Cesar Millan’s Training and Dog Pack Behavior New Study

by Mary Haight on May 23, 2009

Cesar Millan and Daddy
Image by puck90 via Flickr

There is quite a dust up going on about Cesar Millan’s training methods, which are being characterized as following the dominance model of pack behavior. Enter academic researchers whose new studies show that dominance training techniques teach aggression.  The study, noted in Science Daily claims that dog behavior has been completely misinterpreted, and the dominance model of behavior of a pack is incorrect.

The University of Bristol, Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences published their findings in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research that relationships between dogs are learned through experience as they go along rather than  by dominance. Other recent studies found that if you are aggressive with your dog, he will be aggressive too, and dogs are aggressive if they are trained badly.

Dog’s Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, sees fearful dogs every day being relinquished as a result of poor training methods that reinforce a cycle of aggression.

Dr Rachel Casey, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Bristol University said:  “The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous.  It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs.  It also leads to the use of coercive training techniques, which compromise welfare, and actually cause problem behaviours.”

While I have not viewed every “Dog Whisperer”, my interpretation of what he does with aggressive dogs and indecisive, frightened owners (which further confuses the dog) is neither cruel nor inappropriate–discipline, not punishment, and positive reinforcement.  Of course, he is who he is with animals, and the owners of the dogs with problems do not have his depth of knowledge.

I have not seen Millan get aggressive with or be cruel to any dog.  I have seen dog owners on the show who were pretty off the wall, expecting a new dog to simply “fit in” to the family routine.  I know he talks about being the leader of the pack and being in charge, yet he takes no action in anger and does not punish the dog.

Of course, anyone who tries to simply mimic Millan’s behaviors, or any trainer’s methods, without instruction can wreak havoc with a dog’s training.

Dog’s lives hang in the balance.  If people cannot control a dog and aggressive behavior arises from that lack of control and poor or no training, the dog will end up possibly abused, at a shelter, or as a requested euthanasia at the vets.

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Cendra Lynn
Cendra Lynn

I saw CM attempt to handle a ShiTzu who had problems. He attempted to demonstrate how to get dominance by holding the dog a certain way. He tried to grab her from above and behind, putting his hands around her shoulders. She got both his nostrils and one of his hands and they had to stop taping to stop the bleeding. His attempt was aggressive and I predicted what would happen as soon as he began trying it. My rescued Tibetan Spaniel found that move the most threatening and would attack any of us, even in her later years, if we stupidly tried to touch her that way. What you are not seeing is that trying to dominate a dog IS aggressive. You can attempt to dominate your dog until he kills you. If you can read dogs, you can see that Milan's entire pack is terrified of him. I fully expect to hear that he gets killed or seriously injured by them sooner or later. Positive training, as per V. Stillwell, does work. It takes lots of patience and self-control on the owner's part. If you're not willing to attempt that and don't want to take the time, IMHO you should not have a dog. BTW I've been training my dogs for advanced obedience and utility (therapy) for 41 years.


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Actually, Cesar has saved many dogs from being put down. If he says its best to be calm/assertive with dogs and it produces a calm/submissive dog that has a forever home, I don't see that as wrong. If a person is happy with their pets the way they are they wouldn't call on Cesar anyway. But some dogs do try to take over the house and are lovable part of the time, its those times when owners may need to get control over the animal in their dog. There can be a happy medium. I have that with my rescue dog after using calm and assertive methods with him . My first dog before Cesar needs alot more work.


I find the criticism of Cesar to be interesting. While I may not agree with all of his methods, he works with dogs I've seen most trainers recommend having put down. He also is an amazing advocate of walking your dog, which in my humble opinion is his greatest gift. So many people NEVER exercise their dogs (I am a dog walker and see it all the time!) nor do they attempt any training or control of their dogs in any manner. If he enlightens people as to the importance of exercise and training than I think that's wonderful.


  1. […] ago, I had mentioned the rift among dog training experts on what  methods are and aren’t appropriate and why. Dr Ian Dunbar explains the meaning […]

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