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nm

Karen wrote:

"I watched some of the tapes with Malcolm and directed him to Suzi Tortora, the Certified Movement Analyst and Dance-Movement Therapist he also wrote about in the piece, precisely because I was seeing much more than a man who used one particular "technique" to discipline dogs."

That's well and good, and I found it Tortora's discussion of Cesar's movement patterns and their effects on humans quite interesting. Where I was disappointed, however (because MG's proven himself to be a careful thinker when it comes to adjudicating what counts as evidence), was with the implication that what the movement analysts had to say could tell us something about the *dog's* reaction. E.g.:

"'Look at that, look at the dog's face,' Tortora said. This was not defeat; this was relief."

How do we know it's "relief"? MG admits not to being an expert on dog training, is Tortora? On what basis is this claim being made? What would it have been like to have a different, highly skilled movement analyst, like Trish McConnell or Ian Dunbar or Trish King or Jean Donaldson or Pat Miller, analyzing the precise physical responses of the dogs to Cesar's actions? The outcome of the article might have been very different.

Jim Ross

It's hard to believe that anyone who has actually watched even a single episode of The Dog Whisperer can state that Cesar Millan applies his corrections so frequently that "they're not connected to any particular behavior on the part of the dog" as your email critic states. This couldn't be more wrong. The whole point, made over and over and clear as could be, is that the corrections ARE directly tied to undesired behavior and are administered immediately upon the behavior and ONLY upon the behavior. Either she has extremely poor observational skills or, more likely, is intentionally misrepresenting Millan's methods because she simply doesn't like them because they seem cruel to her.

Jeff Lefevere

Great post. I finished reading "Cesar's Way" two nights ago. I read the book over the course of about 10 days, and, on a number of occasions, found myself retrospectively thinking about the show vs the book in much the same way that you describe the "full context" view of him in your post. His "exercise, disipline, affection" mantra is seldom, if ever, brought to light on the small screen -- at least in the episodes I've seen. Regardless of the banter circling his practices, I don't believe anybody could honestly say he's got anything but good intentions... and good results!

Thanks for a good post.

karen

nm,
I believe that Suzi Tortora IS a highly skilled movement analyst, and I recommend her book, The Dancing Dialogue:Using the Communicative Power of Movement with Young Children, to you. Laban Movement Analysis is a map for human movement that is sued all over the world, by over 900 Certified Movement Analysts. Anyone interested in learning more can go to the website of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies website:
http://www.limsonline.org and learn more. We offer workshops, 1:1 sessions, and the full program in certification, which is accredited and provides over 500 hours of in-class training in movement analysis, bodywork, observation, and notation.

Most "Body language" experts cannot claim that they use a systematic approach that has been built on solid consensus (LMA is over 85% reliable, meaning trained observers agree on what they are seeing over 85% of the time; this is incredibly high for a nonverbal system) (See: http://tinyurl.com/nr5wv for a study that used LMA as one observation mode).

That said, her interpretation of the response of the dog is, of course, an application of what she might say about a child responding similarly, and therefore subject to legitmate alternative interpretations, but her observations are based on details of body shifts, expressive changes in the flow of movement (a release of breath, for example), a reorientation in space, and a change in the relationship between the dog and Cesar. Nothing magical here; just 30-plus years of building a map for human movement that applies to actors and dancers, political figures, athletes, people with motor conditions such as Parkinson's ( See: http://motivatingmoves.com/) and even dolphins (see comment above).

karen

Oh dear, unfortunate typo! We have never been SUED, but we have been USED!

Diane M. Schuller

As "sacdogtrainer" wrote in response to this article:

"Rather than continue to write articles about how wonderful Millan is, perhaps journalists can start interviewing those who have devoted their lives to studying behavior such as Ian Dunbar, PhD, Patricia McConnell, PhD, Jean Donaldson or Trish King. If one spent an hour with them, they would see that the same, if not better results, can be accomplished without "establishing dominance" over a dog through the use of alpha rolls, neck jabs, or hanging a dog by the leash."

I would simply like to underline and highlight this suggestion. Simply stated.

Thank you,
http://www.dianeschuller.com

nm

karen,

Oh, I have great respect for Laban and movement analysis! (I myself do Feldenkrais. It's changed my life.) All I am saying is that it is not even universal among humans (even though its less anthropologically savvy proponents might make such claims), so to try to extend it across species strikes me as highly dubious. The question becomes, who speaks on behalf of the dogs? I'd prefer to hear what McConnell, Dunbar, Rugaas, Donaldson, Coppinger, Coren, etc., think.

And lest this be dismissed as a mere nitpick, this is, after all, an article about a dog trainer. So the argument about physical "presence," one would think, should be triangulated against first-person expert observation of dog physical behavior if one is also going to call on first-person expert of human physical behavior.

J England

I think it's well worth pointing out that while Millan calls himself a dog behaviorist, he doesn't actually have any degree or formal education in dog behavior. This is akin to someone calling themselves a psychologist without having had any formal schooling or training. Dr. Ian Dunbar is a dog behaviorist. Dr. Dunbar completed a PhD program, part of which involved studying social interactions in domestic dogs. Cesar Millan is NOT a dog behaviorist; he's a dog trainer.

karen

nm,

Also NO intention to nitpick, but I am not sure what you mean by "It is not universal among humans". LMA makes no judgements about culture; it merely describes the body part usage, the qualitative changes, the directions and inclinations in space, and the mode of change in relationship of the mover to another. Different people access those categories differently. As much as any body moves intentionally and communicatively, LMA has descriptors for that movement.

Interpretation and re-contextualization of those descriptors varies widely, and perhaps some of those interpretative studies are what you refer to.

Feldenkrais has saved MY life too, but it is not a descriptive system; it is a therapeutic/re-educational approach to movement that addresses patterns of use and misuse. NOTE to all reading this: it is fabulous work!

Our biggest challenge has been to try and explain what is essentially a vocabulary or simple map for movement; one that is as universal as movement itself, but which also reveals grammar and syntax and dialects. Just as vocal language is made up of sounds, and those sounds combine in specific cultural and personal ways, so too nonverbal or body language is made of up phrases or moments of combinations of body, effort, shape, and space.

Within that, we can see where people are operating, and what aspects are being valued. While the issue of ascribing interpretations of expressive intention to animals is oft-debated within the field of movement studies, it is widely assumed that expressive intention of personality is a part of human movement; all human movement.

We see it in elite athletes and in rituals of indigenous peoples, in people walking through shopping malls and in political debates.

But thanks for bringing it up, nm; obviously I could spend a LOT of time talking about this!

Jess

Just finished the article today--I'm in the UK so I get the mag a little bit later.

Malcolm, you've done it again. Thanks for a great read. I almost wish I had a television so I could watch Cesar in action. And now, I have to ask: do you own a dog, and if so, what breed?

jfortycoats

Thanks to jengland for mentioning the fact that Cesar Millan is NOT a behaviourist, but rather a self proclaimed dog trainer/celebrity. Malcolm, there is a science to dog training and I would encourage you to read Jean Donaldson's book, The Culture Clash. Also I had to laugh at the person who posted that Janis Bradley must have "poor observational skills.." Janis is a highly respected and experienced dog trainer and her observational skills are second to none. To the poster who doubted this, may I ask what they do for a living and what their background in dog behavior is, aside from watching episodes of the Dog Whisperer?

rantingnerd

Is there a cognitive psychological term for behavior which can be learned, but not verbalized -- and for which verbalization can be dead wrong? This reminds me of the "sexing chicks" talent that a lot of philosophers like so much when talking about epistemology.

Also, I strongly recommend Vicki Hearne's _Adam's Task_ (especially chapter three, "How to Say Fetch").

Stephen

I agree that pets are pets and kids are kids. But one thing they both have in common is that they both have personalities.

So while most dogs may respond very well to dominance. There are probably some dogs for whom it is beside the point.

But I do wonder if it's possible to train humans with submissive personalities to behave like pack leaders.

Kelly


“If one spent an hour with them, they would see that the same, if not better results, can be accomplished without ‘establishing dominance’ over a dog through the use of alpha rolls, neck jabs, or hanging a dog by the leash."

First of all, I have never seen Cesar hang a dog by a leash, though I have seen dogs pull at the leash so hard that it appears that way. Second of all, these methods aren’t meant for a timid lap dog! They’re meant for the aggressive dog whose behavior can spiral out of control so fast, they are likely to seriously injure or kill another animal, or God forbid, a human.

I have owned both types of dogs and can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Ceasar’s methods, we would have already had to put down our Chesapeake Bay Retriever who we adopted from a friend a few years ago.

He was only 6 months at the time and was never abused or mistreated (just the opposite in fact). Yet by age 2, he had bitten 3 people, started fights with more dogs than I can count and though loving to our family, threw around his 110 pounds of muscle as if he were a lap dog.

I still consider him to be untrustworthy around strangers, but I am happy to say that his behavior has done a 180 over the past 6 months. Yes it was hard to kick him off the bed those first few weeks (heaven forbid a dog sleep on a dog bed right?) - and the look on his face made me feel like I was definitely being cruel. And yes, there are plenty of days when a 2-mile walk in the rain is not something I feel like doing. But it’s these types of changes, recommended by Cesar, that have delivered the most results.

When he begins to repeatedly bark in my face because he sees someone walking past the house or just wants to play, I use my hand to emulate a bite, though it’s really a poke and I am quite sure it isn’t painful. (I'm assuming that's what a "neck jab" is referring to). In fact, Cesar usually demonstrates the technique on the owners so that they understand how to do it. It seems to mainly just get the dog’s attention and is much more effective than yelling “no” over and over.

That’s the thing about these methods. I suppose I can see the cruelty if using this method on say, a miniature dachsund. But these cases typically involve larger breeds that don't respond to a handclap or a loud "no" the way a smaller dog might.

Unless you’ve owned a dangerous dog, you probably think that a dog that is aggressive and dominant must have been mistreated at some point. And you’ve probably only owned gentle breeds like golden retrievers and labs, or a sweet mixed breed that loves everyone. I can relate, as this had been my experience prior to owning a dog from the opposite end of the spectrum. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Well, turns out the statement is true, though my idea of what constitutes a bad owner was somewhat narrowed. Bad owners are not only characterized by those who neglect, abuse, and mistreat their pets, but they are also people who unknowingly encourage bad behavior by enabling it in the first place – precisely my behavior.

Out of sheer ignorance, I mistook telltale signs of aggression as playfulness and ended up with a very spoiled, willful, headstrong, and dangerous dog. As I said before, I’m a big dog lover though. That’s why I took him in 2 years ago and it’s why I didn’t have him put down. It’s why I walk him every morning and play fetch with him every evening and it’s why I don’t hit or kick him when his behavior is less than appealing (which by the way, is getting better everyday). My advise is to follow Cesar’s methods and exercise, discipline, and love your dog… in that order. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that most dogs prefer a walk rather than being petted, but its true. What is cruel and selfish is to convince yourself that your affection is enough to keep you dog happy.

Paula

I have honestly grown weary of reading the criticisms of Cesar Millan on this and other lists and blogs from the self-proclaimed "Dog Behaviorists" who claim to have this and that credentials. It is becoming alot of blah, blah, blah with absolutely no substance. The simple fact is, you do not need a license or credentials to hang out a shingle and call yourself a professional dog trainer. Anyone can start classes and charge the public money. Most of the critical people are simply jealous of Cesar's success and public following, and to listen to them talk, they have never seen Cesar in action or read his book, which I have. His training methods are humane and effective. He does not hang dogs or do anything offensive. He is in fact very gentle and respectful of the dogs. He treats each case differently. He specializes in aggression, which many trainers will not even allow in their classes. What does that tell you about their credentials? Having dealt with aggression in dogs, I wish Cesar had been around when I did not know where to turn. Certainly the several trainers I contacted would not help. How many trainers can run 40 plus big, tipically considered aggressive dogs, in a pack without fights? None, I would guess. That alone originally peaked my interest. Rather than trainers criticising another trainer, perhaps they should learn. I have read most of the books from the afore mentioned dog trainers and disagreed with some or much of what even they had to say, but hopefully learned a little from each. I am an avid book reader. Shame on the trainers that are unable to get past Cesar's celebrity and learn something.

luke from georgia

"How many trainers can run 40 plus big, tipically considered aggressive dogs, in a pack without fights? None, I would guess. That alone originally peaked my interest."

yes, cesar seems to have a gift and an impressive ability with dogs. to me a better question is, how many trainers SHOULD run with 40 plus dogs, including some that have been known to have aggressive issues?

any number of potentially dangerous situations could occur ie, a squirrel/cat/half eaten donut/other animal or object could pique the interest of one of more of his pack, and the prey or food drive of the entire pack could kick in. or in different senario, another dog owner gets near cesar's pack, and the owner may not being able to control their own dog, and a dog fight might develop. or in a bizzare turn of events, one of cesar's own dogs initiates a distrubance and charges at another dog or person? how would cesar handle such situations? perhaps by sheer presence and ability alone, a single man such as cesar could prevent or calm a pack of 40 dogs from any arousal any time, but as impressive this may be, i find such a display of "power" to be highly irresponsible, not to mention dangerous.

it's a sad reflection of our society if it requires a display of one man "dominating" a pack of 40 dogs to inspire dog owners to train their one dog or two or three...

luke from georgia

i apologize for coming on so strong, and i did not intend to offend or insult anyone.

i used to be a big cesar fan myself. i think it's wonderful that cesar's show and books are inspiring and empowering dog owners to seek/practice obedience training and show leadership to their dogs.

i definately think cesar has some very good messages for dog owners, but honestly, i think a lot of the dominance related stuff is over indulgent and easily misunderstood or misapplied.

while cesar's tough love methods seem to get the desired results for many people, there is a sense of forced submission, helplessness, and shutting down of the dogs seen on his show. achieving a "calm, submissive" state from the dog is the goal, right? the more i think about this, the more i see of human arrogance and dog oppression within the human to dog relationship. cesar calls it "projecting calm assertive energy." does that projection also include neck jabs and alpha rolls?

i'm not saying that cesar is abusive to dogs or that he is a bad trainer. cesar's methods have been used for years and years (otherwise known as the Koehler Method) by many dog trainers and people alike, including myself. i think cesar is extremely gifted in his ability to communicate with dogs and people alike, and he gets results. however, his methods are outdated given all the research and case studies of recent times.

for me personally, i would like to see more examples of how people can strenghten their relationship with their dogs, where repect is freely given, not taken.


Gwenne L. Lefkowitz

I see on Animal Planet cable tv show at a Vet's place saving lots and lots of dogs BUT dogs that are not adoptable they say will be put to sleep, if they snarl if you touch their dish so are not safe for kids, but if there is help and hope for them with a patient one like Cesar, I'm for helping a scared or upset dog find peace and stay alive. He showed so many who looked at peace, not fearful of him. Gwenne

Gwenne

fisher6000

Cesar Milan was a great choice for the article for exactly the reasons that he is an abomination as a dog trainer/"behaviorist". He has a gift for handling dogs, a kinetic knack, that makes him feel comfortable doing things that would get ordinary dog owners bitten.

This is great TV, he's entertaining because he has this knack. But he uses the Koehler Method, which is really old-school and based on a rigid concept of dominance that very few actual animal behaviorists (ie, people with PhDs) endorse or use. Cesar Milan is not particularly useful for people who are not Cesar Milan and don't have this physical knack, but he looks so great while he is handling other people's dogs....

It's too bad. People are conflating his skill as a handler with his skill as a teacher, which is funny given the larger point of the article.

Melissa Jo Peltier

As Cesar's co-author on CESAR'S WAY, as well as one of the executive producers of his show (and a major Malcolm Gladwell groupie...though regrettably I didn't get a chance to meet him during his article research), I could write an essay responding to this dialogue. I'll resist the temptation, however, and just say these things:

1)It's shocking to all of us who work with Cesar every day and see the kindness and love he showers on all dogs - to read the incredible, almost PERSONAL vitriol in some of these hate-mail discussions of him. Virtually all of his most vicious critics have never met the man, nor seen him work directly.

2) Cesar has NEVER claimed he is an "animal behaviorist." That implies he has a degree. He doesn't - he makes no bones about that, and in the book, he explicitly describes how his philosophy and techniques developed over many years. In the series, we refer to him as a "dog behavior expert," a title which we'll stand by firmly.

3)Critics will go on and on about the vets and behaviorists who claim Cesar has "taken dog training back 20 years." First off, Cesar does not claim to be a dog trainer. Secondly, these critics do not have access to the letters we who work with him do - tens of thousands (and I'm not exaggerating) of letters including many case studies and the thanks of grateful owners. Some of these letters come from vets, trainers, and other professionals - and by the way, Cesar has received the endorsement of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals) as well as a commendation from the Humane Society at the Genesis Awards for the tireless work he and his wife do to support no-kill shelters and to rehabilitate dogs who are scheduled for death row.

4) In the book, Cesar and I go out of our way again and again to stress that his methods are not the only methods; that there are some who don't agree with them; and for those people, there are many other options to research and to choose from. It seems animal behavior issues are like religion to some people - there are no gray areas, only black and white. For them, Cesar is either angel or devil. Knowing and working with him personally, I can say definitively that he is neither. He is simply a hard-working, dedicated man who dearly loves dogs and whose life mission is to do all he can to make their lives better.

ellen

I think it would be more revealing if the "Dog Whisperer" was to do follow-up programs to see how the hardcases - the aggressive and pushy dogs not the ones scared by shiny floors - are doing: 1)the vesla who was aggressive/possessive; 2) jonbee the jindo; 3) min pin who regularly attacked the family; 4)the white shepard owned by the wheelchair bound single mom w/two boys....

How are THEY doing?

Kevin Brookhouser

I recently read the New Yorker article about the Dog Whisperer. I practice a martial art called Aikido. It teaches the same principles. Like Millan and the woman who works with the children with autism, we are taught to connect with a potential attacker's center. We do not conflict with the attacker, but we follow it and then lead it into a harmonious resolution. We actually never use the word attacker. . . we use "partner." Mr. Gladwell, if you continue to pursue the topic of posture and conflict resolution, I would urge you to take a look at Aikido.

C.D.   Eliason


I just wanted to address those who are saying that Caesar is using the Koehler Method of Dog Training. What he does has NO resemblance to Koehler's method. Caesar himself insists that he does not train dogs.

C.D. Eliason

H blackburn=White

I have watched Ceasar since the start of his program. I have six dogs and knew I was to be the boss without violence. After working with horses for 16 yrs I knew this is possiable. Ceasar has clarifty this for me on all levels. I was BOSS MARE now I am PACK LEADER.
H.BLACHBURN-WHITE

CChilton

I think it is clear the half hour television show only shows snip-its of the time Cesar actually spends with an animal he is working with. That being said, it is also a source of concern to me as well. I wonder how many people follow the lead of Cesar from simply what they see on television, leaving out the important parts of developing a relationship with their dog. In a way, it is irresponsible to show only the negative interactions between the dog and its owner (or Cesar).

One of my dogs,Benny, who is a rescue, is currently in behavior mangement for anxiety and extreme over-stimualtion to certain sitautions like the car and the mail man. Based on what I have learned, it is more improtant for the dog to associate positive experiences with certain behaviors. They quickly learn that certain behaviors get them what they want, and not performing the behavior gets them nothing. It's classic behavior management!! The same ideals work with children! To get something from me, the dog has to do what I ask, I do not beg the dog to do what I want, if the dog does not do what I want, I walk away, with NO negative treatment. My dog is making huge gains, and within a matter of days, we were able to see a huge difference in his demeanor. He is much more relaxed, and focused on me when I need him to be.

For people who are struggling with dog behavior I strongly recommend reading a document called, "Nothing in Life is Free." It is a basic way of living with your dog and allows your dog to trust and accpet you as leader of the family. This method has created this relationship with my dog and I. Anxious dogs can become more anxious not knowing who is actually in charge. Now knowing who is in charge has allowed Benny to relax.

Also, I cannot stress the importance of the human role in dog training. If you are not consistant with it, don't expect great results.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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