dog training article offers good advice but completely slanders Cesar Millan

A reasonable thesis is made starting from the title of the article: Why You Should Never Hit Your Dog.  But the article goes on to criticize one of the most effective dog trainers I’ve seen, the famous Dog Whisper Cesar Millan. From the article:

A select breed of dog trainers, including Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer” on National Geographic Channel, actively recommends the use of what’s called positive punishment. This is the classic Skinnerian notion in which a stimulus is applied with the aim of reducing an unwanted behavior.

For example, say you don’t want your dog to jump up on visitors. The next time he jumps up on somebody, you could give him a strong slap on the muzzle in the hopes that he will associate the pain with the behavior. Thus, he will be less inclined to jump up on people. Millan euphemistically terms such punishment as “discipline.”  [emphasis added]

The problem with the article is that Millan doesn’t endorse slapping dogs on the muzzle. The only times I’ve seen him make contact with a dog with his hands involve a corrective action that simulates what a mother dog does with her pup. To simulate, Millan uses his hand as a “claw” and quickly strikes the neck of the dog. This might sound abusive, but it’s not at all. He never does it so hard as to harm any dog. The point of it is to re-focus the attention of the dog and gently let the canine know that he’s misbehaving. At no point ever does Millan cause any physical harm.

The difference between Millan and just about everybody else is that he has a “presence.” By this, he is a natural leader, to dogs at least. If you’ve ever known anyone who had this presence, you know what I’m talking about. A good coach for a sports team or a good manager at work might have this characteristic. A certain something that inspires trust and confidence. Dog owners should strike to attain this quality as well, even if it doesn’t come naturally for them.

But presence in the context of the dog rehabilitation that Millan does isn’t enough. He must use both positive and negative reinforcement to encourage good behavior and dissuade bad behavior. Never is his goal to inspire fear or cause distrust on the part of the dog he’s helping.

To the credit of the author of the article, a good point is made regarding dogs urinating in the house. If your dog pees in the house, follow basic recommended house-training guidelines. As the article states, don’t discipline your dog for peeing in the house, as that doesn’t work. (Note that Millan would, I’m sure, agree completely on this point.) The article doesn’t state but nonetheless implies that Millan would encourage harsh discipline in this case, which of course is nonsense.


In the comments section of the above article, there’s heated debate as well. One of the posters points to youtube footage of Millan “hitting” a dog. Millan isn’t hitting the dog though. He’s using a quick but painless technique on the dog’s neck to redirect the focus of the dog away from the chicken (who the dog was staring at a bit too hard), so as to discourage the obsessive staring. The technique works, and it has nothing to do with dog abuse.


From the article Comments section (not necessarily endorsed by the actual author of the article, I should add), I found this youtube footage of Millan, with the commenter’s comments:

Here are a couple of videos, one depicting a slap to the face, and another showing Millan using a tightening collar on a misbehaving husky.

The footage/link is in regards to the husky. Millan is calm and non-abusive the entire time, as any dog trainer or owner should be. I don’t see where the “abuse” is here. I wonder if the people who post these comments actually own dogs.

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