Whether you agree your disagree with Cesar Millan’s dog training techniques, one thing is clear –
Cesar Millan is a very charismatic man who communicates very well with people.
He communicates well with his dog owner clients and he communicates well with his Dog Whisperer viewers. The result – he has experienced much greater success in terms of number of viewers compared to the other television dog trainers.
Calm and assertive is one of the most popular lessons in Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer show, and one thing you will notice is that Cesar is always very calm when interacting with people. There were several episodes where he visited people who were not the most polite to him, but he responded with calmness, and decided to just leave instead of argue, verbally attack, or try to force his views onto others.
Is Cesar Millan assertive with his human clients and viewers?
In a way he is, because he speaks with confidence, acts with confidence, and communicates in a calm and easy to understand manner. He also comes from a position of authority because he has a very impressive resume.
It is interesting to note however that he achieves this assertiveness by being positive and by encouraging people. If the people are not willing to accept his method of training, he simply leaves.
Many people think that being positive, or leaving an argument is losing, but Cesar Millan shows us that this is not the case.
I am always very impressed with the calm restraint that Millan shows when sometimes faced with difficult clients. Cesar is rich and famous. In truth, he does not need to suffer any rude behavior; yet the worst that I have seen him do is walk away.
In fact, Cesar Millan only uses reward techniques (positive reinforcement, negative punishment) on the people he interacts with. He is often positive and very encouraging. He also uses experiences from a person’s daily life to get his messages across. He does not personally attack anyone, and I have not seen him make anyone cry.
This is in contrast to Brad Pattison’s show, In the Dog House, which features someone crying in almost every episode.
There is also a fair amount of arguing and people being generally unhappy with his aversive, and abrasive style of communication. For some reason, those responsible for the show seem to think that making people cry, and getting in people’s faces, are good ways to teach and show some kind of skill or competence.
The results, however, are clear.
Cesar Millan has won numerous awards, has a large and ever growing number of viewers, and has a large and successful line of dog products. Do a search on Amazon for Cesar Millan and you will get hundreds of hits.
Try doing a search for Brad Pattison and Victoria Stilwell in comparison …
well you see the difference.
Both Pattison and Stilwell use aversive techniques including scolding, ridicule, fear tactics, and sometimes much more on their human clients.
I think this is one of Cesar Millan’s most important lessons to us.
Jacqueline Martin says
I have been watching Cesar 911 seeking tips for my dog aggressive 3 yr. old un-neutered Siberian Husky. My trainer says this trait may be genetic & impossible to “train” out of my dog. As a retired teacher, I know NOTHING is impossible & with love & patience, people & humans CAN change. If anyone reading this has any tips or ideas to help me with my dog, please share. I’m very receptive to experiment with techniques to help.
As you say, while genetics do play a role, many neuroscience experiments have shown that brains and thus behavior are highly plastic/adaptable. I write about some of my dog-to-dog aggression experiences here –
Some things I tried to help my aggressive dog.
My exploration into dog-to-dog aggression and warning signals.
How I felt about my aggressive dog.
A good trainer who is experienced, flexible, and willing to work with the individual personalities of dogs and owners can also be very helpful. It was difficult to find a good trainer for my Shiba, and we had many different ones. None of them were perfect, but ultimately I learned from each one and they all helped me become a better companion to my Huskies and Shiba.
Positive reinforcement techniques should be applied to the dog’s he trains, not just their owners. I don’t know what point you are attempting to make by saying he doesn’t argue with his clients but the techniques you accuse his competitors of using on their clients, Cesar uses on THE DOGS. He uses them on animals who can be nothing but helpless in return. Great point.
He’s a piece of crap trainer. A positive reinforcement trainer? That’s a laugh!
He is forceful and physically hurts dogs. Sensational tv? That’s all.
Not entertaining OR helpful imo.
He punched the dog.
WOW!!! he really did!!!
This is a great article that I actually just remembered after watching the first episode of Cesar Millan’s new show, Cesar 911 (which explains why I’m so late commenting…)
It was actually 90% positive reinforcement techniques (mostly rewards based on affection). I’ve never been a die-hard Cesar critic, and even enjoyed his previous show a lot, but just as you are I was wary of some of his techniques. But that new show, oh boy! His energy along with positive reinforcement techniques, what a treat! Let’s hope the entire season is like that.
You bring up some really good points. Victoria Stilwell has a nice variety of dog training techniques, and she is very creative. Some interesting ideas that I have gotten from her shows include the bubble machines with bacon flavored bubbles, timed toy and food dispenser, body blocks, and much more.
Kacie Cavanaugh says
I like and respect both Cesar and Victoria alot, but I think Victoria’s show does a better job of teaching ways of dealing with particular behaviors. I don’t think
Cesar’s show does as good a job of taking you though, step by step, how to train your dog. But I still love watching him. He love those dogs and he has a magic touch with them that I envy.
Hello Reebi, Thanks for your very well thought out comment.
Very true. I think though that there is common ground between both sides, and by having positive discussions we can make better decisions for our dogs.
As for interactions with both dogs and people, I personally think that positive techniques are the more effective form of communication. Often, it is the harder path to take, but I think it has a higher rate of success and has more lasting results. Cesar’s commercial success shows that positive techniques work well on people. Based on what I have read of Skinner, he was also a proponent of positive reinforcement techniques, which I think says a lot.
Another good example is to look at online discussions – often there is a tendency to use aversive techniques whereupon things quickly degenerate, and no information gets exchanged.
Perhaps Stilwell could consider applying more positive techniques on people, and Cesar could consider extending his people communication techniques onto other areas 🙂
No loss on your part.
Nothing brings up controversy more than Cesar Milan…maybe the spank, no spank child rearing people have it beat…no pun intended. Apparently it hits the same core beliefs in people. I don’t know the man personally, only his persona and edited TV show. I think you bring up some good points, Cesar does not belittle or scold his clients, he is calm and confident with them and does not flood or intentionally stress them. I can’t say the same about how he treats the dogs. I once watched an episode where he kept forcing a dog onto a treadmill to the point where it pissed itself in fear. It did ultimately work, but I think there are much kinder and equally effective methods, that may have taken much longer and would not have been nearly so dramatic for the camera.
The other mistake I think people make is assuming that because something “works”. The reasons given for it working are therefore accepted as gospel. A lot of Cesar’s methods work according to learning theory and both operant and classical conditioning as opposed to “being the pack leader”. This pack leader business appeals to all kinds of dominating yahoos who defend Milan with all the fervor of a cult follower. They will yell about how they used his methods and they worked! I would say that most methods work when the owners are really consistent in applying them. The dog will eventually figure out what the rules are and what works in their own best interest, so a lot of different kinds of dog training “works” for most dogs. I agree with his attitude of calm assertiveness and his talk about dogs reading energy…this is all good stuff. And he can be utterly amazing to watch, he knows dog body language really well. I would guess that people try to emulate him, haven’t had 20 years working with dogs and majorly screw it up. If thinking of yourself as a pack leader helps you stay calm when working with you dog, great. If it makes you feel like a big, strong leader with your dog and you need that because your job sucks and you have a small penis and you feel the need to control something…well think about how your getting your needs met and if that’s really good for you, never mind the dog. The pack theory of hierarchy for wolves has long ago been discredited, by the very man who started it!. If he is brave enough to admit he was wrong about something then everyone should be. Are you willing to accept that it may work but maybe not for the reasons given on the show?
That said, I admire him for not giving up and being willing to work with dogs that nobody else will. Really admire him. I have worked with a very reactive dog in an urban environment and it is challenging to keep your cool as well as he does.
Victoria Stilwell on the other hand is not always kind to humans, but is much better with the dogs. I have never seen her cause undo stress to an animal on her show and so I prefer her training methods.
That said..we are talking about TV land and ‘merica, a place were for a long time the Jerry Springer show was the most watched program in the country…this still makes me feel ashamed. Cesar is popular because he deals with aggressive and reactive dogs, he forces dogs into highly stressful situations…it’s action, suspense and a lot more exiting than most dog training which is time consuming and quite boring to watch.
Stilwell creates the drama and suspense though her interaction with the owners. Unfortunately people like to see other people chastised, just look at the popularity of Dr. Phil.
And well I’ve never watched Brad, so I can’t comment on him.
I think I may not have said it very well in the article above, so let me try to express my views better.
Re dominance – I think that Cesar Millan’s whole philosophy is based on dominance. He often supports staring down dogs, and making sure that the dog always ‘surrenders’. If not, the dog ‘wins’ and the human is no longer pack leader. I think that this ‘dominance’ philosophy is problematic in many cases because as stated above most of the time a dog’s behavior is not driven by dominance – so applying dominance techniques may just make the situation worse. Studies of wolf packs show that wolves only exercise dominance rituals in very specific situations, and that it is usually the mid-level wolves that practice physical dominance the most – not the alpha pair.
Re alpha rolls – Cesar used to do that on a regular basis in his older Dog Whisperer episodes. Seasons one and two he did it a whole lot. You are right that he does not do it as often now – which is a really good thing. But every time I think he has left it behind for good – he does it again.
Re physical techniques – You are right that aversive techniques are not necessarily dominant in nature. However, because Cesar supports such an extreme view of dominance theory, he usually applies these techniques in order to achieve dominance – hence physical dominance.
Re energy – Yes I also think that Cesar has very good energy. He also is very good at reading dogs and is great with executing and timing his corrections. Because of all these things, Cesar gets really good results from dogs. However, I really believe that he can do even more good if he would just stop using all those physically based aversive methods. He really does not need them.
In a recent episode, he even used a shock collar to achieve physical dominance because he couldn’t poke at the dog. He really does not need to use these things.
In DogTown which is a dog shelter show that airs after the Dog Whisperer, they often rehabilitate aggressive dogs, even Michael Vick’s fighting dogs with only reward dog training and with no heavy handed dominance rules.
Finally, while he may be able to use these techniques fairly well because of his energy, perfect timing, and natural ability to read a dog’s body language – almost everyone else does not have those same abilities. Using his methods in those circumstances can lead to more troubles, more aggression and more badness for everyone involved.
I don’t think Cesar practices as much physical dominance as critics suggest. Physical dominance is if you get into a physical fight with the dog and beat him up. I’ve only seen him do the alpha roll once, it was on a crazy jindo, and it was only after the dog was “calm and submissive.” In other words, he didn’t use the alpha roll to dominate the dog. Regarding some of his other techniques – leash jerks, finger pokes, his goal there isn’t to establish physical dominance, it’s to establish rules using positive punishment and negative reinforcement. Whether he is unintentionally establishing physical dominance using those techniques is another discussion. I think most of how he establishes himself as leader is through his energy. How many times have you seen him do the “shhh!” and the dog immediately gets it? That’s not physical dominance for sure.