kinds of drugs and its side effects

Cesar’s Way Isn’t the Only Way

I mentioned in my last post that if you ask 10 different people what dog training is, you’ll get 10 different answers. I’d like to revise that statement.

I suspect a majority would say dog training is what Cesar Millan does on his National Geographic Channel show, The Dog Whisperer.

Earlier this week, a friend — let’s call her Susan — emailed me with congratulations on my new book, Am I Boring My Dog. She added, “I saw in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that the Dog Whisperer is coming out with his own mag, Cesar’s Way,” and suggested — because she’s a good, supportive friend — that the publication “would need your talent and wit.”

I replied that the Dog Whisperer isn’t exactly popular among the dog experts I respect,  and that “I would be shunned if I were to write for him.”

Susan was surprised.”We happened to catch his show this summer at a hotel,” she said, “and liked it. Mostly the dog owners were so stupid and timid it was nice to see to see a disciplinarian, kinda like the vicarious thrill of the watching that nanny show.”

My friend, who is herself talented and witty, hit the nail on the head about Cesar Millan’s appeal. Unfortunately,  in spite of the “don’t do this at home” warnings that scroll across the TV screen, the “thrill” the Dog Whisperer’s show provides is not always vicarious, as the nanny show’s thrills tend to be.

Susan, for example, is an excellent mother with a terrific kid, Jonas. She wouldn’t need a nanny to clean up any emotional messes in her household. She also wouldn’t dream of giving Jonas a quick smack  — not to inflict pain, mind you, but just to get his attention and show him who’s boss — because she saw it done on a TV show. But most people don’t feel as comfortable following their instincts about dogs as they do about children. And if you substitute “quick chain jerk” for “smack,” you’ve got Cesar’s Way with dogs, one that many people follow — often to their dogs’ detriment and to their own.

And I’m not even getting into the infamous Alpha Roll (where the dog is forced into a submissive position on its back) and flooding (exposing a dog to something it fears and not allowing it to escape) — both of which, it is claimed, are only used in extreme circumstances.

Cesar Millan is doubtless an empathetic man who wants to do right by dogs; he supports a lot of shelters and rescue work and he often works with dogs that are very difficult. But there are other ways than Cesar’s Way to live successfully with dogs, ways that are less potentially dangerous to owners and more conducive to creating the type of relationship with a dog that Susan has with her son: Loving and fun, but by no means undisciplined.

And yes, alternative methods, whether positive training alone — I’ll explain more about that in another post — or, in some cases, in combination with medication, work even for difficult dogs. And not only are these methods safe, but they’re also based on more accurate, up-to-date science than Cesar’s Way is.

To use my friend and her son as an example again: Susan wouldn’t dream of sending Jonas to a school whose teaching philosophy had been proved outdated by all the top child psychologists — say, a place that still believes you “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Yet many are happy to follow a dog training method that’s based on wolf pack studies that not only used a flawed sample group, but have been demonstrated not to apply to dogs.

The Dominance Controversy and Cesar Millan,” by Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and animal behavorist, lays out the science in a very clear, accessible way .

One scientist isn’t enough? The entire American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) put out a position paper against the wolf dominance theories that buttress Cesar’s Way.

Some may argue that even Cesar Millan says his way isn’t the only way, right there on the TV. Sure, but after watching him send out his “calm, assertive energy” for the entire segment, it’s obvious that the other ways are the idiot ways, the wussy ways of the weak, inconsistent, and hapless dog owners who sought out his help.

So, while I suspect that Millan’s new magazine will be a bit hit, I won’t be looking to write for it.

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25 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Nice piece. And, I would take it one step further–Cesar’s Way is NOT the way, no way, at all, nada. Not only does he spout pure rubbish about dogs, his methods that the viewer “should not try at home” are at best nonsense and at worst abusive, in my opinion.

    I recently watched him on the net as our cable co doesn’t carry Nat. Geo. It was the episode where he tried to get a 110 lb Saint Bernard puppy who was afraid of stairs to go up a huge staircase. Basically, he dragged the dog up the stairs all the while huffing and puffing (that was a lot of dog to drag) and in between breaths panted nonsense about how you had to keep the dog’s energy moving forward. The poor dog was freaked. Cesar looked like an idiot. And, honestly, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, I felt embarrassed for CM. How inelegant it all was.

    How much easier on the dog and trainer (oops! CM is not, by his own admission, which I appreciate, a dog trainer): 1) To find a shorter set of stairs to practice with first before tackling the long swooping entry staircase, or 2) To lure the dog up the stairs with a positive reinforcer–food, toy–and, to let the dog turn back and go down the stairs if he got spooked and let him start over again at his own pace rather than being forced, or 3) Maybe it would have helped if the people he loved were at the top of the (shorter set of stairs at first) having a good time such that the dog’s desire to join them would have helped motivate him. These are just a few things that occur to me. And, I’m not a dog trainer either.

    Thank you for a voice of sanity in the crazy wilderness of contemporary dog training.

    Oh, and one more thing. I read recently that even though death by dog is still quite low considering how much time humans spend with dogs, dog aggression resulting in the deaths of humans has been increasing from 13 per year in the 1990’s to more than 30 per year recently. I’m just saying.

    • admin
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Deborah. Your example of the St. Bernard shows how potentially dangerous “flooding” is. If the St. Bernard had not been good natured, that would have been 110 pounds of dog hurling himself at/biting the owner because he was freaked. And, as you say, at best it was embarrassing. Dog moving forward indeed!

      Yes, I agree with you that Cesar’s Way is NOT the way. I suppose I used the same rhetorical device as Milan does on his show, giving lip service to the fact there are other options (ie., Cesar’s Way) but really implying that they’re not viable!

  2. Kaelinda
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    The ‘positive reinforcement only’ crowd doesn’t understand the concept of correction. As far as they’re concerned, any interaction with a dog that doesn’t involve a reward is a negative interaction. And that’s a shame. America has turned into an entitlement society, wherein its children expect to be rewarded just for behaving themselves, and now America is doing the same thing to its dogs. Cesar’s Way is a refreshing blend of correction and reward – balanced in such a way as to render a dog happy AND balanced.

    • adm
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Kaelinda, you’re misrepresenting that “crowd’s” position — suggesting a belief in positive training is monolithic. It’s not. I am not going to attempt to represent a complex group of methods in one comment, but I welcome anyone who wants to present their positions here (or in a separate post).

      I will say that I don’t know where you get the idea that a dog can’t be happy AND balanced with positive training, however. Where’s your evidence?

  3. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for presenting a well balanced, thoughtful piece that is accessible to most owners trying to find “their way” through all of the conflicting information on dog training methods. Even though veterinarians, certified applied animal behaviorists, animal welfare agencies, and educated/experienced dog trainers have proven scientifically that “Cesar’s Way” is animal abuse packaged as dog training (complete with charming verbal patter and slick television production values), his fans will continue to defend his so called “way”.

    We have written extensively about this topic on our blog “Behind the Behavior”. Dr. Jim Ha was interviewed by a local television station when Cesar came to town for a fund raiser. He’s reviewed a recent peer reviewed scientific journal paper on confrontational behavior modification methods. Louisa Beal, DVM recently blogged about her experience at the American Veterinary Medical Association controversy involving a drug company and Mr. Millan. We’re always so happy to have another rational voice in the debate.

    Keep up the good work and congratulations on your book!

  4. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I would like to say that as a believer in Cesar’s Way, particularly in his espousal of calm, assertive energy and his philosophy that all ways are good that do not harm the dog, it is disappointing to continue hearing the same arguments and experts quoted against him. While it is true that he uses traditional methods, sometimes those methods are the right ones for the dogs. I have watched all his episodes since season One, and have watched him evolve to incorporate many different methods into his way.

    To me, Cesar is the Bruce Lee of dog behavior. Bruce Lee took many different martial arts methods and combined them into one fluid school Jeet Kune Do (JKD) which was also always evolving and growing until Lee’s untimely death. Bruce Lee also popularized martial arts for the western world, something other Asians did not appreciate at first. He was criticized by experts, as well.

    There are, by the way, many experts who openly support Cesar. He and Illusion were made honorary members of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals a couple of years back). Martin Deely is one of his supporters, and Dr. Temple Grandin has said that while she does not think his way is right with anxious dogs, she thinks he is very good with aggressive dogs.

    Cesar often takes on animals that most other trainers would advise their owners to euthanize and he shows both owners and dog how to live together socially and in a balanced manner. When we rescued our emaciated Plott hound six years ago, she had to overcome horrendous food aggression (due to being starved to the point of death), taking out her prey instinct on our cats, and a total ignorance of indoor living. With the help of a friend who practiced many methods common to Cesar’s Way a year before the Nat Geo Show appeared, we helped Eve overcome these problems — and yes, the methods involved alpha rolls (NOT learned from Cesar), claiming the cats, making her confront stairs — now she has no problems with them — and we never for a minute felt we were using aversive training. We knew we were speaking to her in language she could understand.

    Today, she is a great dog. We cut her a lot of slack cause she’s a “hound” — but she treats one of our cats as her puppy and gets along with the others and has a firm sense of all of us as her pack.

    If you’d like to check out my blog Eve and the Cat Pack on Blogger, you can find out more about my opinions about this. But while I know that there are many methods of correcting problems with dogs and the least invasive that works is probably the best, I would hope that dog trainers, behaviorists, psychologists, professionals, and non-professionals would put aside their differences long enough to see that we are all in the process of saving dogs. And if one dog is euthanized who could have been saved by an old-fashioned way of training, that is one too many and is on our heads.

  5. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    And what on earth does “balanced” mean, anyway? Is there an operational definition? It just seems to me like a word that sounds good (after all, who doesn’t want to be balanced themselves or have balanced dog) but isn’t meaningful. Does it mean the dog is motivated by fear and reward in equal degrees? Please. Be precise.

    And, while I’m thinking about it, what about “happy?” What does that mean? Most importantly do we know when our dogs are NOT happy? Do we think are dogs are happy when they’re not? If CM’s assessment of happiness is any indication, he’s calling a lot of dogs happy that, by the looks of their body language, are not. Tails tucked, head turned away from him, panting, tongue flicks, yawning, laying down when he’s “flooding” them like that poor St. Bernard I mentioned earlier.

    Language matters.

  6. Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Kaelinda – Excellent use of the “straw man” argument. There might actually be ‘positive reinforcement only’ trainers out there, and if there is, they’re wrong too. Disagreeing with Cesar Millan doesn’t automatically make you one and I resent being categorized that way.

    Jackie – there are a lot of people dogs helping dogs with fear and aggression problems as bad or even worse than the ones on Cesar’s show using methods far less invasive than his. I have had the privilege of watching a few of them do it while learning from them. The idea that people are giving up on dogs and euthanizing them because they refuse to use his methods is false and more than a little insulting.

  7. admin
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Jackie, if you believe as I and many others do that Cesar Millan does indeed harm dogs — e.g., by shutting them down when such methods as flooding is used — his assertion that “all ways are good that don’t hurt the dog” is meaningless. And yes, you can always find “experts” to support any point of view — for example, that torture produces results; that doesn’t mean they are all equally credentialed. You cite Temple Grandin, whose work I very much respect, as saying that Millan’s methods work with aggressive dogs but not anxious dogs. Um, that’s a 50% failure rate she’s citing, hardly a ringing endorsement.

  8. admin
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Christine, here I am ignoring positive reinforcement by only reacting to negative comments. Thank you for your nice words about this post — and for your congratulations!

  9. Lee
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Edie, you may choose to deny the truth but what Cesar does is work with dogs in their own language. Call it outdated if you must, but is an incredible, selfless man doing incredible work in saving the lives of dogs (and humans!). His methods evolve as he continues to learn other things. He has an open mind, he does not criticize others. He uses the gentlest method that works in each situation. Each situation is different. Every dog and every owner is different.

    No dog he works with winds up fearing him! If you paid attention to his program, rather than just being critical of it, you’d see that. If he were hurting these dogs, you would see them fear him. They don’t!

    So, what do you gain from trying to be RIGHT, anyway? Do you get more or less clients? Do you get more or less readers? Do we all get more or fewer saved dogs? I know the answer to the last question!

    Cesar doesn’t waste his valuable time criticizing others because he’s got important work to do saving dogs – dogs that many trainers would advise to have put down because they didn’t have the time or space or financial resources in which to help them with their methods. Dogs in which their owners have given up hope.

    It continues to amaze me that some trainers refuse to do any sort of corrections. I mean, some even go so far as to even never say “no!”! WOW! Hopefully those trainers do not have human children!

    Lee

    • admin
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      Lee, just to clarify. I’m not a trainer, but have consulted them in the past. On a trainer’s advice, I’ve used methods on my dog that I have come to believe are harmful, including jerking his little neck with a choke chain (turns out it’s harmful to the trachea). I’m writing because I want to help dogs and people from being hurt by methods that I now consider dangerous, and to promote methods that I believe are equally effective, and far safer. Call it a public service.

  10. Clare
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    When I had the privilege of adopting Archie over 14 years ago, my vet loaned me the books of The Monks of New Skete, who approved alpha rolls and leash corrections. My trainer did too. I don’t think they did anything but make Archie fear the trainer. He certainly followed his own bliss the rest of the time, and I’m the happier for it. As for flooding, I’m happy to report that Arch was never exposed to it. Also, my trainer, highly successful and well paid, quit the profession because he couldn’t stand (1) the reactions of humans when he did the alpha roll in public and ultimately (2) the sadness of the dogs. He remains a great lover and rescuer of dogs and a top yoga instructor.

  11. Posted September 16, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Sigh, I don’t like criticizing other trainers. I honestly feel that a lot of trainers spend way too much time and energy worrying about other trainers instead of improving themselves.

    But’s it’s stuff like this that makes me see red:

    “So, what do you gain from trying to be RIGHT, anyway? Do you get more or less clients? Do you get more or less readers? Do we all get more or fewer saved dogs? I know the answer to the last question!”

    Because, you see, based on a heavily edited *dramatic reality show* on TV, someone can tell me that I wasted years working as an apprentice and learning how to train dogs from people with vastly more experience than Cesar. What I should have done is just waited for his TV show, popped up some popcorn so I could be an expert too.

    Points in order:

    1) By being RIGHT, I can help dogs without scaring them or most making them worse. I can even train other people.

    2) So far, seems like more. As a matter of fact I get clients that have tried other trainers and didn’t like them because they scared them or their dog. I also get people that like the fact that I tell them exactly what I am doing, teach them how to do it, and then encourage them to try it at home. The fact that I discuss verifiable science instead of new age energy BS seems to be a bonus for some too.

    3) More readers. Again, useful information. If they want drama, my sister is a romance novelist. If they want BS there’s the new medical section on Huff Post.

    4&5) Here’s what set me off:

    Don’t you DARE accuse those of us who don’t like his methods of saving fewer dogs. You don’t know what you are talking about. Period. Trainers all over the world address issue like fear and aggression with resorting to his methods.

    We don’t like his methods because we read books about dog training that were published after 1980. We got the memo about the guy who created the term “pack leader” recanting. We understand that even the people who still use the term “dominant” think that Cesar’s definition would be wrong if he appeared to even have one, instead of throwing it at every problem he sees.

    Tell you what, you don’t want to believe me, go watch Dogtown. (It’s TV, so it has to be true, right?) They save more dogs in week than any of us, including Cesar. Tell me how many times they leash pop a dog. How many alpha rolls you see. How many times they use the word pack leader or dominant.

    (Hint: at least 2 of the trainers use lure/reward. Like me.)

    As for:
    “It continues to amaze me that some trainers refuse to do any sort of corrections. I mean, some even go so far as to even never say “no!”! WOW! Hopefully those trainers do not have human children!”

    See my comment above about straw men.

  12. Posted September 17, 2009 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    I’m sad to see that there are so many bitter comments and so much polarization. We are not talking about blatant animal cruelty. No one here is advocating beating, starving, fighting or overcrowding dogs.

    Some of us do not believe that Cesar harms dogs. Yes, Best Friends (and I’m a huge Dogtown Fan) uses positive training to change dogs behavior, but Best Friends has time on their side. If a dog doesn’t respond, they keep working away until they achieve the results they want — and they are very good at it, too!

    I quoted Dr. Grandin’s comments about Cesar mainly to show that she is not adamantly against him and that she admits that some of his methods work. Whether or not Dr. Grandin is correct in all her conclusions and statements is not the point. Some of her critics point out that she has most of her experience working with herd animals, such as cows and other animals encountered in her activities as a consultant to the meat packing industry. She understands and loves cows, but not all her comments about dogs may be as accurate, since dogs are predators.

    Nevertheless, I greatly admire Dr. Grandin because of her eye opening observation linking animal thought patterns to those of autistic spectrum people like herself. This is a groundbreaking observation and puts animals clearly on a thinking/perceiving spectrum along with humans. She has done a huge service to dignifying the status of animals and she deserves all the kudos in the world just for that!

    What I am seeing on various “dog training” shows such as “It’s Me or the Dog” and even Dogtown from time to time are people quoting or paraphrasing many things that Cesar says, about being a strong leader for your dog, teaching them rules and boundaries, and using many other phrases I associate with the Dog Whisperer show.

    And as I said before, Cesar does have a body of professionals and “experts” who support his efforts — I mentioned the IACP. I also know of professional trainers, shelter managers and rescue operations that follow Cesar’s Way with their clients and their dogs and have great success, particularly in saving or rehoming dogs that would otherwise have been euthanized.

    Words can certainly be twisted, which is one reason that Eve recognizes both voice and hand signals. I can get her to sit and give me a “down” just by pointing my finger. Granted, her “sits” and “downs” are accompanied by a lot of tail thumping and would never rate a passing grade in an obedience trial — but I got her there through a use of both positive reinforcement and an understanding that she considers me the authority figure.

    I come from a generation (the 1960s), by the way, that spent its youth decrying authority. Now I find that the assertion of calm, firm authority is one of the best ways to maintain a balanced society (and I don’t mean a zero-sum society with equal amounts of bad and good, but a society that rests on a stable basis) and a balanced home life (with or without animals).

    Yes, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan is a “reality show” and is edited as all tv shows (even the most unscripted ones) are, but having spoken with some of the editors, they are edited to fit the time frame, not to cover up or hide parts they don’t want people to see. The Dog Whisperer is entertainment — just as the History Channel is entertainment. But that doesn’t stop it from being informative, enlightening and inspiring.

    Were it not for the Dog Whisperer, I would never be doing what I am doing now — working as a volunteer for my local animal shelter (one which uses Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Open Paw method — which I highly recommend for the most part — to socialize shelter dogs). I use Cesar’s example of positive energy, calm assertive attitude when I approach the dogs and the cats.

    Cesar has also brought the idea of saving dogs to the popular level — which is where it has to go if we are to address the huge numbers of saveable animals that need home and need help finding homes. He has made helping animals a cool thing to do! And Cesar’s prominence brings others into prominence alongside him, even if their methods differ considerably from his.

    I am sorry to be so long-winded, but I am.

  13. admin
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I am glad you’re volunteering at a shelter and saving dogs, Jackie, and if Cesar Millan got you there, more power to him. But as you point out, the shelter you’re working at uses Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Open Paw method — which is excellent — not Cesar Millan’s.

    And I do want to set the record straight about one thing: No one is quoting or paraphrasing Cesar Millan in the shows you cite. They are coming to their methods from their own, more science-based backgrounds. No positive trainer has ever argued that being a leader to your dog is a bad thing — and that idea has been around since way before Cesar Millan. The question is how to achieve that goal.

  14. Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Jackie,

    So far here 2 people, yourself included, have accused trainers who don’t use his methods of contributing to more dogs being put to sleep. Now you bemoan bitter comments and polarization.

    I have already said far too much, and am truly sorry I let my temper get the best of me. I need to take my own advice and go train some people and dogs.

    • admin
      Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Eric, it’s tough not to get passionate about these topics, and I thank you for your contributions to this discussion. But yes, better to devote your energies to what you do best: Training dogs and people. Go in peace and dogspeed!

  15. Donna Jones
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I know sadly from experience that this topic is a contentious one. I used to volunteer for the rescue charity which helped unite me with my dog, Kaiser.

    Unfortunately, I have witnessed way too many dogs being yanked on a head collar and screamed at to behave to carry on. I tried to share positive reinforcement information with people I trusted and valued as friends. The response was almost a mirror image of what has happened here in the comments for this blog post. It went further though and I had almost a lynch mob coming after me with pitch forks and flaming torches.

    The problem with this subject and trying to convince those that use what I guess would be called harsh correction is that in their eyes they see results straight away. Training takes time, after all a couple of sessions of ten minutes a day adds up, right? And I believe the main reason people react to this is because some feel that training using positive reinforcement can make them feel inadequate if they don’t get the results straight away.

    What I think is key here is that it takes a good 18 months of repetition for a dog to learn a behaviour till it is rock steady. That causes an issue for a lot of dog owners and even trainers, where’s the proof it works? If a dog needs consistent training of a new behaviour for that length of time that proof seems almost an eternity in coming and that is why Cesar’s Way provokes admiration and passionate support. It appears to those that use it that results come quicker than with something like clicker training. When in fact sometimes the end result may be borne not of learning but something seemingly more powerful, fear.

    Friends I knew swore that their dogs were not fearful of their methods, but my only problem with that is so many people are confused with how to read their dogs. Ears back, tail half between legs. What does it all mean? That’s where I think Deborah’s comments are key. Yes, maybe you are getting what you want but at what cost? Is your dog being encouraged to do what you want or forced through fear? How would you know if trainers advocating the “way” are misrepresenting dog body language too?

    I’ve had the misfortune to have to read about people questioning if kicking back feet after eliminating is a sign of dominance. I’ve had to listen to how a dog rubbing itself up against an owners leg and wagging its tail is dominance.

    Does anyone ask the question has this dog been taught to do anything? If a dog won’t sit when commanded is it being stubborn and dominant or has it actually never been shown? I totally understand why trainers who use positives rather than negatives react the way they do to these topics, they see the dogs that have been damaged by well meaning owners using the techniques shown. The incidence rate of fear aggression is on the increase with dogs, meaning more may end up in shelters and rescues because of worsening general temperament, so to say that CM and others like him are saving dogs from the vet’s needle isn’t a complete picture. What about the ones that have been dominated to the point of a fearful biting incident?

    Where has the old adage “Man’s Best Friend” gone? Because I know for a fact when I was deluded by the marketing machine of CM I was constantly looking for errant behaviour. That seems an unhealthy relationship to have with your best friend.

  16. Posted September 17, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Some folks here and in comments I have read elsewhere, including on my blog, say “Cesar says any way is okay as long as the dog is not harmed” and “Cesar does not harm dogs,” and “I don’t see Cesar as harming dogs.”

    I see things differently. I do see Cesar harming dogs. I’ve rented some of Cesar’s DVD’s (as I’ve said, our cable company doesn’t carry the National Geographic channel) and I have watched videos on the NG website of Cesar’s show. I am not saying he does not care about dogs. I think he does. But so do people who say to their children as they spank, hit or even whip them “This is for your own good.”

    When I see Cesar “flooding’ dogs by dragging them into places they are afraid of, by using shock collars, by kneeing dogs in the side, by choking them and so on, I see Cesar harming dogs. He may be very calm while doing it, and this may lessen the impression that he is harming the dog because he is in fact calm and not emotionally upset. And, he and his disciples may think that choking the dog is for the dog’s own good. But to say Cesar doesn’t harm dogs is pure nonsense. And, again, I’m not impugning his motives. I do believe he loves dogs just as I believe parents who physically “correct” their children, instilling fear in them, also love their children.

    But, no matter how good the intentions or how great the love, flooding, shocking, kneeing, choking, dragging and so on are still harmful and they instill fear.

    Which brings me to another issue. Do you, do I, do we know when our dogs are happy or uncomfortable? Can we really tell the difference? I was dumbfounded to discover how, well, dumb I was about dog body language until I made a concerted effort to learn to recognize the subtle signs of discomfort, fear, happiness and so on–and I still have bundles to learn. I think most people, self-proclaimed dog people included, don’t know beans about dog behavior, especially subtle behaviors (well, subtle until you learn to recognize them–then they scream out at you).

    So back to Cesar. Just because a dog is compliant does not mean that she is comfortable, happy, confident, or relaxed. The dogs that I have seen on the DW are indeed compliant after Cesar works them over. But, are tails wagging, ears forward, eyes bright, mouths open with a happy smile, prancing, confident? I do not see it. I do see exactly that behavior, though, on Victoria Stilwell’s It’s Me or the Dog. And she tackles dog owners every bit as clueless as Cesar does and dogs every bit as difficult. And, I wish I could watch DogTown, but that too is on the NG channel. I’ll have to get after my cable provider.

    • admin
      Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      Just a quick thank you for the recent comments. Naturally, since they supported my original points — and supported them so well — I felt no urgency to jump in. But I’ve not only been moderating; I’ve also been appreciating the fact that Donna, Angela, and (again) Deborah took the time to explore the issue so thoroughly. I don’t know that anyone will be convinced. Still, I like to think that with a pile up of articulate testimony, it gets more difficult to make irrational claims.

  17. Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Very nice post Edie, you make some very good points.

    Let’s face it Cesar it not the only dog professional out there using traditional methods, traditional training is still widespread today, and if you go back fifty years traditional training was the norm.

    Professional trainers using positive reinforcement (like myself), fully understand traditional training methods. We also understand the mechanics of how Cesar uses them, but I will always strongly debate as to whether the dog actually learns anything other than what to avoid in order to relieve stress/conflict. But more importantly, we see the reality… Cesar’s methods are inhumane, unnecessary, and can lead to dangerous/negative collateral effects.

    So yes, Cesar’s way most definitely isn’t the only way. Thankfully fifty years on and modern research and study has:

    Debunked dominance theory
    Redefined “Alpha” as simply meaning parent, or breeding pair
    Shown dogs are not wolves
    Shown dogs don’t live in packs
    Given us behavioural learning theory – so we understand how animals learn

    Most recently Dr Rachel Casey an expert at Bristol University debunked the age-old belief that aggressive dogs have the desire to assert their “dominance” over people and other dogs.

    A senior lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Casey spent six months studying dogs freely interacting at a Dogs Trust re-homing centre, and reanalysing data from studies of feral dogs.

    The researcher observed that individual relationships between dogs are learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert “dominance”.

    Dr. Casey said:

    “The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous. It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs. It also leads to the use of coercive training techniques, which compromise welfare, and actually cause problem behaviours.”

    “In our referral clinic we very often see dogs which have learnt to show aggression to avoid anticipated punishment. Owners are often horrified when we explain that their dog is terrified of them, and is showing aggression because of the techniques they have used – but its not their fault when they have been advised to do so, or watched unqualified ‘behaviourists’ recommending such techniques on TV.”

    So with all these studies freely available why use out dated, inhumane methods?

  18. Rebecca Boren
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    When people talk about “dominance” or “control” of their dogs I always want to ask, “What are you afraid of?’ If your dog doesn’t precision-march to your beat, soon he/she will be sitting at the dinner table and you’ll be on the floor with the kibble? In addition to owning and training my own dogs, I have rescued and rehabilitated dozens deemed “unadoptable” by local shelters. By far, most unacceptable behavior has been a direct result of each dog’s terror. And most can be remedied by addressing a dog’s basic needs — for clean, safe shelter; good food; love; consistent routine; eliminating or gradually overcoming sources of fear; paying attention to what the dog is trying to tell you. And fun. Most dogs love to please the person they love.
    I only failed with one dog — and then I made the serious mistake of believing that dominance nonsense (I finally had the wisdom to send him to someone who knew how to re-socialize a dog from step one). With the exception of him, I have only ever been bitten when I got in the middle of fights between dogs.
    I do, however, want to offer a light moment. Fifteen years ago, I was considering the purchase of a smooth fox terrier. My petsitter and dogwalker warned me repeatedly that I had to do an alpha roll, to make sure I could be able to control (there’s that word again) such a difficult breed. Teddy was happy to roll on his back all right — but that turned out to be overwhelming evidence of his total confidence he was owed a tummy rub! We had nine happy years together before he died of lymphoma, and I still miss him every day.

  19. Antoine
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I am late to this debate. Just stumbled across the site. Amazing what you pull up when you Google search “Ceasar’s Way”. I have a dog. I like Ceasar’s way because, like probably 75% of the world (conservative), I am “lazy” and don’t want to spend years getting “there”. That is the fight you and those who are aligned with you are facing. It isn’t Ceasar. It is the natural inclination of man to find and exploit the shortcut. If you want people to adopt more AND choose positive reinforcement, then there needs to be dang near immediate return on investment. Waiting 18 months ( as one poster suggested) to get 1 or 2 habits formed is unacceptable to most. That is the world we live in. You can fight it if you choose, but it is wasted effort.

    • Mike
      Posted June 12, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      A bit late, but just in case anyone else comes across Antoine’s misleading comment…

      It is scientifically proven (and common sense) that high stress levels, such as when being subjected to training techniques that create fear, greatly reduce the ability to learn or remember anything new. This is true for all animals whether adults, children or dogs. Do teachers try to get children into a highly emotional fearful fight or flight state before they try to teach maths – hopefully not!

      So if you want your dog to be able to learn things really quickly, learn how to train properly! Try googling for ‘kikopup dog videos’ on YouTube for just what amazing things can be achieved very quickly.

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  1. […] I just wanted to finish up — or is that open up again? — the discussion I started in an earlier post about why I object to Cesar Millan’s methods. It’s not that I started out with a bone […]

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