(PET WELFARE) We’ve seen Cesar Millan tame some pretty unruly pups, but are his methods just a form of punishment? Positive reinforcement dog trainer Anna Jane Grossman thinks so. She believes that, “encouraging the behaviors we want and ignoring behaviors we don’t,” is a positive way to train your pup without using physical force. Watch the video and let us know in our poll, has Cesar Millan’s training tactic gone too far?  — Global Animal 

Anna Jane Grossman, The Huffington Post

In his National Geographic show The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan talks about controlling dogs using “energy.” But his real tool for controlling animals? Kicking them in the guts.

To any dog trainer rooted 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 a star. 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 the time), and also the kind of fear and confusion that will send a dog looking to find a People Whisperer show. But dogs don’t have cable.

However, sometimes, Cesar Millan does make use of behavioral science by implementing what is called, in behavioral terms, Positive Punishment. The “Positive” doesn’t mean good — it just means that something is added to the situation in order to discourage a behavior from happening again. Like adding a foot into a dog’s abdomen.

The so-called “Dog Whisperer” makes training look like magic. But it’s not. It is science: The science of punishment.

My biggest gripe with Cesar Millan is the fact that he is so often telling people to change everything about themselves and their own demeanor in order to bring about change in their dog. He suggests a person 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 commanding someone, “Stop being depressed!”

I’m a Positive Reinforcement dog trainer. Positive Reinforcement practitioners are good at encouraging the behaviors we want and ignoring behaviors we don’t. This is a simpler approach that is more direct than getting someone to rearrange their psyche so that their dog will stop peeing on their pillow.

I think that most scientists would argue that, to date, we understand a lot more about manipulating animal behavior than we do about the workings of the human brain. What we do understand about training ourselves involves a lot of time and effort: therapy, self-help books, yoga, medication. By the time you figure those things out, you’ll have 50 busted garden hoses and your dog is dead anyway. It takes 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 and attention 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 up on human emotions” or “He advocates the need for exercise, which is indeed good for most dogs.” In an excellent Dogster post on Cesar Millan, one of my training mentors, Casey Lomanaco, writes: “Cesar and I both train dogs and their people. We both care deeply about helping dogs and people co-exist more peacefully.” In an open letter to him regarding the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior stance against dominance-based training methods, my training 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 me to change my professional career path,” she writes.

Well, after digging deep into my soul, I have finally found a positive thing I have to say about Cesar Millan: He has good timing.

Dog trainers are all about affecting change in behavior in an animal, and everything is behavior, be it barking at another dog, sitting at a curb, playing dead or tracking a scent. All actions in our lives are either reinforced or punished. Positive Reinforcement animal trainers work to figure out how to bring about desired behavioral changes by pinpointing the things we want to happen again, and then rewarding them. We go this route long before ever resorting to any kind of negative reinforcement or punishment. But this does not mean throwing bacon in the air all the time or doing the horah the whole time 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 is going on off-camera. Much of the time, it actually seems like his kicks and hissing noises and the like are delivered rather willy-nilly, not with great precision. But I imagine that, in the moments we don’t see what’s going on, he is doing a swell job of timing his punishers. Otherwise he wouldn’t get results.

Then again, maybe he doesn’t get results. The show isn’t very long, and a lot is cut. Maybe the show’s editor is the one with the great timing.

Another person with good timing? The punishment-based dog trainer who preceded Cesar Millan. Barbara Woodhouse was big in the U.K. in the mid-1900s. Her ability to deliver well-timed punishment was superb.

Here, in her 1970 book, Dog Training My Way, describing how to use well-timed punishment to get a dog to stop chasing cars:

“Enlist the aid of a friend with a car. Ask him to drive you slowly past the dog that chases cars, and as the dog comes in to the attack, throw out as hard as you possibly can any fat hard-covered book, and make certain that the book hits the dog. The shock it gives the dog so frightens it that I have never had to repeat the treatment more than twice, even though the dog may have chased cars for years.”

Just like Positive Reinforcement trainers are careful about choosing their rewards, the late Barbara Woodhouse was particular with her choice of punisher. She ends this passage by saying: “My favourite book is an old A.A. Handbook, it is just the right size.”

Read More Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anna-jane-grossman/the-dog-whisperer-technique_b_1406337.html

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36 COMMENTS

  1. "Damaged" and aggressive dogs do NOT need strong corrections, and it has been scientifically proven time and again that corrections can actually make the fear and aggression worse. Some of the dogs in the clips actually do yelp, so your claim is invalid. Dogs with fear based aggression (which constitutes the vast majority of aggression cases) need to be worked through their problems by showing them there is nothing to fear, not kicking and flooding them until they give up. If you hate spiders, would it make you feel better to be locked in a room full of them until you "deal with it?" Or would you rather have someone give you $100 every time you willingly interacted with them? This is called Counter Conditioning and has been scientifically proven to be extremely effective in solving behavior problems, including aggression. What Cesar does is called flooding (thrown in the room full of spiders) and he forces the dogs into Learned Helplessness, where they just give up the will to live or fight and their emotions become suppressed. It doesn't solve the problem, it only puts it on the back burner until something worse causes the dog to snap. I urge you to read literature on modern canine behavior research that has shown time and again that Positive Reinforcement can truly help any dog with any problem, including "damaged" and dangerous dogs. When it fails, it's almost always due to lack of proper training, skills and understanding on the part of the trainer, not the method itself. I am in no way saying that Cesar does not love dogs and is not trying to help them, however, he is basing his tactics solely on his whims on what he thinks might work. He has no basis of studying canine behavior and has no proof to back his claims. You should try watching his episodes with the sound off and watch the body language these dogs are showing. They are clearly stressed and scared of him and end up with suppressed fear and anxiety. He clearly does not know how to read canine body language and consistently misinterprets postures and signals as "dominant" when they are really fear based signals. He is confusing the dogs by pushing them to the point of breaking because time and again they give him warning signs that he does not know how to interpret and winds up getting himself bitten (see the video on "Holly" the food guarding lab). That dog was giving him clear signals that she was stressed and did not want a confrontation (which he incorrectly interpreted as being "dominant" instead) and finally when he pushed her to the point of breaking, she bit him, to which he replied "I didn't see that coming," when any canine trainer worth their salt saw coming a mile away. Please don't criticize things that you don't fully understand. I've been a behavior veterinary technician and professional dog trainer for longer than he has been on TV and can tell you that his methods damage dogs more than they help them.

  2. If he's not kicking, what is he doing? In the clip with the Golden Retriever, you clearly hear a very loud thud, which could not have been produced by anything less than a kick. All of these dogs cower and turn to attack him after his "non-kicks" because he is physically hurting them. You would probably retaliate like that too if someone punched you in the stomach as opposed to "tapping" or "gently getting your attention." Your using your own emotions as a crutch in this case because you can't see the truth. He is KICKING DOGS.

  3. These dogs are FEARFUL and need to be shown not to be afraid. Instead he kicks, hits, and chokes the until they shut down. Stop drinking the Cesar koolaid and learn something about dogs before posting a bunch of nonsense.

  4. This is what so many people say to justify using pain with dogs, yet I've rehabilitated aggressive and damaged dogs without having to resort to it. With numerous rescues who not only attempt, but have really good success rates. If you don't need to use pain/fear to get results as good or better than Cesar's, what is the justification? Ignorance of a better way?

  5. I've seen a chihuahua latch onto a mans face an tear his cheek off.
    I've also watched a pitbull put itself infront of an aggressive dog to protect a little girl whos shoulder he, afterwards, rested his head on.
    A dog is as dangerous as it's owner, or previous owners, have allowed it to become.
    Just because it's not a 'pit bull' doesn't mean it's not going to react like one when instinct tells it to.

  6. Strong races like Pittbulls and Rottweilers do not always respond in an obvious way ( noticable ) to pain.
    I had a Rottie with a knee torn knee ligament and she never kramped.
    So that's a load of B**l.
    Also even do this dogs are sometimes far gone, this is not the way they should be treated by humans.
    Humans are not dogs, so don't act like one.
    The only thing dogs learn from CM methode is not to trust humans because they kick and hurt you.
    Not a good idee to learn strong dogs this.
    But it looks good on television, and it sell's.
    Science already found prove that dogs respound veryy diferent to humans then to other dogs in packs, see.
    :http://www.economist.com/node/21525353
    And this story about a lion :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btuxO-C2IzE show's that people not always now or explane the feelings and emotions animals have.