Feed on

I’m feeling a little sick to my stomach this morning having just spoken with a friend who has a friend who worships Cesar Millan. Let’s name her Melissa. Melissa has totally bought into CM’s simplistic and wrong-headed belief that just about all the problems you have with your dog can be ridiculously reduced to one idea: your dog is dominating you. Show your dog who’s boss and most behavior problems will cease.

So Melissa, did just that. At least she tried to. But, Stanley, her dog, was getting fed up, apparently. He had had enough ‘alpha rolling’, being stared down, and leash corrections for not walking at a stifling close heel while wearing an asinine contraption called the Illusion Collar. He had become a ‘ticking time bomb.’

A few days ago Stanley bit Melissa, after a bit of a power struggle, when she tried to slip the collar over his head. “You will wear this collar.” “I will not.” “Yes you will.” “Will not.” Stanley won.

Fortunately, Melissa did not sustain serious injury. And, best of all, Stanley’s vet, no fan of CM, told Melissa she’s lucky Stanley didn’t dish out worse.

The good doctor advised Melissa to stop watching the Dog Whisperer and start watching Victoria Stilwell, a positive dog trainer with real dog training credentials, on Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog. She also told Melissa to immediately seek out the services of one of several positive trainers in the area to repair her relationship with Stanley. And, oh yes, “Destroy that idiotic collar.”

I hope Melissa follows through. Not knowing how much of the CM kool-aide she has consumed, whether or not Melissa can be rehabilitated remains to be seen. I will feel very badly for poor Stanley if his mom is beyond recovery.

While talking with my friend about Melissa’s predicament, I recalled two excellent articles I read last week that debunk alphadogma, as I call it, specifically as is spouted by CM. If you haven’t already discovered them, let’s take a look.

The first one I came across, I do not remember how, is by Lisa Mullinax, CPDT. She leaves no CM claim unexamined in “Dog Whisperer, Dog Psychology, and Cesar Millan.” 

From CM’s flawed “dog psychology” to his assertions about “exercise, discipline and affection” to so-called “rehabilitation,” Lisa covers all of this and more. 

In a nutshell, Lisa says:

Is exercise important? Absolutely! Do dogs need rules and boundaries? Certainly! Do humans need to stop equating dogs to humans and gain a greater understanding of dog behavior? Definitely! But how these goals are accomplished are of equal importance. 

A basic understanding of canine behavior can give dog owners the knowledge they need to determine the right training methods for their dog and avoid those methods that offer new age explanations or pop psychology to sell old and potentially dangerous methods in a new package.

The other article was tweeted by several tweeps on Twitter. If you missed it, it’s  by Dr. Sophia Yin, entitled “The Dominance Controversy and Cesar Millan.”

Sophia’s piece is interactive, fun, and informative. She’s inserted video clips of CM from his TV show as well as videos of herself working with dogs. 

For instance, she says:

Watch the following (CM) videos and and answer the questions based on what you know about the definition of dominance.

  • Video 1: (Exuberant firehouse puppy.) Is the puppy trying to assert higher rank here?
  • Video 2: Why do you think the dog chases the cat? Is he trying to dominate it?
  • Video 3: Is the dog trying to dominate the point of  light fluttering across the floor?

After each video, Sophia offers her explanation of the dog’s behavior. HINT: It’s not dominance.

In a manner of speaking, Sophia also asks, “If not ‘Cesar’s way’, then what is the way?” In answer to this question she provides several engaging videos that demonstrate behavior modification in action.

In one example Sophia compares her way of working with a dog that is fear-aggressive toward other dogs with ‘Cesar’s way’ of working with a similar situation. There’s no need to include a disclaimer — Don’t Try this Home — at the bottom of the screen in Sophia’s video. 

And, Sophia addresses a question many every-day dog owners wonder about: “Why (do) some dogs seem to improve with force?” 

Both articles are chock full of links that help you dig as deep as you would like to go into all the topics they address from the truth about dominance, to changing the underlying emotional state of dogs, to medical causes of some behavior problems, and more.

And, you might or might not be aware of this. It came as a bit of a (pleasant) surprise to me. Many people in top-notch mainstream publications have been issuing warnings about the so-called dog whisperer’s ideas and methods for years. Lisa and Sophia both include links to some of these articles.

Here are a few that I didn’t know about:

“Pack of Lies,” Mark Deer in the New York Times 

“The Dog Whisperer Should Just Shut Up: Misguided expert of the year,” Curtis Pesmen in Esquire 

“‘Dog Whisperer’ Approach More Harmful than Helpful” in American Humane 

As I sign off  to take Sadie for the walk she’s reminding me I promised her, I want to acknowledge that many positive dog people are weary and bored with rehashing all the dominance theory nonsense and, in particular, CM’s popularization of it. Me too.

And, there are many new and fun avenues in the positive arena to explore. Debbie Jacobs (@fearfuldogs on Twitter) today mentioned that Kelly and Ian Dunbar are devoting this year to how we can improve our relationships with our dogs. I like that. A lot!

Nonetheless, I’m hoping that fine articles like Lisa’s and Sophia’s provide us with tools for dismantling the ‘house of dominance’ and strengthening our ‘pawsitive palaces.’ 

Okay. That was sappy. You’re right. 

I just couldn’t think of another ending and Sadie REALLY wants to go for that walk. NOW!

Please Share:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Buzz
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • del.icio.us
  • email

24 Responses to “Dismantling Cesar’s House of Dominance”

  1. barrie says:

    GREAT post! 1. I want that vet!!! 2. I think we should start a camp for reprogramming Cesar-ites :-)

  2. I’d like to thank you for such a useful post about the danger of harmful training techniques that are based on dominance. Dominance might be a diagnosis (rare), but it’s never a treatment plan. Behavioral treatment plans and training are based on learning theory. Here are a couple of entries from our blog about CM and confrontational behavior modification techniques:

    KOMO4 Interviews Me About Cesar Millan: http://companionanimalsolutions.com/blogs/komo-tv-interviews-me-about-cesar-millan/

    Confrontational Behavior Modification Techniques and the Risk to Owners: http://companionanimalsolutions.com/blogs/confrontational-behavior-modification-techniques-and-the-risk-to-owners/

  3. Courtney says:

    I love any information I can learn about how to counter arguments of pro Caesar Milan or pro dominance training. I find myself struggling to defend my methods and I feel like if my dog isn’t perfect it’s proof positive training doesn’t work.

    Thank you for compiling such a great list of professionals that deal with this issue. So the next time my puppy walks in front of me on a narrow sidewalk and someone says he is trying to “dominate me” I will be prepared to defend my clicker and treat bag full of chicken.

  4. CJ Anderson says:

    Hi Deborah,
    You have brought out some good points here. As a 55-year-old college teacher who is simply a dog lover who has been able to save around 40 last chance dogs about to be euthanized, I hope you will permit me to offer a different perspective.
    First, the problem with the “Melissa(s)” of the world, is their lack of understanding and skill with what they are trying to do. I’ve used the example of the word “bike” to every one of my adult learners for the last 30 years.
    If I am talking about bike techniques and safety, and Melissa applies what I am saying to a motorcycle rather than the bicycle that I was referring to, not only will she have many unnecessary problems, but also she could be badly injured or killed.

    Cesar, like Bruce Lee, has created a whole system of behavior modification techniques bought together from many solutions and applied in a different context. It is unfortunate, that the more that a person is committed to one type or style of solution, the more challenging it is for them to be open to other effective solutions that are not of that style.

    What is more important, is that what is not remembered, is that that “Professional” naysayers, have a vested financial interest in defending their chosen applications as the ONLY way to help change dog’s undesired behaviors. A large majority of the dog’s owners who were helped specifically by Cesar Millan, we told to have their animals euthanized as hopeless by the same type of professionals quoted here.

    How can I say this (besides the simple fact of its truth)?
    Because of the omissions left out of these cited articles. Not one mentions that Cesar Millan IS a credentialed professional and has been for years. He is a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (http://canineprofessionals.com/Public/Default.aspx) where he has been honored for all the dogs that he has saved. Also, these same naysayers, do not provide the information of the Dog Whisperer Season 1-3 episode guide FILLED with follow up letters from the owners that were featured on the shows about the long term successful changes that he not only facilitated for them, but taught them to sustain.

    There are places to go online where Cesar’s way is available to learn how to apply: accurately, safely and with long term results such as the “Sessions with Cesar” educational website and my personally owned yahoo Dog Whisperer Fan email list (public archives full of success stories) which does such an effective job helping people understand the correct, safe and appropriate applications of Cesar’s way, books, DVDs and of course the show which gives context.

    The whole reason why the Dog Whisperer Show shows Cesar being bitten – not once but sometimes many times, and is re-shown in slow motion, is to EMPHASIZE the tragic outcomes when the “Melissa(s) of the world over estimate their knowledge/skill or underestimate the danger potential from the dogs.

    Deborah, your own sister County in Denver passed a law back in 1989, which has resulted over 1100 dogs who have done now harm to anyone being ripped from their homes and killed for no reason other than they were born the wrong breed. Cesar (and his production team, who are as committed to save dogs as he is), has devoted his life to saving “no hope”/ “last chance” dogs by offering the opportunity to step up and either make the changes that they can, (safely and effectively), or turn to professionals who DO understand successful applications of Cesar Millan’s solutions to facilitate those changes as long term outcomes.

    Thank you Deborah for providing a venue where we can look at both sides of this issue.
    Sincerely, and respectfully,
    CJ Anderson

  5. Kaelinda says:

    Cesar has realized over the years that when certain people – especially” positive-only” canine professionals – even hear the word “dominance,” they automatically go through the roof, visualizing alpha rolls and leash pulls. Most of the cases that involve those advanced techniques that you see on the show are extreme cases of aggression where other professionals have given up on the dog and often, advised euthanasia. What true animal lover would ever choose euthanasia over an alpha roll safely performed by a professional? Should a dog be condemned to death just because certain humans have failed to understand it and give it the guidance that it craves?

    I rescued Greta when she was 18 months old. She was extremely prey driven, having survived for at least 6 months of her short life on her own, after having been abandoned by her original owners. Within a week after she arrived, she dug a hole under our fence, got into the neighbor’s yard, and killed 13 guinea fowl and a number of chickens. I’ve had her for 9 years now, and have used Cesar’s Way with her every day of her life during those years. She no longer digs under the fence. When she is allowed out without the fence or a leash, she no longer kills all the little critters she can find – and she doesn’t chase the neighbor’s chickens any more. In addition, with Cesar’s philosophy, I was able to teach her NOT to bark at every noise in the neighborhood, NOT to jump up on guests, NOT to sniff the crotch of guests, NOT to get on my furniture, and lots of other things. I DID use treat-based training to teach her to sit, stand, stay, heel, and come – and even now, 9 years later, she still wants a treat after every command. She acts as if she thinks she’s entitled to a treat, and I’m really sorry I bribed her to learn.

  6. Traci says:

    The Firehouse Dog, Wilshire, was not not, nor ever stated to be, a case of “dominance” (though it could have become that if left unaddressed for months or years.) It was simple excitement. It was a very young puppy being given no rules, boundaries or limitations in a chaotic environment. Yes, he felt he “owned” the place, but the problem was more simply, a young, high energy puppy needing guidance, structure, leadership (and exercise) and not being given any.

    I am currently fostering a puppy that was attacked by another dog just a couple of days ago. I have learned from Cesar that I cannot encourage her fear of dogs. I cannot let her become aggressive out of fear. Yesterday she cowered in fear, growled, and showed her teeth when she saw my 3 big dogs, today she is getting a little too brave for her own good! Had I not watched Cesar, I may have unknowingly made her afraid of dogs for the rest of her life. What I have learned from Cesar has helped me rescue about 30 dogs over the past 3 years. Most of them just needed some exercise and boundaries to get them on the right track.

  7. Catherine says:

    I totally agree with CJ from the paragraph below:
    “The whole reason why the Dog Whisperer Show shows Cesar being bitten – not once but sometimes many times, and is re-shown in slow motion, is to EMPHASIZE the tragic outcomes when the “Melissa(s) of the world over estimate their knowledge/skill or underestimate the danger potential from the dogs.”

    Our organization takes in our breed from high kill shelters in rural areas (most times) with no time left. We have adopted Cesar’s methods along with many other techniques throughout the years. Do I do alpha rolls with dogs, NO, do I understand the philosophy, YES. Do our dogs respond to calm Leadership, ALWAYS.

    Most of our dogs have been purchased as a rare breed, becoming less rare unfortunately, with good intentions of training, and find themselves overwhelmed with a high powered cute fuzzy faced monster. Our job is to rehabilitate, use leadership, structured activities such as pack walks, agility, obedience to lend stability in their lives. I use energy to redirect, and most times do not have to lay a finger on the dog.

    We educate the public in our community to read his books, watch his educational DVD’s, and even subtle changes such as not allowing the dog to sleep on the bed, claim toys or objects that the animal may be possessive of, and not to become emotional with confrontations between dogs, but to simply take charge. And lots of exercise, discipline (obedience work), and affection in that order.
    I see Cesar’s philosophy very effective with our strong breed, as do many other rescue clubs I work with.

    If an individual uses techniques without the aid of a professional, then that is really going to get them into trouble. We always suggest as the show does, to get the help of a certified professional in their area. Throwing treats to a growling dog that refuses to get off of the couch for example is reinforcing this behavior. Sad but we did get a dog recently that owners through the advice of a behaviorist were actually rewarding bad behavior. We took the dog into our rescue after the owners had spent 1200.00 on in house training from a purely positive trainer/behaviorist, and a 12 page report advising euthanasia on the last page.

    With calm leadership, and communicating to the dog what we wanted, lots of exercise…playtime…structured pack walks with other well balanced social dogs, he changed completely. He now goes to our dog club’s doggie daycare, the dog park daily, and is a changed dog. He was adopted by a middle aged couple with a very well balanced calm dog that has helped him also.

    We do use treat based methods/rewards, especially with the puppies or dogs that never had the chance to work for something….Heck, I wouldn’t work for no pay either. We wean the dogs off of the treats with praise as they get the idea that “yes, I want to please you! You’re a fun person!” Many trainers of our field breed “force Break” our dogs, and I have found this not always to be effective, or I get better results with reward methods. As on Cesar’s DVD “Sit and Stay Cesar’s Way.”

  8. Mary Sorenson says:

    In this paragraph,”The dog chasing the cat (was that the German Sheperd piece?) was the only
    case of the three where the dog actually became dominant/aggressive in its
    behaviors. The dog was protective of the family and overly territorial and had
    bitten neighbors. It had also attacked the cat. Was it trying to “dominate”
    the cat? Not necessarily – it could simply have been an overdeveloped prey
    drive – but it certainly did see the cat as an interloper in the family “pack.”
    This was another case where professionals had recommended the dog be destroyed,
    despite the fact that it was gentle and loving around the family.” It seems the dog lacks leadership which I support in Cesar Millans techniques or methods. I had a German Shepard Mix his name was Pepper. I wish I knew then what I know now with Cesar’s Way. He was like the dog here,protective,territorial,seemed aggressive at times. You couldn’t discipline him,he would show you his teeth and growl,pulled on the walk,laid on the furniture,bed. I didn’t know of Cesar’s Way. It’s not who is dominant,it’s who is leader, Pack Leader. Pepper was fine with us,always laid submitted,but showed lack of leadership. I didn’t know of boundaries,rules and limitations,and the correct way of walking him,that’s all Pepper needed,as with this dog. The dog I have now is a Yellow Labrador Retriever,I have used Cesar’s Way with him and I have no problems with walking him,or in the house. I learned it online with the Sessions With Cesar course,and I also purchased his DVD’s.

  9. Tammy Hartwig says:

    Hi Deborah ~

    Thanks for allowing replies to your opinions.
    I have yet to really figure out why this subject keeps coming up as, I would have thought that this subject would have died off by now but, since it hasn’t i thought I’d chime in on this one.

    For most cases of ordinary canine misbehavior, Cesar now prefers the term, “leadership” as his general solution. True leadership is loving, and performed with calm assertive confidence and energy. It may not even require any sound or touch to be effective. But Cesar detractors still find it easier to tar him with the negative brush of being “the dominance Nazi”, and I suppose they always will. Fortunately, he doesn’t let such negativity get in the way of saving more dogs’ lives.

    I truly don’t understand why others want to try and tear apart a man that has only done good in the dog world and saved MANY lives, lives of dogs that any one else would have recommended euthanasia. How can this be a bad thing?

    I have used Cesar’s Way, as well as others, to rehabilitate many dogs that I’ve fostered. After all, “anything that works that doesn’t harm the dog”. This statement alone does not sound anything like “My way is the ONLY way” or, any kind of Nazism I’ve ever known. I have never heard him say anything negative about others or their way of doing things and, I suspect you haven’t either.

    A few years ago I took in a Pit Bull mix that was going to be euthanized if I was unable to rehabilitate him. Using Cesar’s Way, I did one better. I adopted him myself 8 months in and put him to work. Thirteen months after bringing him home he became my service dog (I have MS). We do school visits and weekly hospital and nursing home visits. This is an AWESOME dog that would have been put down if not for Cesar and, there are thousands of other such stories. Cesar’s Way may not be the only way but, it DOES work.

    Tammy Hartwig

  10. Betty says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  11. I have to say I do find it worrying that CM advocates seem to think Cesar is the only person out there in this big world, taking on and saving last chance dogs. This is simply incorrect.

    I think Cesar is a smart guy, he has touched on an area that all dog lovers have very strong feelings about, saving the last chance dog, he’s tapped in to an emotional issue (no pun intended).

    So of course I can completely understand why advocates think he’s a wonderful guy, saving all these dogs. But does this mean the end justifies the means?

    Not only are Cesar’s methods outdated, but his “pack theory” as a behavioural model is flawed. Our ancestors didn’t tame the dog at all. The dog most likely tamed himself. Besides, the dog’s ancestor isn’t the mighty grey wolf of Discovery Channel. That wolf didn’t exist yet when the dog began to split off into a new species — the grey wolf as he is today had yet to evolve, just as the domestic dog did.

    What you need to imagine is a much smaller animal, who had already split off from the wolf family line, some 200,000–500,000
    years ago. This ancestor wasn’t a specialised hunter like the wolf is, but rather what biologists call a ‘generalist’ — an animal that is not limited to one special food source or environment, but that can adapt to various situations. This smaller ancestor probably looked somewhat like the dingo and other primitive dogs who still live in the wild today. It may not have been a pack animal. In fact, pack living is rare among canids. So, like most of the generalist canids we see today, the dog’s ancestor probably lived in pairs and temporary family groups, able to deal both with being together and with being alone.

    The dog and the wolf are related to each other in the same way you are related to your sixth cousin, and in the same way we are all related to some other types of primates (monkeys and apes). We share an ancestor, that’s all.

    A dog is, above all, a dog, and its genes will not make it behave like a wolf. What we need to do if we want to understand dogs is look at dogs.

    A few researchers have taken the trouble to study dogs, going out to follow free-living dogs around and watch what these dogs do. One study of free-ranging urban dogs showed the following:

    • More than half of the dogs wandered around town alone.
    • About 26% of the dogs had a special buddy they hung out with for a while.
    • About 16% of the dogs travelled in groups of three, in which members came and went with time.
    • Less than 2% of the dogs moved around in larger groups.

    In general Cesar thinks many behavioural problems that domestic dogs present are based on dominance. Why? Because he says dogs are likes wolves, live in packs, and behave like wolves. this is incorrect.

    Well it will probably surprise you to hear that we now know (thanks
    to Dr L. David Mech) that even wolves do not live in a dominance hierarchy. To live in a dominance hierarchy, and to base your behaviour towards others on who has which rank, you have to be able to do quite a bit of abstract thinking. You’d have to have a map of the social structure in your head, in which you are comparing various ranks with each other and assigning these ranks to yourself and others. Neither the wolf nor the dog has the large frontal lobes in the brain that would enable them to think in such abstract terms.

    The idea of dogs in a dominance hierarchy with an absolute Alpha leader at the top has its origins in ideology rather than in the real behaviour of dogs. This may be a rather uncomfortable thing for all of us to acknowledge, but this fiction about dogs has caused so much suffering that it is high time to call it for what it is and to dump it. The quicker we do this, the less shame on us.

    Most behavioural problems that domestic dogs present are based on fear, mistrust, anxiety, stress, boredom, confusion, perceived danger, frustration, lack of socialisation (and hence lack of social skills and fear), etc.

    I personally do not think it is correct, humane, or productive to apply punishment, corrections, force, etc., to any behavioural problem a dog is presenting, even a last chance dog.

    Yes, positive methods do work for last chance dogs. A behaviourist using positive methods would first evaluate and access the dog, and take a full history.

    During this process the behaviourist would also find out what the dogs finds rewarding, what motivates him. Food is not always the best option when working with extreme fear aggression (initially), so other options need to be sought, but there will always be other options.

    Then you begin a systematic program of desensitisation and counter conditioning using positive reinforcement (using whatever the dog finds rewarding), always working with the dog sub threshold. This is of course not easy to do, you have to use your brain, you have to think, be quick, and flexible with your approach. You have to have a thorough understanding of canine body language will all its subtleties. But to think that positive methods do not work for extreme cases is incorrect.

    Yes, our dogs need leadership. Leadership lets the dog know what it may do. Leadership provides the basis for social cooperation, interactive harmony, stability, and confidence. Leadership constitutes the leader-follower dimension of the human-canine bond.

    Many people associate the concept of leadership with dominance or social status, however it is neither of these things. What leadership is, is a person’s ability to successfully direct, influence, and manage a dog (or dogs) for the mutual benefit of both parties.

    This requires appreciating and accepting your dog’s individual temperament and needs, recognising what your dog is good at and setting it up for success, knowing how to get the best out of your dog by finding out what motivates him, and getting your dog to want to work for you.

    For example, using force (or threats of force) to ensure that a dog never walks in front of you is not leadership. It is actually saying, when you walk in front of me, your progress will always be halted. This makes it a dominance issue. What makes it leadership is when the “may not walk in front” is followed with a “may walk beside or behind” paired with a cue such as ‘close‘, followed by “may only walk in front on cue”, such as “walk on”.

    If the bond between you and your dog is strong, you can easily lead from the back, and your dog will happily follow from the front rather than simply avoid walking in front of you in order to escape a correction.

    Dominance is force… leadership is influence, what kind of relationship do you want to have with your dog(s).

  12. Patty says:

    I think the problem between the two sides is that since we are certain that we are right we don’t try to really understand the other side. I’m thankful that so many of you commented expressing the benefits of CM. There are a couple things I still wonder about though.

    The thing about training is doing things with repetition. In Positive training if you screw up a bit and don’t do it perfectly, you may not see results right away, but you haven’t put yourself in a position to get bitten. There are methods to try first that could be effective but I feel people that like Caesar don’t seem to do the research in other methods. Why spank a child without first trying different ways of correcting them? Throwing chicken bits at a dog that is guarding a couch isn’t really how I think positive reinforcement trainers would do it. Like I mentioned above, I don’t exactly know how Caesar would do it either and I can’t find out because I’m not going to pay the subscription money to figure out “his Way”

    If your dog expects treats after you give it a command, what is the big deal? Give him a treat. Don’t give him a treat. I suppose the more you don’t give him one the less likely he is to “expect one”. If you are dominate of your dog, then why can’t you dominate him to make him sit too?

    Sure Cesar helps dogs. We all are helping dogs. I don’t think that anyone really has a problem with his loyalty and dedication to dogs. I just have a problem with people that choose to hurt a dog over ways that don’t hurt them because they decided to check out a show on TV or they don’t educate themselves on the way animals learn.

    I agree with the bike analogy as well, but if “his way” is not so user friendly that just any person can try it, then maybe it shouldn’t be on TV. Maybe it’s should only be for the professionals to try.

  13. Once again I have to say to CM fans that those of us who are opposed to his techniques, understand them. They are not new and they may be repackaged and spiffed up with new age terms and lingo, but it’s still 19th century training dragged into the 21st. The idea that trainers and other professionals speak out against his techniques because they stand to profit by it would be funny if it wasn’t written so seriously.
    Dog trainers across the country are dealing with the messes that his techniques, even when used correctly, are creating. If anything Cesar has created more business for trainers and behaviorists, but believe me, it’s business we’d rather not have.

    There are great trainers out there helping and rehabbing ‘red zone’ dogs. They don’t have TV shows or product lines but they exist and their way does not include the physical overpowering of terrified dogs. As much as I believe Cesar cares about dogs at some point he can’t keep passing out handguns with the warning not to use them and not be responsible when someone gets their head blown off.

  14. Thanks for the thoughtful article. I have just a few comments on the comments above.

    When they show CM getting bitten, do you really think he intended to get bitten to prove some point? Or is it that, even if you are a person who intimately understands these methods, you are likely to be bitten?

    I have very little fear of being bitten by my clients, even the ones that I know have bitten many people, including trainers, in the past. Why? Because the techniques I use to rehabilitate aggression do not force the dog into the Red Zone, but rather give the dog a way to simply learn and get better.

    Secondly, if your dog expects a treat every time he sits and that’s not what you wanted, you just haven’t really understood how reward-based training works. Research the ‘Premack Principle’ and you will see what I mean. I also have blog articles about weaning off of food treats. Off course, the beauty of it is that even though you did it wrong, there is absolutely no danger of a bite!

  15. Betty says:

    We just spent three weeks in our motorhome with our four little rescue dogs. They couldn’t have been better and we are firmly against the ‘fear/dominance’ theories. If we wanted little people, we would have adopted midgets; we wanted little dogs and they get to act like little dogs…and, they are good! Thanks so much for the insights AGAINST teaching our little furry friends to be afraid of humans!

  16. Liz Catalano says:

    Excellent post! I too am tired of fighting the CM theorists! You blog is very well put and I will send it on!

  17. Melissa says:

    I myself have worked w/ dogs and through experience believe that you can use different methods for different dogs. I have worked with several dogs through rescue that had mile long bite records with history of abuse. I have tried CM and with the dogs that are truly “red zone” I have to say it did work. I am not talking about the type of dog that many trainers refer to as there version of red zone.
    I have been told by trainers how there RED ZONE dogs bite there clients, or attack other dogs, and so forth. I wish mine were that easy. These are dogs beyond help and by court order must be put down. These dogs have no owners to work with. There in jail, dead or on the run. These are dogs that have been body slammed, burned, kicked, bones broken, (I could go on) and therefore only know how to kill. Those are RED ZONE. The true rock bottom. My last rescue dog had been beaten and kicked in the head so many times that he attacked on sight. He had a 3 strikes bite record and had an order to be put down. No ifs, ands or butts. I did use CM method and it saved his life. The dog tried to attack me several times, so I had to submit the dog to stop the attack. What people dont understand is that you submit the dog AFTER the dog attempts to attack. People think you need to put the dog on the ground just because. Thats not true. I stopped him w/out hurting him. He got up looked at me and then began to sniff me. That had never happened before because with positive reinforcement training, he attacked so the training stopped. Why? Because he saw an opportunity to kill. To kill just because. There are dogs out there who will kill. No sniffing, no petting, no nothing.Once a dog attacks a trainer, no one wants to work with him (which is understandable) and the trainer will suggest to the courts that the rescue has to have the dog destroyed. Once he tries to attack, the gate closes and no one can work with him. It never went passed that. I did have to reinforce dominance to prevent another attack, but dominance does not mean cruelty. Thats where people get confused.
    It is so easy to work with dogs that you purchase from a breeder who have issues brought on by there owners, but try working with the dogs that are truly rock bottom. In time my rescue dog learned how to trust and love me through CM training, however when I took him to be assessed for adoption, I asked the assessor not to coddle or give the dog treats, she rolled her eyes and began to use treats and a baby voice . When Bubba(my rescue dog ) no longer got treats for doing what she wanted, he tried to attack her. Like I said, different methods for different dogs. Thank the LORD that in time he became a wonderful dog and had his destroy order revoked. He now lives with another female dog living the life of luxury.
    Please know that I do believe in positive reinforcement, but there are dogs out there that are beyond that type of simple training and if CM training works for them, then I will use it to save a dogs life.

  18. […] Positive Reinforcement What is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training? Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Training Dismantling Cesar’s House of Dominance […]

  19. He is simply just so cool!

  20. Mike in Tacoma says:

    I’m a dog owner, and I’m becoming an amateur trainer, inspired by the aggression issues of my favorite dog. I started with the traditional, coercion / force model of training; and I thought some of what I saw Cesar doing made sense, and I tried to integrate it into my training, with mostly disappointing results. Over time, I have migrated away from that, to a science-based / behaviorist model — positive reinforcement with an event marker (“clicker” training as popularized by Karen Pryor and others). I find that it works much better.

    But I’ve observed a few people who are evidently intelligent, and who in some cases are familiar, perhaps even proficient, with “clicker” training, yet still buy into Cesar Millan’s “pack dominance” and “balanced energy” models of training. And according to them, they’ve been having more success with it than they did without it.

    And frankly, because it runs so contrary to my own experience, it has been puzzling the $#!+ out of me. This is what I’ve come up with to explain it: Cesar’s “pack alpha” model can provide a thoughtful trainer with an informal framework to use when deciding what behaviors to reward and punish. (Kind of like a training plan, but less rigorous.) And the emphasis on leadership gives permission — even the obligation — to execute the reward or punishment with swiftness; good timing, in other words, which we all know is crucial to effective training.

    I haven’t yet figured out what the emphasis on “energy” is good for; but many CM fans seem to swear by it. One guy told me it’s equivalent to “qi” or “ki” from Asian philosophy and martial arts (as in, aikido); but I’m skeptical. Maybe it just reminds people to stay calm, which would be a good thing.

    • Hi Mike

      Your comment is timely, and thank you, by the way, for writing. Two things:

      1) Last Friday (July 30) Time Mag published an article debunking dominance theory as it pertains to dogs. Here’s the link http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2007250,00.html.

      2) Believe it or not I sorta understand the energy stuff. In fact, positive trainers reference the concept when they talk about the emotional state of the person traveling down the leash to the dog. For example, if the dog is fearful of other dogs and the person sees a dog approaching and “clutches” and stops breathing and becomes tense, the dog will pick that up and become tense as well. You have probably had the experience of being, I know I have, of being around people who are agitated and then you start to feel agitated yourself. Alternatively, there are times I have felt stressed out and frantic and I’ve met a friend who is easy going and takes everything in stride and just being around her makes me feel better. I don’t know whether or not that is what CM is talking about, but that’s my experience.

      Good luck with your training!

  21. Mike in Tacoma says:

    Thanks for the Time link, Deborah. (I’ll add it to my collection of stuff to mention next time the CM zealots are posting on the forum I help moderate.)

    Regarding energy, tenseness, emotional state — I think everyone agrees that calmness (genuine calmness, not learned helplessness) is a Good Thing, and anxiety can be transmissible from handler to dog (a precursor to Bad Things). Though I am philosophically sympathetic to the idea of “energy” flowing among living beings, like the Star Wars “the Force,” I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how a dog can pick up on the handler’s emotions.

    Tensing the leash can be enough to cue a dog’s reactive response (which is why some handlers train themselves to relax the leash in stressful situations; and why some dog owners train their dogs that Tense Leash is a cue for calmness and happy emotions). Also, I’ve come to believe that sense of smell is a primary route for transmitting emotional “energy” to dogs, and not one we can easily control. (Except maybe with regular meditation, or yoga or something.)

    We know that dogs can smell cancer-related chemicals on people’s breath. I think the old saying about how dogs can “smell fear” is literally true — I think they can smell what hormones are circulating in our bloodstream. (I’ve recently had reason to think that, to a lesser extent, people smell these things too; but we’re not very aware of it. But it’s something to consider the next time you find yourself suddenly and uncharacteristically angry with someone.) So, I speculate that if the handler has an adrenaline dump, the dog may light up even though the leash is slack, and even before directly sensing whatever it was that triggered the handler’s anxiety. Metaphysical “negative energy” not required.

    As a fan of Taoism, I think this sort of “energy” may be real. I’m just skeptical that Cesar’s talk of “balanced energy” has much practical meaning that we couldn’t also get from “take deep breaths, clear your mind, and try to relax” and “be conscious of the social pressure you exert through proximity and body language”.

    • Hi Mike

      Thank you replying so thoughtfully. I agree with you about “balanced” energy. It really makes not practical sense to me. I like your quote. Now that does make sense and is a nice exercise in mindfulness :-)

Leave a Reply