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Cesar's method - disagreement and discussion


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#1 INU

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 12:55 AM

I have always been a fan of Cesar Millan and watched most of his shows and enjoyed them. I said it before and say again that I think he's natural and pretty amazing...when it comes to agressive dogs. I watch his show as an entertainment as I would never use his method on Jazzy.

Jazzy was an extremely sensitive and cautious dog. Thankfully she's crazy about her balls and loves her food so I was able to work with her issues using those but it took us lots of patience and continuous work. When I started working with those issues, I didn't know about Cesar Millan type of method - using leadership. I got most of my basic techniques from this board and books. A lot of people that helped me on this board were positive reinforcement trainers and that was the only way I knew three years ago.

Jazzy was afraid of strange things. She was okay with thunders and firecracker but she was afraid of clickers, snapping laundry, vacuum cleaner, snapping plastic bags, kids, popping bubbles, bloom, swear words, water, car rides, manholes, baloons etc. I was willing to spend hours, months and even years working on each issue. Now she's okay with all of them except for the baloons (pop). After some experiment, I realized she was physically sensitive to the sound, not to the object itself. She tried so hard to get used to the popping sound but I decided not to push it after seeing her physically (not mentally) reacting to the sound. My method was not to push her but gain her trust and let her decide when she is comfortable, with help of reward system and taking baby steps. It took such a long time but I didn't want to risk reversing the progress or making her a really scardy dog so I am glad I did this way. She has become such a confident dog and I am very proud of her.

Now Cesar Millan's method has become so popular, a lot of the dog trainers in my area are using it. That's great but I still don't agree with using it on some of the shy/sensitive dogs especially BCs. That's just my opinon. My friend is a dog trainer and she's been a pro for over a decade. For the most part, we agree on how to train dogs. I respect her and admire her but we had our first disagreement about training sensitive dogs. I brought up about one of the episodes where Cesar just pulls dog out of a hiding spot when the dog was so afraid of people. The dog resisted for a while but decided to come out and on TV, he appeared to be 'fixed'. I just didn't buy it. He was doing it by following orders, not because his opinon about 'scary people' changed. I don't think it would have worked for my dog either. When she was afraid of the vacuum cleaner, if I just forced her to deal with it, she'd have flipped. What is wrong with taking time and working with the issue not so forcefully? My friend believes his method should have worked on Jazzy. If I were confident and acted as a leader and asked her to just deal with it, she should have done it... What do you think?

I know I am a softy and don't like seeing my dogs being afraid. I have never tried forcing her into dealing something. I am too afraid to try...don't want her problems to get worse. I guess I would never find out if it would have worked on her or not. Now I have gained her trust, I can desensitize her much quicker and easier.

It's normal for dog trainers to disagree with other dog trainers. I am not worried about it. Just curious to see what you think of this argument. Btw, she is not familiar with BCs.

#2 SoloRiver

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 01:53 AM

I think you know your dog best.

I also believe that Cesar Milan is one of the worst things to happen to dog training, that his methods are terrible for most aggressive dogs, and that if I'd tried to train Solo that way, Solo would be dead by now.
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#3 Rye

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 02:12 AM

I COMPLETELY agree with SoloRiver.

Do not like his training methods one little bit.

#4 borderlicious

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 04:05 AM

I agree with Melanie that you know your dog best. I think an owner's gut feeling is usually the one to go with when it comes to how their dog will react to something.

As for Cesar, I think he's terribly misinformed. His methods are not "natural" at all when it comes to problem solving. All of his so-called remedies involve very frequent leash corrections or "bites" from his hands, and teach the dog to shut down and not offer any behavior at all. Natural training teaches a dog to think for itself, not stop thinking entirely.

Some of his advice is practical - exercise the dog, be consistent, treat the dog like a dog, etc. Some of it is so out there, I can't help but laugh. Overall I think he is very bad news for dogs, not necessarily the dogs he works with, but the dogs belonging to people who watch his show and know nothing but what he preaches. I see so many pet owners trying to replicate his techniques. Of course, they never replicate the sensible ideas he presents like giving a dog exercise and leadership. They replicate the alpha rolls and leash yanks and flooding. They become adament that their dogs pull on the leash, jump up to greet them, nip too hard while playing and even act fearful because they are in a "dominant state of mind". They think that if they bully their dog into mindless subordination, all its problems will be solved.

Cesar is a bully, not a psychologist as he claims to be.

And before I get accused of it, I am not an over-permissive weenie. I have no problem telling my dogs when enough is enough. I just don't agree with suppressing unwanted behavior by way of force, when better and more permanent results can be achieved with other methods.
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#5 kelpiegirl

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 04:26 AM

I think maybe Cesar should try and train/work a sheepdog for a while....
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#6 jdarling

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 06:14 AM

Cesar and Gus - Part 1 <--- A Bouvier goes herding

Cesar and Gus - Part 2

Cesar and Titan <--- A Rottie goes herding

#7 Aussie_Dog

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 06:18 AM

I agree with all of you, even though I haven't seen an episode. I did watch him when he was on Oprah, and he seemed good enough with her dog, but then again, the big problem was how OPRAH was treating the dog. Or maybe the producers of the show edited it so nobody would see this big-time trainer being mean to the cute wittle puppy dog. But I've read far more than I've seen, regarding Cesar, and since I'm a big advocate of positive-only, what I've read have been major turn-offs for me. Anything that basically forces the owner's will on the dog, giving the dog no way out but to submit, it just disgusts me. You're damaging the dog's mental state! I don't know how often other people think of it in this certain way, but does anyone ever remember being a small child and being forced against your will to face your fears? Nothing cruel or dramatic, but little things, like being held by an aunt who's wading into the deep lake (and you're terrified of deep water!). My sister, in particular, remembers being held by one of our aunts who was walking in a lake, and my sister was freaking out because my aunt wouldn't stop and the water was getting closer and closer to my sister's feet. Just hearing it gives me those ever familiar shudders. I imagine it's the same way with a dog being dragged by his leash across a tile floor he's terrified of, or pulled by his leash towards the tall men he's terrified of. It's not going to cure him, it's just going to suppress his fears until one day they explode.

It's just another way of answering the modern people's "FIX IT NOW!" syndrome. Nobody wants to take the time to really work on the problem, they want a quick solution.
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#8 PSmitty

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 08:33 AM

Great post, Grace! I agree completely.
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#9 Eileen Stein

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 08:41 AM

I don't want to get into the ol' Cesar Milan discussion again, because I think if you're a doctrinaire believer in "all-positive" training you're going to see harshness and terror and "shutting down" occurring whether they're there or not. (In fact, you don't even have to watch a single episode to see them, if you're so inclined.)

There are many training methods that work, and every one of them works best in the hands of someone who's good at reading dogs. But I firmly believe that no training method works if the person employing it doesn't believe in it, and is only doing it because a trainer told him/her to. If you've been told to do something to a dog that in your heart you recoil from doing, the dog is going to pick up on your conflicted feelings, and the clarity and coherence that's necessary for effective dog training will be lost. At the least the dog will be confused, and confusion itself can lead to worry and fear. So I would say if you have doubts and misgivings about a certain method, that alone is a good reason for not using it.

#10 Guest_WoobiesMom_*

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 08:48 AM

I like him and watch his show often. I don't think every technique will work with every dog. You don't see him holding up the tail of an aggressive German Shepherd to improve its self esteem, but it (appeared to) work wonders on the frightened Weimeraner. You didn't see him use a single negative correction when working with the terrified rescued research dog so he's not a big meanie who pounds a dog into unthinking submission. One of the things I like most about him is that he tailors his approach to the dog. Flooding appears to have worked on some dogs and works on some kids. My daughter got flooded at the amusement park and now loves the roller coasters she wouldn't go near before being bribed to try it. She cried and screamed like a 2 year old during the ride and I thought she'd never go near another one but at the end, she rode the darned thing 5 more times in a row. It appears to my untrained eyes that he uses flooding in cases where the dog has confidence in other situations and has the disposition to weather the stress for that one particular fear, not for dogs that are afraid of everything. He also uses positive experiences during fearful situations (like running in the city) to countercondition.

I often wonder how positive only proponents deal with dangerous and painful behavior such as car chasing, jumping fences and biting (even puppy biting which becomes adult biting if left unchecked)? I think watching/reading Cesar can only give dog owners additional tools in their tool belts. Each person decides which tools are right for their dog. The problem is that most dog owners are unthinking drones who often don't care to connect to the animal and tailor their approach. They want a decoration and not a real live animal. They don't exercise the animal, buy breeds completely unsuited to their lifestyles and when problems develop, they want quick easy fixes that require the least amount of effort. Any 30 minute show on tv is not going to give the fix or advice they need. I watched the new show with the Monks and another with a British woman. These are NOT training videos, they are quick overview which really don't show HOW something is done but rather that it is done for entertainment purposes and should only be viewed in that context. Training should be done IN PERSON with trained professionals or at a minimum by reading a book/viewing a video that shows a complete start to finish process. Even then it's not optimal when compared to live one-on-one assistance.

I had a hard-headed Terrier who very much needed alpha-rolling and correction based training for negative behavior. I now have a very timid BC mix who is beginning to "feel his oats". They need very different training approaches but positive and negative reinforcement is a part of both.

#11 bc4pack

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 08:50 AM

Add my voice to the mix...

Personally,I want my dog's trust...especially with a shy/fearful dog.
I want that dog to know that I will not put him in a situation that
he can't cope with.
If you have a dog's trust,they will be willing to deal with
situations because they KNOW you will protect them.

Flooding a dog,well,that can be a very easy way to lose that trust.

#12 INU

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 09:33 AM

but does anyone ever remember being a small child and being forced against your will to face your fears? Nothing cruel or dramatic, but little things, like being held by an aunt who's wading into the deep lake (and you're terrified of deep water!). My sister, in particular, remembers being held by one of our aunts who was walking in a lake, and my sister was freaking out because my aunt wouldn't stop and the water was getting closer and closer to my sister's feet. Just hearing it gives me those ever familiar shudders. I imagine it's the same way with a dog being dragged by his leash across a tile floor he's terrified of, or pulled by his leash towards the tall men he's terrified of. It's not going to cure him, it's just going to suppress his fears until one day they explode.


Yes! Exactly! Do you mind if I use the example next time I am in the same tyep of argument?

Sorry folks, I didn't mean to start another Cesar thread. It was easier to explain the argument by using his name.

#13 mbc1963

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 09:41 AM

Hmm... I watched many episodes of "TDW" on DVD, about 8 months into owning my reactive dog. Discussing them at the dog park, someone pointed out the controversy surrounding Milan, so I googled that and read the opposing viewpoint. Here's MY take:

Cesar is right about the PEOPLE in the families. You can tell on a lot of the shows that the people are neurotic, overpermissive ninnies. It's like watching "Supernanny," where the kids have no manners because the parents are afraid to teach them manners. I agree with Cesar that calm, assertive ENERGY is necessary to train a dog. Panicky hyperventilation, smothering, and obnoxious permissiveness will create bad dogs, just as they create bad kids. And just as a 5-year-old wants structure and boundaries, so does a dog. Failure to provide those things leads to neuroses.

I also agree with Cesar that the dog needs exercise, exercise, exercise. I think a lot of dog problems in our houses come from dogs who are ignored until they become coiled springs. They have no way to use up their energy!

I see a few people at the dog walking area who clearly have watched a lot of Cesar Milan. At the least pull towards another dog, they do the ZHHHT! sound and a collar tug. Honestly, their dogs behave exactly the same, week in and week out. I haven't seen any progress in 2 years. (I think in both cases, the dogs are ignoring Cesar's and most trainers' #1 rule: give the dog enough exercise! The poor animals NEVER get to run loose to burn energy.)

Some of the dogs who were allegedly "cured" on the show looked really, really scared to me. The dog scared of linoleum didn't look unscared at the end - he looked terrified. Maybe flooding does work for some dogs, but I don't think it works for all of them.

My sensitive dog used to be extremely reactive when meeting other dogs and humans. I tried chain yanking and such for maybe 3 weeks after I got the dog - but it was obvious that it was making him angrier and more lunging, rather than less. He'll now happily do a down/stay if a scary dog is approaching us, with no lunging or barking. That's a replacement behavior - I think he thinks it makes him safe. I taught the behavior with nothing but rewards and positive reinforcement. People actually compliment me on what a good dog I have - and I think his calmness comes from his trust that I'LL be calm to him. (It took a lot of months to build that trust, and at that point in time, any physical corrections I used would have made us go backwards, rather than forwards.)

I'm guessing that calm, assertive energy from the trainer would probably work wonders combined with any positive training program, at least for sensitive dogs. My gut is that the dogs on the show react to the energy or self-confidence that Cesar's putting out ("I'm in charge. You let ME make the decisions now...") as much as they are to the chain yanks and such.

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#14 bc4pack

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 10:08 AM

A little addendum on my post...
Not only do I want my dog to trust me,but
I have to trust my dog.

I have to trust what my dog is telling me and listen. Dogs will tell you ,loud and clear,if they
can't handle what is going on.

Trust and respect is a two-way street.

#15 Root Beer

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 10:35 AM

I think you know your dog best.

I also believe that Cesar Milan is one of the worst things to happen to dog training, that his methods are terrible for most aggressive dogs, and that if I'd tried to train Solo that way, Solo would be dead by now.


Ditto except to add that I think his methods are very dangerous for most fearful dogs, too. If I had tried to train Speedy that way, he might also be dead. I am very grateful that he wasn't in vogue yet when I started with him.

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#16 haleigh

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 10:44 AM

The one thing that always cracks me up in spite of all of this, is CM still doesn't bother telling us how many dogs he's killed!
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#17 Pippin's person

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 10:54 AM

A wise trainer once said to me that the only thing that two dog trainers agree on is that the third one is wrong. I've only seen Milan a couple of times and I've not read much of his book. From that little bit of information about him, he seems to me like someone who has a good personal sense of dogs, but basically no training in dog training--and certainly no training in training people to train dogs (which is the critical point for most dogs who are in trouble, IMHO).

In his own book (and at the end of his show) he says that he's not a dog trainer, but a "dog psychologist". Fair enough. If people take him to be a trainer who can teach them to train their dogs--well, people often ignore the bits of informaiton that don't fit whatever their preconceived notions are--and they'll get what they pay for in a sense.

I agree with borderlicious that it is curious that many people seem to focus more on his highly questionable training techniques (like alpha rolls and flooding) than on what is clearly quite practical advice concerning exercise, mental stimulation and consistency.

Inu, it seems like you used a method for working with Jazzy that you were comfortable with and, more critically, that worked for the two of you and had the successful outcome of making Jazzy more confident. Really, that's all that matters (and in that sense you did act like a leader--you found out what you needed to have a successful outcome and you did it). At some level, the argument with your friend is nothing but academic. And we each have to decide for ourselves how useful those kinds of discussions are :rolleyes:
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#18 MaggieDog

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 10:55 AM

Hear Hear to the majority of opinions about Cesar's methods and their potentially dangerous impact on fearful/aggressive dogs. Maggie too would likely be dead if he worked with her when I first got her 7 years ago. With clicker and +R she's actually a therapy dog, goes to dog parks, and attended Clicker Expo (400 people. 200 dogs in one small part of a hotel for 3 days) - all from a dog that would nip *noses* when people moved, flip like a salmon on the end of a leash around more than 4 people, and go after pretty much any dog that wasn't her size or larger and smooth coated).

I agree also that Cesar has his good points, but those good points have been around for waaay longer than his method has. Anyone else remember when "a tired puppy is a good puppy" came onto the scene? What about NILIF? And all the trainers of reactive dogs teaching people to set rules, etc.? All before the Cesar phenomenon.

I think I have to give Cesar credit for a few things, though I don't know what he'd think of them. :rolleyes: Without TDW shows:
- I wouldn't have been able to see over and over what fearful, shut down behavior often looks like
- I wouldn't have had the chance to really evaluate my methods, why they work, and how I explain that to others
- I wouldn't be sooo thankful for who my dog is and how she was trained
- I wouldn't recognize how valuable a thinking dog is (Maggie's default behavior is to offer something new vs. a corrections based default of no behavior)
- My dog wouldn't get as many hugs (that's generally my reaction to some of the things I have seen on that show)

IMO Cesar's methods probably don't harm the majority of "normal" pet dogs - but on any dog with slight fear, reactivity, or aggression issues they can easily set up a nasty spiral into worsened behavior and possible relinquishment or euthanasia because "after all I tried everything Cesar said to do and this dog is just too dominant". I'm not a big fan of the human/dog dominance heirarchy idea - leadership yes, but dominance no.

I have found it interesting to note that he actually does use treats now and then and his force methods seem to be a bit toned down from the early seasons...
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#19 Millie&MeBC

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 11:01 AM

I agree with Melanie that you know your dog best. I think an owner's gut feeling is usually the one to go with when it comes to how their dog will react to something.

As for Cesar, I think he's terribly misinformed. His methods are not "natural" at all when it comes to problem solving. All of his so-called remedies involve very frequent leash corrections or "bites" from his hands, and teach the dog to shut down and not offer any behavior at all. Natural training teaches a dog to think for itself, not stop thinking entirely.

Some of his advice is practical - exercise the dog, be consistent, treat the dog like a dog, etc. Some of it is so out there, I can't help but laugh. Overall I think he is very bad news for dogs, not necessarily the dogs he works with, but the dogs belonging to people who watch his show and know nothing but what he preaches. I see so many pet owners trying to replicate his techniques. Of course, they never replicate the sensible ideas he presents like giving a dog exercise and leadership. They replicate the alpha rolls and leash yanks and flooding. They become adament that their dogs pull on the leash, jump up to greet them, nip too hard while playing and even act fearful because they are in a "dominant state of mind". They think that if they bully their dog into mindless subordination, all its problems will be solved.

Cesar is a bully, not a psychologist as he claims to be.

And before I get accused of it, I am not an over-permissive weenie. I have no problem telling my dogs when enough is enough. I just don't agree with suppressing unwanted behavior by way of force, when better and more permanent results can be achieved with other methods.


I completely agree with all of this. I'm not a fan of Cesar's methods at all.
My relationship with my dogs is based more on the term "benevolent leader" as Patricia McConnell calls it. I would never lead my dogs with alpha rolls, etc.
I disagree with a lot of what he says but it also puzzles me how he gets so much credit for common sense such as a need for exercise.

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#20 haleigh

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 11:13 AM

Joy is a WAY fearful dog. If did it Cesar's way, then Joy, like multiple dogs on here, would be dead right now. Granted, when we're on a walk and she gets spooked by a garbage truck, I don't coddle her, I keep walking. I don't agree with her she should be absolutely terrified of every little thing. Being firm, but not a bully alone has boosted her confidence and problem solving skills boatloads more than if CM trained her.

I agree also that Cesar has his good points, but those good points have been around for waaay longer than his method has. Anyone else remember when "a tired puppy is a good puppy" came onto the scene? What about NILIF? And all the trainers of reactive dogs teaching people to set rules, etc.? All before the Cesar phenomenon.


I agree. I actually went to a half CM half NILIF trainer, until I found out how abusive it was.

Cesar, in my opinion, can have the full potential to be a fabulous trainer. But the fact of the matter is, I don't think he has the BASIC CONCEPT of classical condition, operant condition is. Instead, he's basically teaching Learned Helplessness.
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Eros, 2 year chi mix
Bear, 5 year Bichon Frise
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