A while back Eve Alexander wrote an excellent article extolling the virtues of a TV dog trainer Cesar Milan. Her article went through his 10 great contributions. I thought I’d write this article to give another side of the story, taking the 10 points one by one as Eve did.
1. Cesar says dogs are perfect. Fix the way the owner interacts with the dog and you often fix the behavior problem. While this is sometimes true, it’s nothing new or unique to Mr. Milan. Dog trainers have been saying for decades that they train owners not dogs, so Cesar hasn’t created a shift in anything, he’s just following the flow. And not all dogs are perfect. Some have chemical imbalances that require more than just a change in owner/dog relationship.
2. Dogs need exercise, Cesar says. Again, this is not a revelation. All trainers regardless of methods used agree on one point “A tired dog is a good dog”. One of the things that trainers do disagree about is what constitutes appropriate exercise. The majority don’t think tying a dog up to a treadmill is appropriate exercise. It’s mind numbingly boring. (Which is why human treadmills come with built in book racks, TV and DVD programs.) Mr. Milan’s use of a treadmill for a dog is nothing new either. A famous upscale catalog was selling treadmills wide enough for a dog and a human years ago. There are much safer and healthier ways to provide exercise for your dog.
3. Cesar is also a big advocate of dog socialization. Again, nothing new here. I don’t know a single dog trainer who disagrees with this. Veterinarians sometimes do but thanks to the work of Ian Dunbar even the veterinary world is changing their advice on early socialization. They are making the change because of studies done by professionals not on the advice of TV dog trainers.
Socializing and relaxing after extreme exercise. (Wild puppy play!)
4. Cesar says dog owners need to be calm and assertive. The article goes on to describe the problems when an owner gets frustrated and manhandles a dog, scolding them and jerking on their collars. The odd thing is that these are the exact methods Mr. Milan uses. Webster’s defines assertive as “positive or confident in a persistent way”. I think Webster’s definition of aggressive suits Mr. Milan’s methods better “a ruthless desire to dominate”.
5. That dogs need to be calm and submissive to learn is a huge part of Cesar’s philosophy. I’m not sure that either one of these is true. For one thing many trainers think a dog is being submissive when actually the dog has shut down. For fear of punishment, either physical or scolding the dog is afraid to try anything, they are vacant, they have left the building so to speak. Even if a dog is truly submissive, not afraid at all, I’m not sure you have to be calm to learn. I’ve seen too many kids during my years of teaching jumping up at down with excitement while grasping bit by bit new concepts. I’ve seen dogs in agility barely able to stay still as they get so excited to try a new trick. One thing is for sure; you can’t learn well when you are scared or fear being punished for getting it wrong.
6. Rules Boundaries and Limitations. Eve does an excellent job in her article explaining what this means; respecting a dog, not overwhelming them, working them at their own pace, etc. The thing is Mr. Milan doesn’t follow these guidelines. He has been condemned by professionals for using antiquated psychological techniques. Techniques that not only don’t help a dog but can cause more harm, as is shown with his misuse of the technique “flooding”.
7. Cesar learns from other trainers. Really???? This is what Cesar says about other trainers. “To each his own,” says Mr. Milan, whose favored “tssst” sound is a correction heard around the world. “It’s just that I think I know something you might not know,” he says. “An open minded human can learn from anybody.”
8. Cesar is not a “macho man”, Eve states in her article. Giving as an example his relationship with his wife. I don’t know anything about his relationship with his wife but I have seen him demean women on his TV show. He implies that men are just better than women with dogs. In one episode I swear he was getting ready to pat the “little woman” on the knee. I expected to hear him say “there, there, you can’t help being the inferior sex”. And here’s the thing, I actually tell my clients that men are usually better than women with dogs but then I go on to tell them why. It has nothing to do with one sex being better; it has to do with the differences between the sexes. Men move about the world in a more physical way, they swing their arms and they take long strides. Studies have shown that the average woman talks more than the average man. They use more words. So men will usually have no problem with short sharp cues such as “sit”, while women are more likely to say “Wouldn’t you like to sit down? Sitting down is a great thing to do”. Because dogs communicate physically rather than verbally they respond to men better. There is no reason women can’t easily learn this and put it into practice. My clients do it all the time and they do it without feeling condescended to.
Even very young women can successfully train dogs!
9. Cesar is a philanthropist who shares his good fortune. That may well be and good for him! It has no bearing on his dog training ability however.
10. Cesar is a self made man. According to Wikipedia Milan illegally crossed the border into the US when he was 21 years old spoke no English and knew no one in America. I’m not sure what to make of this statement. My grandmother came here from Scotland as an immigrant in her 20’s. She entered the country legally. I happen to think our borders should be open and immigrants allowed to flow in as easily as they did in my grandmothers time. The fact is that the law is different now and I am uneasy about Mr. Milan bragging about flouting authority. It seems this attitude crosses over into his dog training philosophy.
Please follow the links provided for humane alternatives to Cesar Milan’s methods. Also check out some of the top trainers not listed in the links: Patricia McConnell, Suzanne Clothier, Turid Rugaas. It’s possible to train your dog and feel good about it at the same time – for both you and your dog!