Cesar Millan- Questionable Methods

There is a large debate among dog trainers as to whether or not the using of methods of pain and fear as motivation are effective and necessary in behavior modification. A great deal of applied behaviorists, veterinary behaviorists, and ethologists believe that physical confrontation and pain are both unnecessary and ineffective. This raises a widespread desire for laws and strict regulations for those involved in the dog training business to ensure the safety of the not only the dogs, but the dog owner’s (due to the possibility of repercussions that can accompany poor training.) Cesar Millan is a self-taught “expert”, whom is widely known for his television series Dog Whisperer; his methods are often questioned for being cruel in nature.

The main method Millan uses for aggression is “aversives” such as leash jerks, kicks, snaps of the hand against the neck, restraint, among others. This method of training is applied non-contingently, and as a result becomes so frequent that the dog cannot associate these aversives with any particular behavior; thus creating a state of learned helplessness because the dog cannot decipher what it has done wrong from right. Millan refers to this helplessness as “calm submission.” Even when this method of using aversives is used properly, there is still the behavioral problem underlying within the dog, only momentarily masking the risk of the dog’s aggression snapping and in turn biting.

Cesar Millan sites his direct personal experiences with dogs as his source of expertise, which in turn results in his general statements about dogs of which he cannot factually support. This inductive reasoning has led to his personal success, but does not guarantee that he is correct in his methods. Due to the fact that Millan is a self-taught “expert” there is no evidence of good inductive reasoning taking place, such as: looking for a sufficient number of observations, looking for varying circumstances, exceptions, or coherence.

Ethologists have sited Millan for employing outdated ethological theories to explain and enhance the behaviors of the dogs he trains. Although Millan has found cases of success in training dogs by means of outdated theories, it does not make his process commendable. He installs methods of training such as the “alpha male” approach or Lorenz’s concepts of “energy”. The problem arises when viewers of the show try to follow his seemingly scientific methods, and do not acquire the results projected on television.

His seemingly pseudoscientific approach in the Dog Whisperer is projected in highly edited snippets, thus viewers must be aware that Cesar’s interactions with problem dogs do not occur in the small segments that they seem to, and often not with the success they appear to have. For instance, Cesar’s aversives are regarded as non-contingent, yet if you were to sit and watch an episode of the Dog Whisperer you may disagree. This is due to the perception alteration that can occur over the course of an hour within a television show. What may have seemed repetitive and consistent to the viewer may have simply required Millan to install one of his aversives on the dog once or twice. The very specific desired responses are the ones that get aired, not the unwanted behaviors.

There is also much criticism on Cesar’s focus being on the owners of dogs, not the on dogs themselves, the majority of the episode. Instead of physically training the dogs, he spends his time focusing on trying to teach owners how to create a healthy environment for their dog, the importance of regular exercise, clarity and consistency in communication, etc. When deductive reasoning would apply itself to updated methods of behavior modification and training (as well as a real-time experiences which relate more heavily with the training of the dog, and not the human), Cesar is focused on the production of the television show and redundant installments of pseudoscience, projecting to the viewer a false sense of proven training methods, and the hope of an outcome that is edited rather than portraying the training process in a realistic fashion.