I’m often asked what I think of Cesar Milan, the trainer from the popular television show “The Dog Whisperer” on National Geographic. This topic has created more controversy within and outside of the dog training profession than almost any other topic in years, with multiple professional organizations speaking out against Mr. Milan and his methods, and thousands of experienced dog trainers protesting against his show.
While I vehemently disagree with some of the methods Mr. Milan uses, I also have to acknowledge that he’s done some good for dogs. By bringing dog training to television, Cesar has encouraged many owners who previously lived with poorly behaved dogs to seek professional help. Educating owners that dog behavior problems are usually fixable with the help of an experienced trainer has brought relief to the families of many anxious, aggressive, and fearful dogs, not to mention the dogs themselves.
I agree with Mr. Milan that dogs need exercise, that they need to have rules and structure in their day-to-day lives, and that owners often need to stop feeling badly about a dog’s past and instead focus on the present and future. These are all important topics, and I commend him for discussing them. I also appreciate his positive portrayals of the Pit Bull breed, as the majority of these dogs are lovely, affectionate, playful pets…. nothing like the blood-thirsty monsters often portrayed by the media.
All that said, I strongly advise my clients against attempting any of the techniques they see on the Dog Whisperer show. The “don’t try this at home” warnings on the screen are there for a reason, and much of what Cesar Milan does is potentially harmful for both ends of the leash. Here’s the thing: in addition to his impressive presense and his experience handling dogs, Mr. Milan has the support of a full staff of cameramen and television crewmembers, the magic of the editing room, and absolutely no problem being bitten – none of which tends to apply to the average pet owner.
Much of Mr. Milan’s training theory is based on outdated research done on captive wolf packs, and while status may play a role in some dogs’ behavior issues, the idea that acting like an “alpha” wolf will fix any problem is simplistic and dangerous. The use of punishment and the outdated dominance theory is likely to cause a host of other issues. Clicker training is effective, kind, and produces great results. By managing your dog, setting clear rules and expectations, providing for his needs, and teaching him what he should do in any given situation, you can resolve even difficult issues. Even better, these techniques can be tried at home, no warnings necessary!