Skip to main content

Evaluating Cesar Millan's Dog Rehabilitation Methods

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."

Say NO to coercion and say YES to rewards

Is an alpha roll coming? pleaazze...I cant' watch that!

Is an alpha roll coming? pleaazze...I cant' watch that!

Dog lovers watching the television show ''The Dog Whisperer'' are often amazed of how charismatic Cesar Millan rehabilitates dogs using his special charm and what he calls ''calm, assertive, energy'', however, the art of rehabilitating dogs is certainly not something that can realistically be accomplished in such a short period of time, especially when durable results are desired. Learn more about his rehabilitation methods and why they are often a topic of strong debates.

Evaluating The Dog Whisperer's Rehabilitation Methods

Cesar Millan may appear to have the magical touch of an ''illusionist'' when it comes to rehabilitating dogs, but things shown on television can often be deceiving. Often, scenes are cut out, and of course, as mentioned, no dog can be realistically ''fixed'' in a half-hour episode. Following are some considerations to keep in mind, and several reasons why Cesar is frowned upon by many dog trainers and dog behaviorists.

  • A State of Helplessness

Cesar's rehabilitation efforts often show dogs which in his words are responding to his ''calm assertive'' energy . As much as this appears to be an almost magical approach, most likely dogs are instead displaying a psychological condition known as ''learned helplessness''.

Learned helplessness is a concept discovered by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. The condition tends to occur when dogs are repeatedly exposed to an aversive stimulus they cannot escape from, which causes them to surrender and resort to a ''helpless state''. To further prove this helpless state, is the fact that dogs in Cesar 's hands often display ''calming signals'', signs of stress which can be quite subtle to viewers, but of significant importance. Calming signals in layman terms, are simply a dog's way of saying through body language ''please don't hurt me''.

  • A Cookie-Cutter Approach

The Dog Whisperer's fans may often notice that Cesar uses similar approaches for most of his cases. This ''size fits all' training approach basically treats all dogs the same regardless if they are misbehaving due to aggression, hyperactivity, fear, or anxiety. Aversion-based training is a prehistoric training method, which teaches dogs to behave in order to avoid discomfort of pain, and it can have a deleterious effect on dogs, especially those acting out of fear or anxiety.

The Dog Whisperer often is also fast to label a dog ''as dominant'' a term that is overused and misused nowadays. Dogs he claims to be ''dominant'' therefore, are unjustly and wrongfully labeled as so, when in reality, they are simply acting out of fear, anxiety or other emotions.

  • Working Over Threshold Levels

One of the main problems with Cesar's behavior rehabilitation is that he works dogs "over the threshold". Because his show only lasts one hour, to attain fast results, he uses mainly flooding, a behavior modification method where a dog is fully immersed to stimuli perceived as frightening, rather than the more humane desensitization, which takes much longer. Because he works with dogs over the threshold, to gain control of the dog, he invests in kicks, alpha rolls, helicoptering and other coercion-based methods to bring the dog to a subdued, helpless state which he erroneously calls "calm submissive".

  • Aversion Based Training

Cesar's rehabilitation efforts often include aversive training methods dog trainers used about 20 or more years ago. Today, positive reinforcement training, a new philosophy adopted by a mainstream of trainers who chose to train using scientifically-approved methods, is the prevailing trend taught in reputable dog training schools.

Cesar's methods include, but are not limited to: alpha rolls, kicks, leash tugs, hanging, pinning, use of choke chains, prongs and electronic collars. Several of these training methods are downright dangerous because they may trigger a dogs' defense drive. It comes as no surprise, therefore, why the program has a disclaimer discouraging viewers from ''attempting such methods at home''. Cesar also still resorts to the " dominant alpha wolf theory", comparing dogs to wolves based on Robert's Shenkel's studies conducted in 1947 at the Zoological Institute of the university of Basel in Switzerland. To learn more about this read: Shenkel versus Mech's Studies on the Alpha Wolf Role.

Note: Following Cesar Millan's methods is also dangerous business, indeed, according to veterinarian and animal behaviorist Sophia Yin,"dog behavior experts agree that dog owners who mimic what they see on television is one of the contributing factors for the 4.7 million dog bites that occur each year."

Cesar Kicking Dogs

The Original 'Dog Whisperer''

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Not all of Cesar's advice however can be condemned. In fact, some of Cesar's books contain some good advice for dog owners. He often emphasizes the importance of daily walks, which can be a blessing for dog owners who still believe dogs can stay enclosed in a yard all day and be happy. He has also helped dog breeds that have received a bad reputation, courtesy of breed specific legislation and the press.

Accusations of alleged dog abuse have however further added to the bad and the ugly of Cesar Millan's career. Doctor Nicholas Dodman, Director of Animal Behaviour Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine states that Cesar's methods are based on flooding and punishment and therefore, the results, despite being immediate, are ultimately transitory. He also claims that ''his methods are outmoded, dangerous and often inhuman and the saddest part is the public does not recognise the error of his ways".

* Dispelling the myth: Many viewers and fans of Cesar believe he is the ultimate ''Dog Whisperer''. However, not many know that this charismatic public figure is actually not the authentic one. The first, real and authentic ''Dog Whisperer'' is truly Paul Owens, a reputable dog trainer using positive training methods and author of the bestselling book ''The Dog Whisperer, Beginning, and Intermediate Training for Puppies and Dogs''.

* Note: many trainers and organizations have serious concerns over the use of aversion in dog training. According to Welfare in Dog Training "Aversive training techniques, which have been seen to be used by Cesar Millan, are based on the principle of applying an unpleasant stimulus to inhibit behavior. The use of such techniques may compromise the welfare of dogs and may worsen the behavioural problems they aim to address, potentially placing owners at considerable risk. A number of scientific studies have found an association between the use of aversive training techniques and the occurrence of undesired behaviours in dogs."

Scroll to Continue

Alan Titchmarsh defines Cesar Millan's methods 'BABARIC'

For further reading

  • How to Train Dogs the "Nothing in Life is Free", b...
    Wondering how to calm down your pooch? Is your dog misbehaving? Need more control? Pulling your hair out because your dog is making the rules? Take your time to invest in the Say Please training program and reap the rewards of positive reinforcement
  • How to Help a Dog Fearful of Loud Noises
    Do you own a dog that startles at the minimum noise? Is your dog fearfully reactive, barking and lunging at every sudden noise? Does your dog take cover when it hears the vacuum, the phone ring, a car pass by,...
  • Dog Anxiety Treatment: Dog Thundershirt
    Treatment for anxious dogs A new product has been recently launched on the market in high hopes of helping thousands of anxious dogs. This product is known as ''Thundrshirt'' since it can be used to ease a dog's fear of thunder, and has so far had a.
  • Why Does my Dog Listen to my Husband More?
    One question often asked among female dog owners is ‘’Why does my dog listen to my husband more?’’ When such question is asked you can almost feel the bitter after taste these spouses may feel as a result of Rover listening to their hubby...
  • How to Use the Premack Principle to Train Your Dog
    Learn how to stop your dog from pulling you by using Premack's principle. Change the way your dog views you when distracted by other dogs and other appealing attractions.


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 02, 2021:

alexadry I learn lots from your hubs about dogs and their behaviors be it strange or not you give a detailed hub.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 02, 2021:

Hi anonymous,

You claimed: "Don't you agree? You don't have too; I know you have your own opinion and that's perfectly okay. Just please don't just randomly comment on something you really don't know much about. Go live with a red zone dog and have Caesar train him for you."

Funny thing is that I have never randomly commented on something I don't know much about here. What you are reading here is what many reputable professionals in the field think about CM's methods. Don't believe me? Visit a website known as "Beyond Cesar Millan" and you'll find reputable organizations and board-certified veterinary behaviorists (yes, those with real degrees) and you'll see what's the problem with his methods.

I have worked on several "red zone cases" ( what a terrible unscientific term!) but would have never applied CM methods.

Now, many think the reason why many of us dog trainers frown on Cesar is just because of envy of his success. Well, no...As a matter of fact, CM has sent me and many of my colleagues lots of business because those who use his methods cause more problems to their dogs than what they bargained for. There are even studies to prove how people using methods as such have triggered their dogs to bite.

We know many other world-wide successful dog pros and we adore them because there's no envy when it comes to ameliorating dog lives, only adoration. We quote these pros, we share their videos, we help spread their work-all as long as they use ethical methods that cause no harm, stress or ever-lasting effects.

You are right, we have the right to believe what we want. We have choices, like when we are sick we can go to visit a board-certified physician with degrees and who attends continued education courses or we can visit a self-taught doctor who didn't even pass a basic test and who sells snake oil.

Or when sending our children to school we can send them to new teachers who use positive teaching methods or old, outdated teachers who still pull hair and hit hands with a ruler.

I don't know about you, but I rather go see the pros with an education and who use modern methods.

anonymous on February 26, 2021:

And BTW, most "doggy scientists" and other official sources apply human psychology to dogs: that's ridiculous! Would you apply human psychology to an elephant or crocodile? NO? Why are dogs any different, people keep elephants and penguins and crocs and other wild animals as pets all the time, so why doesn't human psychology work on them? We've all heard the saying "they are still wild." Dogs are dogs: treat them like dogs---not like a fur covered two year old. Because after all, I've never met anybody who let their two year old chew up the good couch, or relive themselves on the white shag carpet, or turn around and jump on and bark at them on a "peaceful" hike.

This is why Caesar is the "dog whisperer," because he applies actual dog psychology to dogs! If you ever met my Mom; you would think that see was the "child whisperer" because she can take an out of control RAD kid (like screaming for 10 hours straight!) and in 7-10 days have a new kid: their own parents are astonished! How does she do this? She removes extra mental stimulation (TV/video games) adds exercise (3 acers for them to run/play on) adds structure (stable sleep/wake/eating cycles) and uses nutrition to her advantage (we raise milk goats, meat sheep, and chickens and turkeys for eggs/meat) (and she is a really good cook, BTW) and she uses choice-consequence (positive choice=positive consequence; negative choice=negative consequence) and then she teaches the parents those methods so the home environment becomes a thriving one. Most of the children she takes in exibit most or all cluster B personality traits (Narcist/Borderline/histrionic) and or are on psychotropic/psychotic meds. Most of the children in her care can safely come off of them after a few months of treatment and thrive. And, even though these methods are very, very effective, my mom is the only one who uses them. Do most counselors want their patients to succeed? Sadly, the counselors see the desperate families as money making schemes and will do "family counseling" with them for years and that just makes the situation worse! My mom's methods work because see teaches the parents to help the children and become a happy thriving family: that is what Caesar does. And most "dog experts" critic and dis his methods because If dog owners are listening to Caesar, then that's less money for the other dog trainers: No wonder they don't like Caesar!

Don't you agree? You don't have too; I know you have your own opinion and that's perfectly okay. Just please don't just randomly comment on something you really don't know much about. Go live with a red zone dog and have Caesar train him for you, or go live with a red zone kid (e.g., a Columbine school shooter is a good example of this).

anonymous on February 26, 2021:

Most of you are appalled from Caesar's methods because that they would be inhuman for a human--but they are not for a dog!

(Most of) Ya'll are being selfish by not seeing it from the dog's prospective--you think you are doing what's "best" for your pooch; but that's not the case. I am not a dog trainer, or even an avid Caesar fan; but I have watched his show and I have lived my entire life with "red-zone" kids. Caesar's methods are effective because he trains the owners more than the dog and he is certantly not inhumane with them! He truly loves all the dogs and wants to better their life. He is not the monster most people portray him to be. How do I know this? I have lived my entire life with "monsters." Ever wondered what life would be like living with a kid that shot someone in the face, no remorse or regret? Well, I do. Just search RAD (Reactive attachment disorder) on the internet. Children with RAD truly are inhumane to animals: they will stab them, light them on fire, feed them rat poison just to watch them die, physically abuse them, cut off ears/legs/etc just to watch them suffer, and throw stuff (Like a 10 lbs ice chunks) at them just to make them yelp (and then they smile and brag about it). That is a monster: Caesar is not. Just recently, My two pyre pups got into a fight over their food. I calmly separated the two, made them sit, and had the female lay down in the "submisive position," and began to massage her to release tension (I am currently getting certified as an Equine Massage Therapist with a Canine Massage certificate as well). Not two minutes later they were both calm and eating right next to each other and I haven't had any problems from either of them at feeding/walking/playing/recall at all. Do you know why? They forgot about the fight and so did I: we live in the now and that's were dogs live. Humans tend to live in the past which causes most dog behavior problems.

Don't be selfish let your dog be a dog and remember; be a calm, submisive pack leader.

Marie on February 22, 2019:

Well, as you can see not only on this post but others you made, most people do not have behaviorist money or psychologist for that matter or comparison.

Ceaser's tips are easy to acess worldwide specially in the tv and in many languages, americans seem to forget English isn't the most spoken language in the world...and they do work, also like you said, does teach good things like positive rewardment and all that. And the touch/hit works in preventing dogs to get over the thresthold but I've seen some dogs get desensetived to that and go over the thresthold nevertheless. Also seen a couple of cases of dogs who chased traffic and owners resorted to last resort method worse than Ceaser after a near hit from a car and resolved the problem with no visible reprocotion so far.

Not saying that should the the answer for everything and absolutely not go so far as to harm permanently the animal. Same with children not using violence for everything like teaching tricks but as a last resort.

I've spent a good amount of time reading your posts and you do have a good amount of information here. Not much in examples but still good. Keep working in making information avaliable for free and maybe one day it will truly be possible to never resort to such methods.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2017:

Margo, the dominance myth has been debunked many years ago. In schools, teachers used to pull children's hair and hit them with rulers on their hands, but luckily we have progressed and learned that there are better ways that make children actually enjoy learning. The dog training world has been progressing in a similar manner, and as humans, (not dogs!) we have the cognitive capability to teach dogs without the need for resorting to aversive techniques.

Margo on August 13, 2017:

I highly disagree. I have carried out Cesar's Methods myself with multiple dogs including my own. Which equaled in transformation because I changed MY behavior. Dogs aren't humans, they have a different psychology. Dogs correct other dogs all the time, dominance is shown and so is submission. It is their way. We discipline our children because we love them, do we not? To give them boundaries because that's what's best for them? In the dog world there has to be leader and that's what most people do not understand. Dogs need leadership and discipline- giving this to them is love and giving them affection is as well. But it isn't all they need, either. Looking at the evidence of Cesar's methods (and not his critics' accusations) will prove anyone wrong that disagrees with him. He learned all his methods from the dogs themselves, after all.

Shelley on October 20, 2016:

Well I agree that everybody has a right to voice their opinion and, therefore, I'm going to voice mind about this article . I am an accredited dog trainer who has been using Caesars techniques for many years . When I first tried Caesars techniques I used them on my two-year-old horse . I was amazed at how well it worked and how quickly my horse started paying attention to me . I then began using Caesars techniques in my dog training. I have gotten incredible results and have used the foot tap and the touch . The foot tap is not a kick it's a light tap to snap the dog out of his aggression toward another animal or human or to snap him out of his fixations in order to replace them with desirable behaviors . It all depends on the situation and the behavioral issue being exhibited . The touch that Cesar uses is NOT A punch! Same goes with the foot tap, It is not a kick it is just a touch . At the beginning of each show Cesar does tell people to consult a professional before using his techniques. It's not Cesar's fault that there's a lot of idiots out there that think they can do it themselves even though they've heard Cesar say to consult a professional before attempting to use his techniques. It is not his fault if people choose not to listen to his advice. And there will always be those people who will try to tear anyone down that is successful. I find these people to be insecure and unrealistic. I also find these people to be overly exaggerated in their condemnation of someone they don't even know.

Just over a year and a half ago a Korean Jindo dog was surrendered to me because of her perceived aggression. Now I say perceived aggression because she was extremely fearful and no one was listening, therefore, she would bite anybody that would attempt to touch her. It took me a good six months, using some of Cesar's techniques, to help her begin to trust humans again. Because I didn't give up and didn't get frustrated Macoli is now an exceptional and loving dog. Instead of trying to bite she now falls at your feet and bears her belly for all the attention she can get. I have two grandchildren that in the beginning did not like her but now they can't wait to come and cuddle with her.

I thank Cesar for showing the rest of us that all dogs are worth saving and can be saved. For Macoli, some of these techniques helped to save her life. Before she came to me she was going to be put down. What a loss that would've been. She is here today and will always remain with me because of the proper use of Cesar's techniques. I have rescued, trained and rehomed successfully many many dogs using Cesar's techniques. And I have been thanked by their new owners for taking the time to train them and rehabilitate them so they could be a joy to have around .In conclusion I have to say that the proper use of Cesar's techniques has saved many dogs lives.

My hat is off to Cesar because without the knowledge of his techniques I may not have been able to save Macoli.

P.S. As a dog trainer I have come to realize that the problems that arise with dogs are 99.9% of the time caused by uninformed humans. Generally, The humans need way more work than the dogs. It's all about the humans energy. You can't fake how you're feeling to your dog. I don't need words they just feed off your energy.

My final advice to anybody out there with dogs or any animals is to learn how to breathe, how to remain calm and how to be honest with yourself about yourself because it is your energy and state of mind that your dog is reflecting back to you. Be very aware of how you're feeling and what kind of energy you're projecting. Only if you are strong enough to fix yourself can you fix your dog.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 25, 2014:

We need more programs showing how behavior modification can be accomplished through non-aversive techniques, but the major fault would be that such programs may be tedious and miss that "suspense" typical of Millan's shows, such as when he sends dogs over threshold and risks being bitten by the " dangerous beast." It's a shame that his show is just a money-making revenue with no interest in educating the public how behavior modification can be accomplished by force-free techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning.

Lynsey on August 23, 2014:

Well done on writing this. Sometimes it seems hopeless to try to fight misinformation and ignorance when it comes to dog behaviour. It is both depressing and infuriating how many people believe in Cesar Milan and other, similar dog trainers. There are so many things wrong with what he is doing. I don't want to sound harsh but the general public usually don't have a clue. I can't wait for a time when most people are well-informed about how to interact with and train dogs!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 17, 2014:

The words "dog whispering" seem to imply gentle training methods when his are completely not. I have included an interview by Alan Titchmarsh confronting him for his brutal methods.

ryan on January 17, 2014:

I am appalled by these videos I'm not a fan of Cesars but have watched a few episodes and thought he was great with dogs. I've been hearing about his controversial ways in trying but now I can honestly say I will never think of him as a dog whisperer again. Never noticed him kicking dogs and scaring them into submission

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 19, 2013:

Hello Karen,

My references all point to Seligman as the person who discovered learned helplessness. Perhaps it was based on Pavlov's conditioning, but when I googled "Pavlov conditioned helplessness" I couldn't find any literature of this nor Pavlov using shock. Could you please provide me a link? I wasn't aware of Pavlov using shock, only bells and tones! Thanks

Karen on August 17, 2013:

It was actually Pavlov who first described 'conditioned helplessness' when he confined dogs, and a few seconds after the warning sound, shocked them.

They quickly learned that they couldn't avoid or escape the shock and cowered down in expectation of it, making no further attempts at escape.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 06, 2013:

Csk, if I had such an animal in my hands, I would have dealt with this in a totally different way. Here is how an animal behaviorist would have dealt with it:

csk on January 06, 2013:

alexadry, can u show a video of you training such hybrid?

Rachel on November 10, 2012:

Great hub, completely agree. :)

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 26, 2012:

Please read these articles and understand why his methods are so dangerous and unjust. People watch his videos and are too fast to consider him as a god to be worshiped, but they fail to see many things that only a professional can see. I used to like him but once I got an education in dog behavior and training I see why his methods are so faulted, and still as today , I meet his fans that get bit by their dogs and I need to work on real rehabilitation and show them there are better ways. Real dog behavior modification is not for show and definitively is not good television material, it's tedious work done over months. I am appalled people find his methods acceptable and humane:(

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 26, 2012:

I have read his books, watched his videos and am appalled by his methods. Please educate yourself on how a reputable behaviorist would deal with aggression problems. Please learn about changes a dog's emotions, counterconditioning, and working under threshold. There are thousands of professionals who have saved dog's lives and live in the shadow (I have saved several) and nobody knows about them. I am sorry the methods he uses are unacceptable today and we have had enough of it.

Sally on October 26, 2012:

The dog you are showing in the video is explained to be wolf-dog hybrid. So when Cesar talks about wolf it's because this particluar dog has actually been bred from modern day wolves. He doesn't refer to domestic dogs as wolves and he certainly doesn't follow the alpha pack theory you accuse him of following. Please watch the shows and read his books so you can understand what Cesar's philosophy is. The alpha pack theory which is based the alpha wolf displaying aggressive behaviour to size down opponents is not what Cesar practises. When he talks of pack, he talks about leaders and family. He states that the whole family need to be leaders to their dogs and must have a consistent approach. He is never aggressive to dogs or wolf-dog hybrids as his whole philosophy about calm assertive energy is to look at your behaviour and make sure you are not being aggressive or frustrated or angry when you train your dog. He does not condone any form of action that comes from these emotions like hitting, shouting angrily etc.. None of Cesars techniques come from an aggressive state of mind and when he does touch animals he makes sure to remain calm and yes, his methods are quick, he does not believe in putting an animal under prolonged stress, if a method he uses does not work for that particular dog then he tries a different approach. Cesar uses a wide range of respected techniques, such as reward based techniques and assesses each case individually. the video you diplay is of an aggressive dog-hybrid and quite specific. He does not use a one- method fits all strategy at all, quite the opposite. Please watch his shows to find this out for yourself. And stop misinterpreting the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan and actually listen to what he is saying. Trying to discredit someone who has done so much good for dogs worldwide and for owners is not in the best interests of people and dogs. All I ask is to please go back and do your research and look at things objectively before jumping to inaccurate conclusions. Thank you.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 19, 2012:

Another great source is Beyond Cesar Millan, you will find there articles and posts from some well-respected trainers and applied animal behaviorists that explain why his methods are not as good as they seem.

Joe Njenga from Nairobi Kenya on August 19, 2012:

Of late I have been thinking about Cesar Millan ways and how I can employ them to train my dog. I have been just evaluating what is good for my dog and what is not. I have enjoyed reading your Hub. Thanks for sharing.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 04, 2012:

Well, dogs are unique and as so they need to be trained differently one from another. Cesar has been treating fearful, anxious, stressed dogs as dominant dogs with deleterious effects. You really see this when you get acquainted with the dynamics of learning theory and body language. It took me to become a trainer to realize the harm done to the emotional state of these dogs. Google "beyond cesar millan" to get countless reports by trainers why his methods are dangerous, outdated and harmful.

Michele on July 03, 2012:

•A Cookie-Cutter Approach

The Dog Whisperer's fans may often notice that Cesar uses similar approaches for most of his cases. This ''size fits all' training approach basically treats all dogs the same regardless if they are misbehaving due to aggression, hyperactivity, fear, or anxiety.

I like the D.W. shows because of the uniqueness of each story. The non-cookie cutter approach is what keeps me interested in Cesar's techniques.

I like that if his touch or leash correction doesn't work for a particular dog or owner, he moves on to another option. Even if it may not be his first choice. He's not afraid of looking 'wrong'.

I have learned that my relationship with my dog is my own and doesn't need to look like any other.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 30, 2012:

Here is the website full of trainers, dog behavior experts against his methods:

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 07, 2011:

bilghi, it's ok, I do not expect everybody to disagree with his methods. I was once his fan years ago, but after becoming a positive reinforcement trainer and studying wolf and dog behavior extensively I came to realize why many of his methods are wrong. There is also a website full of trainers like me disagreeing on his methods.

bilghi from Samsun, Turkey on December 07, 2011:

For the first time, I don't totally agree with you Alexy :) But doesn't matter. Cesar has answered these all in his new book Cesar's Rules. Please check out.

Related Articles