Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer's Most Controversial Topics
Cesar Millan is the host of the popular show The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. Cesar Millan is a charismatic and very entertaining host, and he has made The Dog Whisperer into a big favorite amongst many dog owners.
As a result, he has many fans that implement his techniques on their house pets.
There are some who feel that The Dog Whisperer's dog training techniques are overly harsh and inappropriate for novice trainers (most pet owners).
In this article, I examine some of the most popular discussions from The Dog Whisperer's proponents and opponents.
1. Are Cesar Millan's techniques humane?
Cesar Millan's techniques are humane because that is what wolves or dogs do to each other.
There is some disagreement as to whether wolves or wild dogs alpha roll each other. From watching my dogs, it seems that they do.
Sometimes my Shiba Inu will correct my Siberian Husky when she bites him a bit too hard. He squeals, and then goes after her, tumbles her onto her side, and holds her neck. This happens quickly and efficiently, and then they start playing again. Sometimes, he will tumble my Husky multiple times in a row, at which point I will step in and separate them for a while.
Whether wolves or dogs do alpha rolls or not, is a moot point.
The fact is we are not wolves, or dogs; we do not have the same teeth, paws, speed, or strength that they do. Whatever alpha roll that we do will be very different from the alpha rolls that they do to each other.
In addition, just because it is done by wolves or dogs in the wild does not mean that it is acceptable behavior for a dog living in a house, and it also does not make it humane.
In the wild my Shiba would probably hunt down and kill all of the cats and squirrels that he sees. That does not mean that I will let him do that to the neighborhood cats, and that also does not mean that cat killing is particularly humane.
Cesar Millan's techniques are NOT humane because he uses aversive methods such as alpha rolls and leash jerks.
Whether something is humane or not, is often subjective and dependent on the cultural and social values of the time. Such criticisms (which are themselves, aversive techniques) are never very effective at convincing people to our point of view.
In fact, quite the opposite.
It is not very productive to scold people who are just trying to do what they think is best for their dog. It is more productive to describe the good and the bad of different dog obedience training methods, and let people decide which is most appropriate for themselves.
Personally, I find that aversive dog training is difficult to implement correctly. Under the hands of a real expert it may work well, but in the hands of a novice, it is fraught with many risks and difficulties.
Ultimately, it was just a lot easier, effective, and satisfying to only use reward training on my dogs.
2. Is Cesar Millan's program just entertainment or actually good for dogs?
Cesar Millan's program is good for dogs.
Cesar Millan communicates some good information to a large audience including how to be pack leader, how to maintain calm and assertive energy, and how to fulfill a dog's needs.
He is also a good ambassador for certain breeds like the Rottweiler and the Pit Bull which have traditionally gotten a bad dog reputation because of the irresponsibility of their human owners.
Cesar Millan's program is just for entertainment.
While there is useful information that can be gleaned from The Dog Whisperer program, there is also misinformation that can result in physical and emotional harm to both trainer and dog.
What has worked best for me is to do my own research and get all the information possible through the web, the neighborhood SPCA, and local training centers. I still watch The Dog Whisperer, It's Me or the Dog, and other dog training shows on television, but mostly because they are entertaining. It also helps to see that other owners are having similar problems with their dogs as I am having with mine.
Sometimes I will adopt an interesting technique from the shows, but only after doing my own research and discussing it with a professional trainer that I trust.
It can be dangerous and detrimental to our dog, to follow anything we see on television shows, without first doing thorough research of our own.
Cesar Millan is so charismatic and popular, that unfortunately, many follow his techniques without first exploring alternative methods and without fully understanding all the risks involved. Some dog breeders, vet technicians, and dog trainers use and teach others to use alpha rolls for a wide variety of situations, and even on puppies!
This is very unfortunate, as such extreme techniques cause a great amount of stress, especially on young dogs. They may hurt a puppy's social and emotional development, and bring about behavioral problems down the road.
Cesar Millan has an amazing, natural sense for dogs, and is able to execute the proper techniques, with perfect timing, at the proper force, and for the right reasons.
However, this is not true of most people.
Therefore, Millan has a great responsibility to all of his viewers, to make clear the risks involved from using his techniques (especially the leash jerk and the alpha roll). He should be extremely explicit on when to and when not to apply his methods.
3. Should dogs be walked the Cesar Millan way?
Dogs should always be walked the Cesar Millan way, i.e. at a heel position.
Cesar Millan recommends that dogs be walked in a heel position at all times. According to Cesar Millan, this will help establish and maintain leadership during walks.
There should be some breaks during these walks but the breaks are always at the discretion of the human.
Many trainers, even reward obedience trainers, also believe in having this level of control. With greater structure during walks, there is less danger of aggression in the presence of other dogs, cats, or squirrels; there is less danger of eating something poisonous or harmful; and there is less pulling.
Dogs should usually be walked on a loose-leash.
Dogs may need more structure during walks when they are young. However, I am a great believer of loose-leash walking.
I train my Shiba Inu to walk on a loose leash most of the time, and only shorten the leash when I need to, for example, when there are dogs or cats nearby. I do "the walk" purely for my dog's enjoyment, and since I do not know where the most interesting smells are, I let him roam and smell where he likes best.
My Shiba can be aggressive to other dogs, so when there are dogs or cats about, I shorten the leash and quickly walk him away. He is happy with loose leash walking and he gets to smell, hunt lizards, and explore the places that are most interesting to him.
When he was younger, I was a bit more strict with leash training, and placed him in a heel position more frequently.
However, he enjoys his walks a lot more now, and does not behave any worse than when I exerted greater control.
Which walk technique works best depends on our temperament, our dog's temperament, the environment, and how much time we have to devote to the walk. We can cover a lot more ground and thus expend more of our dog's energy in a short time if we walk in a brisk heel. However, it may not be as interesting or stimulating for our dog.
Once a dog learns to walk without pulling, consider rewarding him by letting him walk on a loose leash more frequently. We can always go back to a more controlled walk if he starts acting out.
4. Are Cesar Millan's methods needed for aggressive dogs?
Cesar Millan's aversive methods are necessary for aggressive dogs that are about to be destroyed.
Some people point out that aversive dog training is necessary for the real problem dogs. Some dogs, they argue, may not respond to reward dog training because it is too soft and may not get the message through. Furthermore, if a dog is about to be destroyed, it may be better to use aversive methods to quickly improve his behavior rather than let him be destroyed.
Cesar Millan must often deal with owners who are about to give up on their dog, and/or cannot spend much time in fixing all of their dog's issues.
In addition, owners may not be able to afford a professional trainer for long periods of time which may be needed for reward methods. Aversive methods, they say, may cause some discomfort; but certain lessons must be learned for the safety of the dog. For example, no running in front of a car, and no biting on strangers.
Being seriously injured from a car accident or forced euthanasia for aggression is worse than any aversive method.
Reward dog training works better especially for aggressive dogs.
There was a really enjoyable program, Growing up Grizzly hosted by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, on Animal Planet. This program shows how grizzly bears can be effectively trained with only reward obedience training.
If bears and other wild animals can be trained in this way, certainly large and aggressive dogs can as well.
Traditional trainers used to apply aversive methods on wild animals, e.g. whips for training tigers and lions. More recently, however, animal trainers have found that reward methods that are based on positive reinforcement rather than positive punishment, are more effective at getting animals to perform.
Such animals are happier, more eager to please, and less likely to become dangerous.
In fact this University of Pennsylvania 2009 study shows that 1 in every 4 dogs that are trained with aversive methods exhibits aggression during training.
Contrary to common belief, aversive methods do not lessen aggression in dogs, but may actually encourage it.
Cesar Millan and Pack Leadership
A common misconception is that pack leadership can only be achieved with forceful aversive methods.
Although Cesar Millan does not explicitly say this in his program, it comes through implicitly with the techniques he uses (leash corrections and alpha rolls), that achieves leadership through physical dominance.
The belief that certain problem, aggressive, or dominant dogs can only be cured through physically forceful aversive methods is just not true. It is a myth, perpetuated by traditional trainers and by shows like The Dog Whisperer.
Many trainers have successfully rehabilitated aggressive dogs with reward methods. For example, dog trainers in the DogTown animal sanctuary were able to rehabilitate Michael Vick's fighting Pit Bulls using only reward obedience training.
It is true that reward methods may take longer before showing results, but the results are much better and last for a lifetime.
The most powerful argument for using aversive methods is that they may get the dog to respond more promptly and more consistently. This may be required for working dogs, and/or may save a dog's life in an emergency situation, e.g. yelling stop when a loose dog is crossing a busy street.
It seems to me that a working dog will be happier and more industrious when he is working for rewards, rather than when he is working to avoid punishment. As for the emergency situation, prevention is always much better than cure.
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