by Chris Bodenner
A reader writes:
Pretty much everything that is wrong with Cesar Millan's training techniques - or at least how they are understood among his fans - is summed up in this selection from your reader:
Positive reinforcement (i.e., using clickers or treats) basically "tricks" the dog into doing something for a reward. Using Cesar's techniques, however, your dogs will do what you ask, not for a treat, but out of respect for you, their leader.
First of all, as I'm sure you know, positive reinforcement does not "trick" a dog into doing something for a reward; it teaches a dog to associate rewards with good behavior, just as punishment teaches them to associate displeasure or pain with bad behavior (but doesn't necessarily teach them what good behavior is). With time, dogs shown positive reinforcement will need the reward to continue the good behavior. Furthermore, if you're feeding and caring for a dog (as well as setting boundaries), *of course* you're obviously their leader - what Patricia O'Connell calls a benevolent dictator. Cesar's "corrections" don't make him the leader worthy of respect; they make him a bully.
Watch this video, particularly just before the 3:00 mark. The dog does something Cesar doesn't like, Cesar kicks (er, "corrects" it), and things escalate. If he had gotten hurt, it would have been his fault as far as I'm concerned.
While I have been aware of the anger/jealousy directed at Cesar Millan by professional dog trainers, I am also aware that my personal experience with Cesar's ideas has helped me very much and has changed me for the better.
Previously, I experienced great fear in the presence dogs in spite of being raised with and around them all my youth. Into my late adulthood I experienced even more fear and at the same time had more situations where dogs were annoying or aggressive with me. It seemed the more I withdrew, the more determined dogs seemed to be to push their way into my experience. Eventually, I was bitten. Then I feared even more.
Accidentally, I stumbled upon Cesar's television shows and began watching. His ideas that dogs are not little humans but pack animals who need to be treated in their own way made sense. I realized I was not owning the space I was standing in, as Cesar would say. Neither did I project myself as a leader in much of the rest of my life, let alone with dogs.
But, it was his explanation that dogs learn to interact with the world in this order - first, smell; second, hearing; lastly, eyesight - that made all kinds of bells ring in my head. From then on, I began consciously not making eye contact with any dog I met, even those I had already come to know and tolerate. Now, any dog that comes my way, I look steadily at the owner or if the dog is alone, at ANYTHING else. I avoid eye contact completely and calmly. Since making and implementing that one idea, dogs have started to leave me completely alone! It's as if I'm not in their world somehow, if we don't connect through sight.
Now, I have also made an effort to own my space more than before, especially when around a dog but really, not making eye contact with dogs has completely reversed my experience with them and I feel empowered around them now, just by choosing to look elsewhere. Simple. Thank you, Cesar!