Cesar Millan does not need to use any aversive methods. He does exceptionally well with just reward methods and his natural skill of reading dog body language and his own calm energy. I really liked how he helped that nervous Akita into the crate. It would be great if he did more puppy mill episodes because he gets the message out to the most number of people.
The puppy-mill episode was indeed a good one. Millan’s self-restraint when inside the devil’s den, so to speak, is something I would be hard pressed to duplicate. Being civilized to the breeder/owner who himself behaves so uncivilly towards his animals must have taken a lot of willpower on Millan’s part.
Back to our discussion of reward vs. aversion. Note that this episode also included an interview with that lady with the little snapping dog in her lap, showering it with affection and thus encouraging its obnoxious behavior. She asks for his help, he ‘bites’ the dog a couple of times with his hand, and the dog ‘magically’, in the eyes of the lady, instantly stops the behavior she had been unknowingly rewarding for months. She is totally impressed, the dog is much happier, and the dog ends up liviing a life of affection as reward with Proper timing for its Good behavior and not Improper timing for its Bad behavior. The point Millan tries to make in several episodes is that there is a difference between calmly assertively Correcting a dog and angrily aggressively Punishing a dog. The rapidity of the effectiveness of his Correcting the lady’s dog in the lady’s own office, not hurting the dog in any way, and pointing out how it was the Lady who was actually hurting her dog Psychologically by Not correcting it, is what makes watching Millan in action so interesting. He rehabilitates dog, he Trains humans. And as he also chuckles in so many episodes, it’s the training of the Humans that takes the longest — the dogs almost always get it right away. This is why I like dogs so much — not because I get my rocks off being unconditionally worshipped by some dumb animal, but because I get my rocks off being unconditionally worshipped by a Smart animal. Even dumb blondes can get tiring after a while (although there is something certainly to be said for getting tired on occasion…)
lol – Calmassertiv, You had to take the one teensy-weensy part of the episode that I disagreed with and focus on that. I really did try to find some common ground 🙂
Perhaps therein lies the difference between Cesar fans and those who are not – I don’t need to be worshipped at all.
Ok I’m off to drink beers with my dogs.
It was a Joke. Geez, lighten up. I’m curious — when you give your dogs beer, do they turn into Sleepy drunks or Obnoxious drunks?
Back to the instantly-fixed snippy dog the clueless lady was affectionately encouraging: If you can’t see how the owner was the problem, then I give up. One of the many good things about the way Millan gets the dog to stop its bad behavior right away is that for clueless owners, just like for anyone else, Seeing Is Believing, and even for people in denial about how They might be the source of their dog’s issues it’s nigh onto impossible to stay in denial once confronted with the reality of their ‘unfixable’ dog suddenly and contentedly behaviing so Well in front of their very eyes. If you try to use some protracted reward-removal silliness you more than likely run out of time on that first and possibly only visit, and just get an owner whose denial gets re-enforcedl. If you only have one opportunity to snap the owner out of it, as it were, you have to get the dog to demonstrate the good behavior right away. These people watch the show and read the book and still don’t think it will work on THEIR cute little pumpkin, so they continue to exacerbate rather than rehabilitate, but when staring into the face of an undeniable new reality they are provided with the mental ammunition their brain seems to need to overcome the denial force that was ruling their day. Millan recognizes that to fix the dog you must fix the Owner, and really he just fixes the dog in front of the owner to show the owner that it Can Be Done, so stop making excuses for Fluffy and just do it. He knows that without fixing the owner the dog will revert back to its former state once he leaves, so the vast majority of his time is spent explaining it and showing it to Them, so They can maintain or even improve on the behavioral mods he has demonstrated. The old expression says if you can, do, if you can’t, teach, and there’s a lot of trainers out there who haven’t any idea what they’re doing, many of them with pompous academic self-described ‘credentials’, but send them to the hills for a walk surrounded by Millan’s perfectly-balanced pack and I’ll bet they end up wishing they had stayed home and thrown back a few Corona’s instead. Now That’s some reality TV I’d be willing to Pay to see…
LOL – I have no clue because I am a Sleepy drunk so after a few, I am out, and they are doing what drunk dogs do.
You misunderstand. The owner lady was definitely clueless – no ifs, ands, or buts about that. So it is the poking that I disagree with, not the timing or anything else.
All the woman had to do was withdraw her affection by putting the dog on the ground. The dog will soon learn that being aggressive or licking too much gets him ignored, while being calm gets him attention – same end result – no poking.
I do not know how to make my position any clearer, other than just to restate it – I do not have anything against many of Cesar Millan’s methods. I think it is good that he educates dog owners, because many dog owners certainly need the knowledge.
However I disagree with the use of aversive methods on regular house dogs because they are easily misapplied, and when that happens the dog ends up being more aggressive and having even more behavioral issues. If memory serves, you also agreed that many dog owners misapply his techniques.
And yes reward techniques can also be misapplied, but they are easier to learn and execute (as I have pointed out earlier with the leash correction example).
Since we have had virtual beers together, I hope it is ok to ask you a few personal questions –
1. Do you think that Cesar Millan can do no wrong? If not, then please give me some examples of mistakes you think he has made.
2. Do you think trainers other than Cesar Millan can do no right? You stated that people from DogTown, Victoria Stilwell, etc. are all ignorant. So is there anyone else other than Cesar Millan and his followers who are right?
Btw. have you looked around HubPages much? I think you would enjoy it, given your zest for debate 🙂
I’d never even heard of HuPages before stumbling on your site. I was just searching for DogWhisperer opinions and hit upon yours, and the chance to admire my own writing was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Some people just like to hear themselves talk — I just like to read myself write 🙂
I think putting the little dog on the ground is not a bad idea, but what if the dog takes that as the owner inciting it to then bark at and charge Millan from the ground? If you are walking your dog and it starts barking at someone and chomping at the bit to get at the person do you then ‘put it on the ground’, so to speak, as well, in other words, let it go? The little dog wanted to charge Millan, so enabling it to do so doesn’t make it clear that that behavior is unwanted by the owner, and possibly does quite the opposite. Millan’s approach it seems to me was much less subject to misinterpretation by the dog, which clearly didn’t seem to have a problem with Millan moments later when he was holding the little bugger in His lap.
To your walk-on-water questions 1) and 2), points well taken. As a critic of the media’s Obama-slobberfest, I can certainly see how it looks like I’m guilty of the same offense. Not seeing the entire consultations but rather just the edited TV snippets it’s hard to know if criticisms I might have are really things that are just artifacts of the editing process. I have noted to myself that some of his clients parrot back his expressions in the visit-ending summaries but it doesn’t seem like they actually comprehend the words they are echoing. Kind of like students regurgitating a political science professor’s opinions on a midterm exam because they think it will get them a passing grade, but not really thinking about what they’re spitting up. Sometimes when Millan is explaining things to some people they say ‘okay’ or ‘yes’ or ‘right’ at the end of every other of his sentences, as if they understand, but it’s clear that they Don’t understand, and he just keeps going as if they did. I would like to see him stop in these cases and back up and try again, because it’s these people who keep saying that they’re getting it that are the very ones who are Not getting it. He seems better able to read dogs than to read people in these cases.
My lack of respect for Stillwell is due to my belief that she’s grossly ignorant, but my Disdain for her comes from the pompous attitude with which she presents her nonsense. Millan on the other hand comes across as a man with an admirable humility which allows him to really get into the heads of the people on the show, many of whom you hear describe their encounters with him as life-changing experiences. The DogTown people strike me as simple folk trying to do the right thing but just not the sharpest tools in the shed, and I would love to see Millan spend a couple of days with them or them a couple of days in LA with him, or both, because I do think they would absorb quite a bit of knowledge in the process. Stillwell wouldn’t give Millan the time of day but the DogTown folks seem like they are not at all beyond hope.
Thanks for helping me vent. I appreciate a person adept in the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable, and hopefully am practicing the same.
lol – you should definitely join Hub then. You can write about most things and even earn some bucks for it 🙂
Well this would depend on why the dog is doing it. From the clip it seems that the dog is trying to keep people away from the owner woman. So the owner woman would non-mark and then body block the dog away from Millan. This way the dog learns that barking gets him removed from people. The dog should stay away for a bit, and once he is calm he can be invited back in to retry the greeting. If a dog is people aggressive, then I would do desensitization exercises on him.
Glad I could help. Next time I need to vent, I’ll know where to go 🙂