My one-on-one live experience with César Millán
by Tess Erngren, certified Dog Behaviorist, GoodDog Center.
[I do not care much for talking behind peoples backs and, therefore, this review is written in English – not my first language. I’d love to hear César’s response to what I am about to question below – his background, training techniques and show.]
After much consideration I went to see the César Millán live show ”the Packleader” yesterday. I have been skeptic to César Millán since the first episode I watched of ”The Dog Whisperer” on TV many years ago and unfortunately my concern has only deepened with every season. Alas, ”To know your enemy you have to look him in the eye” – and everyone is worth a second chance.
With all the criticism César has been exposed to during the years, I was hoping it might have motivated him to read up on modern training techniques and changed for the better. At least I was hoping to see some decent entertainment – because that I do know he is well capable of! As César him self says in the glossy Official Tour Program; ”The live experience is something that lives in you forever. You need the one-on-one connection.”
So, together with another 3500 people, I scrambled in to the Spectrum Arena in Oslo to share with César Millán his ”experience, strenght and hopes: past, present and future” – in a one-on-one way.
César live on stage – is he as charming, charismatic and dog loving as on TV? Does he actually have that magic touch with dogs, and will he prove it? Behind the stage, on enormous screens, are pictures and movies rolling; César as a baby, César as a teenager, César in Mexico, César smiling his (nowadays American) bluewhite smile, César with packs of dogs tugging along behind him in tight noose leashes… It is quite clear that this show is not about dogs nor dog training, it is all about César.
And he certainly does work it! He makes jokes about the incapacity of dog owners, repeatadly humour himself as a Mexican, illegal immigrant and he is jumping around the stage impersonating dogs, cats and stressed out owners.
The crowd is cheering, clapping and standing up dancing on the cues from César, I am sitting there wondering what all this really have to do with dogs.
César of course mentions useful things as well. Like the need of exercise, consistence, calm handling and overseeing undesired behaviors. Also he has helped establish the concept of behavior treatment to help dogs instead of putting them down. I only wish he had the knowledge to teach what he preaches.
Although, when he does bring in the dogs, I quickly wish he had not. The dogs are apparently not pre trained being on stage in front of thousands of people in a loud, bright environment, and they are visibly uncomfortable. Unfortunate for César, the Gordon Setter supposedly jumping at greeting people – does not jump, The English Sheepdog with massive fixation to toys – does not give the toy a glance and the Grand Danois that pulls the owner head over heals when on a walk – trots around nicely like an obedience class trained Champion.
This puts César slightly off his, so otherwise well advertised, balance. But he still manages to show the audience how to make dogs scared of a food bowl by correcting the dog when trying to sniff it. And how to train a dog to walk nicely by putting a tight noose around the most sensitive area around the dogs neck. Overall, suprizingly many ways to make sure dogs get real uncomfortable around their handlers. And it is painful to see how sceptic the dogs are to César himself.
I was suprized over the poor planning of the show, how badly prepared the dogs, owners and handlers were and how actually boring the whole experience was. And I was not too impressed when realizing that out of the 50 of us that payed 300 nok extra (in addition to the regular ticket 600 nok) to see César after the show and ask questions, 4 questions was all César managed to answer before bailing out …
I choose to believe, it is also scientifically proven so I know, that it is easier and more efficient to motivate the dog to display the wanted behavior rather than scare off all the unwanted behaviors. Neither do I believe in making the dog so uncomfortable it has no other choice than to go in to apathetic passivity – or in César’s words; calm submissive state.
Is it really plausible to treat a problem behaviour in this kind of environment, within minutes? Beats me, and many more of us spending hours to figure out the cause of the problem and months with rehabilitating training. Well, some seem to believe it does work on TV and apparently also on stage!
César is juggling expressions like calm assertiveness, excited submissive state, energy communication without any specified substance or applicability. Words like mind, body, spirit, Mother Nature, honesty, integrity and balance are coloring the whole show, again with little relation to any specific dog behavior.
When he does refer to aknowledged terms and expressions, he clearly has rather poor understanding of their actual definition. For example Fight or Flight (in reality it is the other way around– a balanced dog will always chose to flee before fighting) Dominance (has very little to do with humans, it is mainly a sexual positioning or resourcerelated) Packleader (in a wolf pack the mating couple is the natural leader, in a wild dog pack the leadership varies with the situation). César states that some dogs lure people in to be able to bite, that a cat can dominate a dog and that walking in front of the dog proves your leadership.
He is openly mocking ”modern training”, for example reinforcing eye contact by lure and reward, with the quote: ”I guess this is a new technique” and he makes a silly imitation of a dog owner training the dog with treats. Also, using the Kong as a mental stimulating toy by filling it with goodies, is in Césars eyes an absolute joke.
Being around dogs are of course excellent training, but to me there is a vast difference between experience and knowledge. There are good reasons to why we educate ourselves for years before becoming a doctor, veterinarian, psychologist or behaviorist. The education is lifelong as new researches, results and reports come along. The world changes, the way we keep dogs changes and the people working within this field have to change with it.
I could never state that I have the sollution to all dog related problems, nor the answer on how to train all dogs. I can only do my best based on the education, experience and knowledge I have to help every idividual case. Use methods according to my ethical point of view and spend lots of time updating my knowledge by reading, taking seminars and practical courses.
Does living on a Mexican farm with dogs running all over the place, referring to a grandfather and a dog for teachers qualify as dog knowledge? Is mocking modern, more efficient training techniques and using methods, in many countries illegal, appropriate only because one started out ones career an illegal immigrant?
Apperantly so – César claims he can treat all dogs.
A big concern of mine is how the TV show bring up cases treating dogs with so bad behavior problems the episodes have to be labeled «Don’t try this at home». Do the TV production companies really believe that label prevents dog owners from using the very same techniques «as seen on TV» on their own dogs? With potentially disastrous results since they have no understanding for why or how to apply the techniques?
Why do viewers enjoy so much watching people being bitten and dogs strangled? Do they not realize these cases are rare, enormously complicated and that it is very unlikely to get a happy ending within only a few minutes, if at all?
Would it not be more educative and entertaining with a show that stated «Do try this at home!»?
In comparison to many speculative TV shows where the participants are voluntarily being exploited these dogs have no choice but to be part of a show that, to me, seems to be more about drama than animal welfare. I find that very disturbing.
Does the César Millán show really help dogs or does it perhaps create even more problem behaviors?
My opinion is, if we treat the dog with knowledge and respect from the very beginning – there will be no behavior problem to fix.
César came, he saw, he conquered. Left behind his crusade there are thousands of confused dog owners and mistreated dogs. The clever media team around César has made him the Caesar in the world of dogs. If only that missing a in the name was compensated by an A in dog knowledge, so many more dogs could be helped.
«Dogs don’t follow instability. Only humans follow unstable packleaders» César claims – in my eyes it’s quite the opposite. A dog will stay with its owner even if being beaten up daily, due to the instinctive pack behavior, its bred in will-to-please and, among all animals, unique loyalty to humans. Humans on the other hand have the intellectual capacity to evaluate, compare and make their own individual judgement to not follow charismatic people blindly. Though, that thesis has of course been proven wrong many times before.
César openly admits during the show that he is grateful there are so many problematic dogs in America, because that is the reason for him being able to have this fantastic show. Me, on the other hand, dream of being able to work only with training breeders, handlers and owners on how to prevent problem behavior.
I would gladly start with you César, you are more than welcome to class!
It is never too late to teach an old dog to sit.
Page 1 of the show program: ”Before you attempt to implement any of the techniques or conceps presented by C.M. in this show, C.M. strongly recommends that you consult a trained canine professional for specific advice regarding your particular situation or needs as they directly relate to your pet.”
Page 32 of the show program: ”Remember what you’ve learned here today, and apply the principles in your own home.”
Said during show: ”Normally I block a dog from being nervous, because that’s a sign of weakness.”
Said during show: ”He (the dog) is yawning, it is a sign of adjusting to the situation”
Page 6 of the show program: ”In the money world, if you are not honest, you make money, if you have no integrity, you make money”
Page 6 of the show program: ”Life is simple. We make it complicated. For example, we reward people who bring drama to television. The more drama, the more people watch the show.”