Evaluating Cesar Millan's Dog Rehabilitation Methods

Say NO to coercion and say YES to rewards

Is an alpha roll coming? pleaazze...I cant' watch that!
Is an alpha roll coming? pleaazze...I cant' watch that! | Source

Cesar Kicking Dogs

Dog lovers watching the television show ''The Dog Whisperer'' are often amazed of how charismatic Cesar Millan rehabilitates dogs using his special charm and what he calls ''calm, assertive, energy'', however, the art of rehabilitating dogs is certainly not something that can realistically be accomplished in such a short period of time, especially when durable results are desired. Learn more about his rehabilitation methods and why they are often a topic of strong debates.

Evaluating The Dog Whisperer's Rehabilitation Methods

Cesar Millan may appear to have the magical touch of an ''illusionist'' when it comes to rehabilitating dogs, but things shown on television can often be deceiving. Often, scenes are cut out, and of course, as mentioned, no dog can be realistically ''fixed'' in a half-hour episode. Following are some considerations to keep in mind, and several reasons why Cesar is frowned upon by many dog trainers and dog behaviorists.

  • A State of Helplessness

Cesar's rehabilitation efforts often show dogs which in his words are responding to his ''calm assertive'' energy . As much as this appears to be an almost magical approach, most likely dogs are instead displaying a psychological condition known as ''learned helplessness''.

Learned helplessness is a concept discovered by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. The condition tends to occur when dogs are repeatedly exposed to an aversive stimulus they cannot escape from, which causes them to surrender and resort to a ''helpless state''. To further prove this helpless state, is the fact that dogs in Cesar 's hands often display ''calming signals'', signs of stress which can be quite subtle to viewers, but of significant importance. Calming signals in layman terms, are simply a dog's way of saying through body language ''please don't hurt me''.

  • A Cookie-Cutter Approach

The Dog Whisperer's fans may often notice that Cesar uses similar approaches for most of his cases. This ''size fits all' training approach basically treats all dogs the same regardless if they are misbehaving due to aggression, hyperactivity, fear, or anxiety. Aversion-based training is a prehistoric training method, which teaches dogs to behave in order to avoid discomfort of pain, and it can have a deleterious effect on dogs, especially those acting out of fear or anxiety.

The Dog Whisperer often is also fast to label a dog ''as dominant'' a term that is overused and misused nowadays. Dogs he claims to be ''dominant'' therefore, are unjustly and wrongfully labeled as so, when in reality, they are simply acting out of fear, anxiety or other emotions.

  • Working Over Threshold Levels

One of the main problems with Cesar's behavior rehabilitation is that he works dogs "over the threshold". Because his show only lasts one hour, to attain fast results, he uses mainly flooding, a behavior modification method where a dog is fully immersed to stimuli perceived as frightening, rather than the more humane desensitization, which takes much longer. Because he works with dogs over the threshold, to gain control of the dog, he invests in kicks, alpha rolls, helicoptering and other coercion-based methods to bring the dog to a subdued, helpless state which he erroneously calls "calm submissive".

  • Aversion Based Training

Cesar's rehabilitation efforts often include aversive training methods dog trainers used about 20 or more years ago. Today, positive reinforcement training, a new philosophy adopted by a mainstream of trainers who chose to train using scientifically-approved methods, is the prevailing trend taught in reputable dog training schools.

Cesar's methods include, but are not limited to: alpha rolls, kicks, leash tugs, hanging, pinning, use of choke chains, prongs and electronic collars. Several of these training methods are downright dangerous because they may trigger a dogs' defense drive. It comes as no surprise, therefore, why the program has a disclaimer discouraging viewers from ''attempting such methods at home''. Cesar also still resorts to the " dominant alpha wolf theory", comparing dogs to wolves based on Robert's Shenkel's studies conducted in 1947 at the Zoological Institute of the university of Basel in Switzerland. To learn more about this read: Shenkel versus Mech's Studies on the Alpha Wolf Role.

Note: Following Cesar Millan's methods is also dangerous business, indeed, according to veterinarian and animal behaviorist Sophia Yin,"dog behavior experts agree that dog owners who mimic what they see on television is one of the contributing factors for the 4.7 million dog bites that occur each year."

Alan Titchmarsh defines Cesar Millan's methods 'BABARIC'

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Not all of Cesar's advice however can be condemned. In fact, some of Cesar's books contain some good advice for dog owners. He often emphasizes the importance of daily walks, which can be a blessing for dog owners who still believe dogs can stay enclosed in a yard all day and be happy. He has also helped dog breeds that have received a bad reputation, courtesy of breed specific legislation and the press.

Accusations of alleged dog abuse have however further added to the bad and the ugly of Cesar Millan's career. Doctor Nicholas Dodman, Director of Animal Behaviour Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine states that Cesar's methods are based on flooding and punishment and therefore, the results, despite being immediate, are ultimately transitory. He also claims that ''his methods are outmoded, dangerous and often inhuman and the saddest part is the public does not recognise the error of his ways".

* Dispelling the myth: Many viewers and fans of Cesar believe he is the ultimate ''Dog Whisperer''. However, not many know that this charismatic public figure is actually not the authentic one. The first, real and authentic ''Dog Whisperer'' is truly Paul Owens, a reputable dog trainer using positive training methods and author of the bestselling book ''The Dog Whisperer, Beginning, and Intermediate Training for Puppies and Dogs''.

* Note: many trainers and organizations have serious concerns over the use of aversion in dog training. According to Welfare in Dog Training "Aversive training techniques, which have been seen to be used by Cesar Millan, are based on the principle of applying an unpleasant stimulus to inhibit behavior. The use of such techniques may compromise the welfare of dogs and may worsen the behavioural problems they aim to address, potentially placing owners at considerable risk. A number of scientific studies have found an association between the use of aversive training techniques and the occurrence of undesired behaviours in dogs."

Cesar Working on a Dog Over the Threshold (see all signs of stress_

More by this Author

Comments 19 comments

bilghi profile image

bilghi 5 years ago from Samsun, Turkey

For the first time, I don't totally agree with you Alexy :) But doesn't matter. Cesar has answered these all in his new book Cesar's Rules. Please check out.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 5 years ago from USA Author

bilghi, it's ok, I do not expect everybody to disagree with his methods. I was once his fan years ago, but after becoming a positive reinforcement trainer and studying wolf and dog behavior extensively I came to realize why many of his methods are wrong. There is also a website full of trainers like me disagreeing on his methods.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Here is the website full of trainers, dog behavior experts against his methods:


Michele 4 years ago

•A Cookie-Cutter Approach

The Dog Whisperer's fans may often notice that Cesar uses similar approaches for most of his cases. This ''size fits all' training approach basically treats all dogs the same regardless if they are misbehaving due to aggression, hyperactivity, fear, or anxiety.

I like the D.W. shows because of the uniqueness of each story. The non-cookie cutter approach is what keeps me interested in Cesar's techniques.

I like that if his touch or leash correction doesn't work for a particular dog or owner, he moves on to another option. Even if it may not be his first choice. He's not afraid of looking 'wrong'.

I have learned that my relationship with my dog is my own and doesn't need to look like any other.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Well, dogs are unique and as so they need to be trained differently one from another. Cesar has been treating fearful, anxious, stressed dogs as dominant dogs with deleterious effects. You really see this when you get acquainted with the dynamics of learning theory and body language. It took me to become a trainer to realize the harm done to the emotional state of these dogs. Google "beyond cesar millan" to get countless reports by trainers why his methods are dangerous, outdated and harmful.

afriqnet profile image

afriqnet 4 years ago from Nairobi Kenya

Of late I have been thinking about Cesar Millan ways and how I can employ them to train my dog. I have been just evaluating what is good for my dog and what is not. I have enjoyed reading your Hub. Thanks for sharing.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Another great source is Beyond Cesar Millan, you will find there articles and posts from some well-respected trainers and applied animal behaviorists that explain why his methods are not as good as they seem.

Sally 4 years ago

The dog you are showing in the video is explained to be wolf-dog hybrid. So when Cesar talks about wolf it's because this particluar dog has actually been bred from modern day wolves. He doesn't refer to domestic dogs as wolves and he certainly doesn't follow the alpha pack theory you accuse him of following. Please watch the shows and read his books so you can understand what Cesar's philosophy is. The alpha pack theory which is based the alpha wolf displaying aggressive behaviour to size down opponents is not what Cesar practises. When he talks of pack, he talks about leaders and family. He states that the whole family need to be leaders to their dogs and must have a consistent approach. He is never aggressive to dogs or wolf-dog hybrids as his whole philosophy about calm assertive energy is to look at your behaviour and make sure you are not being aggressive or frustrated or angry when you train your dog. He does not condone any form of action that comes from these emotions like hitting, shouting angrily etc.. None of Cesars techniques come from an aggressive state of mind and when he does touch animals he makes sure to remain calm and yes, his methods are quick, he does not believe in putting an animal under prolonged stress, if a method he uses does not work for that particular dog then he tries a different approach. Cesar uses a wide range of respected techniques, such as reward based techniques and assesses each case individually. the video you diplay is of an aggressive dog-hybrid and quite specific. He does not use a one- method fits all strategy at all, quite the opposite. Please watch his shows to find this out for yourself. And stop misinterpreting the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan and actually listen to what he is saying. Trying to discredit someone who has done so much good for dogs worldwide and for owners is not in the best interests of people and dogs. All I ask is to please go back and do your research and look at things objectively before jumping to inaccurate conclusions. Thank you.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

I have read his books, watched his videos and am appalled by his methods. Please educate yourself on how a reputable behaviorist would deal with aggression problems. Please learn about changes a dog's emotions, counterconditioning, and working under threshold. There are thousands of professionals who have saved dog's lives and live in the shadow (I have saved several) and nobody knows about them. I am sorry the methods he uses are unacceptable today and we have had enough of it.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Please read these articles and understand why his methods are so dangerous and unjust. People watch his videos and are too fast to consider him as a god to be worshiped, but they fail to see many things that only a professional can see. I used to like him but once I got an education in dog behavior and training I see why his methods are so faulted, and still as today , I meet his fans that get bit by their dogs and I need to work on real rehabilitation and show them there are better ways. Real dog behavior modification is not for show and definitively is not good television material, it's tedious work done over months. I am appalled people find his methods acceptable and humane:(


reptilia profile image

reptilia 4 years ago

Great hub, completely agree. :)

csk 4 years ago

alexadry, can u show a video of you training such hybrid?

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Csk, if I had such an animal in my hands, I would have dealt with this in a totally different way. Here is how an animal behaviorist would have dealt with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUCl6ndLN7Q

Karen 3 years ago

It was actually Pavlov who first described 'conditioned helplessness' when he confined dogs, and a few seconds after the warning sound, shocked them.

They quickly learned that they couldn't avoid or escape the shock and cowered down in expectation of it, making no further attempts at escape.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Hello Karen,

My references all point to Seligman as the person who discovered learned helplessness. Perhaps it was based on Pavlov's conditioning, but when I googled "Pavlov conditioned helplessness" I couldn't find any literature of this nor Pavlov using shock. Could you please provide me a link? I wasn't aware of Pavlov using shock, only bells and tones! Thanks

ryan 3 years ago

I am appalled by these videos I'm not a fan of Cesars but have watched a few episodes and thought he was great with dogs. I've been hearing about his controversial ways in trying but now I can honestly say I will never think of him as a dog whisperer again. Never noticed him kicking dogs and scaring them into submission

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

The words "dog whispering" seem to imply gentle training methods when his are completely not. I have included an interview by Alan Titchmarsh confronting him for his brutal methods.

Lynsey 2 years ago

Well done on writing this. Sometimes it seems hopeless to try to fight misinformation and ignorance when it comes to dog behaviour. It is both depressing and infuriating how many people believe in Cesar Milan and other, similar dog trainers. There are so many things wrong with what he is doing. I don't want to sound harsh but the general public usually don't have a clue. I can't wait for a time when most people are well-informed about how to interact with and train dogs!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

We need more programs showing how behavior modification can be accomplished through non-aversive techniques, but the major fault would be that such programs may be tedious and miss that "suspense" typical of Millan's shows, such as when he sends dogs over threshold and risks being bitten by the " dangerous beast." It's a shame that his show is just a money-making revenue with no interest in educating the public how behavior modification can be accomplished by force-free techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article