Why The Dog Whisperer Has Dog Training Entirely Wrong

The famous Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, doesn’t whisper to dogs. He kicks them. One method Millan has used to modify dogs’ behavior on his television show, “The Dog Whisperer,” is to kick them swiftly in the haunches with his heel. That doesn’t feel like the right way to teach an animal under your care, and it turns out that it doesn’t work anyway. Millan bases his approach, which he calls “positive punishment,” on the belief that dogs need a dominant pack leader, and it is the human’s job to establish herself as that leader — essentially by bullying the dog into submission.

Millan is so into dominance that he requires dogs to walk behind him, like oppressed wives in some cultures. That analogy might suit him fine: he believes that women are “the only species that is wired different from the rest” — whatever that means. He also believes that women are inherently unable to train dogs. A “woman always applies affection before discipline,” he says. “Man applies discipline then affection, so we’re more psychological than emotional. All animals follow dominant leaders; they don’t follow lovable leaders.” I suppose that is why mothers are never the bad cops…except when they are. Or why women are never political leaders…except when they are. Or why men are never pliable softies…yeah, right.

So the guy clearly has some issues, which makes his Orwellian creepiness less surprising. Real Clear Science excerpts what it calls an “eerily dystopian” quote from Millan’s blog:

Make sure you offer your dog the complete package when you bring him into your world. Along with exercise, food, shelter, and affection, offer him a healthy dose of rules, boundaries, and discipline. Don’t think of discipline as punishment, but just one more gift you give your best friend to keep him happy and balanced.

This quote is no longer available on Millan’s blog. Neither are descriptions of the types of “corrections” Millan advocates, except for squeezing dogs’ necks by yanking on a slip collar (one veterinarian calls it “a noose around the most sensitive area of the neck”). Even his book, “Cesar’s Way,” does not explain what “physical corrections” to use or how to use them, though the New York Times reports that one of his techniques is “finger jabs.”

Physical corrections, “combined with a lack of positive reinforcement or rewards,” the Times concludes, “place Mr. Millan firmly in a long tradition of punitive dog trainers.”

Science has undermined the foundation of Millan’s rather hostile training philosophy: that people must dominate their dogs. This dominance theory is based on 1960′s studies of wolf packs in captivity that found individuals vying for dominance and labeled the winner “alpha.”

The scientist who did much of the wolf research, Dave Mech, does not believe it applies to dogs. In fact, he has concluded that it doesn’t apply even to wolves when they are in the wild, where he found that their group dynamics resemble those in human families. “They don’t have to fight to get to the top. When they mature and find a mate they are at the top.” There is no need for displays of aggression to win a contest for the alpha spot.

Rather than yielding a docile pup, shows of dominance over one’s dog, like the ones Millan advocates, can make her aggressive, according to a 2009 study from the University of Pennsylvania. That is no small problem: “nationwide, the No. 1 reason why dog owners take their pet to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior,” said Meghan E. Herron, the study’s lead author. She suggested that the Dog Whisperer’s techniques are risky: “dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates,” elicits fear “and may lead to owner-directed aggression.” So if you do as the Dog Whisperer says with your own dog, don’t be surprised if your pet bites you. It’s your own fault.

If you need your fix of miraculous doggy transformation television and are done with the Dog Whisperer, do not despair. Victoria Stilwell (pictured above) of “It’s Me or the Dog” performs wonders with positive reinforcement and rewards. On her website, named Positively, Stilwell’s summary of her philosophy takes unmistakable aim at Millan.

Dogs are not on a quest for world domination. They are not socialized wolves who are constantly striving to be “top dog” over us, and they are not hard-wired to try and control every situation they are in. Contrary to what traditional training ideologies and much modern media would have you believe, most canine behavior problems stem from insecurity and/or a desire to seek and maintain safety and comfort – not from a desire to establish higher rank and be the “alpha” over you.

That sounds more like the canines I know and love, some of whom seem far too goofy to be concerned with dominance. Stilwell’s description of the strongest dog/human relationships sounds better too: it is “based on cooperation and kindness rather than a human dominance/animal submission methodology.” Being dominant all the time sounds like a lot of work. I’d rather curl up with a dog and cuddle.

Instead of intimidating dogs, Stilwell rewards good behavior, a training technique that she says is “universally endorsed by the behavioral scientific community at large as the most effective, long-lasting, humane and safest method in dog training.” To punish bad behavior, she temporarily takes away something the dog wants, like her attention; she may also use a sound to redirect the dog towards a good behavior.

In addition to being kinder and gentler, Stilwell gives dogs a lot more credit than Millan does. “It is vitally important that you understand your dog,” she writes. It may be easy to assume that every misbehavior is an attempt at dominance, but it isn’t accurate. To change a bad behavior, a person must understand why the dog is doing it. That requires understanding that dogs are more than furry king-of-the-hill combatants. Each dog has her own preferences and interests. According to Stilwell, the better you know your dog, the better equipped you are to change her behavior.

In deciding how to train your own dog, consider whether you would rather do battle with him or cooperate with him, then slip him treats when he gets it. One thing to keep in mind: this dog knows where you sleep.

Photo credit: Stephen


Jan S
Jacob S4 months ago


Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago


Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a year ago


Dan L
Dan L1 years ago

The facts of wolves and man are clearly established over thousands of years and that's easy to look up. Caesar has never claimed to be a dog trainer, he learned everything from his cool old grampa while working as a dog groomer. Well, gramps is wrong about a few things. Wolves don't do alpha rolls, the dog submits to its leader which is usually a parent and nobody wants to replace their leader who uses food and structure for its familiar pack. I know of no trainer that is balanced or even old school positive punishment based I talk to all types and nobody buys into it as anything but the packaging. Food drive and structure are amazing when applied to dogs or humans, each differently but both are basic to exist. We can learn to talk dog and learn to see dog behavior, but whispering secrets from grandpa are silly at best and so disproven it ranks up there with global warming and tantric sex.
The actual dog whisperer is Paul Owens and has been around many years as “ the dog whisperer “who disagrees with completely with Caesar but humbly ignores him. Caesar isn’t a speaker at trainer conventions he sells merchandise outside of them, attend one and see. A producer of the show and client is very open about how much money the show makes and how dangerous it gets off camera and expensive it is in court.
It's TV not reality and yes I have seen and worked with followers of his and the dogs that needed to be retrained

Raja W
Raja W2 years ago

First of all, Caesar doesn't kick the to get their attention he just taps them on the side with his heel to get their attention, there's a difference. Also, Caesar doesn't think, and he never said, that woman can't be leaders over their dog. And it is true that girls apply more affection then most boys do, which makes sense, the father displays most of the discipline to his children and the mother generally, displays more affection both are needed to raise children both, male and female, are different and display different things first it's the same thing with animals. "Dogs aren't on a quest on a world domination" Of coarse their not! Dogs dominate to save their pack every pack, and even animal, needs a leader and as with wolves (yes, wild ones too) and dogs dominate pack members if the leader dies then the next dominant one takes over then they are labeled Alpha the reason why their labeled that is because it's the first Greek letter that is also used as another word people use for leader. Cesar Millan does not bully or punish his, or any other dog, he shows them leadership in a calm and confident way having a gentle but firm hand. People who say his methods don't work always misread his methods and apply it differently thus, making the dog bite them if the dog does bite them the dog obviously, sees him/herself as the leader as you apply his methods your showing signs to the dog that you wish to be leader when the dominant dog(s) see this

Tony Laycock
Tony Laycock2 years ago

WOW, I can't wait for a day to come when trainers and Behaviorist can have Respect for each other. There are ALL Positive ways or in my mind you can be a Balanced Trainer. I rarely hear Caesar Milan totally and Disrespect other Trainers or Behaviorist. I have see alot of behavior from pet dogs and wilds dogs such as wolf act the same way. How does the Pack Leader act in the Wild? Does he just use treats and a bunch of talking if he/she attacks another member? NO, The Alpha Leader in the Wild will always show though pinning the dog to the ground and other methods. I really Like Caesar Milan but I also like Victoria Stilwell because there is Good and Bad points in there views.
I have NEVER met a Perfect person in this world. Dog Training is almost like how people talk to each other about Child Raising. Spank or Not Spank your child?
My point is that no matter what topic it is there is ALWAYS Disrespect and and at the end of the day it is just your Views.

If you feel your Point of View is better then by All means start a Training Business and write books and record videos to show that your way is best. Please, look at the wrongs you have done in your life before putting down another Trainer or Behaviorist wrongs. Sorry, just had to put my view out there. If you don't like my view then by all means it is ok with me.

Past Member
Past Member 2 years ago

I don’t suppose many of websites give this kind of information.
dog trainning

Brian H.
Brian H.3 years ago

I'm not saying that Cesar is 100% correct in all situations, but honestly, who am I to judge that seeing as he is a professional fog trainer and I'm an amateur at best (like probably everyone here). But what I consistently see is him being blatantly misrepresented. At no point, ever have I heard or read anything from Cesar in which he even comes close to stating that all dogs are power hungry. Or that all dogs are looking to dominate their owners. In fact it is the exact opposite. Dogs need to know their place and where they stand with you. They aren't wolves but they need a structure, need to know who is in charge. If they aren't a dominant dog then they will be very confused when no one is the clear leader, leading to bad behavior. Get it through your heads, dogs are not people. They are not even close to as intelligent as people, or even small children. In fact their brains work completely different from ours. So is Cesar the only voice of reason? No, of course not. Is happy-happy-hugs-and-kisses the correct approach? Again, of course not. Probably somewhere in the middle, and different for every dog. So have your opinions, but don't misrepresent the face of your movement, whether you like him or not.

Rochell D.
Rochell D3 years ago

I have seen his shows an what some people might think is wrong many others thinks he is good at what he does. How did he stay on tv for so long if He is abusing animals? Why did so many people call him to come help them? Stop hating him just because he is on tv doing something an your not.

Jenny H.
Past Member 3 years ago

The same thing I wanted to learn, which you shared with us, really inspiring! https://www.whoswalkingwho.com/potty-training-101/