When I first became a dog trainer I very quickly realized that there is one word that has divided dog professionals and has become the cause for much debate, countless arguments and event resentment. Saying this word will cause a dog trainer to either smile with respect or scowl in disgust. That word is Cesar.
My dog training education started before I even knew that dog training was an actual career. Ten years ago I adopted dog – a pit bull named Hayley. This was my first dog as an adult and I didn’t know what to expect or how to train and live with a dog. I went to basic obedience class and did my best to make Hayley into a well-behaved and happy pooch.
Like most people who first get a dog, I made a ton of mistakes. Lucky for me Hayley was a pretty good girl who tolerated most of my blunders very well. After a year or two I started to hear some buzz about a dog training show called The Dog Whisperer, and decided to check it out for myself. I was instantly impressed with what this guy named Cesar Millan could do with dogs and ran out to get his book, Cesar’s Way.
The book talked a lot about rules, boundaries and limitation and how we need to provide leadership and exercise before affection. It all sounded so simple, yet I never saw it before. Right away I began implanting some of the strategies in the book with Hayley and immediately saw some great improvements in her behavior and in the quality of my life with her.
Fast forward a year or so. I decide to make dog training a part time career and I begin my education on dog behavior and training. I scoured the internet, read as many books and articles as I could find, and listened to any dog trainer that I could get in front of. I soon saw that there were many different approaches and techniques to dog training and I wanted to learn them all and see what worked best fom me.
I remember talking to one trainer in my area and mentioning how I was going to two seminars: Patricia McConnell and Cesar Millan. I got a smile for Patricia but an icy cold look of loathing after I said the C-word. That’s when I discovered that there was a very strong divide in the dog training world: those with Cesar and those against him.
What I Learned From Experience
This separation between dog trainers really disappointed me. I mean, aren’t we all on the same team? Don’t we want the same thing? Shouldn’t we be collaborating to help as many dogs and people as possible instead of wasting so much time and energy trying to discredit others? I thought so and decided (much to the dismay of some trainers) not to take sides but to instead learn as much as I could about all kinds of dog training and make my own conclusions.
Well, I’ve been at this dog training thing for almost 5 years now and have dedicated myself to education and advancing my knowledge to better serve my clients and I’m finally ready to weigh in on the Cesar issue.
When I first started to work with dogs I believed 100% of what Cesar did and taught. Now, after much research and real world application with dogs and their owners, I’m down to about 50%. What I’ve come to realize is that was Cesar does good, he does very good. However, what he does bad he does very badly.
Some of Cesar’s Strong Points
1. Rules, boundaries and structure BEFORE affection. Affection satisfies our needs not our dogs. Yes, our dogs like affection, but the need leadership and exercise. Once you take care of your dog’s needs then you can pour on the affection.
2. Calm energy and your dog’s state of mind. There is nothing more important than getting both you and your dog into a calm state of mind. For me, state of mind is much more important that behavior.
3. Pack Power. I love dogs helping dogs. The human world screws up a lot of dogs and one of the best tools to help dogs through some issues are their canine brothers and sisters. I’ve helped more dogs overcome anxiety, fear and aggression by just walking them together and my pack walks are the most requested service by my clients.
Some of Cesar’s Downfalls
1. Pushing dogs too far, too quickly. Instead recognizing a dog’s threshold of tolerance and slowly working them with on an issue, Cesar pushes them forward into something they may not psychologically ready to handle. Kind of like teaching your child to swim by throwing him in the deep end and hoping for the best. That can end very badly. This is especially dangerous with anxious, fearful and aggressive dogs.
2. Harsh corrections. Corrections are not bad but over the top physical corrections can also do more harm than could especially with fearful or aggressive dogs.
3. Alpha rolls. In my opinion alpha roles are ridiculous. The theory is that flipping a dog over on its back simulates what wolves do to correct an out of control pack member. First off, I’ve never seen a domestic dog ever flip another dog over forcefully in that way and second, even if it were true that dogs did do that, we’re not dogs! And you’re butchering the canine language and not communicating what you intend.
4. Dominance theory. I refuse to use the word dominance anymore because it’s such a misused and misunderstood term. Newsflash: your dog is not trying to dominate you – ever. The way people use dominance you would think that our dogs are heartless dictators marching across the human race with dreams of world domination. Nope, sorry they just like the comfy spot on the couch and want to play all day.
I could go on and on with this topic but I want to keep this somewhat short (although I’ve already double my normal blog length). What I want you to take away from all this is that Cesar is not the devil, but he also doesn’t have all the answers either. What you need to do is get as much information as possible and see what works in your world, with your dog. Every person, dog and situation is different and what works for you may not work for me, in my world, with my dog.
I don’t label myself a positive dog trainer or a dog whisperer. I’m an open-minded trainer who is a mish-mosh of many different training approaches. The more I learn, the more I realize I have more to learn. You should never stop trying to increase your education and find new and better ways to improve your life with your dog.
As for Cesar Millan, he has much to offer, but just know his limitations and look into some other approaches as well. If you’re not a Cesar fan, remember that he’s not intentionally trying to do dogs wrong – he’s just doing what he thinks is best to help dogs. If we all work together and share our knowledge and experience, we can all learn from each other and do a better job training and living with our dogs.