Cesar Milan - Why I Don't Like What He Does

Yeah - I don't like what he does. Really don't like it. You might have read a lot of blogs on this topic lately, but I think it is important that if we feel strongly about what Cesar does, we talk about it. Before I get started I need to make this clear - these are MY opinions, they are formulated from 17 years of reading every text I can find on dogs, and dog behavior. Learning from every single person I can find (and to date that list is in the hundreds!), preferably in person but also via books, research articles and webinars. Finally, those 17 years have been spent with a variety of dogs, some of them my own, some of them other peoples. Some rescues, some bought from really brilliant breeders, some of them supposedly 'easy' breeds and some really tough ones - some had really simple problems that just vanished when the dog was offered an appropriate lifestyle - some had some VERY dangerous behaviours indeed. I cannot and do not pretend to be qualified nor an expert - I am learning, I know a lot but there is always more to discover. Cesar on the other hand does indeed make himself out to be an expert, and the evidence to date shows he is neither qualified, nor apparently interested in learning anything that disagrees with his current ideas. I think that is a huge shame. So - here we go - Why I don't like, what he does.

He justifies his methods as being necessary because a particular behaviour is so extreme.

I cannot deny that IF I had a dog trying to rip my arm off, I might very well shove it off or handle it roughly, I don't think there is a person out there who would be able to respond to a full on attack in any other way. But here is deception number 1, because Cesar has started with an extreme behaviour. In fact there is video evidence to suggest that he creates that extreme behaviour by using another dog to provoke it. He effectively sets up the dog he is filming, to behave in as extreme a way as is possible. By doing this he implies that it is necessary to force a dog to confront something that triggers an extreme reaction. In fact, it is not only not necessary, it is dangerous to do this. No reputable, sensible, or qualified behaviourist or trainer would do this for those reasons. It is the canine equivalent of you taking a child and pushing him into traffic, so that you can shout at him and smack him to show that running into traffic is dangerous. You just would not do that!

But he has to use harsh methods to get through to a dog in an extreme situation... you couldn't snap a dog out of an aggressive lunging fit with treats!
treats? Do you know why you can't distract a dog lunging and displaying aggression to another dog just using It is because stress and fear (and fear causes stress), shuts down the part of the brain that can identify and accept rewards, particularly food. This is a mechanism that is necessary for us all, it keeps us all alive. Imagine if your brain allowed you to stop thinking about the dangers of running away from a hunting lion, because you had seen a tree full of delicious fruits? Humans would not have evolved, we would have all been lion food! Going back to the lunging and aggressive dog, triggered by the sight of another dog - sure, that is an extreme situation and one you do not want to occur. But WHY is it occurring, what does the dog want to happen? He might want to go over and beat that dog up, even kill it, but WHY does he want that... the answer is fear. Because he perceives the other dog as a danger, that's all he is focused on. He isn't able to switch his fear off, and he is a dog, he cannot rationalize that actually, that dog won't get him, his fear is not justified. So he reacts. There is no point in waving cookies at him, and equally there is no point in telling him off - if he hears you he is as likely to think you are backing him up as he is to think you are telling him off. IF he understands that you are telling him off, he is going to associate that with the sight of the other dog. So now other dogs = get yelled at by your human! Cesar’s answer to this problem is to use sufficient pain and fear associated with HIM, that the dog DARE not react to the thing that initially caused the reaction. But the dog cannot learn a good lesson here,

only a bad one - he cannot learn that the other dog is not going to hurt him and that his fear is not justified, because he is now too stressed to do so, due to his fear of the handler applying pain or psychological threats.


The answer is so simple you will kick yourself. Seriously. It's also the reason Cesar won't use it. You avoid getting so close to the trigger (in this case another dog), so that the aggressive reaction never happens.

So how does the positive trainer fix this, if cookies won't work.

But that hasn't fixed the behavior, and I can't avoid all other dogs forever!
No you can't, but the first stage is to reduce the dogs stress so that he can learn what you DO want from him. If you keep putting him in a position where he feels like he has to react, he will just get better and better at reacting - as the saying goes 'practice makes perfect'. Once you have got the hang of avoiding other dogs - which means turning around and going the other way, picking quieter routes or quieter times of day, stepping behind parked cars or hedges to block your dogs view – i.e., nothing difficult and nothing you are not capable of doing (no magic here!)... Then you start to work on changing your dogs emotional reaction to the trigger - and that you CAN do with cookies! The hard part here is figuring out how far away another dog has to be, before your dog can see it but not react. Its hard because other dogs are generally moving, and other owners will often move towards you when you tell them not to, but stick at it. With enough repetitions of 'other dog = get a cookie', and enough practice at avoiding the interactions your dog cannot yet handle, you will make progress. This is called counter conditioning - please note, you don't have to use cookies. You should use whatever it is your dog likes best, and that’s something he gets to decide, not you.

But Cesar’s method works really quickly, yours sounds like it will take ages!
Cesar’s methods APPEAR to work quickly - with him holding the leash. But to keep up that level of control, he has to continually remind the dog that he is scary, that he is to be feared. Is that really the relationship you want with your dog? To constantly remind him he must fear you above all else? Because if you choose his way, that is necessary and if you don't keep that up, your dogs behaviour will get worse. In fact even if you DO keep it up, since Cesar's method hasn't considered the underlying cause of the behaviour (i.e., the dog was fearful), it is just a sticking plaster over a festering wound - still there, still going to cause trouble but now its going to be a long term bone infection rather than a sore wound... My way (and lets be clear here, my way is no more my way than Cesar's is his, both camps have been around a long time) means that whilst you won't be walking your dog in the dog park or at a busy dog show any time soon, your dog is happy, your dog is relaxing, your dog is enjoying his time with you and the bond between you is becoming better and better. Your dog is learning to trust you, and with trust comes respect - something I note Cesar talks about a lot, but he doesn't appear to understand that respect is earned, not taken or forced.

Cesar works with dogs that would otherwise end up euthanized.
So do a lot of trainers and behaviourists - but then, a lot of dogs are threatened with euthanasia, and indeed, end up euthanized, because their owners don't know what to do, not because their problems are really serious. People regularly ask vets to euthanize perfectly healthy dogs because they have made a face at the kids, nipped someone, won't come back when off the lead, haven't learned toilet training, steal food... I could go on and on. The number of times I have heard of people having dogs euthanized because they want to go on holiday and cannot find a kennel or dog sitter to take them is astonishing. The fact that an owner threatens to euthanize the dog does not in any way denote the seriousness of the dogs problem behaviour!

Ok, but he deals with serious aggression problems that other people cannot fix!

Says who? Cesar? You? There are thousands of trainers and behaviourists around the world dealing with really extreme behaviour problems, particularly serious aggression problems, using positive reinforcement training.

They may not have a TV show, but actually, not everyone wants a TV show (I know, it's really hard to believe, but not everyone does!). But that doesn't mean they are not out there, doing the work. Sometimes the owners that appear on his show (and indeed owners who appear on other TV shows) will say that they have 'tried everything' and that 'nothing has worked', but we don't get an in depth analysis on actually what they have done, who they saw, how they implemented it. Very often the case actually is that they have been annoyed by the problem for a long time, they have done very little about it other than stick a shock collar or a prong collar on the dog, or say, incarcerate it in the garage for the rest of its life. In some cases they have contacted a trainer who has either given them great advice but they have not done the work (because it has not produced an instantly brilliant, cured, dog), or they have gotten a bad trainer whose advice as not helped either. Some people have such a great desire to be on TV that they will quit working with a trainer who IS actually getting results because they want to be famous. Some people are so keen to be on TV that they will lie to get there. I can assure you though, there are myriad trainers and behaviorists around the world, regularly dealing with dogs who have bitten people, dogs who lunge at other dogs, dogs who can't walk on shiny floors, dogs who can't go upstairs, dogs who guard food or toys, dogs who are scared of skateboards/motorbikes/cars.... even dogs who have killed people. They are out there, working hard, and doing a great job.


But Cesar works with tough breeds, reward based training is only good for soft breeds!
If you mean that dogs like Pitbulls, Bull Terriers, Staffies, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Mastiffs.. etc, are 'tough' breeds, you are really quite wrong. Some of those breeds are extremely intelligent and quick to learn, and if you understand them and how they learn, are very easy to train. All those breeds (including Pitbulls and Pitbull types, because whilst illegal in the UK, they can be exempted) are breeds positive trainers deal with regularly without any need to resort to punishment based tactics. Reward based training is used on other animals too, for example killer whales, dolphins, rhinos and elephants. It is not just used to teach amusing tricks, but to teach complex behaviors that humans rely on to save lives - for example, SAR dogs, drugs and bomb detection dogs, guide dogs, canine assistants for disabled people. One of the most amazing uses is teaching Gambian Pouched Rats to detect and indicate landmines, or how about teaching a gorilla to back up onto a needle for an injection. That means teaching a huge animal capable of more dangerous and violent behavior than any dog you have ever seen, to do something unpleasant and painful, for a reward!

But Cesar isn't a trainer, he is a psychologist, he rehabilitates dogs!

Cesar may say he is a psychologist, but that doesn't make it true. He holds no recognized qualifications in psychology of any kind. If I call myself a dog psychologist, will you believe me more? I could, even though like Cesar, I have no formal qualifications in psychology. Whether he rehabilitates dogs or not is a matter of opinion - I would like to see the true figures for dogs he has actually cured, long term. But there aren't any - because Cesar makes the clients and owners that go on his show sign a disclaimer that prevents them talking about it. Why would he do that if his methods were sure to work, and had no nasty side effects?

You shouldn't question Cesar's methods...
Why not? It isn't rude to question why someone believes what they believe or chooses to use the methods they use. If I approached Dr Ian Dunbar, or Victoria Stilwell, or Grisha Stewart, or Karen Pryor, or Jean Donaldson or... many, hundreds of other trainers, behaviourists, authors on the topic of dog behaviour and training, and I questioned them as to why they use the methods they use, why they prefer them over other methods.. I can state quite categorically that every single one of those people would be happy to answer my questions (in fact, several on that list have!). They would be perfectly happy to answer the questions, they would be able to provide useful answers to them, with evidence and examples to back them up.

Not only that but every single one of those people I list and all the others I haven't listed ,would be willing to listen to other peoples ideas, MY ideas even, and to learn more if they come across something new, or a new way of looking at something old. Questioning ideas and theories, discussing them with others in your field, being open to new ideas and new learning - these are all part of being a professional, in any sphere at all. Only someone who has something to hide, would react in a hostile manner to being questioned.


Well, Cesar has done lots of work for charity, and he tells people to treat their dogs like dogs, and to walk them...

Doing good works, and making sense sometimes, does not mean that everything he does is good. Jimmy Savile did some good works, he raised money for charity... but he also molested children. Does the fact that he raised money for charity mean that molesting children is ok? Of course it doesn't! Cesar does talk some sense, and you know what - all the great trainers and behaviourists out there do the same. They will also remind people that dogs are dogs, not furry toys or fashion accessories. They will tell them to walk their dogs, give their dogs boundaries, provide them appropriate outlets for their breed traits.. Most of the trainers I know have done some work for charity somewhere along the line - of course it IS easier to give away millions if you have millions, but they don't need to promote their charity work, because they are not supporting a massive celebrity image..

No. No he doesn't. Cesar will, temporarily at least, stop a dogs behaviour from appearing dangerous. He will take away the signs that a dog is fearful, aggressive, whatever - that doesn't mean he has fixed the problem, because those signs are a symptom of something else. And no, they are not a symptom of dominance, dominance the way Cesar means, does not exist. Its a neat explanation for a lot of things but it is not in fact the reason. Cesar suppresses behavior. If a dog is growling, he will stop it. If a dog is lunging and trying to bite he will stop it. But he never addresses the real cause of the behaviour, though occasionally he does acknowledge it, he won't teach your dog aggressive dog to actively like the presence of other dogs. He will just teach them to shut up about disliking them. That isn't a fix for the problem, the problem still exists, but now it exists silently. Doesn't it occur to you that this is more dangerous? A growling dog is obviously a risk, you don't approach it. A lunging snapping dog is clearly a risk, don't approach it. A silent dog, with still behavior - how do you know if that dog is a risk or not? Sure, we need to make sure our dogs are safe around children, that they can eat their food without feeling the need to bite someone nearby, that they can visit the vets or walk the streets without lunging aggressively. But Cesar doesn't teach that - he will teach you how to stop your dog expressing how he feels, and that puts people at a huge risk! All those stories about dogs who 'just turned' or 'he bit out of nowhere' or 'he attacked unprovoked' do you know, 99% of those dogs had been punished for growling or snapping. Which just taught them 'don't growl or snap' - it did NOT teach them ' someone walking by your food bowl is fine'. Positive reinforcement can teach your dog that situations that previously caused him to use aggression are now fine. You CAN take a food aggressive dog and within a week or two, have a dog who actively welcomes people approaching whilst he is eating.

But Cesar fixes dangerous behaviour...

But Cesar has a natural way with dogs...
There are some people who are more naturally able to get what they want out of animals - sure, but that does not mean anyone, ever, is born knowing everything about them. What's more, some of those people get their own way with animals by being kind, by setting animals up so that they do what is desired without even realizing anyone is manipulating their behavior. Some people achieve it by using domineering body language and effectively, threatening and bullying their way through. Cesar, in my opinion, is the latter. His body language is very threatening and confrontational. He stares, hard, he has a stiff posture and stands over the dog on many occasions. Dogs find this extremely uncomfortable, and they give him body language that says 'please, I don't want this, please stop' and he ignores that.

I don't know if he sees it or not, I think sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't - but whatever, what he says and the way he then describes what the dog is saying is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst. He describes dogs as being 'calm submissive' when he has pinned them down, but in fact they are nothing like calm, they are terrified. Look into their eyes, look at the tension in their faces, their ears, watch them pee themselves in some cases. Does that really look calm to you? Sometimes he will battle with a dog on the lead and you will get to a point where things pause and the dog goes still, and I have seen at least two occasions where Cesar has said the dog has calmed down and yet I can see huge tension and stress, and the dog is waiting for what will happen next. On both those occasions (one being the Holly video), I could clearly see that the next time Cesar moved toward the dog, he would get bitten. Guess what, both times I was right. If you doubt that body language is as powerful as I am saying, please, do this little experiment with someone you know well. Stand in front of them and stare into their eyes a little longer than is comfortable. Stare hard, and step in a few cm too close. What is their reaction? I will bet you they step back, they try to look away if they cannot step back, they will look slightly uncomfortable. Now think back, have you ever had a situation where someone you DIDN'T know or trust did that to you, stepped in too close, leaned over you, stared for a bit too long - horrible isn't it. And its horrible even though the chances are, that person meant you no real harm at all. Now imagine that you have reason to believe that person DOES mean to do you harm - how calm do you feel?


Cesar's methods are outdated, they are based on positive punishment which requires the owner to set the dog up to fail repeatedly so that they can 'correct', i.e., punish, that behaviour. This puts the owner and dog in conflict with one another much of the time - is that the relationship you wanted when you bought a dog? Punishments can only be effective if they are delivered immediately the behaviour occurs and if the subject can immediately associate them with the behavior that was 'wrong'. Much of the time, this just isn't the case. Cesar uses punishment and force in ways dogs cannot figure out, which means they are at risk of making the wrong associations. Imagine a dog, shocked with a shock collar for barking at other dogs. What if that dog doesn't associate it with barking, but with 'other dogs' - if he associates pain with other dogs, won't that make him dislike them MORE? The fact is, dog training and dog behaviour has moved on - the methods Cesar advocates were outdated 40 years ago. You may say that Cesar grew up in a poor country and without an education - I say this is no excuse. He has the money now to access all the very latest information. If he truly wanted the best for dogs, as opposed to truly wanting the best for his bank balance, Cesar could learn, educate himself properly, and use the methods that science has proven over and over and over, are more effective, safer and kinder.

So you really don't like his methods...

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful