a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: It's Cesar Milan Time Again

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's Cesar Milan Time Again

SUMMARY: A link to a well-stated article
A few years back, someone gave me Milan's training book, knowing that I am a "dog person" but not themselves really knowing much about dog training and not knowing that I had already seen enough of Milan's work to feel that it was overly harsh and as (politely stated) old-fashioned as whipping your lazy slaves into obedience. You know, "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

I gave him the benefit of the doubt and read the book. I did like some things that his book said. Dogs need exercise, although very few people are going to be able to jog with them 30 miles a day, or however much he does--most of us have other jobs, other activities, physical limitations, and so on. Dogs need clear, consistent, firm leadership from their people, although to me that does not mean choking, intimidation, or brute physical dominance.

His methods, in short, sucked.

I'm not a professional trainer and have not worked with truly troubled dogs, but the trainers with whom I have worked and spend many of my weekends, the well-regarded books I've read, and the dog-behavior trainer training that I have attended are all greatly at odds with his methods.

Enough about me: Linda Knowles (a successful agility competitor and a trainer) had posted the clearest statement I've seen about Milan's work and shortcomings. Please read What Do I Think About The Dog Whisperer?

Oh, huh, wrote this similar post about 3 years ago with a link to another good anti-Milan article.


  1. Thanks, I'm going to steal your links and repost them on my blog too (with due credit, of course!). I get asked about CM semi-frequently and I just really never want to get into it, especially since the asker is almost always either (a) just making polite conversation and not really interested in the nuances; or (b) already a firm devotee and likely to get defensive if challenged.

  2. I always find it sad when people use the few good bits of obvious advice he has-dogs need exercise and clear confident leadership-to justify all the other garbage he teaches. And anyway what competent, successful trainer of any training philosophy out there doesn't think exercise and confident leadership is important?

    Exercise is important but too much can be a bad thing. I know he had a lawsuit against him due to a client's dog that collapsed on a treadmill at his facility. Can't recall if the dog died or not and I can't recall for sure how the lawsuit turned out though I think he settled out of court.

  3. I've often commented to people that I wonder what happens with his own dogs, let alone other people's, when the camera isn't on them or after Cesar has gone home. He claims to have, what, 30 unadoptable dogs that all live together in perfect harmony at all times. Maybe running 30 miles a day really does that. I'm skeptical.

  4. Didn't he hit the big time in part because Oprah had him help her with her dog(s)? And she later vilified him? I can't find that info off the bat, but did find another interesting article written by the SF/SPCA Director of Dog Training (and they're pretty well regarded around here; host a lot of seminars with well-known trainers for trainers): http://www.urbandawgs.com/divided_profession.html.

    Not just her own comments, but also links to lot more articles about Cesar (because enough can never be said) and quotes from other trainers.

    Quote from Jean's material:

    "The force-free movement gains momentum every year and a sure sign of this is that many trainers in the other camps resort to murkier and murkier euphemisms to disguise their more violent practices and retain their market share. Stressed dogs aren't "shut down," they're "calm." It's not strangling, it's "leading." As a committed devotee of the "dog-friendly" camp, I am therefore, along with my colleagues here at The San Francisco SPCA, somewhat agog at the stunning success of "The Dog Whisperer". This is pretty ferocious stuff by anybody's standards. The National Geographic Channel even runs a disclaimer banner at the bottom of the screen admonishing people to "not try this at home," a warning notably absent on home improvement shows or "Nanny 911". Many have suggested that the cloaking of corporal punishments and hazing in mystical language, promise of instant results, high octane telegenicity of Cesar Milan and lucky connections with Los Angeles celebrity clients are sufficient explanation for the Dog Whisperer phenomenon. The one with the best buzz words wins. But I don't know.

    Janis Bradley, my colleague here at The SPCA, sagely points out that the positive reinforcement trend has become a big enough juggernaut to warrant a backlash and Milan represents exactly that. Like the frazzled Los Angelinos in the film "Crash" (which, notably, took Best Picture honors at The Academy Awards last year), people are fed up with having to be politically correct in a chronically frustrating and disconnected world. Couldn't we just "get real" and stop being kind and tolerant all the time?

    "And here we positive-reinforcement oriented dog trainers are now telling everyone they have to be nice and politically correct to the dog? Well, yes."

  5. Thanks for the link to the excellent article. Most of my FB friends are already hardcore (agility, rally, etc.) dog people, but I shared it anyway. That way I have it handy if I get someone who doesn't know any better asking about his "methods."

  6. @Amanda: Well, that is the thing, isn't it: We're preaching to the choir! The people we need to reach are the ones who've said to me when I've been out with my dogs: "Wow, how'd you get them to sit on command? My dog ignores me!" and retiree, "Of course I hit my dog with a rolled up newspaper and rub his nose in the mess; it worked for my grandfather so it's good enough for me." and "My dog won't come when I call so is out running around the yard all night and when he does come inside he jumps around on the bed and barks and keeps me awake; you know dogs, can you recommend a breed that won't do that?"