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Cesar Millan: Saint or cult leader?

Oscar Isn't our penchant to follow Cesar Millan's lead into a utopia of dog ownership robbing us of the idiosyncratic, chaotic and just plain fantastic aspects of our furry children? Are our lives so out of control that we must stamp out the joie de vivre of our best friends?

My guy has responded wonderfully to Millan's techniques. I follow them religiously.

For those of you who are cat owners or have been living under a rock: Cesar Millan is the host of "Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic Channel.  He takes dogs that are truly disturbed and reprograms them and their owners to create a balanced relationship.

Oscar's affliction was constantly pulling on the leash. The second we stepped out the door, he -- a 35-pounder with a suspiciously low center of gravity -- was off and I was taking up the rear at a fast clip. Drop the leash and Oscar scampered along at my side, with occasional dashes up trees after squirrels.

After much consistent walking following Millan's techniques, complete with positive, assertive energy, I have altered Oscar's behavior.  I rarely feel like I am going to have irreversible shoulder damage.  He's also improved with the 4 a.m. newspaper delivery.  He has stopped his wee-hour charges down the hall barking, howling and shocking me out of sleep.

When we get home from our constitutionals, he follows me into the house. When I leave the room, he leaves the room. When I go to bed, he goes to bed. He's a whole new dog.

Sort of a robot dog.

My Oscar used to dance when I returned from work.  Doesn't anymore. My Oscar used to scamper into the kitchen, take a bite of food, run back out to the living room to make sure everything was cool and jog back for another couple of chunks.  Not doing that.  My Oscar used to run down the hall ahead of me looking over his shoulder with a big old grin.  Doesn't do that anymore either.

Wasn't all his chaos part of his charm?

The shame of having Oscar pull me through the streets drove me into the waiting arms of the Millan cult. As he cured dog after dog, I found I was watching up to three hours a day thanks to TiVo. I observed him and copied his every move right down to the sound. I came to understand the calm energy he teaches owners to adopt.

Don't get me wrong. I believe Millan is a superhero.  He truly works miracles.

But there's a downside to all of this.  Millan is working with hard cases.  We, the viewers, are probably by and large pretty happy with our little guys and girls.  They have some issues, but we correct them when they step too far out of line.

Millan is inadvertently dulling some of the magic in our special relationships.  (Tell me it doesn't feel great when you make up.)  We're applying his red-zone lessons to our off-white buds.  (I say "we" because I've spoken to enough dog owners to know that you're in the sect too.)

It's part of the general trend.  Life is getting blander.  The recession has everyone down.  We're all worried about our jobs.  The end of the post-9/11 era can't even bring us true joy because we are witnessing the dawn of trillion-dollar deficits.  And now the one unconditional area of our lives is under siege.  O Cesar Millan!  I wish I had never gotten addicted to your program of living.

I'm racked with guilt because -- while I miss my monster -- I'm not going to stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

-- Sean Gallagher

Photo: Oscar, well-behaved following his owner's Kool-Aid consumption. Credit: Sean Gallagher / Los Angeles Times

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Cesar Millon is an absolute genius. His pack theory is right on target. Anyone who knows anything about wolves know that dogs, the decendents of wolves, have been pack animals for centuries. Wolves run to benefit the pack as a whole. If the pack is having a problem, it goes on a long run. Dogs are very much the same. I'm not saying a walk is going to solve any and all behavior issues. But taking long walks and taking them often can only benefit both the dog and the owner.

And to all those people who like to throw out how much other dog trainers hate Cesar, that's like pointing out how much Walmart hates Hy-Vee. They are competitors. Of course these so-called 'trainers' are going to hate Cesar - he's been succeeding where they've failed! It's only natural they're going to go on their soapbox about how 'abusive' or 'misguided' he is.

Dog Whisperer

Actually, Kovi, believe it or not, Cesar's "competitors" are concerned for the welfare of the animals, and are appauled that using these abusive techniques are encouraged. Is that really so hard to believe? If anything, they're making more money now because of his teachings.

By the way, his interpretation of "the pack theory" has been proven wrong. Do some research before you go all lemming on us.

I really had to laugh about this article and the comments. People, are you all jealous? CM made millions with his center, movies, books...Good for him.
And besides that, what is this abuse people are talking about? Grabbing a dog by the neck is abuse? Letting him relax in a pack is abuse? Get real.
My dogs are CM dogs 100%, they play, they are happy and balanced, they listen to me, because I am their pack leader.
All you experts out there, show me that you can walk 40 dogs by yourself with your methods, then maybe, I might listen to you.
Jealousy is a bad ugly thing, get over it and become calm and assertive !!!!!!

it is pretty sad to read. I find it always a sad event when a living creatures shuts down from fear of corrections. This is what Cesar does to dogs: scares them enough they barely react, afraid to get that scary guy over them again. The damage is not only psychological, as dogs are like us: excessive stress is very unhealthy.
Apart from runing happy dogs and getting them to perfectly obedient robots afraid to have a bit of personnality, many people get bitten in the process and many dogs really really scared and hurt.
All this is even more sad to me when we now know many effective techniques to teach a living being the manners and behaviours we want them to have. I rescued a dog that used to lunge at people and dogs ans was corrected the C.M way for doing it. So depending on who was holding the leash he either crawled behind the person (and often had diahhera)and not dared sniff or look at a squirrel, or lunged even more. I put on a confortable harness that did not choke him and began clicker training, which is simply a mean of communication using rewards and no punishment. Today, when he sees a scary thing that used to make him lunge ( dogs lunge at people or dogs because of fear) he comes at my side even if on leash, locks his happy eyes on mine and happily, all proud he knows the good answer, ignores whoever is passing. I love it. It has changed our relationship for the best, installed hope, joy and calm in this dog who did 5 homes before me for severe behaviour problems. Skills are needed like for every hard task, but definitively there is so much a better word for owners and their dogs ahead with effective use of positive behaviour modification.
sorry for all these shut-down dogs.

A lot of cesar milan detractors here. Quite an impressive list of academic credentails. Quite a lot of critisims of the dog whisperer. I'm not seeing these people offer up any alternative, proven methods. They sound like the GOP in the current health care debate.
Maybe they are just mad because some guy without formal education enlightened millions of people on how to have a great dog. So he is cutting into their action. Somebody is giving away information that they want to charge for.
Cesar stresses a holistic approach to dog training. Exercise dicipline and effection. As a volunteer at the local Humaine Society, I have employed these method. As a result, a lot of dogs that may have been put to sleep, now have good homes. I cant see anything bad about that.

For everyone saying that they have never seen Cesar use a shock collar, yes he does. I remember it being prominently displayed in an episode featuring a Blue Heeler/Aussie Cattle Dog. The dog chased tractors, cars, etc, and had been injured due to this obsessive behavior. Cesar used a shock collar every time the dog came near a tire. So yes, he does use them.

I used to be a Cesar-ite. I loved his show, watched every episode. I tried his methods on my own Siberian Husky. But something funny happened. I started reading. I learned about dog behavior. I researched learning theory. I was a dog owner who wanted to do the best thing for her dogs. The more I read, the more educated I became, the more disgusted with myself I became. Why would I ever have thought it was ok to choke an animal to get it to comply? Why would I ever WANT to intimidate my 'best friend'?
I bought into the hype of 'calm-submissive energy'. Now that I know there is a better, scientific, and non-violent way to interact with my canine I will never use his methods.
I currently compete in obedience and agility with my husky. I would never have been able to do this using Cesar's way. It is impossible to force a dog to go through an agility course.
I believe in positive, not permissive, training. The theory I use with my dogs is the same one I use with my employees. If you do the job I asked you to do, you get paid; if you don't, well no paycheck for you! That simple. No force, violence or intimidation involved.
Cesar does have one good point: exercise your dog. However, everyone should realize that the dog on TV is NOT your dog. As a good owner you need to research the best method for your dog, don't just believe what the TV tells you. I bet you'll come to the same conclusion I did.

As for me, when I watch an episode of The Dog Whisperer these days... it makes me sick.

Well unlike politics, I do have alternative proven methods to offer. Trainers/behaviorists that have successfully "rehabilitated" so-called "red zone" aggressive dogs using positive methods? How about Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, Emma Parsons, Ali Brown - there are more but that's just off the top of my head. Their books helped me teach my "red zone" dog aggressive mutt to actually love being around other dogs. Not only can you lead without punishment by teaching alternatives to bad behavior. But you can actually CHANGE the emotion, the fear/anger/rage an aggressive dog feels using counter conditioning and desensitization. Imagine my joy the day my dog chose to sit and do a perfect 'watch me' instead of fence fighting with a dog that charged at us.

Just because his show comes with cable package that doesn't make it free. The shows are much too heavily edited to be of the kind of help you can get from a real behaviorist. Call him up and ask how much for a private session. Tens of thousands unless you make it on the TV show - and you can bet he would make a heckuva lot more from an episode than you would pay a good behaviorist. You can read his books for free from the library, but you can do the same with all the other training and behavior books. (Written by the behaviorists themselves without a ghostwriter...)

If it only counts if they're giving it away on TV? Victoria Stillwell using a clicker and treats to teach the cranky old JRT not to constantly attack the new dog its humans brought home, that's a nice episode about healing aggression with positive reinforcement. I believe the Dog Town trainers used positive methods to work with Vick's throwaway pit bulls.

What is frightening and crosses the line to cult-like thinking is how Cesar's fans will watch him do something but believe whatever nonsense is coming out of his mouth while remaining completely blind to what he's doing. An ardent follower was sitting with me while I watched the episode where he drags a 140 pound St. Bernard up the stairs with a choke chain. She flatly denied, even while watching it, that he's ever choked a dog with a choke chain. Even worse, this treatment was not to "rehabilitate" a "red zone" dog, this was just a young dog afraid to go up the stairs.

If he doesn't need control a dog's airway why did he and his wife feel the need to invent a collar that doesn't look like a choke collar but is specifically designed to keep the choking mechanism at the highest, most uncomfortable part of a dogs throat to put the maximum pressure on its airway?

Judge a man by his actions not by his words. This is the danger of charisma, it is so easy to just believe what you hear and not understand what you are seeing. Watch with the sound off. Get a good book on canine body language and learn what calm really looks like. Learn that what he's calling "calm, submissive" is usually afraid and shut down. I was devastated when I realized my dog was becoming afraid of me. I believed him on his show and I believed our first professional trainer, (who did more damage than good) when they kept telling me my terrified shut down dog was "calm and submissive".

Found here: http://tinyurl.com/y89owdr

UK animal welfare, behaviour, training and veterinary organisations1 are warning of the possible dangers of using techniques for training dogs that can cause pain and fear, such as some of those seen used by Cesar Millan, who has announced a UK tour next year.

The organisations have joined forces to voice their serious concerns about techniques which pose welfare problems for dogs and significant risk to owners who may copy them. These concerns are shared, and the statement supported, by similar organisations around the world2 and in continental Europe3.

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 behaviour. This kind of training technique can include the use of prong collars, electric shock collars, restricting dogs’ air supply using nooses/leads or pinning them to the ground, which can cause pain and distress. 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.

1 Dogs Trust, The Blue Cross, Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), The Blue Dog, Wood Green Animal Shelters, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), The Kennel Club, Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, Canine Partners, UK , Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB), Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK (APDT, UK), UK Registry of Canine Behaviours (UKRCB), Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group (CABTSG), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and British Veterinary Association (BVA).

2 Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Australian Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group (AVBIG), American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Inc. (CCPDT)(USA).

3 European Society of Clinical Veterinary Ethology (ESCVE), European College of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine – Companion Animals (ECVBM-CA), the Flemish Veterinary Working Group on Ethology (VDWE) and Norwegian Association for Pet Behaviour (NAPB) Norsk Atferdsgruppe for Selskapsdyr (NAS).

The organisations believe that the use of such training techniques is not only unacceptable from a welfare perspective, but that this type of approach is not necessary for the modification of dog behaviour. Dog trainers all over the UK use reward-based methods to train dogs very effectively. Where dogs have behaviours which owners find unacceptable, such as aggression or destruction, qualified behaviourists achieve long term changes in behaviour through the use of established and validated techniques of behaviour modification without subjecting dogs to training techniques which may cause pain or distress.

We urge dog owners to carefully consider the help they choose to train their dogs or tackle behavioural problems. Anyone can call themselves a behaviour expert, but we believe that only those with a combination of appropriate qualifications, up to date knowledge as well as skills and experience should be treating dogs, and should only do so in a way which does not put the welfare of the dogs at risk.

Further information on:

• the misconceptions which underlie the use of aversive training techniques

• the development of behaviour in dogs

• the problems associated with the use of aversive training techniques

• finding a suitable trainer or behaviourist

can be found at: www.dogwelfarecampaign.org

Steve....can you please tell me in which episode Cesar has "kicked" a dog? Remember, we all watch the show. You discredit yourself by exagerating Cesars methods to seem cruel. You make many other mentions of methods I have never seen used by Cesar such as using a treadmill to help a dog overcome fear of strangers. Releasing energy is the only reason I have ever seen a treadmill used. I suppose those who don't watch the show might give some credit your way but this is probably not the blog for hyped up bashing of a rival dog trainer. Also, another poster mentionmed fear and intimidation...eyes rolling.

I love Cesars methods because they are non-physical, calm and effective. I own 3 Pit Bulls and a Rottweiler. I am 5'1, 103lbs and am outweighed X3 by my pack. I NEVER have to grab a collar, raise my voice, or give any aggressive physical touch to my dogs. To re-direct and get their attention I simply say "aww" or give a touch on the neck. A TOUCH...not a hit or a snap. It works...I would know!!!

Just wanted to say it's wonderful do read about how passionate people are with there dog training. There are three main types of dog training and they all work wonders for dogs and owners alike, and if one doesn't work for you or your dog, try another one. Cesar truly understands the mind of a dog and helps all owners understand the differneces between dog and human. He has lots of knowledge to learn from. But most important is the owners that put in the time and effort. Hats off to the dog owners that put in all the time and effort to understanding and putting in the effort to teach there dogs. The dog world is a better place because of responsible pet owners like you! sorry for the spelling,

wow, first of all, Im a cat owner that watches CM (I dont own dogs because I dont have the space or the time to give them the care they need and believe me I really want one) and a responsible human and I enjoyed the article. Dogs are dogs not humans and should not be treated as such (this is what one thing that leads to so many problem dogs). If you aren't willing to invest time (just like having a child), you shouldnt have a dog. And if you're not willing to work with the dog to teach them what is expected of them, you shouldnt have a dog.

I've watched every aired episode of DW and Ive never seen CM be cruel to a dog; not even to humans. He does point out the human problem and maybe thats where so many of these comments are coming from. CM is called in after years of bad dog behaviour. (How does anyone let a dog run their life for 6 years or more in the first place? Is is a human problem, maybe). If you were paying attention in the first place and had treated your dog as a dog (and not a human substitute), some of the behaviour problems we see would never happen.

Most of the problems on the show are human problems; and the change comes about when the human changes their behaviour and the dog responds to their humans' new behaviour. CM gives uninformed dog owners (that have caused the problems in the first place) a place from which to begin (because he has the experience they don't and can achieve the results much more quickly). He shows them the behaviour they want to see can be achieved. He always stresses to the humans that they must be CONSISTENT with their teaching and they must always practice exercise, discipline and affection. If you don't like him; don't watch the show.

and for those of you that think CM has become a cult leader; why don't you look at organized religion. Those folks that follow christianity follow a book that wasn't even begun until more than 500 years after the events which it relates and yet they take that as gospel. That's what I call a cult.

People believing in a man who has shown results with dogs using exercise discipline and affection does not a cult make. "Scientists" with degrees behind their name dismissing someone who so obviously gets results does certainly add to a bigger following (is that what's causing so much ruckus).

Just like everything else in life (except death), we have a choice. Calm assertiveness is the way to go. Thank you CM for being someone who is concerned about animals and who espouses a calm mindset; something this world desperately needs.

Dana wrote:
"I find it amazing that people expect dogs to have no emotions and to NEVER express or act out on them - calm submission 100% of the time is the model, I guess. They aren't allowed to be excited, happy, fearful, anxious, sad .... why? Why can I come home from work and yell at my spouse when I had a bad day, but my dog can't? Why can I jump around in uncontrollable excitement when something good happens, but my dog can't?"

Are you bipolar? Because it sounds like you are. I don't know about you, but those aren't the actions of someone who is happy and well-adjusted. Me, I would much rather be someone who is happy and well adjusted.

Most of the criticisms on here are obviously from people who either didn't watch DW or didn't watch closely. He doesn't reward fear. The "calm submissive state" is one where the mouth is open, the dog is calm and relaxed, not some fearful anxiety. As for the inhumane methods, they're nothing compared to what they get from other dogs, and don't hurt the animals. Should your average person try to use corrections on an aggressive German Shepherd? No! And the program says that. So what is the complaint, exactly?

Cesar Milan seems to be one of the more genuine people on Television, and the fact that there are so few criticisms or angry owners, given the nature of his work, speaks to that.

You go off on I Love Cesar and then say I hate Cesar. What the heck are you saying. Have you ever taken a writing class?

I wouldn't touch that koolaid stuff. Loaded with sugar coating. Instead, eat your veggies, drink your green tea, and use a clicker! You can't beat, tsst, kick or helicopter a whale into submission. Yet, clicker trainers get them to jump through hoops. Read the AVSAB position statements on dominance theory, punishment, and puppy socialization, then get a real trainer to help you. Your dog is probably even more talented than you realize, but you won't find it out by making him "learned helpless" - I'd rather have my dog working to gain a reward than to avoid a punishment.

"Put yourself in your DOG's shoes and think about it. "

Dana, dog's don't have shoes.

Perhaps if you stopped trying to anthropomorphise your pet and actually understand that they are not human and as such not subject to human behavior. Dogs naturally run in packs, with a strong pack leader, the alpha male/female. By being a "benevolent" leader, you are clearly failing in that role.

Cesar's Way is a lot more than just corrections for red zone dogs. It is true that on the show he deals with a lot of the toughest cases, but he also deals with some not so tough cases as well.

Cesar's Way is a philosophy of being with your dog and giving a dog what he needs. You don't give your dog exercise, discipline and affection to fix a problem, just as you don't sign your kids up for baseball (or other sports/activities), give them chores and then love them in order to fix them.

The philosophy of exercise, discipline and affection can be loosened or made more strict depending on the type of dog you have. The point is the dog needs to be able to get out his energy, needs discipline and affection is a no brainer in most cases. The truth is, there are a lot of dogs that get fulfilled without ever needing people to follow Cesar's Way. They are dogs that live on farms, working dogs, service dogs, etc. It's only when you put dogs behind closed doors and walls, do not take them for walks and generally let them do whatever they want that they develop issues.

Think of a person being locked in a house and not ever allowed to run or do all the things he needs to expend his energy. Now, someone who is a couch potato would have no problem, but think of a star athlete. He would have a major problem with this. He would go crazy being stuck in the house and eventually would find ways (destructive if he never had discipline, which is how things are in the case of dogs) to work off that energy.

What you allow or do not allow your dog to do is up to you, the owner. Cesar isn't going to tell you not to let your dog sleep with you (unless he is extremely dominant). He will ask. "Do you want the dog to sleep with you on the bed?" and whatever the answer is, that's what you should do.

Cesar's Way is not negative reinforcement nor is it a "fix" for dog problems. It is essentially a way to relate to your dog and keep him happy. and when your dog is happy you are happy because he is not chewing up your stuff or getting into trouble.

I agree. Tawny used to leap up onto the 'dog couch' to sit with his head on my lap - no more. Greta used to dance at the door, whether coming in or going out - no more. The dogs don't play with each other or with anything else. They lie on the floor or on their couch, sleeping. They wake up for meals, for their daily walks, and for potty breaks. Other than that, they sleep. True, they're both about 12 years old, but they sure don't love life the way they used to!

I, too, got hooked on Cesar Millan. I, too, learned to be calm and assertive, and to catch misbehavior when it was just a twinkle in the dog's eye. I have a dozen episodes TiVo'd, waiting for me to watch them for the third, fourth, or even fifth time. I'm even a member of the 3,000 member strong yahoo group, DogWhispererFans. And I'm a Cesar Millan Ambassador, which means I help get the word out when Cesar is planning to visit a particular city to do a seminar or other public appearance.

But I can't help but wonder whether my 12 year old dogs would still have their joy of life had I not stopped all their nonsense before they could really express themselves. Are they depressed? I don't know. But my golden retriever doesn't smile any more, and that saddens me a lot.

Cesar Milan teaches what every living being should know. We all need rules boundaries and limitations. Cesar sets the standards for dogs and what they need from us to have a balanced relationship with us. I have a 13 year old Yellow Lab named Max,before I used Cesar Way he pulled every where we went. People thought he walked me,now I walk Max.

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