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Gladwell misses on Millan

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This week, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fawning piece about Cesar Millan in the New Yorker (May 22). Gladwell shows why he's a very good writer, but not a good reporter (which may be the reason I thought his last book, Blink, was a vapid but nonethless enjoyable read). In this article, Gladwell doesn't even indicate that there is anything controversial at all about how Millan achieves his ends. No scent of behavioral science enters the discussion. There's no attempt on Galdwell's part to be objective, ferret out alternative opinions or provide balance. Malcolm is definitely not in the middle. He's wonderous.

IMO, there's great theatre but no science behind Cesar Millan's work. In fact, the only thing I sort of liked about Malcom Gladwell's New Yorker piece is that he attempts to explain why Millan's techniques "work" when Millan himself can't explain it. Gladwell turns, unexpectedly, to human dance and movement instructors and dog ethologists to explain Millan's techniques but the effort, as eloquent as it is, falls short of anything approaching a true explanation. Millan, we are to believe, is a childhood wonder grown to mystic, dancing faith healer of aggressive dogs--a dog shaman. What Gladwell doesn't write but should have is that people trying to replicate Millan's techniques will likely fail, that their situation will worsen, and they will have misled themselves into believing that punishment is the path to behavior change when it's not.

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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.

I recently began watching

I recently began watching NGC and CM's show. My husband and I own 3 dogs; a boxer/pit mix, a jack Russell terrier, and a shihtzu/pekingnese mix. All of our dogs have lived together for over five years and we have never had any behavioral problems with them minus a rare (maybe once a year) poop indoors(to get attention)from the jack Russell. (It's not our attention she wants but that of my parakeets! But I digress.)
We do treat our animals with love and respect and would never abuse them, and we do practise many of the methods Cesar describes (and have been for years now) and the result is a pack of happy, balanced dogs. There is nothing wrong with setting rules, boundaries and limitations for animals-in fact they appear to appreciate it.
Dogs are extremely intelligent animals, and as such need both positive affirmations and positive correction. When convenient, humans love to think of dogs as if they are humans but refuse to do so whenever we have to do 'the dirty work' of correcting bad behavior...but isn't that what we do with our own children?
I am 100% against any physical harm coming to dogs, and in my opinion so is Cesar. I have not witnessed anything on his show that suggests he is willing or endorses dogs being hurt. He is simply reminding us that the methods we think are foolproof (based on our human sensibilities and sensitivities) don't always work because at the end of the day we are dealing with a species that is not exactly like us...no matter how many cute doggie oufits we design for them a dog is still a dog...and they act like dogs.
I don't treat my parakeets, or lovebirds, or cats the way I treat my dogs because they are all DIFFERENT. The only common thread-I love them all with all my heart.
We need to open our hearts and minds to new ideas and place value on them based on our PERSONAL experiences ...not based solely on someone else's opinion.

I think EVERYONE here has

I think EVERYONE here has missed a crucial point in that Cesar is not, nor claims to be a dog trainer. He deals with troubled cases - unhappy, aggressive, and scared animals. He's not trying to get them to roll over or fetch the newspaper. He tries to correct bad behavior by letting the dog know that it simply won't be tolerated, and he gives the people access to a language that the dog will clearly understand - that's it!

Give the guy a break.

Give the guy a break. Everyone seems up in arms because they don't have their own TV show. Doesn't anyone remember The Barbara Woodhouse show? She wasn't so easy on her clients or their dogs either.
We have turned into a bunch of pc woosies, when some of these dogs need a good correction and YES it could save thier lives, in more ways than one. Does clicking stop a dog from chasing critters into the street 100% of the time? I don't think so.

An addendum to my post. Have

An addendum to my post. Have you ever watched two dogs play? They pull on each others neck. They will even pull each other across the floor this way. When they are establishing dominace, they use the same technique. They pull or will even try to get on top of the other dogs neck and push them down. How arrogant are we as humans to tell dogs they're wrong? We then try to make new ways for them to listen to us and expect them to know we are the leader. Like Cesar says, you don't see the alpha male in a pack give out treats or use a clicker to get the others to follow along. Just sit back and watch dogs. They were born knowing what they need to do. We complicate it for them b/c we think we are so much smarter than mother nature. For the person that posted about shock and treadmills, you apparently don't seem to understand that dogs in the wild have to move or they die. When they aren't cooperating with the pack, the alpha male shocks them. The treadmill is used to help lazy dogs back into action. Dogs in the wild will cover many miles to find prey. Dogs are born with thins instinct. We make it easy for them to be lazy, kinda like we do with homeless people.
Stick to the basics of life. Life is never wrong. It was working before we were here and will continue long after we're gone.

I have watched Cesar on his

I have watched Cesar on his show and have throughly enjoyed watching someone tell the truth about not only dog behavior but human as well. Let's face it, there is always going to be someone in the crowd that just doesn't like the same flavor of kool-aid everyone else does. If anyone that has a foul comment about this man's teaching techniques is not really listening to what he's saying. His main theme is that humans are the one's that are allowing their dogs to dictate the pace of the partnership. We as humans are generally arrogant. However, there are those that are just plain wimps. Ceasr helps dog owners understand that if they are going to share their house with a dog, they have to set boundaries and stick to them. He teaches humans how to be confident and gives their self-esteem a boost. At the same time, the dog is then being allowed to reach his/her full potential. Dogs are not the stupid ones, we are. They were born with natural instincts and so are we. The difference is that we ignore ours and develop several bad habits that we then instill into our dogs. If there is ever a question about human behavior and how we ignore our natural born instincts, just read the book 'Fear" by Gavin De Becker.
Anyone that bashes Cesar is just closed minded and obviously hasn't even tried to see if the techniques work for them. Pat Miller read a book and gave her opinions. And that's exactly what they are, opinions. "People with opinions just go around bothering one another." The Buddha
Watch the program and see for yourself if the problematic dog owners don't go from frown to smile. You can see them cry at first because they are having to finally deal with an issue that has scared them. Then after awhile they start to smile and even begin to believe in themselves. What is so wrong about that, especially when it helps dogs quit being knuckleheads? Even one owner said that until Cesar came along she never realized that she allowed people to run over her. Have you ever seen a shy or meek police dog handler? Probably not b/c they would get weeded out on the first day. It takes confidence and courage to go through life, especially when you're a dog owner. If you fail to show it, you will be disregarded not only by your dog but by other people.
Watch pack animals in the wild and you see a perfect order. From top to bottom the places in their pack are worked for and set. Every animal knows it's place and there is harmony. They work together for a common goal. The happiest dogs in the world are working dogs. Sled dogs, k-9 police dogs, or any dog that gets to live his/her life earning their place is happy. They are also the most energetic and well-behaved.
We as humans forget to respect each other and to work together for a common goal. We hate authority and get selfish. That's why ther are so many cops killed in the line of duty. There are those that just don't know or were never shown how to work as a group. We elect politicans, have a boss at work, and listen to our doctors when they tell us what we need but we can't seem to work together for harmony. A perfect example is any riot that has taken place. What purpose does it serve? Cesar has taken the absolute basic human and dog instincts and shown us how to use them b/c we are to stupid to listen to nature.
What experiance do I have? I am a cop in my city. I am payed to watch human behavior at it's worst. I then have to go in and temporarily fix a problem that has taken years to develop. I get to work with some of the best police dog handlers in the U.S. Anyone that thinks those dogs are abused, hasn't been around k-9s. They use the same ideas as Cesar and it seems to work well. Unfortunately, I have seen first hand how dedicated those dogs are at being part of a team. I have seen a k-9 use his body as a shield to protect his handler. At the same time, he handler was trying to use his own body to protect the k-9. I then watched as officers risked their lives, while being shot at, run, retrieve the k-9 and his handler, then rush them to safety. That's teamwork. It took confidence and courage that day for both k-9 and human.
This posting may seem extreme. I just hate to see anyone bash any person that is trying to help both human and animals get along. Have we learned nothing? We use Capital Punishment for humans and they can tell us why they committed the crimes. Yet we put kill dogs when from poor training they lash out. We have no way to ask them why. We all know that it was the dog owners fault to begin with. Just look at the owner and you'll be able to tell why the dog is the way they are. Cesar saves dogs from a useless and senseless killing that is used to solve a human's lack of committment to their teammate. He has 50 dogs at his facility. Dogs no one wanted. Dogs people gave up on and were going to kill as if the animal was an annoying bug. Those of you that want to bash him should wish to have a 3rd of his compassion.

Ceasar Milan is the trainer

Ceasar Milan is the trainer on the spot at the moment because people believe they are seeing "miracle" cures with their pets.

Clicker trainers are not threatened by Milan what we are threatened by is the scary idea that force method and no praise is going backwards in how we train and what we have learned. I have read Milan's book as well as many others on what dominance really means (please pick up a copy of The Other End of the Leash at the same time you buy Milan's book).

I have trained dogs both ways and have found that both work. The difference is that after I started clicker my dogs are happier and excited about working. I will never again have to watch the tail end of my dog leaving the training center after a forced retrieve. I will never go back to the old ways.

I praise Milan for taking in needy dogs no one else wants and for making people aware of the need for exercise (not only in dogs but he gets us moving as well). He makes valid points about a dog being a dog, and accepting mistakes that happen in the past and moving forward.

So any clicker trainer out there ready for their own hit TV show?

Aaron B. Clayton's picture

It's nice when people in

It's nice when people in your community keep you honest to your mission, practices and beliefs. One person wrote me , very nicely, to say that the my review of Malcolm Gladwell's piece, even if accurate, was not written in the spirit of our company and our founder. This suprised them. Gulp . That person is right. Living clickerly means avoiding punishing... in deeds of course, but in words as well. My slip up, so thank you.


Annoying as Cesar may be to

Annoying as Cesar may be to some people, he has wowed his audience and made his methods accessible to the average American dog owner. I know people who are in awe of the man; they love him for making life with their dogs enjoyable. They love that it works for *them*.

For a method to catch on with the public at large, first, it has to get their attention. Show them something that works, quickly and dramatically. Make them want to do it too, and give them a way they can use it. The true believers of clicker-training could learn a thing or two from that hammy, shameless huckster Ron Popeil! After they're hooked, they'll want to try it themselves, and **then** they might want explanations.

What clicker training needs is theater, comedy, showmanship, someone who connects with people right where they live, who can make them laugh and cry, someone who can grab Oprah and her audience and make them feel wonderful about themselves and their brilliant, amazing, average dogs.

Hey, maybe we could clicker-train Oprah to be a clicker trainer! ;o)


A "GENTLEMANLY PROFESSIONAL"??? What is gentlemanly about shocking dogs and running them on treadmills until they collapse???

Hi I'm with Joy, (#7

I'm with Joy, (#7 above).

Milan is controversial, for sure. He's also got some good points that are basic to most owner education programs, although he doesn't really spell them out in detail. And, he's only human, even if he has great intuitive rapport with dogs and personal charisma.

Some of his techniques, especially using flooding, should NEVER be suggested to non-professionals. And how many owners are bitten by their own dogs after using CM's dominance techniques?

Just wondering.....

What's wrong with discussing this--ego trips and jealousy should be left out of the conversation. My dogs agree.

This discussion reminds me

This discussion reminds me of the ongoing debates in the horse world about "natural horsemanship". There are professional horse trainers out there that have the "natural" talent and instincts to train a horse this way. However when a "normal" person tries to use the very same natural horsemanship techniques they risk getting seriously hurt. Cesar may be the same type of trainer. Now I haven't read CM's book or seen his show, but the information or advice I have seen him give has been the same basic information I try to tell my clients about being a good leader.
My beef with these type of "natural" trainers is when they try to market this technique via clinics or videos to the average horse or dog owner. These methods leave too much to chance and can get the average owner seriously hurt. Leave the training of "special" animals to the trainer.
I personally think professionals should be open to different types of methods, not every animal will react the same way. In training my own horses I have used both these "natural" methods and clicker training. In different situations each one was very effective.

Just disappointed to see

Just disappointed to see someone of Karen Pryor's stature resort to such unprofessional press. I thought she was above personal jabs? I've never heard Mr Millan denigrate any trainers by name.

I don't think any one method works best for all dogs and I think training styles need to suit not the trainer but the owner and their dogs. It is a good thing that they still have choices about how to train their dogs.

I take my hat off to Karen and to Cesar, but right now I think I personally respect Cesar as a gentlemanly professional more.

I have to say that while I

I have to say that while I agree it's helpful to have different techniques and different methods to approach a training problem, the issue with Cesar Milan isn't that he's successful or commercially viable. (BTW, I think Karen Pryor is pretty successful scientist and business woman. I don't think someone else posting an aritcle on her site is proof of professional jealousy.) It's that many many people only see Cesar on TV working with extreme cases. In a half-hour of extremely well-edited footage he "cures" dogs of dangerous behaviors. Who wouldn't think they could copy that? It seems so easy!
Most people want fast fixes and Cesar seems to promise that. I truly believe that is irresponsible.

I understand that some people feel that clicker training isn't the only way to go. But here's the thing of it: Clicker training is based on scientific principles that can be proved and recreated. Cesar is very very hard to imitate. I have tried to use my hand as he suggests--(My hand is the mouth, my fingers are the teeth)--God knows, I can't do that. And the shh shh sound does nothing for me.

I have seen Cesar have follow up on some of his cases--actually last week there was an epilogue that said that one of the min pins he was working with was euthanized. I can't say for sure that it was Cesar's fault, but I do feel that his instructions to the family were vague at best.

Cesar's book is not full of techniques or "recipes" but mostly a self-serving commercial and a name-dropping placard. I don't know if we've gotten to the point we're celebrity is more important than substance, but it certainly seems that way to me.

It occurred to me that the

It occurred to me that the majority of clicker-only devotees are people whose failures with their dogs in the ring occur because they cannot control their emotions. Using positive-only helps them cope with "failures".

I use a marker method myself, and I do use corrections, which, unlike punishment, are informational cues that mean "you should have done X instead of Y".

Most dog trainining "methods" have some success or they wouldn't be so popular. To increase our ability to train all dogs humanely, we must analyze and ask ourselves WHY these methods work for sertain dogs, and WHY these methods fail for certain dogs. Knee-jerk criticism serves no purpose.

ONWARD, in the search for doing right by our dogs!!

I've been training dogs for

I've been training dogs for over 30 years. I also have a science background and have studied both animal and human behavior. I am well versed in the work of most of the best known trainers today, and try to use whatever technique best serves the needs of my clients and their dogs. I think that it is time to take a step back from the overblown, almost hysterical, criticism of Cesar Millan. I've watched the show and see nothing to be too concerned about. While he is using some positive punishment, it is rather mild in my opinion. It is also my opinion that he is doing much more good than harm. If CM's methods prove to be ineffective, the public will soon find that out. In the meantime, the outcry from "Positive Only" trainers sounds like jealousy and sour grapes and only serves to make them (from the public's point of view)look petty. It's best to just continue to do the best job we can as trainers for our own clients and their dogs and leave other trainers to do the same.

I've talked to people who

I've talked to people who have never done any kind of dog training, but read Cesar's book and have since been walking their dog everyday and seeing all kinds of improvement in the dog. If people walk their dogs regularly and try not* to act like most of the owners on the show, the world will be a much better place.

Hello, I am appalled and


I am appalled and disapointed that a website/newsletter that is associated with Karen Pryor would allow such a trival, mean and biased article appear. These seems to be quite a bit of envy amoung the clicker/treat training group with Cesar Millan's success.
Postive Reinforcement methods don't work on all dogs all of the time, even Karen Pryor herself, had to use an electric fence to restrain one of her dogs in the '90's.
So, if the clickerheads and treat slinging weenies have a problem with Cesar Millan's methods, why not use a page from your own book and disprove his methods with SCIENCE not emotional driven rehetoric.

ami moore, chicago

Many trainers and veterinary

Many trainers and veterinary behaviorists take issue with Millan for the simple reason that he promotes force and pain in dog training; and applies dangerous techniques like flooding without any apparent understanding of what he's doing. Millan is by no means a wiz kid, in fact trainers who have been around more than 10 years or so probably were intially taught using outdated methods like those Millan uses. I know I was - but then I learned a thing or two about dogs and behaviorism. If force and intimidation are what you wish to use to train dogs, there are far better trainers out there than Millan to emulate. Millan's a showman with a good agent who met the right people at the right time.

As far as clicker and positive reinforcement based training failing, application is key; failure may be based on the individual use of a method and not the method itself.

Can we just pause and think

Can we just pause and think about Kebs comment regarding some of the dogs Millan has "helped" who would have met with certain euthanasia otherwise. To my knowledge there has been NO follow up on these "miracle cures" , therefore we have no way of knowing how these dogs are now doing in their homes. Some of these dogs probably WILL end up euthanized down the line, probably injuring their owners or a member of the public beforehand, but of course the viewing public won't know that. Kebs asks "Who cares why it works?" I'll tell you who cares - REAL trainers and behaviorists care, because that is what our job is all about. Training and behavior are a SCIENCE, not a shamanistic "gift" that is handed down to you by your grandfather.


Add my hallelujah to the

Add my hallelujah to the others posted. I couldn't be more pleased with Cesar's success if it was my own. The "Fur Babies" of this country need more exercise. They need better leadership. They need to be recognized and treated as the wonderful dogs they really are and provided with a lifestyle that meets their needs. Having someone like Cesar Millan with the media exposure to get this message out to the people who need to hear it can be nothing but good for our canine companions.

More than "positive training," more than "four quadrant training," most dogs get in trouble because of no training at all. Cesar's become a household word, and because of him, more people are taking serious looks at their relationships with their dogs.

My hat's off to him.

A few thousand dog trainers

A few thousand dog trainers know the name Karen Pryor. A few million dog lovers know who Cesar Millan is. Gee, could there be an envy factor at play here?

The man has an inate way of

The man has an inate way of repairing dogs that would be euthanized. But they are living happy, healthy lives. How can you sqawk about that?

There isn't any one cookie cutter form of dog training. Just as there isn't only one way to teach children or adults, each is different individually, by genetics, by environment, etc.

I have used some of his techniques on certain dogs. They work. I don't use them on all dogs, as I don't need to. I also don't use +R on all dogs, it won't work. There are many factors to consider that require how to address each case. You can't fix all dogs with one method. It just doesn't work.

It is sad that a man that

It is sad that a man that proves success with his methods is chastized for it. Do I see Jealousy here? Proof is in the pudding. I use what works, why don't you?

I love it when I get the call "I've been to 3 trainers and you are my last hope". Then after I fix the problem, I get paid handsomely, keep them coming to me folks!

So, get off your high horse and do what it takes to train these dogs. Open your toolbox to new methods and techniques and learn them. Not only will you be doing yourself a favor, you will actually be saving dogs lives.

Not to get into a fight with

Not to get into a fight with anyone but go watch those dogs body language. I mean go read Brenda Aloffs book or Turids book be better and go watch the dogs on his show.
I watched one just one and had 7 full pages of body language of stress that he missed or did not acknowledge. I am no were in the class of some of the trainers here can you imagine what a train eye would see.
His method is mainly walk or run the dog till it stops moving and can not actually do anything but lay there. That is not training.
I like to know what he does when the camera cuts and then they come back to a dog looking like it rather be anywhere else but there.
What happened off camera?

Walking a dog like he suggested the other day on Oprah will not cure a dog from pooping or peeing in a house. "pee pad training is not natural they need to move forward and walk." But he recommends treadmills for dogs how is that moving forward and how is that natural?

I also had to laugh as he is starting to try and use more positive phrasing for what he does. Sounds to me like his PR guys are getting the message even if he is not.

This is not a competition.

This is not a competition. And there's no reason for clicker training and Cesar Milan's way to be mutually exclusive. People need to use what works for their dog, for their circumstances. I love clicker training; it's great for teaching specific behaviors (i.e., responses to commands). But if you have dominance issues with a dog, which are difficult to address by clicker training alone, then Cesar's methods can be very effective. Read his book, you'll understand a lot more. A lot of things he emphasizes (lots of exercise, setting boundaries, teaching your dog to walk quietly by your side, going out the door first, never hitting or using punishment, etc.)are nothing new and are what experienced dog people, behaviorists, trainers, etc., have been telling dog owners to do for years.

Although I don't think that

Although I don't think that Cesar's methods will work on all dogs, I also don't think that Clicker Training is the blanket answer for every dog. The fact that this month's Clicker Training newsletter is practically devoted to criticizing Cesar Millan's methods only shows how threatened Karen Pryor and Clicker Trainers are by him.

There are idfferent strokes for different folks, and I think everyone should have the option to believe and be interested in the method that will work best for their dog.

Agreed! Not all dogs will

Agreed! Not all dogs will respond to positive reinforcement-only training. I suspect that some of the dogs that Cesar has rehabilitated would have met with certain euthanasia with any other method.
I would like to see follow-up to many of these stories on NGC as well, but I have to say that I have used Cesar's methods, which are rarely corporal, with great success. Other methods--clicker, treat-based, etc, failed, so I agree--hallelujah. Who cares why it works?

How absurd! Are we all so

How absurd! Are we all so closed minded that we cannot accept a differing version of life from our own?! Cesar Milan has not imposed on anyone's training techniques and certainly does not use anything in the way of corporal discipline as is implied here. As scientists we are able to prove or disprove anything we set out to. There was a time when the Earth was flat you know. Cesar is stepping on people's toes and I say halleluiah; all the while my standard poodle snuggles next to me in bed....(with no behaviour problems ....)

Well said, well said.

Well said, well said.

I was so glad to see you

I was so glad to see you posting on this. While I've been fascinated watching some of the episodes on NGC with Cesar Millan, I repeatedly asked the TV how they expected these people to be able to solve the problems they faced in this manner. I was so worried that some of these people or their dogs would be seriously hurt down the road, and off camera. If there was a follow up to many of these stories, I'm afraid we would find a tragic end.

After seeing his show and

After seeing his show and reading his book, I use what I find useful about his method and continue on in dog training. My way is shaped by many trainers and teachers and he is just one. I personally have used some of his techniques on rescue dogs and on some dogs it works. You just have to develop the insight to know what to try on what dog. How he will best be successful and if one way doesn't work, try another.

Malcolm Gladwell has

Malcolm Gladwell has responded to the criticism of his piece on Cesar Millan on his own blog, and not only is his almost contrite response interesting itself, the conversation that it sparks on his blog is one that bears reading, too. Lots of different opinions, but the majority seem to agree with Aaron on one point or another.

In a nutshell, Malcolm Gladwell says that he wasn't looking to focus on dog training but on some broader concept of how animals respond to movement. His concluding paragraph:

"I should reiterate that this is not an area in which I'm an expert. There may well be legitimate issues about how the kinds of methods Cesar uses, under some circumstances. I think as well that Bradley and others are quite right in worrying about the impact of an unsophisticated reading of Cesar's approach on the way we treat dogs. If you do what he says, and not what he does, I think you miss what makes him effective."

You can read his whole post here: