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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cesar Millan vs. Positive Reinforcement with Treats: Must it be All or Nothing?

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Is it me, or are all the dog trainers in the country ganging up on Cesar Millan? I really don't get it. We all know treats work. We all know leadership works.  We all know exercise helps our dogs calm down. A calmer dog is better behaved. It's really a no-brainer. Yet the banter continues.

A blend of the best of both methods has always been my most successful way to go with most of my dog training. What do you think? I'd really like to know. After you read this post, take my poll and give me some feedback. We'll see if we can get some dialogue going here.

My opinion? I use treats for training new or undeveloped behaviors. Then I wean them, or as trainers call it--fade the lure. Praise and positive reinforcement of other kinds (petting, playing or other forms of attention they enjoy) are probably my biggest reinforcers for daily activities and behaviors that I want to maintain or build on.

Now comes the tougher stuff. When Tanner developed a bit of excitement when restrained, it took more than treats to get him through that. A couple of wonderful trainers at my agility group assisted me with working him through his over-excitement upon coming into the field on-leash. Off leash, Tanner was a social butterfly. On a leash he became a barking, wildly-excited crazy man. He wanted--needed--to greet every dog in the place. It was easy for people who do not understand dog body language to think that Tanner was being aggressive, when in fact, he was trying to be social. We taught him a better way.

Success in breaking Tanner of this difficult behavior took a combination of a collar with more control for those excitable moments, and treats to reinforce correct behavior. It also took some time and experience in understanding that the behavior was not acceptable--period! That is simply not a lesson a dog can get from treats alone. He must be disciplined in some way to show him when he is "misbehaving".

If your child yells wildly at people in a grocery store, you would have to discipline the child. By this, I do not mean spank or hit; I mean a stern voice and a serious talk about proper behavior. Removal from the location sometimes is necessary. Most of us moms have had to leave a restaurant and a dinner behind when a temper tantrum made our presence unbearable for others. The child learns the lesson when he has to give up dinner, as a result. Sure, it may take a few times of this happening, but the lesson eventually gets through.

As long as the consequence matches the bad behavior, you're probably heading in the right direction. When Tanner jumped up to kiss a visitor this weekend, she appropriately turned her back on him. The behavior stopped after only a few tries. How often do your visitors know this excellent correction that involves no physical harm to either?

Had Tanner been jumping with the intention to bite or attack (yeah, right!! Submissive Tanner?), my discipline would have been entirely different--on his side until he completely relaxed in her presence. That is how I know he is submissive to my visitor. Nothing cruel about it; it simply helps the dog understand what's what.

Enough about behavioral issues; let's touch on Cesar's biggest bandwagon--exercise. The foundation of his soapbox is lots of exercise. He lists this as his number 1 most important technique. Why do you suppose that is?

If you own a dog, you may already know that an under-exercised dog is likely to develop anxieties, hyperactivity, aggressions and other issues. Just like humans, exercise burns off stress that would normally create bad behaviors. My primary strategy with my dogs is to get them plenty of exercise. We use walks, bike rides, fetch games, swimming, and dog park visits. With two daily exercise sessions, my high-energy dogs are able to be calm, happy housemates that I can enjoy and expect relatively good behavior from--most of the time.

I'll skip Cesar's other strategies for this post. I'll also save my opinion on how successful his techniques are for most dog owners. Check back later for more on that topic. For now, just let me know your opinion on training and behavioral corrections. You can comment and/or take the poll above. I'll consider both as I compile your thoughts for a later post. Go on now: get those tongues wagging!

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Eric Goebelbecker said...

The problem I see is that while you accuse trainers of "ganging up" on Cesar, you leave out the things that people complain about. He *does* hit dogs. He *is* very heavy-handed. If all he did was speak sternly and encourage exercise, trainers wouldn't be so upset.

Tkae a look at my commentary on his show:

For some more insight to what trainers dislike about him. It's not just noise.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Thanks for sharing your link, Eric. I read your post and watched the video about Bella. She was a difficult case; however, I did not see Cesar strike her even one time. He did touch her once with his foot to redirect her attention, but this clearly was not aggressive or painful. My 8 1/2 lb. Papillon would not have been phased by this.

Given Bella's aggression, I think Cesar's approach was warranted, if not necessary to teach her better behavior in a timely manner.

Consider this. Your micro-evaluation of Millan's every move seems like a bit of overkill. If you'd like to really make a case, take a dog like Bella and make a video of your own approach. Then we'll compare and contrast.

It will be interesting to see what it takes to turn such a dog around with treats and praise, particularly after being returned to its owner.

That said, I will admit that Cesar's rehab methods are clearly not for everyone. Exercise definitely is his best advice to the dog-owning world. On the other hand, teaching a timid owner to be a pack leader may often not be possible. In this, I believe we can agree.

Eric Goebelbecker said...

He smacks Bela across the face. It's in the video. Hulu seems to have pulled it, I guess because a new episode is coming up. I wouldn't have said he did it if I hadn't seen it, but I'm sure it just an oversight and your not accusing me of making something up

And by the way, yes, he kicked the dog. There's no excuse for that either.

You don't address serious behavior problems with "treats and praise." One of the possible tools, systematic desensitization, can sometimes involve food but it is not "treats and praise." It's very different and worth learning about before being cast aside in preference for something you see on TV.

Speaking of which no, I'm not going to film myself working with a dog so I can prove myself better than or equal to someone who spouts BS about "negative energy" and slaps, hits, kicks and shocks dogs on TV. Literally thousands of trainers use scientifically proven methods to rehabilitate dogs *every day*, we don;t just criticize Cesar - *we do this for a living.* Putting the burden of proof on us over a TV star is kind of like asking your doctor why she doesn't use the same techniques as House.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Thanks to Eric for getting some discussion going. He makes some valid points. I'd like to hear from some of the rest of you. What are your thoughts?

Sheena said...

"I'll also save my opinion on how successful his techniques are for most dog owners."

I am a dog trainer. About 80% of my clients have tried Cesars techniques (ya know, the ones that say 'Do not try this at home').

I would have to disagree that his methods are successful for most dog owners. And thankfully, this puts food on my table.

The problem with the general public using his methods is that they don't understand when and exactly how it would be appropriate.

I've watched a very very fearful dog get 'redirected' (by being 'bit' on the shoulder and "chhh" at). From the dogs view he's getting in trouble for barking and showing his fear. This type of dog, when taught not to show signs, can eventually bite without warning.

Just my opinion.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

You make a valid point about inexperienced owners trying Cesar's techniques at home. While I agree that many of his methods are not appropriate for the average dog owner, his 3 step strategy: exercise, discipline, affection is an excellent way to teach dog owners to prioritize their dog time. Without exercise, most dogs would turn into raving lunatics. it is by far the most important concept for a dog owner to commit to. Thanks for your thoughts. Hope to see you again.

Anonymous said...

there's a video on youtube showing how milan kicks dogs to get them to be submissive:

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Thanks "Anonymous". I have watched and re-watched this video many times. I would never advise 'kicking' a dog; however I would agree that redirecting his attention is acceptable. I'm still watching this and feeling that my tiny Papillon would not have been phased by Cesar's redirects. For that reason, I find it tough to call them "kicks". Perhaps this is semantics; I believe a true kick would hurt or knock a dog to the ground. I did not witness this in the video. I'm still not sure I feel this is truly negative, but open to further exposure. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

i have read this and i would like to come at this from a slightly different angle. I am a bushcraft enthusiast or outdoor survival skills or primitive living skills what ever way you want to look at. My point being that i see Bear Grylls on tv doing all the things he does some of which are over the top for example jumping into a waterfall because its quicker, however he does bring some valid things to the table. where he will show the importance of vital things ie food, shelter etc and some useful tips. my point being you need to take what these television personalities say and do with a pinch of salt. Another thing to consider is the dog whisperer like Born survivor is american "reality" television which is as scripted as an episode of any tv drama. and like what i say to all the bear grylls bashers read his books look at his independant stuff thats free from ratings driven tv producers before condemming his methods.

sorry for mentioning bear grylls alot there and i didnt mean for it to go slighly off topic but i wanted to put the similarities between people bashing on cesar millan as they do on bear grylls. people need to educate themselvs and not do what is popular on the discovery channel. by all means use those shows for entertainment and to plant a seed to make you read more into it but DONT take it as gospel.


Anonymous said...

I agree that dogs need exercise and should get a decent amount of walk time every day, but exercising them until they are too tired to be "lunatics" isn't the solution. I work with dogs every day and we do not encourage to use this method to keep dogs calm. Pretty much all of the dogs we see are taught how to appropriately calm themselves down by using positive reinforcement training. We discourage the old school methods that Ceasar Millan uses as much as possible and do not allow prawn/shock collars on the property. This being said all of the dogs we work with are generally well adjusted and good dogs.

Anonymous said...

Gonzalo June 18, 2013
I give credit to both and at the same time, disagree with both in certain aspects. Is like believing and applying everything anybody tells us just because. That is just their ways which are not the ONLY ways. There are some techniques from Cesar that I have never and would never even try to use with my dog such as force submission or the back/front kick even though are not meant to harm; however, I agree to be calm and assertive and to exercise, discipline, and love. On the other hand, I do use time out and it does work. Victoria has recommended a dog to be put to sleep when those words will never exist in Cesar's vocabulary (bad Victoria bad bad bad). Trainers, as humans, make mistakes so is up to US, the owners to extract the best of their teachings and apply what is really necessary at the moment with calm and assertive love. GO DOGS! :)

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