Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cesar Millan being debated on

My friend Adina forwarded me a debate that's going on at a Veterinary Medicine blog on "" because she and I share an - I wouldn't call it an obsession, but it's a "special interest" in the training methods used by Cesar Millan - and the article and comments being left on the post at this blog have been really interesting - it's at - so you can go read it.

The author is taking the stand that "In February 2009, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a "position statement" about the use of punishment for behavior modification in animals, detailing 9 possible adverse effects of negative reinforcement (punishment) training. While not naming any trainers by name, the statement was written to counter Millan's techniques featured on his National Geographic channel show, The Dog Whisperer."

She gives a link to a video clip that shows Cesar "hanging" a dog in order to get him to submit to him and ends the post with - "If a "professional trainer" such as Millan can be bit several times in a few minutes, so can you. Or worse. What are your thoughts on dog training methods? Are you more or less likely to buy products that feature a celebrity spokesperson? Please add your comments below. " - and tons of people have added their comments, that's for sure - including the owner of the absolutely huge "Dog Whisperer fan Yahoo Group" that has over 3,000 members - she is a pretty smart lady and I've read her stuff before and she can give some compelling arguments.

Both Adina and I also left comments amongst the over 70 comments so far, and I'm sure that Adina won't mind if I paste her comment here - she said -

Instead of listening to Cesar as he talks the good talk about his love for dogs etc., try watching the dogs’ body language when they are interacting with him. They are often SCARED! look for tucked tails, slinking bodies that are close to the floor, lip licking, whale eyes (where you can see the whites). These are all signs of fearful dogs and given that 90% of dog aggression stems from fear, it is no wonder that the man so frequently gets bit on his show. I have watched many episodes of the DW and I continue to be amazed that people accept this as a humane way to train their dogs. If I was just in the business of dog training for the money, trust me I would want Cesar to stay on the air because the vast majority of the money I make comes from repairing the relationships between people and their dogs who have been mis-led by National Geographic. I have been in this business for over six years and have worked for the local animal shelter where we see worse case scenarios and I have never been bitten because I respect the dogs and don’t push them past their limits. I can tell you about four dogs in the past year who were PTS after biting their owners. What were the owners doing when they got bit? Alpha rolls! Cesar’s techniques may work with 75% of dogs without negative long-term consequences but his fan club doesn’t seem to care about the 25% of dogs that won’t tolerate this type of training.

Cesar fans please learn the truth about pack theory and dominance before you believe everything the Dog Whisperer has to offer. Look to scientific journals for facts. The articles may be more boring to digest than a well-edited episode of the Dog Whisperer but you need to EDUCATE yourselves and not accept everything that a celebrity is spoon feeding you.

In my comment I said - I’ve been watching his show everyday for about the last year, so I’ve seen a lot of Cesar Millan – and I’ve been following his training for philosophy since I first heard about him because his idea of “discipline, exercise, affection” in that order has seemed so foreign to the way that I’ve personally found has made my own multi-dog – rescued, many issued, multi-layered and very interesting canine household home a happy one. Cesar has gone so far as to say that love is not required to make a dog a balanced dog – his exact words are “Many clients I work with are surprised to learn that dogs don’t need love and affection to lead healthy, balanced lives.” ( )
That is such a shock to North American people who are so used to giving love to their animals – I know that’s why I personally have dogs – because I have a lot of love to give. and that’s why I just can’t give myself to Cesar Millan’s training methods.

As well – I wanted to comment about something that Harry Nguyen said – “For those who think Cesar is a cruel person or his methods too harsh. I challenge anyone to find me a pack 30-40 formally troubled dogs, of different breed, size, and temperament, that are more balanced and happily living together than the ones living at his center.”

I’ve had this same problem myself in my own home – I’ve had fosters that could live in my multi-dog household really well, and they’d get adopted out to seemingly really great homes – but they’d get returned for fighting with the other dogs in their new homes – and there was always this question – “why can they live with no fights in my home – yet in someone else’s home they become aggressive?”

If you notice on Cesar’s show – a lot of dogs come to the “Centre” for training for a couple months, and then go home – and start their old bad habits again – and at the end of the show what happens is that Cesar keeps the dog and gives the people a new, easier to manage dog – and their original dog stays at the Centre with Cesar as a permanent resident.
Maybe it’s not because Cesar has been able to “rehabilitate” the dogs at his Centre, maybe – could it be – he’s able to “manage” the dogs at his Centre?

As a person who is just a dog owner – I’m just going to throw that out there for all of you – dog whisper fans, and professional behaviourists, alike – to chew on.

Cesar is a trainer who appears to want to control every aspect about a dog’s life – and want the dog to ask before he can do everything – including when he can take a pee. That’s a lot of responsibility for the average dog owner. Some of us are up to it, and some of us aren’t.

If you’re interested in a couple more links of Cesar like the one that sparked this article – you can check them out at and

There was another really interesting post from Theresa DePorter, DVM who said - "The training methods I would recommend for a dog like this,(the one in the 30 second video that the blog owner posted) and yes, I have treated dogs like the one in the video, require safety, prevention of aggression, prevention of arousal, teaching coping skills and rewarding appropriate behaviors. Devices like basket muzzles and head halters can be wonderful for a dog like this when used properly. There are a great ways to work with a dog like this one that real people can employ with their dogs and obviously, despite the “don’t try this at home” warnings, a lot of people do indeed try this at home. Severely anxious or fearful dogs may seem to improve in the short term but constant vigilance is required by the ‘dominant’ training methods and after time people grow weary or guilty, the dogs habituate and require more assertive owner responses and then someone is bitten either when the dog isn’t controlled or during efforts to control it."

What she said is basically the same thing as what I said, which I thought was pretty neat.

On another - but related note - at the same time I am reading the current issue of "Best Friends magazine" - and there's an article in there called "The Science of Kindness - Why Compassion matters in our interactions with animals" - and it's a super article. Best Friends Magazine is a great magazine and you get if FREE when you become a member of the organization - you should go and join up! Older copies are available free on their website, so I thought it wouldn't be too bad if I scanned the article and put it on my server for awhile since it will be available on their website in a couple months anyway, because it's such a good article - you can click - here - and read it now. But you should definitely also think about getting the magazine too, because it's awesome. But the lady Susan Friedman has got some great things to say about the way that Cesar tends to train dogs.

There's a section about "flooding vs shaping" - she says "many animal caregivers and trainers simply take it for granted nowadays that the best way to train an animal is through positive reinforcement. But at the time of Brinker and Friedman's initial email exchange, the previaling animal training strategy was to dominate, to make animals know who was the boss. It meant using some kind of intimidating stimulus from which the animal cannot escape, thereby scaring the animal into submission and making him easier to handle (think of the whip used by the lion tamer). In parrot training, flooding involves strking a caged bird with two wooden dowels until the bird stops lunging an dbiting. This technique of "breaking" animals is not just morally and eithically bereft, but according to fifty years' worth of studies, it produces short lived results. Also, it all but ensures that the animal will eventually lash out at the trainer or simply shut down completely.

The article ends with talking about moving these teaching methods over to humans - "Friedman confesses that, though she devotes so much of her time and energy to the behaviour and training of animals, her main objective all long has been to change the way we interact with our hman loved ones - our partners, children and friends". Previously in the article she had said - Every time someone has yanked the choke collar around his dog's neck, or forrced a bird inside a cage, or hobbled a horse, there may have been some pang, some moment of doubt that it was the right thing to do - in spite of what the so-called experts were saying to the contrary. Many people have asked themselves, I wouldn't dream of doing this to my child, so why am I doing this to my animal? What Friedman helps them realize is that dominating behaviour can be just as damaging to the animal as it is to the child. Sadly, there are some people who might treat their children or spouse in a dominating manner, but not their animals. As for them, Friedman's teaching are just as life-changing.

I personally have to attest to this - everything that I have learned about positive dog training and am continuing to learn have leaked over into my work life, and it's showing in a better work atmosphere where I work - I am on my policy and procedure committee for my department and I am working towards making our policies not something that our employees have to "live with" and that makes their jobs harder - but something that is positive for them and is in their best interests - and just a change in mindset - turning things around from a negative to a positive - can make all the difference - even with humans. From making animals and humans must do something into something that they want to do - into "win-win" situations - is good for everyone.

It's like the by-line of the Best Friend's magazine - "all the good news"!


  1. Adina has never been bitten because she respects dogs, but also because she understands dog communication and can take action before a dog blows a lid. She, unlike Millan, knows dogs. In my 15 year career, I also have rarely been bitten and have worked with many, many dogs of all breeds, ages and backgrounds. My explanation about this dog's (in the clip) motivation, body language and behavior is different than Millan's. His humor me as much as former president Bush's explanation about politics and state affairs did. The camera is rolling and the person in power is compelled to say something, even though he knows very little about the subject.
    Except it is not at all funny for the dog.

    Millan is dangerous not only because many average dog owners apply his method and get bitten, but also because they self-diagnose and get it wrong. In the past, almost all my e-mail requests stated what the dog's actions were and ended with the question why the dog did that. Now, about a third of the e-mails I get are from owners who "know exactly" that their dog tries to be the pack leader, but despite their ongoing attempt to submit it, it won't listen. By the time they e-mail me, the aggression has been established for weeks and sometimes months.

    It is good that the veterinary community is taking a stand. At the same time Merial, in my understanding, did sign a deal with Millan and owners that buy Frontline and Heartguard this summer from their veterinarian will get a free Millan Pack Leader DVD.

    And Crown Publishing, a Random House group, is so committed to the big money maker Millan that they won't be publishing any other dog training books for awhile.

    It appears that dogs will be physically wrangled around for some time to come by a person who has no credentials, but fantastic marketing, and by all the gullible followers who swallow the alpha BS as served.

  2. Thank you Joan, for your kind comments about me as the personal owner of that Yahoo DogWhispererFan Email List. There are very important points in what you say that I hope others will listen to as well!

    One of the most important, is the recognition of the many types of problems that Cesar addresses that most main stream dog owners are not aware of and don’t understand. The problem solution response IS completely different for a fearful dog vs. a fear-aggressive dog vs. a truly aggressive dog, etc! Cesar also has frequently said, “ the LEAST energy correction which works to teach that dog the desired behavior should be applied”.
    He frequently applauds the good work you (and others) do to save dogs from owners who have misunderstood and misapplied Cesar’s solutions. He says, “All ways are good that do NOT harm the dog”.

    I was SO glad to see you agreed with the comments by Theresa De/Porter, DMV! Cesar has said the same the same things many times, & is why he offers to “trades dogs”, when he sees someone who is unwilling or unable to follow through with the (human) changes needed to help the dog with consistency in that modified behavior!

    Many don’t know about Cesar’s Leadership DVD’s where he demonstrates weaving his more basic techniques into traditional training models, to prevent problems before they begin or even that Cesar HAS been honored for his contributions by other Canine by the “International Association of Canine Professionals “(IACP) in 2006, & is still featured on their home page today! The Episode Dog Owner’s have follow up letters included in the Dog Whisperer Season 1-3 Episode Guide confirming their ability to continue successfully with using Cesar’s solutions, as well as helps people learn the different dog behavior categories by the chapter organization.

    As a college teacher: if I say the word “bike”, many think I am talking motorcycle when I am talking about a bicycle. If the techniques I am describing for safer usage of that bicycle are applied to a motorcycle, not only do people get hurt, but even possibly killed. The National Safety Council, has a CD full of injury statistics of people who do this exact same action; ~misapplying knowledge and skills, incorrectly understood, with those same kind of results.

    Using the word “manage” does broaden the context of Cesar’s way, if we accept the transitive verb definition, “to handle or direct with a degree of skill”, but I disagree that “manage” could replace “rehabilitate” which means, “to make better in behavior, character or restore to a healthy condition”, in my experience.

    My experience with Cesar Millan is different then your perception that “Cesar is a trainer who appears to want to control every aspect about a dog’s life – and want the dog to ask before he can do everything – including when he can take a pee.”

    Many of my (almost 40) last chance problem dogs, about to be euthanized, are now happily living in forever homes having their destructive behaviors modified by me using Cesar’s solutions when no other solutions would help. I simply needed to change one or two problem behaviors, not control their whole life.

    “Dominating behavior” is also another “bike example”. Cesar’s message of rules, boundaries & limitations”, frequently becomes misconstrued as a message of abuse, rather than the advocacy of healthy lifestyle (which includes the prevention of abuse (harm) by dog or human)! When one says "dominate" which means “to serve as a leader of” then I also agree that is an appropriate application of the intent of Cesar’s way in my very broad and direct experience!

    If I dominate my dog to keep him from injuring my elderly mother jumping on her, or trying human to bite in response to inappropriate touching, or running out in the street to get hit by a car, then my “domination” is, that I have served as a leader to help keep both my dog safe (from impounding and possible death from biting as my law requires) and the human safe from harm.

    Thank you Joan, for opening this dialog!

  3. CJ Anderson - I am so glad that you clicked through and came to my blog! That is so neat! I have actually read your posts when the Dog Whisperer group started up in 2005 - I joined up in June of 2006 and lurked for quite a while and really enjoyed what you wrote, I always found the advice you gave to be really good and it always confused me because you seemed to be so much more of a better and more intuitive dog trainer than Cesar seemed to me to be - you seemed to be able to take what he was seeming to tell you and actually turn it into usable and correct (to me) advice and a good way to live with and care for the problems we might have with our dogs. I liked the dog whisperer yahoo group much more than the real dog whisperer! haha!

    If you have subscribed to the comments of this post I do have a question for you though if it's okay because you brought up the idea of "managing" as opposed to "rehabilitating" - and I was wondering about the dogs that you've placed in homes that you've been able to do that by simply working on a couple of their biggest problems - and I was also thinking of the 30-40 dogs that Cesar has at his Centre that he's rehabilitated - would you consider those dogs - once they've become rehabilitated to be "easy" dogs? By that I mean would they be low issue dogs once they've been rehabilitated by a trainer who's gone through Cesar's program?

    Or would a dog that is at Cesar's Centre - and is adopted out - still present as a dog that still has behaviour problems that need to be dealt with and the owners need to be cognizant of them through the dog's whole life - like they couldn't be first time dog owners. I'm trying to stay away from the word - that the dog's owners have to "manage" the dog's behaviours in any way if you know what I mean.

  4. Anonymous4:30 AM

    Joan - thanks for opening this dialogue.

    I haven't found that Cesar employs any specific "method" of dog training. He uses treats and toys as well as touches, leash corrections and the occasional alpha roll. Millan says "Exercise, discipline, and affection," where "discipline" means "rules, boundaries, and limitations." Cesar says "The least amount of energy correction that works to teach that dog the required behavior should be used." His philosophy is all about energy - balanced energy. When the handler is calm and confident, the dog can be calm and relaxed. And if the dog has behavior problems, the calm, confident energy or attitude of the handler can overcome those problems much easier, faster, and more reliably than excitedly bribing a dog to behave himself.

    Silvia is right that many average dog owners unsuccessfully try to apply his "methods," but Cesar Millan is no more responsible for the way someone treats his dog than a gun manufacturer is responsible for the way a customer uses a gun. People THINK they understand what Millan is trying to do with dogs, but if that which they are doing doesn't work, it's because they aren't really following Cesar's philosophy. They're focused on techniques, not on philosophies, and they don't bring the right energy to the task. According to Cesar, dogs don't want to be pack leaders. They sometimes try to act like pack leaders because their humans won't. Or don't. Once the dog knows it doesn't have to be responsible for the health and welfare of the pack, he's happy to relax and just be happy, healthy, and balanced.

  5. Anonymous2:16 PM

    Hi, I have 14 dogs here in my home, UK, all successfully rehabilitated from problem behaviour. I advocate Cesar's Way as I see the success in his philosophy here every day!

    Note please I say philosophy - the way to live as Pack Leader. For diagnosis/treament methods or techniques a professional should always be consulted which both the DW show and Cesar makes clear.

    I am a professional Behaviourist/Trainer - I know the dogs I treat can remain balanced - so long as the owners follow the way of life explained and taught to them including "Exercise, Discipline, Affection".

    As with humans, a way of life if not followed can lead to relapse to old behaviour - just look at human rehab centres, there is a new way of life for recovered alcholics, yet if they do not follow it they may well pick up that drink and revert to acting-out. Species dog is not so different!

    I hear much confusion with understanding Cesar's Way, I am clear on this that calm assertive pack leadership is a way dogs do respect, my foremerly extremly dog-aggressive Peter here is now a contented canine member of my family!

    I am the dominant alpha in my pack, no harsh methods/physical force, just a hierarchy dogs, and many other animals, understand. My chickens have a pecking order! I have studied the science and hold certificates too.

    Some conditions in dogs can only be managed, others can be rehabilitated with the old behaviour becoming extinct, each dog is individual and dog psychology not an exact science.

    Dogs I have helped are still in their forever homes, balanced with thanks to the inspiration of Cesar. Anyone who copies methods from any show against clear warning, has only themselves to hold accountable, blaming others is just an unreasonable excuse IMO.

    My pack could not live in such contented balance and peace if Cesar's Way were anything other than the most natural for them. We share trust, love and respect.Thanks.

  6. Anonymous3:54 PM

    Hi,I should add a quick explanation here to those who may wish to add connotations to the words I used of "dominant alpha" = This simply means I am the head of the pack - the highest ranked among the mixed species of human and dog! Dominant does not mean dictator, nor does it mean being a boss who is to be obeyed! I am in fact a benevolent leader of my dogs in the way they understand and respect me/follow me.

    If one has ever seen a truly balanced dominant dog one can understand the meaning of the word in the context I am using it - it is remarkable to see such a dog using only calm energy to claim their space from another lower ranked dog in the pack.

    Thanks again for the opportunity here, Suzie (UK)

  7. Okay, here is my question? Why demonstrate something on TV that is difficult to emulate for the average dog owner. A method that requires one to be of a certain size, or energy, or have a certain level of handling experience, is simply not a functional one.

    Something that's not functional is a waste of time to watch. I mean, who'da watch a cooking show if one can't bake that cake at home. The fact is that people will try it at home. There are trainers that recommend that everyone in the family alpha rolls the young pup, to preemptively get the "me boss - you dog" message through. That trainer's clients, a few months later, became mine cause the adolescent dog bit the kids whenever they came near her.

    A method that leaves so much room for mistakes shouldn't be embraced. There are methods that are safe to use, and successful, and leave no room for mistakes the rookie dog owner could make with his/her pooch.

    Millan and Millan followers talk a lot about energy. When I hear energy, I think about someone people and dogs, or whatever species, naturally and voluntarily gravitate to. When I hear Millan, what comes to mind are dogs coerced with an alpha roll, attention poke with hand or foot, pinning, mock neck biting; dogs forced with a choke collar or Illusion collar or rope looped around their neck; prong and shock collar or whatever level of "correction" the "bad" dog needs for mistakes humans made, or make.

    That's not new. That's not energy. It's old school force and punishment training disguised as whispering. Does the person have to lead the way for dogs? Absolutely. But that can - and should happen without coercion.