Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Things I've Learned from Cesar Millan

Seems like many online dog folks are Cesar Millan haters. Not me! I like to have lots of tools in the toolbox and enjoy learning from as many people as possible. I have one of his books and try to catch his TV show, The Dog Whisperer when I can.

Note: These are not verbatim quotes from Cesar Millan - just a few random things I have taken away from his show. It's certainly possible I have misunderstood or misremembered something over time. Enough of the disclaimers already.

1. Exercise, discipline, affection - in that order. It's his mantra and so basic yet so true. I keep it in mind every day and those three simple words have guided my approach to solving a lot of challenges.

2. Dog parks are not the place to go to release your over-anxious, under-exercised dog's energy. Instead, they should be used to allow an exercised dog who is in a calm state to socialize with other dogs. Since the majority of owners use dog parks as the former, I tend to stay away. Less potential for problems that way.

3. Allow dogs to meet you at their own comfortable pace. My friend Heather blogged about this in a great post yesterday.

4. Set the tone for whatever activity you are doing with your dog - walking, training, etc. Be calm and assertive and your dog will feel confident in following your lead. Again a simple idea but so helpful to keep in mind when interacting with your dog.


jan said...

I have limited experience with Cesar Milan, but I really opened a can of worms when I praised his DVD. I guess when it comes down to it, I believe more in the old ways which you cited than in modern science which sometimes goes against what I consider to be common sense.

Heather Houlahan said...

Jan, it's not "modern science."

The Clinique girls at Macy's wear white lab coats, too.

EmilyS said...

good; I like those things about Cesar as well.

But one thing I learned from Cesar, that he didn't intend: When the body posture of 2 pit bulls with previous history with each other becomes still and tense, you have 5 seconds or less to intervene. Unfortunately it took Cesar 10 seconds by which time the dogs were fully engaged. Given his love for pit bulls (which I certainly appreciate), it was a shocking mistake, actually one he's made in other instances as well including one in which he absolutely betrayed his wonderful old pit bull Daddy.

What I like least about him is his obsession with making dogs into packs. There are many perfectly normal happy dogs that do NOT want to hang out with other dogs, or at least not a bunch of strange dogs.

What you see too often in his shows is not dogs learning better behavior, but dogs shutting down to avoid correction

Anonymous said...

The most rabid Cesar-haters are the same folks whose "science" does not hold up to scrutiny. Far too much of what is hyped as "innovative, modern, scientific dog training" is little more than slick marketing.

I have a book on treat training published in the 1800's. Clicker training wasn't invented by Karen Pryor or captive dolphin trainers - it was used in psychology laboratories more than 70 years ago.

Falen said...

Nice post. So many people focus on the bad, and forget about the good he's done.
I understand that unfortunately the "laymen" may not take away the good messages from the show and just try to "quickfix" their dogs - but honestly, that's people in general.
I may not agree with his methods, but i'm certainly not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater if you know what i mean.
And i thought Heather's and Gina's posts yesterday were nice to read back to back.

Jen said...

Its the discipline part that bothers me most about CM.

The points you made were great though, I'm glad he advocates those points in such a public manner.

Scientifically, I really wish he'd tone down the dominant alpha-ness and promote more of a family structure than dictatorship with canine companions.
I always think about Occam's Razor whenever I watch a Dog Whisperer episode, and the result is usually a migraine.

Anonymous said...

Not sure exactly what positive based training methods have to do with "modern science". Yes, positive based training methods are a more modern approach, but modern science? Umm...okay. Talking about training methods is also a sticky subject, for sure, and I hate to get involved. But as much as Milan supports pit bulls, exercise, and disciple, his methods are not at all what I would choose to train and relate to my dogs.

Nicole Silvers said...

I think you've learned some good things from Cesar!

I don't recommend forcing a dog on its side (called alpha rolls) or believing that every behavior of every dog is an attempt at dominance, but these aren't the ideas you seem to have taken away.

You seem to have picked out the best bits! Good for you!

calmassertiv said...

Not once has Cesar used the term 'alpha roll', but somehow those who appear to misunderstand the exercise take great pride in flaunting their supposed greater knowledge thru the use of a nomenclature they are proud to have read somewhere they consider a priori more credible than one of the planet's most experienced dog behaviorists. To try to explain: what Millan does is patiently convince a dog that has attempted to dominate him that it must 'give it up'. If, at the moment of the dog's dominant aggression, this cannot be accomplished by taps to the side or tugs to the side then he waits for the dog to 'take a break', as it were, and then applies the least amount of pressure in just the right place to make the dog think it is getting bitten by a more-dominant animal than itself, and as the dog goes down he continues applying that pressure until the dog lies itself down flat on the ground. At this point his goal is to release the dog but have the dog remain calmly lying in front of him, indicating its comfort with having surrendered the leadership position. At this point he steps back away from the dog, which shows the dog that it can trust its newly accepted leader to not be Aggressive against it, merely Dominant. The struggle you see on TV sometimes is the result of previous handlers merely putting all their weight on a dog until it is flat on the ground, which does not instill trust in the dog, and then backing off before the dog has become calm, which does not instill respect from the dog, so when Cesar performs the exercise he has to overcome the leftover baggage created by prior handlers that only serve to convince the dog to struggle longer and harder in the belief that the human will give up. Cesar teaches that once you begin this process, you Cannot give up, because it will only serve to reinforce the dog's dominant attitude.
In Aikido karate one is taught to gently guide an attacking opponent to the ground using the opponent's own momentum. The force applied is well-placed and aptly-sized to accomplish the goal of bring down the attacker with minimal damage to all concerned, and then to hold the attacker down with just a minimum of force until he/she stops resisting. The important part that the Cesar-bashers don't 'get' is that the goal of the process is to calm the animal down, to take it from a dominant aggressive state of mind to a much healthier peaceful submissive state of mind. If practiced in the right state of mind and with the right goal in mind, it's actually quite Zen-like. If seen and practiced as just beating a dog till it's on the ground then it's just misguided animal abuse. The difference is a skilled handler with impeccable timing, traits that those who blather about 'alpha rolls' evidently lack.

Anonymous said...

The latest controversy is Ceasar;s use of electronic collars. Anyone who has dealt with extremely out of control red zone dogs should know you are not going to st stop this behavior with a click and a treat. Some dogs require having their attention gotten strongly. The command no is the most important lesson a dog can learn. It can save the life of the dog itself or what ever an extremely aggressive dogs is wanting to kill, such as other dogs, children, cats, horses, etc.
not in the order of importance of course. anyone who doesn't understand this is a danger to society with their I love dogs more than people attitudes which frankly make me sick to my stomach.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the things you learned. I have his book too and watch the show. I've learned some valuable stuff.

Carrie Boyko said...

While I personally enjoy Cesar Millan's instincts I do think many of his methods are not suitable for the average American dog owner. That's not to say I don't like him; I do. I am particularly fond of his propensity to stress daily physical and mental exercise for all dogs. If he is successful in getting this message across to the greater majority of dog owners, we'll see dog issues and dog bites go down markedly.

Anonymous said...

This is what your lamby poos can do.

I am so sick of people acting as though all dogs are defenseless angels that wouldn't hurt a fly. Hence the irresponsible, reckless, and dangerous positive only dog training insanity sweeping the nation.

If you're camping and a big black bear begins ripping up your tent trying to get to you are you going to offer it a treat and tell it God and the universe love it in a sweet voice, expecting your peace and love words to drive it back into what's left of the forest from which it came? No! Not if you want to live you're not.

OK then, if a 136 pound Rottweiler comes charging at me and I feel threatened I am going to kick it square in the ribs as hard as I can, stab it in the eye with my car keys or anything else I can quickly come up with to protect myself from being attacked.

I really hope all you nut jobs supporting this senseless craze are childless. If not I know who's responsible for the screaming chaotic messes you claim as dependents on your taxes.

Marianne said...

Everything you said I agree with and more.

In addition to what you said, What I learned from Cesar is:

Dogs live in the moment - This is a huge concept and one I have embraced also.

Rules, Boundaries and Limitations- Our job to communicate CLEAR RBL,so they know what is expected of them. Hey,that works for humans too.

Dogs NEED their pack, family. Dogs are social creatures who do fabulously when properly socialized with other dogs, pets and humans. Hey, humans need that too so we should understand that.

You can learn a lot about dogs by watching how they interact with each other and attempting to understand what is going on. An older dog growling at a younger dog isn't always aggression...usually it is an older dog teaching a pup the rules for behavior in a pack. I've seen a lot of people misinterpret dog behavior at the park. Vocal noise is not always aggressive and often playful. I watch body language and pay attention to how they "look" at each other...the dogs seem to work it out most of the time.

On alpha rolls, If you listen to Cesar...he says NEVER force, that a dog needs to willingly submit.Personally, I have never needed to do even that. I think alpha rolls are for extreme cases and only done by someone who knows the proper way which is Not an aggressive action, but a calming one.

Cesar is Kind,Deeply Cares about dogs and has helped many, many dogs that the "positive" TV trainers won't touch.

Because of Cesar, the dog I found abandoned on the street emaciated and scared is now Balanced, Socialized and Trained. I never treated her with pity, but with respect and she became the dog she was meant to be. It wouldn't have happened without Cesar.

Teaching a behavior with a bag of treats is one thing and has it's place. Understanding what your dog NEEDS to be balanced is entirely different. There is a place for both and mutual respect would go a long way!