The Failure of Cesar Millan

Let me get something on the table.

I have two very distinct and almost contradictory opinions of Cesar Millan. That he is polarizing is perhaps part of his appeal as the camps between loving and loathing his work are pretty cleanly delineated. I'll toss my personal perspective out of the way first because it has little to do with his impact on and role in the professional dog care industry.

I respect the guy. I mean, he's entirely self-made, pulled up by the bootstraps, and seized opportunity that played into his passion and innate, natural talent. I mean the guy is just deeply gifted when it comes to connecting with and "whispering" to dogs. Anyone who has that kind of commitment and drive to head for a goal is someone who merits respect on some level. I also believe he truly cares about and wishes to advance the best care for canines that is possible.

When it comes to the crucial element of dog training, however, I'd posit that Cesar Millan is not only lacking, but potentially a real liability to the dog training industry overall.

Here's why.

As a trainer it doesn't matter at all how well your dog responds to me. What matters is how your dog responds to you. As I always tell my clients, unless you want me to move into your home (and I come with a bunch of dogs, quite a bit of stuff and I'm more than a little cranky in the morning before my coffee - just ask my mother), whether or not I'm able to get your dog to behave is utterly, entirely and altogether irrelevant. What matters is how your dog responds to YOU and as a trainer my job isn't just to get your dog's behavior stabilized but more crucially to put tools into YOUR hands so that your dogs responds to YOU. Full stop.

To handle dog training any other way is not only irresponsible but in some cases downright negligent. There are all too many trainers to whom people send dogs over and over and over and over again ... ostensibly to polish their behavior. In truth it's almost always because the dog's behavior has reverted to where it was prior to the last training session and so the dog goes in for a "tune up". That is all kinds of BS. My question is this - shouldn't the issue be fixed the first time? When I take my car to the mechanic to resolve an engine issue if that same issue keeps happening, barring the potential that the car is just a lemon perhaps it more means I need a different (and better) mechanic? To be clear, I'm not equating the work with a living creature to the mechanical fixing of a car, but the principle isn't altogether different.

So there's the fact that he doesn't pass knowledge to people very well. If that were all, that would be bad enough.

Now let's talk about the fact that the majority of the content that he spreads across the Internet isn't just incorrect but in some cases dangerous.

While obedience training (in fact training dogs for any "task") can be somewhat interesting to watch, the crucial foundation piece for all training as practiced by behaviorally-focused teachers, which is stabilizing a dog's core behavior, makes as good video as watching paint dry. Often the work isn't about do-ing but rather just be-ing with a dog. It's about engaging with the dog on an energetic level. That doesn't make for clicks and views online. You know what makes for clicks and views online? Cornering a fearful dog and pushing it until it bites you, then calling the video "Cesar's Worst Bite". Overly aggressive approaches to a dog is categorically the opposite of "whispering". As noted in the link above, which defines whispering more closely, it's about the opposite of a dominant/aggressive approach - something that saturates Cesar's work (which has little to no foundation in any actual knowledge or study of canine behavior but solely personal experience).

On that last point, I'll add this. Having innate skill is marvelous thing, but to rest on those laurels and not endeavor to expand one's knowledge and expertise is lazy and the worst kind of industry "leadership". As noted in other posts on this site, the natural skill starts the path, but even a gifted child prodigy who shows remarkable skill in piano must study, practice and ultimately continue to grow their craft if they are to remain at the top of their game.

The sad thing is that there is no reason that Cesar couldn't expand his horizons and become a true leader in the industry. My guess is that he's either surrounded by sycophants who don't tell him that he should or his ego is too widely in the way for him to admit that he doesn't know it all. Either way, it's a losing proposition.