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The Science of Cesar Millan's Dog Training

The Science of Cesar Millan's Dog Training

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Published by Nicholay Atanassov

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Nicholay Atanassov on Oct 25, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

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Writer and dog trainer
The Science of Cesar Millan's Dog Training:Good Timing and Hard Kicks in the Stomach
In his National Geographic show
The Dog Whisperer 
, Cesar Millan talks about controlling dogsusing "energy." But his real tool for controlling animals? Kicking them in the guts.To anydog trainerrooted in the world of the science of behavior, the notion of "calm submissive"energy (or whatever he calls it) is fishy. Energy isn't observable; it's about as scientific as wishing on astar. More observable than energy is fear; often,Cesar Millan terrorizes dogs until they've been given emotional lobotomies and, zombielike, will do whatever he wants. The result is compliance (some of thetime), and also the kind of fear and confusion that will send a dog looking to find a
PeopleWhisperer 
show. But dogs don't have cable.However, sometimes, Cesar Millan does make use of behavioral science by implementing what iscalled, in behavioral terms, Positive Punishment. The "Positive" doesn't mean good -- it just means thatsomething is added to the situation in order to discourage a behavior from happening again. Like adding afoot into a dog's abdomen.The so-called "Dog Whisperer" makes training look like magic. But it's not. It
is
science: Thescience of punishment.My biggest gripe with Cesar Millan is the fact that he is so often telling people to change everythingabout themselves and their own demeanor in order to bring about change in their dog. He suggests aperson change everything about themselves in order to get the dog to stop lunging at the garden hose.He says things such as "Be assertive" or "Do not bring the past into the future." It's like commandingsomeone, "Stop being depressed!"I'm a Positive Reinforcement dog trainer. Positive Reinforcement practitioners are good atencouraging the behaviors we want and ignoring behaviors we don't. This is a simpler approach that ismore direct than getting someone to rearrange their psyche so that their dog will stop peeing on theirpillow.I think that most scientists would argue that, to date, we understand a lot more aboutmanipulating animal behavior than we do about the workings of the human brain. What we do understandabout training ourselves involves a lot of time and effort: therapy, self-help books, yoga, medication. Bythe time you figure those things out, you'll have 50 busted garden hoses and your dog is dead anyway. Ittakes far less time to wisely use good timing and proper reinforcement to train a dog.But at any gathering of like-minded professionals, I don't hear these kinds of conversations.Whenever he is mentioned, Positive Reinforcement trainers -- a group that's good at not giving time andattention to things we don't like -- will usually try to "reinforce"
something
good.I've heard my friends say, "I compliment him on wanting to help owners see that dogs do pick upon human emotions" or "He advocates the need for exercise, which is indeed good for most dogs." In anexcellentDogster post on Cesar Millan, one of my training mentors, Casey Lomanaco, writes: "Cesar and Iboth train dogs and their people. We both care deeply about helping dogs and people co-exist morepeacefully." In an open letter to him regarding the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior stanceagainst dominance-based training methods, mytraining partner Kate Senisi gives him kudos for making her want to learn more about training to begin with: "I was a fan -- he played a large part in inspiring meto change my professional career path," she writes.Well, after digging deep into my soul, I have finally found a positive thing
have to say aboutCesar Millan: He has good timing.Dog trainers are all about affecting change in behavior in an animal, and
everything
is behavior, beit barking at another dog, sitting at a curb, playing dead or tracking a scent. All actions in our lives areeither reinforced or punished. Positive Reinforcement animal trainers work to figure out how to bringabout desired behavioral changes by pinpointing the things we want to happen again, and then rewardingthem. We go this route long before ever resorting to any kind onegative reinforcement or punishment.But this does not mean throwing bacon in the air all the time or doing the horah the wholetime Rufus is going potty: It means knowing
exactly 
 
when
to deliver a reinforcement --be it food or something else rewarding to the animal-- and when to withhold it.
Good dog trainers have great timing
.In Cesar Millan's case, he uses good timing when he punishes. At least, that's what I'm assuming isgoing on off-camera. Much of the time, it actually seems like his kicks and hissing noises and the like are1

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