Friday, April 18, 2014

Cesar Millan: The Secret Is Human Training

A repost from March 2010/

How come Cesar Millan, a dirt-poor former illegal alien from Mexico, with a strong accent and no college degree, has risen to the top of the dog world while Ian Dunbar, with perfect English, some obvious money, and veterinary and animal behavior degrees behind him, remains virtually unknown?

It's not that Ian Dunbar does not know how to train an animal -- he does. He understands operant conditioning. He is not a fool or an incompetent.

I have no doubt he is brilliant. I assume he has impeccable timing and can train anything.

So why has the world not beaten a path to his door?

I have an idea.

Watch the video, below, and pay careful attention to the first minute and a half.

Ian Dunbar says some smart things at the end.

He talks about the lack of thought that goes into solving common canine problems.

He says if calling your dog always means the dog is leashed up and all play is over, don't expect it to come!

Full applause for the last four and a half minutes of this presentation.

But what about that first minute and a half?

At the start of this talk, Ian Dunbar tells us he is a FAILURE AT DOG TRAINING.

Listen to what he says.

He says you can tell people what to do, but no one listens.

You can tell people what to do, but they they are not going to do it.

Whoa! Think about what he just said.

Ian Dunbar is saying people come to him for help, they pay money for help, and then he prescribes a solution.

But then the owners do not take his advice.

An amazing statement.

Now has he considered WHY?

Let me make a suggestion: Has he considered his presentation?

You see, most people have never heard of Ian Dunbar, just as once-upon-a-time (and not so very long ago) they had never heard of Cesar Millan.

Ian Dunbar claims he knows dogs, but most people have never seen him in action, and they have no proof of that.

People are naturally going to be a little bit dubious.

They are going to look for evidence of real expertise or its opposite; fakery.

Does this guy know what he is talking about? Is he a truth-teller?

Dunbar's speech is his "job interview".

For most of the people in the room, and everyone who will watch this video, his presentation is the answer to the question Do I want to buy his book? Do I want to hire him to train me and train my dog?

The first question of every job interview is almost always the same: "Tell me about about your last job, and how you did it."

And what is Ian Dunbar's answer to that predictable question?

Basically, he says: "The main problem in my last job was that my boss was an idiot and my co-workers were incompetent."

Think about it.

Isn't that exactly what Ian Dunbar is saying here?

You see, if you are a professional dog trainer
, your client is your boss; they are the ones paying you, and they are the ones who may (or may not) recommend you in the future.

And, to put put a point on it, they are also the folks whose behavior you want to ultimately change and shape.

Dunbar seems to show a kind of exhausted contempt for dog owners, including his own clients.

"I am leading," he seems to say, "and so many of you are simply too stupid to follow."

Not exactly the right message!

Cesar Millan has a different approach. He begins with a simple question: How can I help?

He does not begin by telling dogs owners they are idiots; he begins by asking how he can be of service.

Yes he will lead them forward (rather quickly), but he never starts the lesson by "jerking on the leash" as Dunbar does here.

How ironic!

Question: Who do you trust more, the person who asks "How can I help?" or the person who says with exhausted disdain, "Look, I will repeat what I have already said, and you have already ignored."

Now let's look at how Dunbar talks about his co-workers.

The co-worker in question is Cesar Millan. That is who Ian Dunbar is slagging here, and everyone in the audience knows it.

And here's the thing: Cesar Millan is the most famous and successful dog rehabilitator in the world!

Has Ian Dunbar thought about that for even one dispassionate second?

You see, when an unknown person with unknown success slags a known person with known success, there is a massive credibility problem.

Most folks have seen Cesar Millan work half a dozen miracles on the National Geographic Channel, and they have seen his books in the store (even if they have not yet read them).

Oprah Winfrey says Cesar Millan is a God, and Barack Obama says he would be happy to have him visit the White House.

His reputation precedes him.And yet Ian Dunbar, who most people have never heard of, much less seen train a dog, slags Cesar Millan right at the top.

And look how he does it!

Dunbar never comes out and actually mentions Millan's name. Instead he slips into a sly passive-aggressive style to talk about "a bloke on TV."

No doubt, he thinks he is being cute, but in fact he is displaying a failure of character.

A passive-aggressive style is not a position of strength. It is a sign of weakness.

Dunbar is not even content to tell the truth. He claims Millan has said "becoming a stronger leader" is how you end a dog's chronic backyard barking.

There is not one person in that audience who has ever heard Millan say that.

Not one.

And whether they have watched every episode of The Dog Whisperer or not, most of the audience will intuitively know it is a lie.

In their mind, they are saying,

"There is something wrong here.

I have never heard of Ian Dunbar before, but Cesar Millan did not become the most famous dog man in the world accidentally.

Millan came from nothing and is now on top, while this tired-looking British guy who obviously came from some money and thinks we are all idiots, is on the bottom.


And bang, right there, Ian Dunbar has lost credibility and some respect.

And here's the funny thing: He did not have to shoot himself in the foot. It was unnecessary.

Dunbar could have reached across the table and said, "There are a million ways to train a dog, but the tapestry of every method is sewn with the same three threads, which are at the core of all operant conditioning."

That story is told in 20 seconds.

He could have explained the difference between dog training and dog rehabilitation.

That story is told in 15 seconds.

And then he could have gone on to explain why people so often fail in their training... And how he can help them all succeed.


Ian Dunbar does not tell his audience they can succeed!

He tells them they will probably FAIL because they are idiots who will not listen to him.

And here we come to the crux of the problem .... and how ironic it is!You see, Ian Dunbar thinks to be a leader you proclaim your leadership. Look at my degrees! Feel the searing force of my self-proclained expertise! I am an expert!!

Millan thinks something different. He thinks you are a leader when others follow.

Millan thinks his job is to "train people," not insult them.

And he thinks people will follow if they see what can be done

Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with Ian Dunbar's training methods. I am told he is a brilliant man, and I take it on faith that he can train anything.

He and Millan are actually using the same core techniques, even if they are using a slightly different language and have a different mix of methods, which reflects the different goals of training versus rehabilitation.

But, according to his own presentation, Ian Dunbar is a failure as a dog trainer.

And why is he a failure? Because he is not very successful at training people. The people will not follow.

My advice?

Click and treat, Ian. Click and treat.

And I could say the same for many other wannabe-a-big-name dog trainers who also have miserable presentation skills. Some are goofy, some talk to their audiences like they think they might be retarded, and most swirl around the arcane lingo of operant conditioning without ever talking in plain English or using simple words like "consequence."

No wonder Millan owns so much of the waterfront -- look at what he does through demonstration, and what he is competing against in terms of presentation!



dan trainer said...

Great article. I do believe that one of the important keys to a successful dog training is making yourself the pack leader. Establish first your role as a leader and everything will be easy. Best of luck! :)

GoLightly said...

I've been studying animal training techniques ever since I was a kid. What works, and what doesn't. I'm not even close to perfect. When I started watching Cesar's show, I had an epiphany, and it showed in my dogs level of obedience and trust. It INCREASED.
I went to a "puppy-training" school, just to increase my young dogs' social skills. The trainer clearly stated that Cesar had done the dog-training world NO favours. I had to smile to myself, because jealousy isn't attractive in anyone.
The best things I learned from Cesar's program? Exercise, discipline and affection, in that order, makes a world of difference. (It makes a great deal of sense, too.)
Calm assertiveness is never a bad thing, in any human.
Another "trainer" I went to, "well-respected", (had even been on TV!) took great pains to show me how to apply pain to my puppy. I had never heard my puppy scream before.
She was another Cesar hater.

He isn't the be-all and end-all. But his methods make good sense, and they work.
That's all I need to know.

Susan said...

BINGO! I have read both Dunbar and Milan books and have found them both to be helpful. But the videos clips I've seen of Dunbar really put me off because of his flippancy and his attitude.
If I had an opportunity to seek help in person from either man, I would choose Milan for precisely the reasons you mentioned.

redhorse said...

I agree with Golightly, and I think "exercise, discipline, affection" is Cesar's best contribution to dog training.

jdlvtrn said...

I've had malamutes since 1969. Did AKC obedience, a little conformation, back-packing, weight pulling, team work with wheeled rigs and sleds. Kept 7 dogs without kennel runs, too much crating and sometimes a stake out chain. Often used a bicycle in the off season for exercise. Dunbar's old book showed him with a mal on the cover as though it was bragging rites. Now he shows himself with a pit bull type. But inside, he admitted he couldn't manage his own dog. His methods are only suitable for mild mannered puppies. He could NEVER rehab an adult of an assertive, strongly instinctive breed.j And the dogs know it. I studied behavior and learning theory, etc. at the same time as I started with the dog hobby. In retrospect, a good dog manager needs to know his own breed and he needs to read Koehler.

Unknown said...

Ian Dunbar's biggest failing is that he invariably condescends to his audience in the great British academic tradition. Being a former British academic I have been guilty of this myself, but years in the world of business consulting have (hopefully) cured me.

concretenprimroses said...

Good article.
Ian D said some good things at the end that remind me of things I need to always consider with my dog. I am sure he is knowledgeable. I like that he says there is no need for painful punishment too. He has no idea of how to help people though.
When I worked in community mental health, I was on a team with some psychologists. One of them said of parents that she worked with: "I told them what to do, I don't know why they don't just do it!"
Same issue in the human world. I was shocked at the time, and she never figured it out. There was no one with more credentials than she had to explain it to her.

boct said...

If you have ever seen the Sirius training video of Dunbar's in the 80s..the early years if you will..the video drips condescension to almost frustration with his students throughout the video. That is the lasting thing I remember from that video from years ago.

Darrin Greene said...

I have no idea who this audience was but as a dog trainer I actually see some value in what he has to say. He reminded me to be more aware of how I speak to people. There is no need for painful punishment, and the most painful punishment for a human is condescending commentary about their behavior.

Barley said...

Great article. I have followed both men and think Ian Dunbar has some great insight on early behavior training. I love the make a dog "work" for his food by putting it into dispensing toys - my dogs love it. Cesar also great - I love his wearing dogs down mentality to get them in the right state of mind to listen. But all day every day, I agree Dunbar saying owners are stupid is a complete failure on him. He needs to lead people to show them what works.

Justice True said...

Meh maybe a British thing, coupled with being older and subjected to a lot of average pet owners. The talk I'm sure is aimed at other trainers, I've been to a similar one, where he talked a bit about Cesar, too. I think the not naming names is just trying to be (every so slightly) discreet. But we all know.
His methods are actually a bit less force free than many, but they are based on sound information- and they DO work on dogs that are more than mild mannered puppies. (Having a strongly instinctive, assertive breed myself). Cesar is charismatic, for sure. I don't see Cesar's methods as a way I would choose to have a trusting relationship with a dog. Exercise is great, no argument. Being calm and not reactive to what a dog is doing, no argument. Though his version of "assertive" is more on the intimidation side. I have seen every episode, and it truly does seem like his go-to answer for everything is that the human just needs to be the "pack leader". He's all about dominance. (And IMO that's based on outdated information).
Perhaps the biggest reason for Cesar's fame over Dunbar's, is ambition. And of course the general public belief that if he's on tv he must be the truth the way and the light!

PBurns said...

Dunbar's presentation was not to dog trainers but a lay audience. Google the forum. His manner has nothing to do with being British. Sorry, but I simply deal with too many Brits to salute that. As for dominance, I am not sure you know what it means. Here's an explanation.

Steve Mann said...

What are the "three threads of operant conditioning"?

PBurns said...

See "Milking Stools and Operant Conditioning" at >>

"Operant conditioning has three legs.

"You know what's wrong with four legs?

"A four legged chair is unstable unless all four legs are the same length (i.e. have the same value) and the floor is perfectly flat.

"A three legged chair, however, is always stable, even on rough ground.

"That's why milking stools have three legs."