Cesar Millan Versus Force-Free

Published by Theo Stewart on

Cesar Millan? No!

Instead – watch videos of Chirag Patel, Victoria Stilwell, Steve Mann, Nando Brown, Zak George – a huge list of modern force-free trainers doing a much better job but without the same publicity machine and sadly not on National Geographic or prime time TV.

Cesar Millan methods not workingThe big question is, do you want an obedient dog that may lick her lips, look away or even cower from you when she is doing something you don’t like, or a confident cheerful dog that happily stops when asked and does something else instead? Who may even, sometimes, dare to be a bit cheeky?

This is a great exaggeration of the situation I found, but when someone says something like they don’t want a dog on the sofa because it will make her dominant I can’t help jumping onto my bandwagon. Not on the sofa? Fine. It can be taught simply and kindly using positive reinforcement. Reason? Plain silly.

I have called to see ten month old Athena a couple of weeks after she came to live with them because she is having separation issues, toileting on the floor when left for a short while and causing damage. This was upsetting for the young couple who are completely committed to giving Athena a good life, whatever it takes. They have a dog walker twice a day and the two dogs aren’t left alone for very long.

As she becomes more confident, as I’m sure when any Cesar Millan methods have been dropped, things will improve.

Very few people I go to use the language of Cesar Millan with the Tch Tch corrections, the Alpha rolls or worry about status. This isn’t because he has fewer followers (his TV programme still glamorises the old-school way dog training was done back in the dark ages when people didn’t know better, using wolf pack theory as an excuse). It’s because I send people here to my website to read some of these stories before booking me. They will know in advance that I use kind, force-free methods only and if that’s not what they want I won’t hear from them again.

Cesar Millan plugs into today’s need for achieving things instantly, but it’s an illusion. Smoke and mirrors. (Incidentally, he invented a special dog collar called an ‘Illusion’ collar that forces up high into the most sensitive area behind the dog’s ears, causing maximum pain if the dog pulls).

Holding an animal down through force, or keeping it down because it dare not get up isn’t teaching an animal to lie down. Correcting a dog that pulls on lead with a little kick, a lead pop with his Illusion collar or a jerk with a prong collar isn’t teaching the dog to walk happily beside you because it wants to. Facing down a dog who is growling isn’t going to make it feel less fearful or less angry.

Cesar Millan is all about (as fast as possible) altering the visible behaviours – the actions. The emotions will get worse.

Modern force-free work is about altering what the dog is feeling inside – the emotions. The emotions drive the behaviours. The behaviours will get better.

I must stress again that the lovely young couple I went to yesterday do none of these things. Not at all. One or two things have prompted this post. Dominance and gentle correction is used like a methodology in the sincere belief that it’s the right thing to do – by the man mostly. The young lady finds it hard.

I have several times seen for myself what can happen with a dog that is controlled by domination when the dominant human isn’t present. I have felt unsafe.

For those interested in how modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today, here it is by the great Ian Dunbar.

I’m sure that they aren’t doing as well with Athena as they otherwise might if the man had never, ever watched Cesar Milan but he is already seeing things from a different perspective which is great.

Baxter

Baxter

The main problem now is that over the two weeks they have had her Athena has taken to playing more and more roughly with their gorgeous, good-natured little Border Terrier Baxter. Immediately they are out in the garden together she stands over him before embarking on what can only be called bullying. The previous day she had grabbed his leg and dragged him about; she grabs him around the neck. Where a couple of weeks ago they played nicely it has deteriorated and Baxter is getting scared. Fortunately it’s only happening in the garden (so far).

They police her with frequent NO and Tch Tch so why is it getting worse?

There is no doubt that adolescent Husky mix Athena respects the man and there is no doubt that the man loves her. He makes the Tch Tch noise he’s learnt from Cesar Millan and she stops what she is doing. Success. She will be a little scared of him at times. When he’s not there Athena may however ignore the lady who admits that at times in the garden the neighbours listening to her must think she is constantly telling the dog off.

The couple had asked me would I like to see what happens in the garden? I said no, definitely not.

I don’t want it to happen ever again.

Much more rehearsal and it will become a habit more difficult to break..

I had food in my pocket (yes – food, Cesar Millan). We stood in the garden and I called Athena to me so she knew that coming to me would be worthwhile next time. Sod’s law, we were out in the garden and Athena was taking little notice of Baxter!

This is what I was preparing to do. As soon as Athena looked like advancing on Baxter, I would have called her gently to me. I would do this repeatedly. I would either reward her with food or maybe a short game of tug if play is what she really wants.

I would have a long line ready just in case. She must never never have the opportunity to do it again. The two dogs should not be in the garden together without supervision for the foreseeable future.

Tch Tch and ‘No’ teaches her nothing at all but just stirs her up further. Athena’s behaviour is doubtless due to stress. She is trying to get used to her new life after all.

If they treat Athena like they would a young child and not as something to be kept at the bottom of the pack, using only encouragement and kindness, they will end up with a confident and outward-looking dog. I can’t imagine anyone saying a child can’t get on a sofa because it might want to take over as ruler of the household.

You just have to watch this video of Steve Mann of IMDT to see that a strong man can be empathetic and force-free with his very well-trained little dog.

Quite simply, it works the best.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Athena and Baxter and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good (Cesar Millan being one such example) as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)
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