What the experts say about "The Dog Whisperer" (Cesar Millan)

edited December 2010 in Behavior & Training
Taken from this source: http://www.urbandawgs.com/divided_profession.html

Dr. Nicholas Dodman - Professor and Head, Section of Animal Behavior
Director of Behavior Clinic, Tufts University - Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

"Cesar Millan's methods are based on flooding and punishment. The results, though immediate, will be only transitory. His methods are misguided, outmoded, in some cases dangerous, and often inhumane. You would not want to be a dog under his sphere of influence. The sad thing is that the public does not recognize the error of his ways. My college thinks it is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years."

Jean Donaldson, The San Francisco SPCA-Director of The Academy for Dog Trainers
"Practices such as physically confronting aggressive dogs and using of choke collars for fearful dogs are outrageous by even the most diluted dog training standards. A profession that has been making steady gains in its professionalism, technical sophistication and humane standards has been greatly set back. I have long been deeply troubled by the popularity of Mr. Millan as so many will emulate him. To co-opt a word like ‘whispering’ for arcane, violent and technically unsound practice is unconscionable."

Dr. Suzanne Hetts, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., Littleton, Colorado

"A number of qualified professionals have voiced concern for the welfare of pet dogs that experience the strong corrections administered by Mr. Millan. My concerns are based on his inappropriateness, inaccurate statements, and complete fabrications of explanations for dog behavior. His ideas, especially those about "dominance", are completely disconnected from the sciences of ethology and animal learning, which are our best hope for understanding and training our dogs and meeting their behavioral needs. Many of the techniques he encourages the public to try are dangerous, and not good for dogs or our relationships with them ."

Vyolet Michaels, CTC, CPDT (Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Counselor)
Owner of Urban Dawgs, LLC of Red Bank, NJ

"Cesar Millan employs outdated methods that are dangerous and inhumane. Using a choke chain and treadmill to treat fear of strangers and dogs is completely inappropriate. Hopefully the National Geographic Channel will listen to the scientific community and discontinue production of The Dog Whisperer."

Janis Bradley, Instructor at The San Franciso SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers
Author of the book, "Dogs Bite"

"On his TV show, the main method Millan uses for aggression is aversives (leash jerks, kicks, snaps of the hand against the neck, and restraint, among others) applied non contingently. The aversives are non contingent because they are so frequent that they're not connected to any particular behavior on the part of the dog—the dog gets popped pretty much constantly. This results in a state called learned helplessness, which means the animal hunkers down and tries to do as little as possible. This is what Millan calls "calm submission." It's exactly the same thing you see in a rat in a Skinner box that is subjected to intermittent shocks it can do nothing to avoid. This can happen quite fast, by the way, shall we say in ten minutes? The dangers to the dog are obvious, ranging from chronic stress to exacerbating the aggression, i.e., some dogs fight back when attacked. This latter is the simplest reason that aversives are a bad idea in treating aggression. Even used technically correctly as positive punishment for specific behaviors like growling and snarling, aversives do nothing to change the underlying fear or hostility, so the best you can hope for, in the words of famed vet and behaviorist, Ian Dunbar, is "removing the ticker from the time bomb." Thus such methods substantially increase the risk to humans of getting bitten."

Excerpt of letter from Lisa Laney, Dip. DTBC, CPDT, CBC
to National Geographic before airing "The Dog Whisperer":

"The intended program depicts aversive and abusive training methods - treatment for some serious anxiety and fear based issues - being administered by an individual with no formal education whatsoever in canine behavioral sciences. The "results" that are shown are more than likely not long lasting changes, but the result of learned helplessness, or fatigue, neither of which impact behavior to any significant long term degree - at least not in a good way. For those of us who are pioneering the effort to end the ignorance that drives the cruel treatment administered upon our canine companions, it is disappointing to see that this programming will reach the masses - especially on the NG Channel. The ignorance that this program perpetuates will give equally ignorant people the green light to subject their dogs to abuse. In turn these dogs will react even more defensively, will bite more people - and end up dead."




  • Kudos to the experts! :)

    Ugh, lately though I've been more pissed off at Cesar Millan. Some friends & family members are trying to tell me how to train my dog and punish my dog, according to Cesar.
  • Interesting- I recently got DirectTV (and thus the Nat Geo Channel, yay!) and have been watching 'The Dog Whisperer' with interest because I've heard SO much about it the past few years. This week, actually, has been Dog Whisperer week so every night they've been playing 2 or 3 episodes in a row (anyone watching?). Although I totally agree with him about exuding the proper "energy" around dogs, I've been a bit... taken aback... by his training methods. For instance, the other night, they played an episode with a very terrified Akita, afraid of the leash, afraid to leave his yard. Cesar was totally manhandling that poor thing-- it was almost painful to watch. Cesar even admitted at one point that the wobbly dog obviously had something wrong (neurologically) with its back end, and yet he was forcing it to jump in/out of the bed of a very high truck as "training". Jeepers creepers! The poor thing is crippled- get a ramp and be gently, for crying out loud!

    I've heard so much about Cesar the past few years, and was really excited to finally see the show. Big disappointment. There have been a couple episodes that weren't too bad, but overall he seems very forceful and very much about "taking the power away from the dog." He says this so much. And the "calm submission" phrase, too.

    Maybe it's just because I've never had very challenging dogs, but I would never want my dogs to feel fearful, submissive or powerless around me. I do consider myself the "pack leader" of our family, but it's not because I've "taken the power away" or enforce "calm submission." And I don't like how he orders "Discipline, exercise, affection." I believe rules and structure are necessary in any family (human or canine) but discipline? Eh. If my dogs do something wrong, they know it just with one look.

    Thanks for posting input from other dog trainers, Brada1878- I am finding, after watching the show, that I agree with them!


  • Brad, thank you so much for posting this. It breaks my heart how many people who genuinely love their dogs are led to believe they are helping them using these methods. All they are doing is teaching their dogs to fear them. Not trust and respect.

    I would never want my dogs to obey me out of fear or intimidation. Just like I don't want my husband to be with me out of obligation, he and I are together voluntarily. I want my dogs to listen to me because they know I want to keep them safe and happy and I have earned their respect by showing them that I care for their wellbeing.
  • Thanks for the info, Brad. I have always had a hard time watching 'The Dog Whisperer' because even before I knew anything about dogs and advanced training, I felt that his methods were harsh and demeaning to the dogs.

    I have always wanted my pets to respect me. I always felt that if we had a connection, then the trust and training will follow. Which it always has. Granted, I have Shibas, so the training is a little... uh... Shiba-ish, but the respect is there. And if there is something I need my dogs to do, generally speaking, they will do it. (Sometimes they have to have a reason to do it, but they do it.)

    As for fear... I have fearful dog. Nola is afraid of larger dogs, kids, my nephew, loud noises, etc. However, she bounces back very quickly because she trusts me. I would never place her in a situation where she would be hurt. She knows that she is safe with me. She knows that if she is scared, she can come to me and I will fix it. (By either removing her from the situation or putting her in her crate) I have worked with her on her fears so that we have come to this mutual understanding and trust. If I tried to flood her with large dogs, kids, etc... I would have a nervous wreck of a dog that was very distrustful of me. I would hate that for her... And I would hate that for me, if her distrust turned violent.

    I love my dogs, and I want them to love me, NOT fear me.
  • I saw that Akita episode. It was heartbreaking....that poor dog was so scared, and I know his methods just made it worse.
  • Having never really seen this show even in clips, I now have reason to watch it out of criticism. While I agree it is important for everyone to teach their dogs discipline, such practives Milan does is unfathomable. I love how people tend to resort to these celebrity experts on how to do things better. This is a classic case where you should read the bottom of the screen: "Disclaimer: These practices aren't for everyone. Many may find such practices inhumane" or something to that effect.
  • I watched it...thought it looked questionable...did some research...decided I found it more unethical than simply questionable. Now, I get flat angry when I hear other people talk about "the Great" Cesar Milan. It's soooo sad people are actually watching his show and reading his books in order to get advice about working with their dogs :(.
  • I'm really pleased to read these statements from qualified professionals. I just wish these were more widely accepted by the general public! With so many qualified trainers publishing quality material these days, it's amazing, to me, that Nat Geo continues to focus on, and devote huge amounts of programming time to, Mr. Millan's "methods".
  • I am going to try not to get on my soap box, but I just don't get it. I don't get how people can't see that these methods are detrimental to their dogs psychological health. I try not to judge people who believe in these methods. I try to figure out a way to show them that there are better methods.

    Growing up, I had a grandmother who was a breeder and had a farm. It was such an amazing experience for me. My grandmother was a trainer, and her dogs loved her. They had a great life on the farm. I remember watching her train new dogs, and how patient and sweet she was with them. I remember how well behaved all of her dogs were.

    She used to tell me that all a dog wants from you is to be loved and cared for, and if you did that then you would have a best friend for life that would obey you. The key to her training methods was to first build a relationship filled with trust and caring.

    People always say that Koda's so well trained. How did I train him like that? Honestly, I would never use Milan's methods. Koda and I have a great relationship. He trusts me, and it didn't happen over night. He knows that I'm here to protect him. This is the key to everything that we have. (Which is why the other night's accident has effected me so much.)

    Koda's not a submissive dog at all. He doesn't cower to everything I say and obey me blindly. On the contrary, he is stubborn and free willed. He's smart, and always has an opinion. I find myself compromising with him more than I have with any other dog. But we've compromised, built trust, and I believe he loves me in his own dog way. He does what I say because he knows I will love and take care of him.
  • I'm sharing that link on facebook, Jess. At midnight, though, because I'm logged off for a day in protest, but that's another story.
  • Thanks Jess. I'm going to share that one too.
  • That's a great article. Thanks for sharing! Thanks for posting it on the Shiba side too, Lisa.
  • I'm always very happy to find threads and articles like this. I work for a company that PRIDES itself for working with Cesar Millan and it's one of the only things I really dislike about where I am. We hosted his selection with dogs who attend our facility for his show in Boston and it seemed a little silly to me that my coworkers were practically swooning. Every time I see any episodes of his shows, I'm never impressed and I'm usually worried. Unfortunately, if I'm to do any sort of training through CBW, I have to attend a class where one of the two trainers is a "strict" follower of Millan's methods. :(

    I can't help but think "what if I had trained London this way" - with the personality on him even after years of training, I can only imagine a completely unmanageable, dog-aggressive and people-snappy, 120 pounds of dog. When I watched the episode with "Shadow" the Malamute, I was literally horrified. Not because of the dog's behavior, but how he dealt with it was unfathomable to me. I couldn't even use halti head collars on London because he was associating the discomfort from the pull with the other dogs.

  • I think that's the one where someone pointed out that the dog peed on itself too, in fear. I know there are people who would say, oh aggressive dog, see, it bit Cesar! Of course this is an extreme example! But the fact is, he didn't have to do that to to that dog, and the dog would be steadier and calmer if its reactivity was dealt with in a way that didn't involve terrorizing the dog. That dog wasn't calm--it had been choked into submission.

    Why would anyone think that was ok to do their dog?
  • I'd bite Cesar too if he treated me like that.
  • edited January 2011
    Advocates of this honestly must believe any human should be able to do absolutely anything to any dog, no matter how painful or frightening, and the dog should just accept that without fuss. It's totally a control issue.
  • I tend to act more like a dog myself (I growl at people and yes, I do bite) and I would most defiantly bite CM for doing that kind of crap to me.

    My sister's BF is a big fan of CM and heard about how one of my Mom's dogs Juneau was bad on the leash and wanted to "fix" her when he came for a visit. I'd been working with her for a while before they came and she was by then so great that I trust her off-leash 100%. Now, Ryon was convinced she still needed work and when we went on a walk he would leash-jerk for every little thing, wouldn't let her look around and would force her to sit for everything and would stare down at her as if she'd murdered someone.
    Juneau and Sasha are easily intimidated, holding a feather at them will get them to do whatever you want. She looked like all the dogs on CM's shows, scared and afraid of what will happen if they do something wrong, while Sasha was happy as could be up ahead with me and my sister.
    I got very annoyed and wouldn't let Ryon go on walks with me anymore.

    If someone tried that crap on Conker I'd probably flat out attack them.
  • What really scares me about this video is that in my mind I can hear people saying that he is amazing and he totally gained control of that dog rather than he picked a fight with a dog, what an ahole.
  • Ugh, that video is the worst. Quite possibly one of my most hated videos of his "training." Literally gets me sick to the stomach.

    The most depressing part is that after he's choked that dog to the point of biting him the show makes it look like he's the victim of the whole thing. "Aww, poor Cesar got bit just for trying to help train this evil dog..." It's just really sad in my opinion. >:[
  • Blech... you can tell that that poor dog's just like, wth is going on?!
  • I was in gamestop yesterday & much to my surprise, look what game I saw...


    Now, how ridiculous is that!? I wonder if the game entails choking dogs into submission :( ~
  • I don't even know what to say about that game......though I have to admit to being curious about it now!
  • I just did a little reading about it. It's been out for over 2 years and only has 8 reviews on amazon.com, so I'd say it isn't exactly a splash hit like nintendogs was. From the description and what I can piece together from reviews, you basically have a menu of "training" options. You can exercise the dog, feed it, or apply one of his "techniques" (touch, kick, choke, etc.). It also uses the DS's microphone so you can "ssshhhhht" the dog as well. The frustrating thing is that from a game design perspective, it's the PERFECT opportunity to teach real things like reward timing for clicker training (something I plan to work on in the coming year or two).

    I guess the silver lining is that this game hasn't been very successful. :-/
  • That game...is just too much... I literally had a WTF moment when I saw that just now.
  • There's nothing more fun than pretending to choke a dog.
  • I'm sure with the stylus you have a variety of ways to choke them and push them down.
  • Video Frame 0:24-34:

    Shadow: “What the heck was that?! Who is this guy? He just attacked me!” -shifts tail- “That jerk! I don’t have to take this. I should just bite him back.”

    Shadow doesn't understand your logic or what you're trying to convey. All he knows is that he can't breathe.

    “HELP! I’m dying! YOU...human…you’re sealing away my air supply!”
    -dog proceeds to bite and fight for survival-.

    Yeah…eventually, the dog will tire and “give up”…the dog is not submitting or accepting human leadership/dominance (whatever you call it)…that is dumb…the dog doesn’t have any strength left…Shadow is happy he can breathe again. Shadow will come back and bite you later, don’t you worry -grins-. You didn't "fix" anything, you just created a different conflict/problem and then escalated it.

    I suppose it's already enough that Cesar actually gets paid for this and is considered a "celebrity" but he also has a video game after him?!
  • I went over and took a look at the CM forum the other day (why do I do things like that? It just pisses me off). Anyway, it was really disturbing, because while people can say that CM says his techniques are not to be used by everyone, of course most people DO think they can use them. Read a disturbing thread about a guy with a resource guarding dog who bit him when he tried to take a treat, so he used "the touch" whatever that is (sounded like either hitting or kicking the dog on the rump) which upset the dog more, and luckily he stopped before he tried the alpha roll....Ugh. No wonder he got bit! I can just imagine what would have happened if he'd tried the roll, and all this on a large dog he'd got from the shelter and had less than 2 weeks.

    At least a few people did come in an recommend some other methods, including NILF, but damn....it's scary. And the thing is, regardless of how much CM's handlers and National Geo may say he doesn't mean for these methods to be used by everyone, the fact is, people try. With bad results.

    On a very petty note, too, I was disturbed by how bad the writing was on the forum, and how many really DUMB ideas people had. (My favorite: should I pee on my dog's food so he knows I am pack leader? WTF!?)
  • Lisa: I was very close to spitting out what I was drinking when I read the peeing on the dog's food comment. I mean, REALLY? WTF is right.
Sign In or Register to comment.