The Rise and Fall of Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer

Why do people hate Cesar Millan so much?

Cesar Millan’s critics have piled on. (Illustration by adri021/Flickr)

Few dog trainers have received as much attention as Cesar Millan, known to most as “The Dog Whisperer.”

What started in 2004 as a back-channel cable TV show begat millions of books sold all over the world; videos and DVDs; a monthly magazine; a website; the Millan Foundation; a Dog Psychology Center; and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith and Nicolas Cage.

But oh how the mighty have fallen. These days, Cesar Millan’s methods are hotly debated, with readers on online forums boiling over with anger. Even some veterinary behaviorists don’t like The Dog Whisperer. And the furor isn’t just online; a protest took place on January 15, 2012, for example, at a theater in Rochester, New York, where Millan gave a talk.

And that’s apparently not all. “There has been so much attention to this that other cities where he is performing are doing the same,” says Ada Simms, Rochester protest organizer.

“Protests are being organized in Columbus and Akron, Ohio, where Cesar is performing,” Simms says. “There have been inquiries from as far away as Europe, where Cesar will be on tour after his US tour ends.”

What happened? Where did things go wrong for TV’s onetime top dog guru?

How the Juggernaut Began

Millan received no formal training; he is a noncertified, self-taught expert. This real-world learning began when he was a kid in Mexico and was known as “the dog boy” because he had a natural touch. Later, in the United States, he worked with aggressive dogs as part of a grooming business. He then created a canine academy, which attracted some high-profile clients.

The TV series Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan premiered in the fall of 2004 on the National Geographic Channel and was a runaway success. The bestselling book Cesar’s Way quickly followed.

Millan’s training philosophy in a nutshell? Your dog needs strong “pack leadership” from you (the true “alpha dog”) in order to be healthy and balanced. Call it dominance theory.

The longer version: He says to handle your dog with “calm-assertive energy,” giving it plenty of exercise, clear boundaries and rules, and lots of affection when the time is right. Your dog is a dog, not a human, and is to be treated like one, Millan says. You need to put your dog in its place when it is aggressive, using force — finger jabs to the abdomen, “alpha rolls,” even choke collars — if required. (Please note: Pets Adviser does not advocate this.)

THERE’S MORE… This article continues on page two, where we talk about how Cesar Millan critics are starting to speak up. Keep reading here: Page 2

Here’s an interesting Wall Street Journal video interview with Millan, worth watching:

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  • Jennifer Arnold

    You protest a method different from your own when that method is harmful to dogs and people. I truly believe that not anyone yet understands that amount of damage the ‘dominance’ approach causes. If they did, no dog lover could defend what this man does. Dogs are dying every day in this country because aggressive, frightening, non-scientific methods were used in an effort to train them and the dogs lashed out in fear. This isn’t a matter of which method is best. There are many fair and appropriate ways to work with dogs. Cesar’s way is most definitely not among them.

  • NoMoreUserNames

    This article says: “Even some veterinary behaviorists don’t like The Dog Whisperer.”
    I say: Name one, single, solitary veterinary behaviorist that likes The Dog Whisperer.

  • Gon_Freaks

    i loved this show wish it still aired

  • katefromVA

    I have watched Mr. Millan’s program for years and have never seen him use a shock collar or any other inhumane method. Most of the time he uses the “calm, assertive energy” approach, perhaps nudging a dog with his leg or touching (not jabbing or poking) to get the dog’s attention. And he usually points out that the humans are part of the problem. A nervous owner transfers that nervousness to her/his dog. And while some folks insist that pets are equals, the fact is they are not – they need to be under the owner’s direction if they are going to live in the human world. A jumping, yipping dog is an annoyance and will not be welcome in public. An aggressive, snarling dog is a danger. We do our pets no favors by indulging bad behaviors. Much better to teach dogs to be well-behaved in human company.

  • Guest

    So please enlighten us – how would you handle a pit pull who has attacked other dogs and is human-aggressive? Use a clicker??!?!?!

  • Moon

    I love Cesar Millan’s method. I don’t found them violent at all. Saying that love can resolve everything, that force is never good, it’s just not right, and as you can see in a lot of episode, when owners respond to violence with love, the dog just becomes more and more violent and dangerous for humans.
    So what do we do ? Try to give love to a violent pitbull and kill it when he has eventually harmed a kid ? I think love is give dangerous dogs a chance to live in our world, and value their life more than our love.

  • Spikethorn

    Cesar ain’t cruel to the dogs! Watch a group of dogs when one of them misbehaves it gets bitten. I just had here myself it needs just a little jab here and there so the dog pays attention to you again….

  • Bonnie Mitchell

    There is a lot of sense in what Mr Millan says. Some of his techniques I prefer not to use, my dog is not aggressive, she does not need “dominating”. However, she is not a small furry person, either, she’s a dog & he talks sense when he says that they need you to be calm and assertive to maintain their own equilibrium. A lot of what he says encourages positive interactions with your dog.
    So what if he is self trained, so is Jackson Galaxy and he talks a lot of sense about being a responsible and caring cat owner. I am, as they say, bipetual: cats & dogs, I do not prefer one over the other but they require different approaches. So, use critical thought when learning from the likes of Messrs. Millan & Galaxy but don’t condemn everything because you disagree with some of their advice.