Friday, October 3, 2008

My Opinion on Cesar Millan

Many of you are familiar with the show The Dog Whisperer on National Geographic, and how Cesar Millan and his pack have been helping rehabilitate dogs and "train" their owners.

Well, a few people have asked what I think of him, so I'm sharing.

I see Cesar Millan as a good trainer in general. I feel he is spot on when it comes to energy level influencing a dog. A dog can pick up on nonverbal cues and expressions that we as humans can't, even when we're the ones producing it. In order to keep your dog in a sane state of mind, you must be an even-tempered and "balanced" person. I feel dogs and humans share energies just like the assumed bonding between horses and humans. I also believe he is right about exercise. Dogs do need to roam, and regardless of breed, all dogs have energy that can be spared and frustrations that can be vented in a positive way by walks (on-leash, right folks?), fetch, hiking, etc. Keeping a dog confined somewhere is never acceptable, and in dogs caged or tied a lot, there is documentation of a deterioration of the mind - issues can begin to manifest themselves in a variety of ways such as developed obsessions (ie spinning, cage pacing, fixation on certain objects), aggression, unwanted digging, chewing, barking, or scratching, as well as a number of other things. Even aggressive dogs should be exercised. Putting a dog in a backyard for eight hours a day is NOT a substitute for exercise, unless you happen to own acreage. I own a dog who is human aggressive. I walk him at night, when no one is around, on leash, and for at least an hour. Sometimes, I'll take him on an offleash hike in some hills where I know no one will be.

Here's where I have the beef: Cesar is TOO hands-on with the dogs, in my opinion. Personally, I train using a clicker and Bil-Jac Liver morsels. Many dogs are food motivated, and it creates a positive experience for them. I believe in positive reinforcement the whole way, with lots of verbal praise and food rewards. Cesar's training is more negative reinforcement, ie, something done wrong results in a negative punishment rather than creating a positive for them to learn from. I would never recommend people "tchht" and "bite" their dogs when correcting - a nervous dog can make ribbons of your hand. Instead, I've found that something as simple as coins in a can can divert a dog's attention long enough to redirect it. I have never had to phsyically redirect any of my dogs. I'm a rather hands-off person when it comes to training, preferring to let the dogs nature come in to play. I do stay in a balanced state of mind the entire time, which comes easily to me. I have been bitten twice in my life (once by a Chihuahua in the face, once by an Akita on the arm), and if there is one thing I learned, it's that your mindset is the biggest benefactor when approaching a dog, no matter what your intentions. If you don't have your head on straight, a dog can, and will, sense it and react on it. In order to train a happy and mentally sound dog, you too must be mentally sound.

I do not see a problem with the Illusion Collar, so long as you are responsible with it, much as you would be with a choke chain or prong collar. I still use choke chains on my two larger boys, and they do not get hurt because
a) I know what I'm doing, and
b) The dogs have been trained not to pull.
If you want a real aide in training for dogs that pull, chase, or are a general nuisance on the leash, I'd recommend a Halti Lead, but again, this is another tool you must learn to use correctly. It is my personal favourite, having helped me train my mothers shy dog from bolting when he sees strangers.

All in all, I don't see Cesar as too much of a menace to the canine world. Personally, I'd rather handle my dogs myself. I think he is just a little overly pushy, and does bully the dogs into his way (alpha rolling is never a good idea, either... one of my big gripes there) some of the time. He's just a hyperactive man who gets a little too touchy with his canine clientele, IMO. I would never approach a dog with the intention of physically placing my hands on him/her to correct an undesired behavior.

Victoria Stillwell, however? I don't think she's let the fame go to her head quite yet and is a lovely trainer.


pipsophiepip said...

I don't like Cesar all the much personally. I'm not opposed to punishment in general, but I don't think his methods are effective in the long run. And, at least on his show, he doesn't teach anything that viewers can safely and realistically use at home, besides the exercise part.
And I'm really responding because I have to correct you on your terminology. This is something a lot of beginners/amateur trainers get wrong: Positive vs negative reinforcement/Positive vs negative punishment.
Positive or negative just refers to whether something happens or not. That's all, it doesn't have anything to do with positive=good or negative=bad.
Reinforcement is anything that causes a behavior to continue. So in positive reinforcement, you do something (click and treat, for example), to get the behavior to continue. In negative reinforcement, you make an unpleasant thing STOP happening as soon as the behavior happens. For example, your car beeps and beeps until you put your seat belt on; when you buckle up it is reinforced by the "bad thing" going away. Or, in the dog world, when a trainer pinches a dog's ear continuously until it takes a dumbbell in it's mouth. The dog learns that the way to avoid pain or make the pain stop is to take the dumb bell.
Any kind of punishment is intended to stop a behavior. Positive punishment is when you DO something to stop a behavior. When Cesar says "TCCHT!" and hits the dog, this is positive punishment. Negative punishment is when you make a good thing go away when the undesired behavior starts. This is like how puppies play: someone bites too hard, and the fun stops. Nothing bad happens, the good thing just goes away. It's the same principle used to teach bite inhibition in dogs (you yelp and ignore the dog rather than smack him, basically, and he learns to be gentle with his mouth).
So when you said "Cesar's training is more negative reinforcement", what you meant was positive punishment. And then again when you said negative punishment you meant positive punishment.
Get it? Sorry to lecture, it's just such a common mistake and it's annoying to see all over the place, especially since many people read your blog.

Mel, Foxtail Farm said...

That pretty much matches my opinion. If I were ever to suggest to someone that they watch his show, I would emphasize that they need to pay attention to his body language and demeanor, and NOT to attempt his actual techniques. Even if they are effective when he uses them, they'll wreak havoc if someone who can't read dogs' body language tries them. Also, the exercise bit is important.

pipsophiepip already handled the proper definitions of operant conditioning terms (and quite eloquently), so I'll leave that alone ;).

AvatardsUnite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AvatardsUnite said...

I agree with pipsophiepip for the most part as well.

ottbluver said...

I think that Victoria Stillwell is that people who own little dog an idiot, who trades on the fact that people who own little dogs want to be their "friends".
I would never call myself a trainer, I have had a rescued Rottie, a rescued collie mix that had serious mental issues, a rescue mix, and a pure JRT. They all required diffirent treatments. For the Rottie the Alpha roll worked, on day one when I had to let him know that he was not allowed to chase cats.
I use a form of the Alpha roll on the JRT, when he is bad I ask him to lie down and roll over, to enforce my dominance.
To say that something is flat out wrong, is small mindedness. It all depends on the animal, it's background, and it's attitude.

A good trainer knows that different dogs need differenttraining methods, and is always willing to learn.
Form what I have seen of Victoria Stillwell, she is not.

cherryblossomshiba said...

Um, Ottbluver, Victoria Stilwell has trained very big but naughty little monsters which were boxers, labs, a Utonagan, a Belgian Sheepdog, a husky, german shepherds, a bull terrier, god and a lot more I can't remember. She always has a calm attitude, unless she's smacking sense into the owners lol. And uh, she doesn't make the little dogs their 'friends', she finally lets them be dogs, not people. Clearly, from what you've seen, you've not seen much. And Cesar Millan isn't very open minded. If he was, he'd leave his hands on techniques and go to more humane methods, since it shouldn't matter how fast it works if the dog is working out of fear it will be grabbed and rolled to the ground. You should have a happy, willing partner, and strangling a dog (from the JonBee episode, uh...) by grabbing the leash and dangling the poor thing in the air doesn't seem like that would make a happy partner. Willing, but only for their life.

pipsophiepip, [seriously, I'm wondering] how is it positive by getting hit? That doesn't seem all that positive to me... I think that's why many people say "positive reinforcement, ect", but they just define it differently. It's not really a mistake...

Mel, Foxtail Farm said...

A lot of times in the social sciences, terms have somewhat different meanings than the colloquial uses. When people say "positive" and "negative" they usually mean "good" and "bad." But think back to math class, where positive and negative are simply descriptions of where a number is in relation to zero. The psychology definitions are similar. Positive means doing some action to the subject, negative means taking away something from the subject. Reinforcement is to make a behavior more likely to occur, punishment is to make a behavior less likely to occur.

Clicker training most strongly relies on positive reinforcement (giving something to the dog to increase the behavior, like a treat) and negative punishment (taking something away to decrease the behavior, like stopping a game if the dog gets too rough).

Negative reinforcement and positive punishment occur to various degrees in other training methods.

I know it's confusing, because if someone says they use positive punishment, it sounds like a good thing if you don't know the way the terms are used in psychology. But positive punishment is actually the harshest of the four quadrants of operant conditioning.

pipsophiepip said...

melfoxtailfarm explained it well, but if you are still confused, you can wikipedia "operant conditioning" and scroll down to the section titled "Reinforcement, Punishment, and Extinction". There is a pretty good explanation there.

Tasunke Hinzi said...

To each their own, I'm more "hands on" than most people. I like Cesar because he basically trains my way of training dogs or horses. I have used the "pennies in the can" for breaking certain ingrained behaviors for dogs, but I like Cesar's method because, well, it's my own.

pipsophiepip, if you don't think his methods are effective in the long run, your welcome to come and see my "pack." I wish my "hopeless case," a pit bull mix, was still with me. He lived many happy years after I took him in off the streets and retrained him.

Many people have told me I should train dogs (or horses), but the problem with that is I'm not as good with people as Cesar is, and that's pretty much what dog/horse training is, training people.

Though I do agree my/his method is prohibitive to most people, since most can't read animals very well. I have a natural ability to see the behavior before it happens, either dog or horse, so does one of my children, but my husband and my other two kids do not (try as I do to teach them) and I see that in the vast majority of people. Everyone that I witness that have had incidences happen to them with either dog or horse, have told me that the animal did it "out of the blue" when I could see what the animal was about to do, often times several minutes in advance. I could see a pattern of behavior starting to emerge that the handler/owner was oblivious to or if they did notice it did not know the where it was leading.
So a more hands off approach is way better and safer for most people.

I have used the "tchht" noise for years now, way before Cesar made it popular. I started using it after I saw someone many years ago with a dog trained to stop barking to "shhhhh." I thought it was a lot more pleasant to nearby people than a load "no" or "quiet" and adopted the use of it. Though I use more of a soft, quiet "Shhhhhhh," not the short, harsh, "tchht."
And I don't use it because I think it works better than the voice, but because I like the delicateness of it. Also, the dogs seem to hear it better over the acrege I have if I make it loud. I'll get a response to it when they are way at the other side of our two acres barking over trying to call their names, and I can't whistle worth crap :P

AvatardsUnite said...

To explain my position on alpha rolling, I think its good as long as its done correctly but if people use it out of anger its terrible. Overall I approve with that and nearly all of Cesar's methods but as I said before, it depends on how you use them.

AvatardsUnite said...

I'm with Tasunke Hinzi all the way. I have the ability to read animals like that and so can my aunt and cousin(my dad lacks any animal connection sadly though). I had great success with the "tchht" sound for getting my neighbors dog to stop barking excessively.

maia said...

I've never seen one of his shows so I can't really comment much about that but I can say something about not exercising your dog.

My family recently began to foster a purebred bassest hound named Molly. She was never abused or anything of the such and was given a ton of love,but her old owners never gave her any exercise.

She was kept in the crate most of the day,except for the two hours that she was let out to use the bathroom in a small outdoor pen. The lady who owned her lived in a mobile home park and she was never home,neither was her daughter who lived with her.

The woman,who was around 81,was finally persuaded to give Molly up to a resuce who gave her to us to foster.

She now gets walks every day and is allowed to roam the house all day and night.

Tasunke Hinzi said...

avatardsunite, funny you say that you use the "tchht" noise to stop your neighbor's dog from barking.
I use the "shhhh" to do the same with my neighbor's dogs. We have the chicken coop near his property line so we need to be near the "dog's territory" to feed the chickens everyday. My neighbor's dogs are insane barkers and any activity will set them off, not only barking, but fighting with eachother as well.

When they start barking at me I just say, "shhhh" and they stop, watch me for a minute and leave. My poor hubby can't seem to command the same respect and he has to endure the noise and insanity if he is feeding/watering/cleaning the coop without me. He can't figure out how I do it, lol.

AvatardsUnite said...

Tasunke Hinzi, don't you wish that neighbors would take more time to train their dogs? Then again, my neighbor purchased this puppy under the belief that its a Pomeranian and the papers are coming later -sigh- also keep in mind that she outweighs Pomeranians and is 8 months old.

Emily said...

I agree. That was well written - I agree with his theories about energy directing your dog. Also he made a comment that I really like the following comment that he made in his book:

Dogs live in the moment. They don’t dwell or linger on the past, nor do they spend time planning the future. They don’t concern themselves with the fact that their owner got frustrated and yelled at them two days ago. They remember, but they don’t worry about it. They care about how their owner is treating them at that moment. They live for the NOW.

Sarah said...

I'm not a fan of Milan - he's an annoying personality and I really can't stand watching his show for very long. He seems to have success with dogs and breeds that respond well to physical handling, but I think different approaches work with different breeds and different individuals, and he's much too sure that his way is the best way. I had a dog who would have never learned a thing from him because she was all about mutual respect; her attitude toward alpha rolls was much what your coworker's attitude toward them would be - that they're an assault. And his running around with big mixed groups of off-leash dogs is over the top. The whole 'leash aggression' theory he's helped popularize is beginning to drive me CRAZY. It may seem fine if you have a muscled 95lb Rottie, but as someone whose dog is smaller and lighter, the idea of letting the pups loose to 'work it out' on their own is apalling. Not with a total stranger's totally strange dog that's not going to happen.

"I think that Victoria Stillwell is that people who own little dog an idiot, who trades on the fact that people who own little dogs want to be their "friends"."

Versus the people who own big dogs who want to be their partner in crime? Please. I'd rather get a spoiled Bichon in my hair than a Rottie whose thinks his dog's muscles make up for his own shortcomings. And beside, I saw an episode the other day where she trained a Giant Schnauzer. That's a heck of a breed.

Tee said...

I agree that every dog and every situation is different, however, he does use somewhat varied methods. Just today I watched him use food for a dog who was fearful of a scale. He used the food to create a positive experience for the dog and not once did he "tsscht" or "correct" the dog with the leash. It wasn't needed for this particular case.

I personally love Cesar's personality and I can't stand Victoria. She's so obnoxious to me.

GoLightly said...

Thanks so much for responding, DGF. I've been curious what some of the other opinions are of him out there. I've owned only four dogs, (first was a big mistake, long ago, poor guy, he doesn't count, in my training logs) but I've trained for other people, and my second dog, a rescue (she died Oct. 18, 2004 at 14.5 years old) was my very own product of my training. She taught me a LOT, and is the only dog that ever bit me (once, and it was my fault), and I've worked for a Humane Society, and a small animal vet. My third and fourth are with me now. My older female, a failed sheep-herder, ("my" breeder freely admitted she started her way too young) was my third rescue, after I lost my good old rescue girl. Older female, that I got at 1.5 years old responds to exactly the energy I give her. At the obedience class I took my (very first) puppy to, two years ago, the first trainer scared the crap out of my puppy, and I ignored her training, and used the facility, for the rest of the sessions. I hated that the puppies were NEVER allowed to smell/touch/play with each other. I saw 8 week old puppies choke-chained, being yanked and jerked, and yelped on. The trainer is well-respected, and I thought, at least at first, that maybe she knew what she was doing (not). At the second school I tried, (I was using the classes for exposure/socialization), I was told that the puppies would be allowed playtime. Then when I got to class, oops, I was told oh that's only on Saturdays, pay 5 bucks, and go off leash with the other puppies, under our supervision. I live way outside the city, I couldn't do that!! The puppies were not allowed to touch/play/socialize, during breaks, or at the end of class. I'm sorry, I do believe that's where frustration towards other dogs is born. My puppy's (she's now two, half sister to my older female) best friend is a 4 year old jack/yorkie cross. They must learn, young, how to play with smallers, or they will NEVER learn later. That's why little dogs are in such danger during long downs at obedience trials. And, when I asked the second trainer what she thought of Cesar (I'd had my epiphany by this point), she said "Oh, he's the WORST thing that's ever happened to dog training". As an "old broad" who learned dog training as best I could, starting with the worst book (Koehler of course), and progressing naturally towards Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor and the like, I finally had an epiphany while watching Cesar. I love the guy. With these last two dogs, both australian kelpies, his simple, straightforward methods has changed how I deal with my girls. Exercise, discipline, affection, in that order. Calm, assertive behaviour is something ALL dogs respond to. I LOVE the simplicity. Works, perfectly, every time. And I wouldn't have the nerve to deal with any of the problem dogs he's dealt with, at least not yet.. What would you do, with a dog ready to kill another dog? Food only works, when there isn't another more powerful motivator around. It doesn't work in all cases. I haven't seen a single instance where he was "rough" with the dog. I've never seen him "hit" one. With "The other end of the Leash" book by Patrica McDonnell, I finally understood that when my older girl is on a scent, nothing in the world can stop her. She isn't deaf, she's only capable of one thought at a time. I've seen Cesar re-direct, using touch. With the big-red-eyed badly begun bully breeds, I don't believe you could use any other method. As a long time reader, and with a strong love of animals and their thoughts, I also got a lot from Temple Grandins' "Animals in Translation". Fascinating reading.
(I've never heard of Victoria Stillwell, I guess I'm lucky). I did, finally, realize, that I had to stop reading, and start watching, my dogs. I'd read "The Dog Listener" while my old girl was still alive, mostly deaf at this point, and the authors' idea was that when leaving, you should just leave, with no announcement. Before, I had always, calmly, said, "I'll be right back". Never had a problem. I left that day, without a word, not for very long, and when I came back, my husband said "Old girl just spent the whole time looking for you!!" Poor old dog. I stopped reading that book, that day. I wasn't doing anything wrong!! Good habits are just that. If they work, stick with them. Something else I learned..
"Good people Great Dogs", and "My Smart Puppy" (Brain Kilcommons) were helpful books too.
Most every good trainer makes mistakes, and we are not perfect. Neither are our dogs, but boy do they love us anyway!!
I'll stop soon, promise. Just wanted to mention that Jean Donaldson was excellent, but even I start to nod off, at some of her long-winded explanations. She complicates the simple. I was furious at an article she once wrote about canine "myths" in our "Dogs in Canada" magazine.. I wrote her a long letter about it, because, to me, it just sounded like she wanted to de-bunk Cesar. "Dogs do not form packs". That one drove me crazy!! I stopped reading her articles after that. I can't remember the rest of the article, sorry, it's late, and I'm tired.. She's just too much of a behaviourist, and not enough of a realist, in my opinion, of course..
Wow, am I ever long-winded. Sorry!!
Thanks again, scratches behind the ears to all our canines:)

Floyd said...

The thing people forget when watching TV shows is that these are not "how to train your dog" shows- those take time, and effort, and are full of slow gradual steps that are boring to watch. What Milan, Stillwell, and even most of the "controversial" parts of Koehler (as I read it a while ago and don't remember most of it) are for "this dog HAS TO CHANGE or we're getting rid of it" interventions.
Heck, Stillwell's show is called "It's Me or the Dog"- how much more blame can you place on the dog for problems created by the humans?
If Cesar gets ten people per show to get off their ass and walk their dog ~everyday~ so it's not bored, frustrated and full of energy, more power to him. If he gets people to realize that high drive dogs don't do well in apartments without an outlet for their energy, more power to him.
I've been watching the show for the people training aspect for years- I couldn't be that calm when the people are blaming the dog for problems they created. I respect him for being able to help people see what they're doing wrong, and giving them tools to change it.

I think it says a lot about most dog owners out there that his show has become so iconic- there's this man, and he understands dogs, and dogs understand him, and he's special! It wouldn't have the same draw if it were twenty different people training twenty different dogs twenty different ways, and they all succeeded, because most people have problems with their dogs. People want that "transformation" between before and after.

I'm still amazed at the number of people who ask me advice on dog training because I trained my own service dog, after he'd been dumped at a shelter. People are desperate to have someone shine a light on why Fluffy bites them, or won't walk on a leash, or pees in the house. There aren't enough common sense, balanced dog trainers out there, and there are too many people getting a dog expecting it to fulfill their needs the same way a TV, computer or car does- when you're done with it, you turn it off, leave it behind and go about the rest of your life. Dogs don't come with an "off" button, and a scary number of pet owners are surprised that Fido doesn't come pre-trained and perfect.

I think Milan is doing more good than harm, but then, he's not training these dogs, he's bringing them back to a level of being where their owner's aren't overwhelmed. In dealing with a Dalmatian puppy, he called in professional dog trainer to teach it to sit, down, and rollover... the trainer used a clicker, and Milan was really happy with that. Those are the shows I enjoy the most, where it's not man versus enraged beast, it's man helping dog live in human society. But those aren't the shows most people want to see. Most people watch NASCAR for the wrecks, most the people I know watched "Crocodile Hunter" waiting for Steve to get killed, and I'm assuming most people watch Milan hoping to see a dog tear a chunk out of him. So those are the dogs they line up for him to work with. It's good TV, not good dog training.

may said...

I don't mind Cesar Milan's techniques - obviously they're working for him. They aren't the methods I would use, but whatever. My biggest problem with him is that so many people try to use his methods, and that is extremely dangerous. He gets away with the methods he uses because he is who he is. Most people don't have that kind of natural "dominance" or charisma.

However, I have heard from some very reputable sources that his techniques make dogs "shut down" and apparently you can see that in all of the dogs on the show, especially in his own dogs. I don't know if that's true, since I don't watch it, but it's an interesting thing to keep in mind.

GoLightly said...

May, I think you need to watch the show, before passing judgment. Floyd, I agree it is good TV. I think you're right, most people watch for the bite factor. I don't. I watch, because he consistently, kindly, helps people with their dogs. My own dogs and I have benefited greatly from it, after years and years of reading, watching, learning and training. It makes me laugh that Cesar just makes the dog trainers squirm, because if more people actually watched, and learned from it, a lot of trainers would be out of business. I know I won't go back to my ex-trainer. Who, by the way, is very "reputable". I have enough knowledge, anyway, but I'm always willing to listen, and learn. I was extremely put off by my ex-trainer, who felt Cesar did more harm than good. As Floyd has said, if he gets one owner to actually walk their dog, we're all ahead. His dogs don't shut down, at all. Open minds, people, open minds. That dog trainers are pissed with him, isn't surprising. He makes training way simpler. He does NOT strike the dogs. He "touches" them. He redirects their attention. His methods actually empower the owner. How is that bad?? The latest show had a Border Collie who would guard his owner, against her husband. Cesar showed them why the dog was doing it.
I can stop unwanted behaviour with a word, or a look. Cesar uses re-direct touch, with his bad ass cases.
He also doesn't say anything about the owners' "training tools", like pinch collars and chokes.
I can't be a dog trainer, cause I couldn't stand the bone-headed people, who assume the dog comes pre-programmed. Same reason I'm glad I didn't get in to vet school. My dogs are happier, because I follow his very simple rules. I give them lots of exercise, then I train them, then I love 'em up.
Positive punishment, negative reinforcement, is all confusing gobbledeegook, when you're just trying to enjoy your dog. That's why I gave up on Jean Donaldson. She gives me a headache.
Scritches to all
Kelpies RULE!!

AvatardsUnite said...

I'm with ya GoLightly!