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March 04, 2010

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Alana

Thoughtful post as always. I can relate to having mixed feelings about Ceaser and his influence on the doggy world, but overall I think he's a plus particularly for Pitty's image in the media. The one thing I would say about Ceaser is at least he's open minded and positive! He would never dis other folks ideas the way his critics do him, he would listen to their ideas and consider using them if he thought they might work. It's like a metaphor for his whole concept...thanks for sharing!

Brent

Alana, I think your point on his open-mindedness is a good one. I remember that at one point early on Daddy was not altered (in part, because Cesar did not officially own him yet). He got a lot of negative feedback about the message that sent about him having an unaltered 'pit bull' - at which point, the following season, Daddy was neutered and he started including the "spay & Neuter your pet" plug at the end. He has been very good, I think, at responding to the criticism.

YesBiscuit

I like to watch different training methods in action and have really enjoyed Cesar's show.
I would love to have an all dog training TV channel. I would watch it! (in case any TV moguls are reading) We could have shows from many different trainers with different methods and styles. But seeing as we don't have that, I suggest that any trainer who feels they get better results than Cesar using different methods pitch his idea for a show to Nat Geo and some other channels. Victoria Stillwell has a good one for example.

Eric Goebelbecker

I appreciate the links and the nice comments on my commentaries. There is another one in progress, but I backed off for a while because I don't want DSF to turn into an anti-Millan site.

I went into the project expecting to find some common ground with Cesar, and with both Bella and Baby Girl I did. I ended up pretty disappointed and disillusioned with the Chihuahuas.

I am not a "purely positive trainer." As a matter of fact over on Dog Star Daily I was recently accused of being "just like Cesar" because I defended the use of the word punishment and publicly admitted that punishment does, at times, have a place in dog training.

People do have a tendency to go to extremes - but keep in mind that both sides of this debate are guilty of that. I left a few of the negative comments up on the commentaries. (I did delete a few because the person was just too abusive and incoherent.) Even after trying to write an actual commentary of the show, rather than just lobbing criticisms and insults, I am still called "jealous," "biased" and "incompetent" because I critcized a *TV SHOW*. It seems that for every experienced trainer that criticizes him, there are 100 viewers that refuse to countenance any criticism of their pop star.

As far as people pitching alternative shows if they don't like him there's two problems there:

First of all, I don't think I need a show to criticize him. He's doing things on TV and people *do* try to mimic them. If you don't like the criticism respond to *it* rather than falling back on ad hominem attacks and "you do it better." Because you know what? Many of us *are* doing it without TV cameras and our own dog food labels.

Second, good dog training tends to be kinda boring. While I do find myself liking Victoria's methods a lot more, I find the constant focus on the "drama" to be hard to watch. Although that may be because it feels too much like watching work for me...


Amber

I also have mixed feelings about him. I appreciate so much what he's doing to promote responsible pet ownership and put a positive light on pit bulls. I truly do.

But I watched several of his shows and, though I'm not a trainer, I was very uncomfortable with some of the things he did. Two things stand out: the first thing was when he flooded a fearful dog. As the owner of a fearful dog, flooding is the last thing you should do. It breaks down trust and causes the dog to just "give up" rather than actually addressing the cause of the problem. My fearful dog has made HUGE progress in the year we've had her - without flooding.

But the thing that made me turn off the show for good was when he hung an aggressive dog from the end of a leash. I thought I was going to throw up. Again, even though I'm not a trainer, I could tell that the dog's aggression did not stem from "dominance." It was fear (as most aggression is). And when that dog finally gave up and laid on the floor panting, with its eyes glazed over, I thought "never, never again."

Like you mentioned, the danger in Ceasar's show comes from the "don't try this at home" thing. IMO, I'm not sure there should be any dog training show on TV that has such a disclaimer. Because the fact is that people WILL try it at home. And perhaps cause great damage to themselves and/or their dogs.

I also wish he'd try to explain his "dominance" thing a little more because most people have a real problem understanding that. It's probably more necessary in his pack of 30 than a typical household. It sets up an "us vs. them" scenario in many people's minds. What I've learned from my two dogs is that it's a lot more fun (and successful) to work WITH each other than to always be worried whether they're trying to take over the house.

Sorry this was so long. :-) Obviously your post was very thought-provoking. Thanks for that!

YesBiscuit!

My comment came across as "you need to have your own dog training show in order to criticize Cesar Millan"? Well. Communication fail on me.

Eric Goebelbecker

I have been told that by others in e-mail and comments YesBiscuit!, so I read more into your comment than I should have. My fault.

Brent

Amber said: "IMO, I'm not sure there should be any dog training show on TV that has such a disclaimer."

Actually, I'm pretty sure there should never be a dog training show on TV without one. Really, no matter what training technique you use, you should always start with it under the instruction of someone who is actually a real trainer and knowledgable out the subject (which, unfortunately, aren't always the same thing).

I do tend to agree with you on the flooding thing....I'm not against it in all cases, but I do prefer other methods if they can be successful.

Carianne

Brent, great write-up again. I think he has done some great work but his training is not for everybody, nor is any style of training.

But, I feel you really hit the nail on the head with this comment, "And while I understand their criticisms of Millan, I never cease to be amazed at the all-or-nothing attitude that seems to exist in this country where we feel like we have to take polarized views on someone we don't agree with 100%." This is truly the bigger issue I see around animal issues in the US right now. Instead of trying to meet in the middle or approaching these arguments as rational human beings, we become consumed with these polarized views, oftentimes losing sight of what the real end goal is. I find this sad since some with this approach may be hurting their end goal more than helping...

Amber

Carianne - I personally think that's a problem with the country on EVERY important issue right now. There's very much an "I'm right, you're wrong" mentality that's pervasive. But I digress...

Brent - I see where you're coming from and I completely agree people *should* seek the assistance of a trainer. I just meant that it seems he puts that disclaimer on there because he occasionally employs techniques that could potentially cause serious physical harm to humans or dogs. Whereas, the likelihood of injuries being caused by a show like "It's Me or the Dog" is probably far less. Most dogs probably aren't going to suffer irreparable harm by being clicked and treated, even if done wrong by the handler.

Your point is still well taken, though.

cyborgsuzy

Thank you for the thoughtful post and the link to the critique of the "Bella" episode. That is the *exact* episode that put me off of Cesar. Poking is one thing, throwing, hitting and kicking is another. And his weird 'energy' woo drives me a little nuts.

... and I used to love that show! Cesar's 'pack' is amazing and I could watch him interact with his own dogs all day.

I'm also not an advocate of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But, when you never see an appropriate use of some of Cesar's patented method, is that the fault of the student, or the teacher?

Brent

I really liked the Bella Episode...primarily because it was typical Cesar. Bella was a dog that 99% of people who work in shelters, rescues, or trainers I know would have recommended to be euthanized.

There were a few tough moments in that episode...but I don't recall any kicking, throwing or hitting (admittedly, it has been awhile).

I think the "energy woo' is interesting...and as a general rule think most humans have little to no awareness of it.

Donna

I have to admit that I haven't followed Cesar's shows, except for a back-to-back marathon all about chihuahuas that aired while we were flying across country on day (yay JetBlue!). it was fascinating and full of surprises.

But despite my Cesar-ignorance, I've come to enjoy conversations I've had with people who follow the gospel of his show. So many light up when they talk about Cesar showing them how they need to be clear, direct leaders with their dogs. In this age where so many people dress up their woo-woo baby-waby dogs and treat them like itty-bitty infants, that switch around in thinking has been sooo helpful and offers a great foundation for overwhelmed dog owners that need to get a grip.

I'm pit bull myopic of course, but I have a feeling Cesar could run a good pit bull ed class. Not so sure that the folks who hate the guy could do the same. It seems that the more trainers hate Cesar, the more likely they are to write unsocialized pit bulls off as hopeless (this is based on the number of desperate families that come to us for training help after bombing out - or being kicked out - of +R class). His show has helped convince people that it's okay to exert your will on dogs in select situations, and especially, that it's possible to problem solve, even with dogs that others might write off as hopeless. That's worth a lot.

Viva Daddy. Thank you for helping the country fall in love with your kinfolk.

Pibble

I have a love/hate relationship with Cesar. I think what he has done is fantastic in many ways. But when you're training the general public via television, a lot can go wrong. That's the part I hate.

For example, as Amber said, hanging a dog is NOT the right way to train. In my opinion, it's a cruel technique to use on any dog. Along with the trademark side-kick that he's been known to use.

As you said, Brent, Cesar has saved so many dogs who would have otherwise been euthanized, and that's amazing in my book. But that's also where the communication goes haywire. People don't realize that the dogs that they have at home are very different from the red flag dogs that Cesar has saved and rehabilitated.

And that's the part that irks me. When I see volunteers come into our shelter to walk dogs who have been rescued from bad situations, and I hear them say "I'm going to practice my Dog Whisperer techniques tonight," I just cringe.

EmilyS

Daddy was a dog-saint. And Cesar lost me the episode where he allowed 2 out of control pit bulls to attack Daddy... a fight that every savvy pit bull owner watching could see coming a mile away and which was a horrid betrayal of that sweet old dog. Yes, Cesar loves pit bulls and defends them. But his arrogance and, yes, ignorance, about dog behavior is stunningly contrary to the high regard in which people hold him.

And his methods of flooding/fear/physical intimidation/mental and physical exhaustion are NOT good techniques that will stand the test of time. They STOP a dog's behavior, but they do not change it.

They are BAD techniques for pit bulls, with their unique combination of softness and hardheadedness. "tsst" and a poke/kick (or a leash hanging) aren't going to cut it with a strong, spoiled brat who thinks he sets the rules in a household. Firm, fair and consistent positive training will. "Positive" does not mean "permissive" and it does not mean that a dog never is corrected. There is NO learning without correction. The issue of course is the TYPE of correction used.

But, yes, I think everyone can agree that "discipline, exercise and affection" are what all dogs need and that too many dogs lack the first 2. In that sense, his message IS valuable.

Pibble

Emily - well put! You hit the nail right on the head.

So often, positive techniques are looked at as "soft," and, as you said "permissive." That's not the case at all. We still use corrections, we just don't use intimidation and fear.

calmassertive

For the record, Eric the DogSpelledForward guy who did the 3 hatchet jobs on 3 of the Chihuahuas From Hell segments, admits that he never actually Watched the shows where the ENTIRE time with those dogs was shown. People who have watched these Complete episodes have seen how happy the dogs and their owners are at the result, how effusively they praise Cesar for his long-lasting effect on their dog's and their own lives, how they admire how much better their world is for his having been in it. Other episodes that include these same people (100th Episode Celebration, Lives Changed) show how these people become such huge admirers of the man, because they've seen how his Gentle yet Disciplined approach is so life-altering. This Eric guy watches none of the full episodes, speculates ignorantly as to how these people feel long-term, misinterprets what little he sees, and then runs a blog where criticisms are DELETED rather than responded to in an intellectually honest manner.

Cesar Respects dogs, and Respects those who in turn Respect him, and dogs Trust him to be fair with them. I can see how you're trying to be fair by writing this article, something DogSpelledForward Eric has no desire to duplicate. Even when the subjects of the episodes THEMSELVES enter a comment on his blog trying to correct him he deletes THOSE comments as well. His approach is that of a restaurant critic who thinks the soup was too creamy and then leaves, without trying anything else on the menu, and writes a 4-part series on how miserable all the food is in that whole section of town. Hardly a critic worth reading. Don't fall into the same intellectual hole he occupies.


Melissa Jo Peltier

From one of the executive producers of Dog Whisperer and also Cesar's co-author on all his books:
Thank you for this fair and balanced (really!) view of Cesar and his work.
There are a million things I could write about the blog and the comments, but here are a few off the top of my head:

1) "Cesar's Patented Methods" - News flash. There aren't any. Any regular watchers of the show know that Cesar comes in and evaluates a case and then decides on the methods from there. There have been nearly 350 different cases shot for Dog Whisperer. There are a range of different methods. A recent episode, "Fearful Sissy," used what one of animal training/operant conditioning's most venerated professionals has described as a brilliant combination of operant and respondent conditioning, in a rehab that took nearly a year all in all. (Cesar wouldn't have used those terms; he's not a scientist.) His motto is, "The least force possible." It is true that over the years his repetoire has expanded. There are a number of reasons for this - experience, trial and error, exposure to other professionals and their methods, and simply Cesar's openness and willingness to grow. Anyone who says "Cesar's methods are all wrong" hasn't been watching the show, since that would effectively nix ALL methods of training and behavioral rehab.

2) Regular viewers will also know that Cesar uses positive reinforcement. A LOT. He doesn't use a clicker (though we have included clicker trainers in two separate episodes and there will be more.) He sometimes uses treats. But clickers and treats don't equal positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement can mean a toy, a game, a walk, a "Good Boy," affection, or simply sending a dog really good vibes. They get it.

3) Whoever posted that Cesar's so-called "methods" are quick TV fixes and "don't withstand the test of time" hasn't been watching the follow-ups, and hasn't seen our in-house statistics. We follow up with nearly everybody from the show, since season one. We estimate an 80%+ success rate in all. If we were to measure the success rate amongst people who really DID follow up with exercise, discipline affection and consistent leadership, I'm sure the percentage would be even higher. It's beautiful to re-connect with the people from the stories and see the amazing changes they have made in their lives, simply by taking responsibility for the way they communicate with their dogs.

4) I've seen Cesar work with a lot of dogs and never seen him "intimidate" one. Sorry, but "intimidate" is a human term, complete with human pejorative semantic baggage. I've seen him "dominate" in order to get a message across, but it stands to reason that a dog would try to avoid someone that intimidated him. Dogs across the board are crazy about Cesar. We all are insanely jealous of how attracted dogs are to him. Tina Madden, owner of NuNu from the first episode of Dog Whisperer (NuNu was a long-term fix!), used to work at the Dog Psychology Center and describes feeding the pack fresh meat and watching them all actually leave the meat when Cesar arrived, to greet him and play with him. They chose Cesar over meat. HE was their positive reinforcement.

And finally, many thanks for all the condolences about and warm memories of Daddy. We all miss him. He had a great life, however, and his legacy lives on...even in shows that haven't aired yet. He was helping troubled dogs with his very presence, right up until the end.

Melissa Jo Peltier

Anna Nirva

Cesar introduced a simple concept into popular culture, that everyone can learn how to train their dogs. I credit him, the Katrina disaster, Oprah's show on puppy mill dogs, and the Vick controversy, as seminal forces that have increased the status of companion animals in our culture, as well as their newsworthiness. In our rural midwestern shelter, adopters know and love him. His show gives them confidence. RIP Daddy. Go Junior. Keep it up, Cesar.

CF

"1) Dogs are a product of their owners. If your dog is misbehaving, it is because of something that you did - -not something that is the fault of the dog."

I tend to disagree with this statement. I have a fear-agressive dog. She does not like strangers coming on my property. There is nothing I did to make her fearful, although my ignorance of proper socialization when I first got her didn't HELP anything. But even as a puppy she was shy, and didn't warm up to me until sometime after I got her home (unlike most puppies who will play with anyone they see). She is not cuddly and still doesn't really like being touched much except for belly rubs once in a while (she is almost 8 now). I have worked with her for a long time on her issues using positive methods and I have seen a lot of improvement. She will never be a social dog, because that's not the kind of dog she is. She is Labrador Retriever, a breed that is supposed to be happy-go-lucky-stupidfriendly with people.

The point is, I did nothing to MAKE this dog hate people coming on my property. Genetics plays a BIG role in a dog's personality and how they interact with the world. I work in rescue, and we see countless dogs who have been neglected/abused by people, and they are still friendly and still so ready to bond. If it was all in how a person raised their dog, shouldn't these dogs be aggressive?

I also disagree that Ceasar has been great for pit bulls. On his show, he shows these dogs interacting together in a big group (not something I or anyone who knows APBT would ever do, IMO), and makes it seem like dog aggression can be trained out of them, which is NOT true. The APBT is a terrier, and terriers in general tend to be scrappy with other dogs. You CAN teach your dog to behave properly on a leash and not act like a nutcase when they see another dog, but they still might not like to interact with these other dogs. Socialization with other dogs doesn't always guarentee a dog-friendly dog either. A lot of APBT are dog friendly when they are young, but then they hit 2 or 3 years of age, and their drive turns on and out comes the dog aggression. Dog aggression is a normal part of a lot of breeds, and if you don't like it, don't get a breed known for it, or adopt an older dog who has already matured and shown that he/she can get along with other dogs!

And BTW, why not include some links in your blog about how dominance theory actually came from the study of captive wolves in a zoo, NOT wild wolves, and that studies of wild wolves have shown that they actually do not have a dominance hierarchy like we thought? Here's a link to start: http://www.cleardogtraining.com.au/index.php?view=article&catid=5%3Atraining-articles&id=70%3Athe-alpha-theory-based-on-a-misguided-premise-by-debra-millikin&option=com_content&Itemid=12 also check out wolf.org, good info there.

CF

I also want to add, we should stop demonizing the chain, because a chain is a tool, and like any tool, can be misused. A fence does not always work to contain a dog. I have known people with dogs who can scale an 8ft privacy fence with ease. I once saw a Great Pyrenees climb a 7ft chain link fence with no issue. If my dog can scale a fence like that, what is the problem with chaining him out for a few hours to enjoy the yard, so that he won't climb the fence and roam the neighborhood? People who have dogs who are neglected/abused/aggressive who also happened to be chained would have dogs who are such even if they were kept in a fenced yard, or in a house. Irresponsible people tend to get their dogs from other irresponsible people breeding simply to make money, and don't concern themselves with the health or temperament of their stock. Thus, you end up with a dog with crappy genetics living with people who don't care about training or socializing it, and it grows up and becomes aggressive/unmanageable and tragedy happens.

ok. I step off my soap box now. :p

calmassertive

Melissa Jo -

Thank you for being such an important part of Cesar's production team. The man is brilliant, not just in his ability to read and handle dogs, but in his ability to surround himself with People such as yourself who are ready, able and willing to join him in fulfilling his goal of making the world a better place one dog at a time.

Your production company did an outstanding job with the latest episode, Most Aggressive Breeds. For anyone claiming the show hides failure with editing, or that the changes are only temporary, or that the dogs really are just 'shut down', this episode's pack-walk ending should let them see it just ain't so. Kudo's for bringing these proud and grateful people together -- it must have been quite a joy for all concerned.


EmilyS

" "intimidate" is a human term, complete with human pejorative semantic baggage. I've seen him "dominate" ... "

um, Melissa Jo, you DO realize that ALL the terms we use are human terms, because those are the only ones we have? So of course "dominate" is also a human term. Every modern dog ethologist asserts that dogs do not dominate each other as Cesar preaches and that Cesar's use of his physical strength to control them is one reason he gets constantly bitten and is a sure recipe for a dog owner to get bitten unnecessarily.

Though I suspect that having googled up Cesar's name to find this blog (and determined that there is nothing that can elicit a threat from your company that results in it being removed as you have with other public comments) you won't be here again.

CF, you should take a look at Patricia McConnell's books to get some training tips on positively counter-conditioning your fearful dog.

SocialMange

There are people who watch television for information and entertainment, and then there are the others. A man in Canada recently died because he emulated the Survivorman shows and went into the bush in the winter. No training, no backup.

If you copy what you see on a tv show without full understanding of consequences and getting necessary training, there probably won't be a happy ending.

I admire Cesar Millan because he brings the concept of training one's dog to the masses. I can't tell you how many dogs I see hauling their owners down the street and across the road, jumping up on people when they're old enough to have been taught better, evidencing dog aggression, and more. The large breeds kept in apartments without adequate exercise. Dogs offleash who have never been taught recall. I also see people addicted to things like halties and no-pull harnesses instead of training...or just being too lazy to train.

There will always be camps, different theories, blah blah blah...but if people don't even know in the first place that they should and can train their dogs and how vital exercise is to a happy, calm dog, all the theories in the world don't mean squat.

MzTx

Alana - nicely put !!

Does all of Cesar's training work on my dogs- NO
Does any 1 training work on my dogs - NO !!

No 2 dogs are the same - They all learn different - They all act Different ....

So I don't see how a Person can say -
" That method didn't work for me so it must not work ! "

Cesar , for many years changed the Opinion of many peoples minds about " Pit Bulls " .

To me he is a Hero - to do what he does to try to save this breed .

I feel for him - the lossof hisBest Friend of many years than this BS .

How dare you Cesar Haters is that how weakyou are - Hit em while he down ??

( sorry for the run-ins computer is acting funny - didn't want to retype )

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