Friday, January 30, 2009

Mano-a-Mano: Millan Vs. Psycho Chihuahuas

On television later today, Cesar Millan is scheduled to take on psycho chihuahuas.

This should be amusing, not because the dogs have such terrible issues (although many do), but because the owners are often so terribly confused about who they are, what the dog is, and how to establish a caring, clear, consistent and coherent relationship between themselves and their animal.

And if you think attack chihuauas could not possibly do any real damage, be sure to send a get-well note to Jacques Chirac, who was recently hospitalized after his pet maltese attacked him. A small dog can still "bite you in the vagina."

Cesar Millan is generally working with dogs
that have been seriously messed up by their owners.

I have very little time for folks who criticize his techniques because they themselves have managed to clicker train a labrador retriever puppy that they got at eight weeks of age and so, by extension, they assume they are experts on every aspect of canine training.

You will pardon me if I think I know one small thing about dangerous dogs and dangerous animals in general: popping a clicker while your neck bone is being chewed on is a sure-fire program for failure.

If you have never seen or worked with a truly dangerous dog (and Millan does it all the time), then please drink a nice warm cup of shut-the-fuck-up, and go play with your labrador retriever.

Ditto if you have never been seriously bitten by a dog, have never broken up a dog fight without being bitten yourself, or are an expert in primate and corvid behavior and assume -- by extension -- that you are an expert in canine behavior as well. You aren't.

The simple truth is that when most clicker trainers are faced with a really violent adult dog (big or little), they say the same thing: Put it to sleep.

To his credit, Cesar Millan does not. Instead, he has taken in hundreds of violent dogs over the years, and he has turned their lives around.

No, it's not pure-positive clicker training.

It's something much older than that -- something that has always worked and will always be in the repertoire of a true animal trainer: Calm assertive power, simple and consistent direction, a coherent message said in the language of the dog, and a level of caring that goes beyond click-and-treat and kill-it-if-it-ever-bites.

Millan is willing and able to do something few other wanna-be dog trainers are willing and able to do: take aggressive basket-case dogs, and prove most of them can be turned around and rehabilitated.

And yes he believes in the sensible use of choke chains, lots of excercise, and establishing a pecking order in the pack, in which he is the alpha.

For the record, he is also all for treats, cuddles, and scratches behind the ears. He's just not interested in doing that while the dog is gnawing on his bones and attacking the house guests.

For those interested in reading an earlier and longer post about what Cesar Millan does, why it works, and where most of the "clients" in these dog-training shows have gone wrong with their dogs, read >> A Balanced Trainer for Unbalanced Dogs.

And if you think you can do a better job with violent dogs than Cesar Millan is doing, then be sure to call up National Geographic. I am sure they can find a few red-zone Pit Bulls and Jack Russells for you to work with while their cameras are rolling.

Film at 11!


retrieverman said...

This is one area where we disagree: I stay away from TV dog "trainers" at all costs.

Corrections are needed with most dogs; after all, corrections are like getting the wrong answers on a test in school. However, it depends entirely on the extent of the correction. I saw one episode where he had a very, very aggressive Bichon/Poodle thingy, and I think he came pretty close to choking it to death. Some of these methods are very inappropriate for the layperson to try (which is why they have a disclaimer on the show). I don't think a lot people want to be bitten in handling their dogs.

However, the last time I watched it he was working with one of those mutant white pseudo retrievers with food possession issues. That was a hoot.

Now, this might be that you and I have entirely different breeds of dog. A working bred golden retriever will stop working for you if you use too harsh a correction. They will drop to the ground and stop working, and then they won't work for you again, because they are scared to death of you. They can take an e-collar shock, but if you hold one on the ground the way Millan does, that's the end of the dog. (See, I'm not opposed to e-collars, but you'd better not over-use one. It's really the only good way to "line" a retriever.)

But my advice: stay away from TV dog trainers.

Gina Spadafori said...

A few years ago, I was at a conference on dog-training. During a panel discussion, someone in the audience asked what was the best way to stop a dog fight.

Trainer No. 1 discussed socializing dogs and defusing species-specific aggression. Never answered the question.

Trainer No. 2 discussed breed tendencies, with regard to some breeds who were fine around people but not other dogs. Never answered the question.

Trainer No. 3 discussed dog parks, and how people missed the warning signs of a fight developing. Never answered the question.

Four rows behind me, the cracking blast of a Tazr firing turned every head away from the stage. A man who trained dogs for law enforcement had stood up, put his arm high in the air and zapped the Tazr. (He was there for the discussion on e-collars, where he was outnumbered by the trainers who thought the tool barbaric.)

"This will stop a fight," he said.

"I've been listening to what you've been saying up there, but honestly, if you have two dogs going at it or a dog attacking some, the time to prevent a fight is OVER.

"It's time to save a life -- not psycho-analyze the dogs."

And he smiled and sat down.

In the front row, a women in the audience started to cry.

"Um ... next question?" said the moderator.

Chester's Mom said...

Yes! This is what I have tried (dismally) to put into words about Cesar for months! Thank you for edificating what I felt. :)

Those who argue against Cesar's methods are NOT those dealing with numerous dogs "gone wild" that have overrun their owners' lives.

Our rescue takes in Rotties and Pitties (bully breeds) and small terriers. I cannot tell you the number of times we are asked to take young adult dogs who have simply never had any correction. To some, its a death sentence as we cannot bring a dog aggressive or people aggressive dog into our program.

Beth Patterson
Foxdale Ind Rescue
King, NC

(sorry, left that off the first time I posted)

Marie said...

Love Cesar Milan, he's got it right. Dogs understand what he does, he bases his training on what dogs themselves do to discipline. Very simple, not confusing for the dogs.

I watch Cesar and then I turn to that "trainer" the British woman on Animal Planet with her clicker training, trying to get aggressive behavior under control with a clicker. She's an utter failure.

Watched her last week trying to get a 12 year old Jack Russell to accept a young Labrador all with the use of a clicker. She had these poor people almost dancing through hoops even made them take the dogs through an agility course (which is fine once a dog understands they're not supposed to go after the other dog). All was done on leash, she felt satisfied that it all was going swimmingly. So she comes back a few weeks later to see how much progress has been made with her wonderful method of clicker training.

So here is the couple in their living room, one has the Lab on a leash and having it focus on them. The other is at least a good 10 feet away in the living room with the Jack on a leash, keeping the Jack focused on them, both with the damn clickers. And the trainer gushes about her

I don't consider having to keep both dogs on a leash and totally focused on something else a real success. I just kept on thinking what Cesar would have done, those people would have had two dogs actually getting along and interacting with each other.

M Evans

Donna said...

Tim and I are snorting our morning coffee out our noses right now. Thank you, Terrierman.

Someday soon, we hope the world of dog trainers and behaviorists will be ready for *real* discussions of canine aggression with real examples from real people who use real approaches that really save lives.

Heather Houlahan said...

The kerfluffle over Millan began before he got on the air, when Pat Miller was supplied with review tapes, and instead of writing a review, assembled a torch and pitchfork brigade to storm National Geographic and demand his huevos in a jar. None of the zombie army had ever seen the man work a dog, and none knew the first thing about him, but Pat said that he was "far from positive," so NG got shitstormed with artificially angry email from weeping clickerheads.

I had never heard of the guy before either, but I figured he was worth a look given how twisted up the panties of the trainettes had gotten. I was one of the IACP members who got review tapes on the promise that we would provide NG with a genuine no BS review. They were wondering themselves whether they'd hired on Hitler's dog trainer or somethin'.

I was quite pleased with what I saw on the tapes -- not at all like any teevee trainer, before or since -- and was happy to write a positive review for NG and see Mr. Millan's show air.

His show has been good for the business of real dog trainers, and has made it much easier for me to impress on clients the importance of exercise and structure -- whether they have a goofy Lab pup or a dominant-aggressive thug.

That fake dominatrix chippy on Animal Planet makes me laugh. A real dominatrix would do better with the dogs without even trying. Leather pants do not majikkally convey authority, honey, and real trainers do not show up to work in stilletos. Also, we could do without the eye-rolling and screeching.

smartdogs said...

As a professional trainer who regularly works with dogs who would cheerfully eat a clicker -- with my arm attached, I am thrilled to see this.

IMO, radical, evangelical purely positive trainers kill more dogs than choke collars ever did. "No" needs to be part of everyone's vocabulary, whether they walk on two legs or four. It's time these people woke up and realized that there is a world of difference between correction and punishment. And that trainers like me who use a range of methods are anything but 'punishment based' trainers. My work is VERY heavily weighted to the positive side - but I have other tools and I know how to use them.

And Gina - I LOL'd when I read your comment because I think I know that fellow with the tazer.

J.Deans said...

I love the fact that you are honest and clear on how you feel about Millan. I am wary to share my views at times as I seem to be bombarded by clicker trainers who want nothing more than to push their view upon you. While I don't agree with some of his techniques, like the alpha roll, I can appreciate what he has to offer in the dog training world, and Smartdogs took the words right out of my mouth - you need to arm yourself with a bucketload of techniques when training, and if that means putting the clicker down for a sec and trying something else, so be it. Not everything works the same on every dog, and I am a firm believer in that. I have seen Millan use different techniques in different situations, and if something doesn't work, he tries another approach. Good for you for standing your ground on how you feel about him - I'm literally scared at times to do so...the clickers are watching.
Love reading your posts - keep up the great work!!!

sfox said...

Funny...Coincidentally I'm reading this during an episode of The Dog Whisperer.

I've started to selectively use his methods, especially maintaining calm/assertive energy and rewarding calm behavior instead of excitement. It works with my dog and with the shelter dogs. I don't work with aggressive dogs, but am starting to work with unruly or fearful ones and what I've learned from Cesar has given me the confidence to know that I can help them.

It's refreshing to read these comments (and your posts, Patrick) instead of the hysterical "Millan's so mean" stuff.

Seahorse said...

I've only seen Ceasar's show a few times, but I've been impressed with his training and yet am surprised that lots of people think his methods are somehow new or novel. I don't pretend to be a dog training expert (and I wouldn't want to take on some of the serious problems I've seen him tackle after the humans have screwed the dogs up!), but every dog I've ever owned has been admired for their manners. Our Jacks had well-defined "on" and "off" switches, and knew the difference. My bird dogs were the same, and all the "wandered in" creatures likewise. I'm amazed at how a simple concept like "consistency" is so often ignored, whether people are training their people or their animals. Our animals are members of our family and are expected to ACT RIGHT. I call it a success when the rules are so well understood that the other non-human family members keep one other in line without my prompting. My horses know the rules and are quite happy to "train" one another when necessary, both in the natural hierarchy and in keeping with the additional human rules. The cat tows the line without complaint and my parrot is quite happy to shush hubby's parrot when he gets too noisy. I can't wait to get new dogs, but I worry that my memories of the toil of getting puppies trained might be softened by the passage of time. Naw...just muck-in, guys and let's have some fun!


anissa7118 said...

Amen! I've seen and read about a lot of different training methods, from clicker-based to dominance theory to old-fashioned force-and-praise. The thing is, each dog and each person is an individual. I've got one dog now who can't handle any stronger correction than a brief nasal "Anh-ah!" sound and a hard look. Anything stronger, and she quits. The dog before her was a VERY aggressive and dominant male German Shepherd from police work lines. He learned to respect a firm "No!" as correction, but he and I both had to know that I could and would back it up with a smack or a leash correction if necessary.

Cesar's mantra of exercise, discipline, and THEN affection is very sensible, useful advice. My only worry is that people will see his show and decide they can employ his methods, only without using the calm assertive energy he exudes. I worry that folks will try to work a big dominant dog with alpha-style training, when they (the trainers) are hysterical and aggressive. And then when the dog goes nuts and bites someone, they'll say "Well I trained it the way Cesar does..."

Thanks for writing this blog, in spite of all the zombies trying to wreck it. I may not always agree, but I always appreciate a well-thought-out and passionate blog entry from you.

~Anissa Roy
anissa_royATyahooDOTcom (symbols removed to fool spambots)

Ark Lady said...

I have to go with the coffee snorting out the nose...

The only thing two animal trainers will agree on is what the third is doing wrong.

Having said that, there are a variety of ways to train animals and I have to agree there are so many theorists (which are often academics) out there who have trained a few animals and add a moniker to their name or those who profess to be "dog trainers" who actually are no such thing.

I even know people who are "certified" behaviorists or trainers with sketchy skill levels.

Because I've been around a long time I've used different techniques and think that training evolves as do the tools that are used in the profession.

I came from the wild animal training industry into pets and you don't spout theory when you are looking down the throat of an animal that outweighs you by hundreds of pounds or that is pissed off for some reason.

Anyway, I have a colleague that specializes in aggressive dogs (those going in for euthanasia unless they are rehabilitated) and took over his practice while he was in the hospital.

Although you can work with such animals, and he specializes in non-force (not really clicker training) methods, I am from the old school of "why have that liability when there are tons of dogs that are not aggressive and need homes."

It was an entertaining time but the DW techniques are not the only way and clicker training is not either.

Because we alter the breeds and then stick them into environments where they are not treated like animals we further warp issues.

Personally, I think the DW's role is to alert the masses to the need for animal training but as someone also mentioned earlier (in a different way), television reality shows, which are also edited BTW, are not really the best source to draw from.

We all won't ever agree but at least we can work at moving forward with our techniques.

Garnet said...

This is an old post, but I have to comment. I note that there's an implicit assumption in this post that every red-zone pit bull should be "saved" and "rehabilitated."

No. An aggressive pit bull is capable of killing a person. This is true of other large dogs, but face it, pit bulls are responsible for the majority of fatal attacks on people. Milan is irresponsible for spreading the idea that large dogs that are seriously aggressive towards humans ought to be rehabilitated. Very dangerous dogs should be euthanized.

I love dogs, but it's ridiculuous to to keep large, dangerous animals around as family pets. At some point, the risk becomes too high and once people are in danger, it really is best to put the animal to sleep.

I'm also not saying that people should automatically euthanize dogs for biting. Not at all. I'm talking about seriously and unpredictably aggressive dogs capable of mangling or killing people.

Also, do you believe everything on TV? How do you know "every" red-zone dog Milan deals with is "cured?" No one who deals with animals has a 100% success rate with training, and with violent dogs bred specifically for mauling and killing (i.e. violent pit bulls), even a small failure rate could mean someone dies.

PBurns said...

Garnet you have never poste before and are talking a bit fast. For one thing, you have CLEARLY not read what I have written about Pit Bulls. Slow down and do that, eh? While you are at it, why not actually read a little Cesar Millan. You are a little deficient in that world too. Since you have not done the work of even reading this blog or Millan, I will waste no more time.


Garnet said...

I have read Milan. Note that I am not necesarily commenting on his training methods. Some of what he says is great advice and some isn't. However, please tell me why it's a praiseworthy thing to rehabilitate violent and dangerous dogs. Your reply do me did not at all address what I said.

I have read other parts of this blog, and that's why this post confuses me. You're criticizing trainers who would recommend euthanizing a seriously violent dog and are praising Milan for supposedly rehabilitating them. Nevermind that dogs have died in his care.

I, for one, would not try to retrain or 'rehabilitate' a very large, violent dog that is seriously dangerous. Most professional trainers will not because they don't want to be responsible for a human death.

We're already seeing people get hurt due to this idea that big, unpredictably aggressive and dangerous dogs should be rehabilitated instead of euthanized. What about that South African version of Milan whose service dog Rottweiler mauled two kids? I know that there's a disclaimer on the show, but people out there are trying to 'rehab' dangerous dogs and it's hurting people.

But hey, feel free to insult me some more while not even addressing what I said.

PBurns said...

Garnet, there was no indication you had read anything on this blog, and nowhere do you cite anything Millan has actually said.

Very few dogs are born evil and most dogs can be rehabilitated if they are put in expert hands or even competent hands that are consistent over time.

This is 100% true.

It is also true, as I have noted many, many times, that most people who get butcher dogs (pits, rotts, dogues, dogos, etc.) are the WRONG people for these dogs -- they are young, have unstable homes and lives, know very little about dogs, do not read, drink too much, have no discipline, are as lazy as sin, and give their dogs very little time.

As a consequence we kill about 1,000,000 (one million) Pit Bulls a year.

So what's your point? That we need to kill more?

How about another idea -- that we breed less, and explain that the problem with these dogs is not the dogs ALONE (though it is an element), but the toxic combination of high-test dogs AND ignorant and undisciplined and lazy owners?

NO ONE I know is suggesting these dogs as family pets for first-time dog owners. I have not seen Millan say that, have you?

Millan is not in the business of recommending breeds of pet dogs so far as I know -- he is in the business of getting people to live with the dogs they have.

Millan and I differ as to the nature of the problem with Pits.

He sees the issue as "discrimination," in part because he equates the plight of these dogs with the plight of illegal immigrants in the U.S. In short, he see's the dogs through a lens he has ground for himself.

PBurns said...

In fact, Pits and other guard and herding dog breeds have a natural code within, and Millan readily admits this.

Millan also admits that many people are not emotionally ready to own a dog -- they are not ready to be a leader (or do not know how), are not ready to give the dog the excercise it needs, are not ready to train the dog in a consistent way, etc. He is right.

But are most dogs so far gone they cannot be rehabilitated in the hands of the right owner with the right situation, and with the right set of skills? No.

Do most owners fit that description? Also no.

Are most ignorant and lazy owners willing to change the way they live, the way the learn, and the way they act in order to conform to the needs of a high-test Pit or Butcher dog? Sadly, no again.

But look at these Chihuahuas and other little dogs ... Are these "red zone" dogs? Of course not. They're just little dogs with very ignorant owners who have reinforced every bad behavior that has ever come down the pike.

And how quickly do these little dogs change direction?

Pretty damn quickly.

And that's true for a lot of Pit Bulls too... the difference is that Pits are bigger and their owners tend to be stupider, lazier and far less disciplined than the average dog owner (which is a pretty low bar if you ask me).

Also different INDIVIDUAL Pits have a wider range of essential elements inside of them.

Notice that I am now talking about INDIVIDUAL dogs.

There are Pet-Bulls, Pit Bulls, and everything in between, and what comes out has as much to do with environment and conditioning as what is there inside the genetic code. You tend to get more of what you water (reward) and less of what you discourage (nothing harsh generally needed).

But Millan believes most dogs can be turned around and can be lived with. He is right in theory, but in practice, good intentions are not enough and most humans (especially young humans) do not have the discipline to do what is needed. That's true for a LOT of things, not just dogs.

But do Pit Bulls need another cheerleader for the killing chamber? NO.

What Pit Bulls need are more people screaming, at the top of their lungs to STOP BREEDING THEM!

If you have a Pit, can you step up and make that a dog you can live with? Almost certainly. But it will not necessarilu be easy; you have to be willing to go to any length, and that length may include running two miles a day morning and night, plus 30 minutes twice a day in training. Do you have that? Do most dog owners? No. But could most people step up and do it if they HAD to and WANTED to? Sure.


Garnet said...

I am all for neutering pit bulls. No where did I say otherwise. Absolutely people need to quit breeding so many them. That's not only true for pit bulls. As far as killing more than the million already being put down annually? Really, I'm only for euthanizing the truly dangerous ones. When most of the million or so pit bulls euthanized each year haven't mauled anyone, why risk "rehabbing" ones that have? You hunt, so can't be 100% against killing any animal, ever. So, why are trainers that recommend euthanizing seriously dangerous dogs somehow bad?

Keep in mind I am talking about dangerous dogs that do things like launch sustained attacks on people or send people to the hospital or even kill people. Whether they were born "evil" or not ( really, no dog is evil - they're animals and are amoral), it is often in the best interest of human safety to put down very dangerous dogs.

Milan constantly notes that fighting breeds are like any other and that they have to be trained to be aggressive. No. Dog aggression is still aggression. Pit bulls were/are bred for dogfighting and that's why they are statistically more likely to kill other dogs than, say, labs. You know that but Milan sweeps that fact under the rug. I read what he's says about pit bulls on his site: some is very sensible, but he never goes into detail about exactly what some have been bred to do (to launch sustained, brutal attacks on other dogs).

You also switched the topic here: whether pit bulls should be bred, who should own them, etc. That's not what I am talking about. You criticized trainers who would euthanize a very unstable, dangerous dog. Apparently, Milan is awesome for never doing that. I disagree. Sure MOST dogs respond well to clear, consistent training, but rarely there are ones that are truly very dangerous (and not just pitbulls). A trainer who recommends euthanizing a very dangerous dog isn't necessarily bad: s/he may not want to risk a person getting mangled or killed.

Oh: it's not just positive trainers who are like that. Any sensible trainer can recognize that there's the RARE dog that may be too dangerous to work with.

PBurns said...

Garnet, you seem to think there's some major movement to rehab pit bulls after they have savaged people.

There isn't.

It's not there, anywhere. Not from Millan, not from me, not from ANYONE.

That said, Pit Bulls are often dog aggressive (and less commonly people-aggressive) for a variety of often-SOLVABLE reasons, related to FEAR, improper socialization, poor training, bad cues from owners, lack of proper excercise, poor dog and home introduction, etc.

The simple fact is that most of these dogs CAN be turned around if they are placed in the right hands. That's not a question, but a fact.

Does that mean a truely agressive dog is worth the effort when a millon calm ones are being put down? No -- I would agree with that on a meta level. But at a micro people, it really matters who the people are, how much time they have, and even how big the dog is (and how big the owners are are).

And, of course, there is ALWAYS a place for a muzzle, especially with dogs that are fine at home and less reliable in public. A proper muzzle is not torture anymore than a hat is. It's safety, it's control, and it's often the first step towards getting a fearful dog acclimated to society. Reach for a muzzle before you reach for a gun. A simple thought...