Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cesar's Way- definitely NOT a Whisper. Book Review!

Book Review: Cesar’s Way, by Cesar Millan.

Cesar’s Way: Definitely NOT a Whisper

By Kathy Meyer, VMD

Although the jacket claims that the book offers a “natural, everyday guide to

understanding & correcting common dog problems,” Cesar’s Way, by Cesar Millan (aka

the Dog Whisperer) delivers very little usable information for dog owners. The book is

aptly named, as its main focus is Cesar, not the dogs. Instead of providing revolutionary

insight into dog psyche, Cesar’s Way largely describes Cesar’s own interpretation of

various problem dog behaviors and his methods of treating. The typical dog owner can’t

use these methods, as they involve 4 or 5 hours of vigorous exercise a day, time with a

pack of 40 to 50 dogs, and physical corrections and intimidation to achieve submission.

Cesar’s various and sometimes peculiar philosophies and beliefs are woven throughout

the book, making it more a treatise on his views of how dogs and owners (and even men

and women) should construct their relationships rather than a useful guidebook to

promote a harmonious life for dog and owner.

The most glaring faults of the book are not so much what is included, but what is not.

First, there is no acknowledgement of the dog’s ability to quickly and easily learn dozens

of words to create a common vocabulary between dog and owner. This is otherwise

known as training…something that has been very helpful over the thousands of years of

human/dog interactions. Communication in this way has allowed dogs to be trained for

very complex, useful behaviors in their complex lives as 21st century pets in a developed

country. Cesar, however, strives for a “primal” relationship between dogs and their

owners, epitomized in his view by homeless people and their dogs. In this primitive

construct, Cesar uses no words to communicate with his dogs. Instead, the only sound he

will issue is a harsh hiss, which will generally cause dogs to display submission when he

is displeased. So, instead of teaching a dog to sit or down/stay and then asking the dog to

remain calm so it can “earn” its dinner, Cesar expects the dog to just “figure it out,”

regardless of how confused, hungry, and frustrated the dog becomes. Likewise, the poor

fearful dogs Cesar “rehabilitates” could be easily taught to sit and stay while desensitized

to his approach rather than being subjected to forceful, terrifying intimidation tactics

described in the book. Cesar states that he will repeat these techniques “a thousand

times” if necessary with fearful dogs.

Also related to training, or lack thereof, is Cesar’s method of “discipline.” The book

doesn’t specifically advise owners on how to stop their dogs from doing what Cesar feels

should be forbidden. Other than taking the dog on long marches on the end of a short

lead with a noose around the most sensitive area of the neck and projecting calm,

assertive energy, the reader is at a loss as to how he or she is to change her dog’s

behavior. Based on his “Dog Whisperer Show,” the method of discipline appears to

involve punishment delivered verbally (his “hiss”) or through tightening of the choke

collar to the point of shutting off the airway. Cesar does discuss the “alpha roll,” in his

book, but wisely cautions owners from doing it on their own dogs except under the

guidance of a trained professional. I suspect the advantage to this is that the trainer will

end up in the emergency room rather than the owner. The purpose of discipline is to

educate the dog, and the approaches alluded to in this book do not instruct the owner to

show the dog what the owner would like him or her to do instead of the undesirable


In addition to the above-mentioned omissions, there are no recommendations made for

simple environmental manipulations that could minimize or even solve many problems.

For example, Cesar mentioned a dog that bit mail carriers to the point that the USPS

would not deliver mail for the entire neighborhood. This case was featured on a Dog

Whisperer episode, which I did review. Not once did Cesar advise the owner to keep her

dog under control by not allowing it to run at large, unsupervised, in the neighborhood.

Although Cesar’s appearance dressed up in a postal uniform was perfect TV schmaltz,

it’s unlikely this one-time encounter will affect that dog’s future behavior toward the real

mail carriers. Another case described in the book involved a dog that walked in perfect

submission, unleashed down a city street to its owner’s photography studio. However, at

the studio, the dog began to display aggression toward clients. Cesar dramatically

described the horrible outcomes, including euthanasia, if this behavior could not be

stopped! However, he did not mention simply leaving the dog at home or using a leash,

gate, or crate at the studio until adequate training could be achieved. More to the point,

he didn’t even describe how the owner was to stop behavior. Cesar simply advised him

to act like a leader. Sadly, Cesar not only missed opportunities to easily direct the reader

to successful strategies, but glamorized the walking of a dog off-lead in a busy city,

which is unlawful in many jurisdictions and could prove fatal for a dog.

While Cesar’s opening autobiography in the book provides a touching “rags to riches”

story, it is of no particular help to the dog owner. However, it does provide great insight

into Cesar’s perception of the perfect life for a dog. His ideas were clearly formed during

his childhood, where he observed the behavior his grandfather’s nearly feral farm dogs.

The dogs lived outdoors, were not regularly fed, and received no health care, save hosing

for severe infestation of external parasites. The dogs were not trained, but just

“naturally” knew what to do. This construct of the perfect life for a dog reappears later in

the book, when Cesar declares that the happiest dogs in America are those owned by

homeless people, as they engage in the proper following behavior required of all dogs if

they view their owners as “dominant”.

As Cesar goes on to describe various types of aggression he treats, he uses terms such as

“unbalanced” and “negative energy.” These vague terms do little to help advance our

understanding or aid owners in preventing or treating problems. His rehabilitation

techniques, while interesting, are simply descriptions of what he, himself, does at his

facility. In general, it involves heavy exercise to induce a “calm, submissive state,”

exposure to the pack of dogs, and a feeding process where only the calmest dogs are

given their food. As previously noted, these techniques do not easily transfer to the

typical dog owner.

Throughout the book, much is made of popular “dominance theory” and its application to

dog training. Cesar maintains that a dog that jumps up during greeting, pulls on a leash,

or walks through the door first is dominating the owner. These assertions are patently

false. Many dogs jump during greeting while displaying obvious submissive behaviors.

They are whining and licking! The reason they jump is to sniff the owner’s face, which

is simply vertically oriented rather than horizontally oriented, like other dogs. Likewise,

pulling on the lead or going through the door first usually relates to a simple lack of

training and the dog’s ability to move much faster than its human companion. Cesar’s

description of wolf pack behavior is not supported by the latest research. There is no

constant scrabbling to be top wolf. The pack structure is simply a family, with mother

and father at the top and several years’ worth of maturing offspring. Placement in the

hierarchy is based on sex and age.

In the final section of the book, Cesar offers up the closest thing to advice for owners in

the book. I do agree with many of his questions prospective owners should ask

themselves prior to taking on a puppy. However, while I agree exercise is important, his

recommendations for exercise in excess of 1.5 hours of walking per day, are not practical

for most people. I am particularly concerned about the potential for injuries to dogs

worked out on the treadmill, and joint damage to dogs under the age of two who may be

asked to wear a backpack full of filled water bottles, as he suggests. Under the discipline

section, Cesar repeatedly will advise owners what not to let their dogs do, such as wake

them up in the morning or greet them too enthusiastically upon their return. As noted

above, he doesn’t tell owners how to stop the behavior or what alternate behavior the dog

should be taught! The most concrete advice I could find was for owners to always

behave in a calm assertive way. I do endorse this concept but it would be much more

helpful for Cesar to instruct readers on exactly what they should do with the dog while

being calm and assertive.

“Cesar’s Way” will make a fine read for you if you want to learn about Cesar and how he

claims to dramatically rehabilitates dogs to live in his pack. His is an impressive story of

human ambition and resolve, which makes a nice marketing package for simplistic,

outdated, and sometimes downright dangerous techniques. However, if you are a dog

owner looking to deepen your relationship with your dog and/or improve your dog’s

behavior, I would direct you to authors such as Patricia McConnell, Jean Donaldson, Ian

Dunbar, and Sophia Yin. By using more advanced, humane techniques of true dog

training, you will surely improve the quality of life for both you and your dog. And the

book won’t be centered on the messenger; it will be centered on the message.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

every little bit helps.... I hope!

So I just had to share an experience I had today.... mainly because I suppose it seems to happen quite often in "dog-land" and it just FRUSTRATES the heck out of me. It's when I see an unleashed dog racing over to me and my dog (on leash) or even a dog "released" to approach on a retractable leash (another story in itself) today I happened to say something. I hope the few words I spoke possibly sunk in and made some sort of an impact to the dog's owners....but I'm can't be positive since they were young teenage kids and I really didn't explain the benefits of my comments to the dog's owners. I can hope though. :)

So I was walking my sons in the big double BOB stroller and on leash alongside us walked Bosley, our 10 lb terrier. We cut through this one parking lot which dumps us out onto the street we need to get to.... you know, a simple short cut. As we approach the street and prepare to come down the side walk and enter the cul-de-sac area I see two boys (I'm guessing 11 and 17?) playing ball with their large lab/sheppard mix of a dog. Pretty large dog, 80lbs or so. Bosley perks up of course and I click/treat click/treat. He's always so good when passing other dogs. Well this dog was off leash. Here's the thing- I know MY dog is good- but you just NEVER know about the other dog, do you?! This is why there is a leash law..... and even if they say THEIR dog is "good", how do they know my dog isn't!?

We continue to walk by and their dog comes quickly up to Bosley's rear and sniffs. "Let's go" I say as we walk on without any hesitation. The boys meanwhile, are just standing there yelling at the dog to return to their side "come here, hey , -dog's name- , hey, hey, come here". The boys don't move a step. They continue to yell. CLEARLY the dog is highly distracted by my adorable terrier and wants nothing of the sort to return. We keep walking - but slowly enough so that if they wanted to they could grab their dog. I am keeping an eye on the behaviors the large dog is offering and things appear "fine". The boys still haven't moved. Again, the reason I write this today is because I finally said what I always WANT to say on my walks to others- EEK- but never do. I was very "courteous" when doing so- I said " Perhaps you should just come and get your dog vs just yelling at him." And......... what did they do? Just exactly that. Uh, yeah, duh! That dog would have joined me for my 3 mile walk had I not said anything! Okay, well at least for another few houses!

Too often do we just sit back and command! Especially when the dog is clearly overly stimulated to be "hearing" you in the first place. In addition, many people get far too confident with their unleashed dogs. It's just not worth taking the risk safety-wise nor fun for the dog if all he gets is what happened today- yelling, yelling and more yelling and then a big jerk on the collar and yanked back to their ball session.

The positive out of this is that my dog gave me all the attention I needed while walking past that incident. He knew that coming with me was going to earn him a nice reward. I hope those boys started to see a lightbulb at least BEGIN to turn on!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Clicker training other species!

Try it with your dog, your cat, your bird or your horse! Here Chrissy has learned to relax and settle as a result of positive training with the clicker. She has learned that this choice of hers gets her yummy rewards! With training, it's important to always give your animals opportunities to make their own choices- reward those you want to see again! Chrissy knows this behavior pays off!

I've always wanted a big dog!! I wouldn't however trade my 10 lb terrier mix Bosley for the world!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MY dog is smart!

Well I already KNEW Bosley was smart... but you know, sometimes being a dog trainer, you get so busy training OTHER dogs that you don't spend AS much time training with your own dog. Today the Boz-man and I worked on a bunch of targeting and shaping behaviors. He has always been great on the matt but today he chose (after working a few minutes on it) the large carpet, that is a recent addition to our family room, as his default matt. What a great idea! I just love watching dogs Think and learn and while doing so saying: "this mom? is this it? does this work?" He would skip right on over like an excited 2 year old in a candy shop and pounce on the carpet section waiting for the next request. What a cute little guy. I'm motivated to do even more with my dear little friend. :)

Our companions are SO willing to please. Don't forget to give them the opportunities!

Friday, July 3, 2009

4th of July and Summer Safety!

It's that time of year dog owners! The June gloom is behind us and Summer is here! I know because I got a pretty bad sunburn this past weekend and my back is peeling!

What does this mean for your dogs? It means you need to pay a bit more attention to them.

Make sure you NEVER leave them in the car. Not even with the windows down! Think ahead. If you must take them but can't take them in to where you are headed then go on that errand at another time! The car's temperature inside increases FAST and it gets extremely hot inside. ** you should never leave your dog in the car anyways!**

Make sure you always bring extra water for your dog! I went on a walk yesterday and made sure I shared my water with my dog. He's working too! And it's Hot outside! It's very important to keep the animals hydrated, as it is yourself. You can buy portable water bowls and even portable dog water bottles with a bowl attached!

Pay attention to how hot the payment is. Some dogs may burn their paw pads. If you're planning a noon-day walk, perhaps reschedule until early evening when the pavement is a bit cooler.

Some fair skinned dogs or light muzzled dogs may burn easily too. Check with your Vet for the best SPF skin protectant..

With fire works - the BEST solution is to leave your dog at home. Even a CD with calm music to cover up the loud noises going on outside helps too. You can look into purchasing calming collars which have a great effect as well.

Keep in mind dog's senses- especially hearing! are far superior than ours. So it should be no surprise that the fireworks would be a bit frightening to them. The idea of watching a firework show and having a picnic just isn't their cup of tea!! Do what's best for THEM....keep them at home and try not to go walking at the time fireworks may be going on.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Are you a Cesar Millan Fan? I hope not!

Finally more and more are realizing that Cesar's methods are not the most ideal methods to train dogs with. Finally...people are taking action. Below is the pdf of the letter from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior to Merial who is considering promoting Cesar's and his methods in a Heartgard and Frontline campaign:

(copy and paste the following in your browser)

They even have references to speak about the results of Cesar's training. "We would also be happy to provide you with additional peer-reviewed references indicating that the training methods televised on “The Dog Whisperer”often lead to increased aggression and human injury. " I think viewers forget this is ALSO a television show where editing is used aggressively.

I hope that you continue to use positive reinforcement with your dogs.....

Come on now! and GET Pawsitive! :)

The pioneer of clicker training

Karen Pryor has a new book out! I definitely recommend you read it. Check out her recent showing on ABC to hear and see a nice quick overview of just what it means to click!

She just needs a little more time to train the newscaster on the rules of the click--- click/treat click/treat ... :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009


It's been a bit since I've posted- busy with trying to buy a house, being pregnant and well- then there's work! :)

But how about recalls!? We all want our dogs to come running to us when we call them, right? But what's most important is that the "come" cue is RELIABLE when we LEAST expect we are going to NEED our pup to come running to us!! (ie: someone left the front door open-oops! and there went the doggie!)

SO what does this mean?? This means- try to practice getting the dog to WANT to run to you as exercises in themselves...versus waiting until that someone leaves that front door open and you simply "HOPE" and "PRAY" that Kona will come back running at the first call or whistle! As you get your dog to WANT to run in your direction you toss in the cue of "come!" while he's in motion.... wa-la! you are naming the behavior!

Today I was with Gunner- a 13 week old Golden Retreiver... Playing the games of running back and forth between two people and reinforcing that puppy when he arrives at your feet with something delicious really left an impression in cute Gunner's mind. Boy will he want to do THAT again! - look how it ended!! So often in the past the result of getting to the owner ended in some sort of unpleasantry for the dog- So when you practice getting your dog to run back and forth to you from another object or playing hide and seek with them make sure that you get that tail to wag!! Make it fun! Reward!! Get excited! (But not too excited it sends your pup over the top- you'll know your dog and how much enthusiasm you can give). If you play the recall games in the house and in the back yard over and over again...... your chances of getting that dog to run to you when you finally ask him to will be much more reliable!! Also, neither part will be frustrated. :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The VALUE of a reinforcer!

Too many people get stuck using ONE type of reinforcer to reward their dog with- it results often times in frustration, no progress and what you *think* is a dog who isn't a "good" dog! Think again! and try something different!! Remember dogs just offer behaviors- it's as simple as that! They are neither good nor bad......just desireable or undesireable.... and if we have a reinforcer they are interested in those desireable ones will be MUCH easier to reinforce and reward and move up on the pup's list of "behaviors" or things to do!

Just yesterday we stepped outside the front door with Gracie- a 5 month old GORGEOUS blue-gray pitbull pup I am working with. I had a small jar of beef n gravy baby food in my hand.... and boy was she a different dog! Her attention on me was constant.... her owners recognized the difference the value of a treat makes combined withthe level of distraction in a particular given environment! YAY! Trying to give her a treat she was used to day in and day out - didn't work. EVEN if it worked in the house! The distractions outside were too great for her to care about THAT same ole' "ho hum" treat!

So ..... try something NEW each week.... and when you think you've found a GREAT high value treat to reinforce with- FIND ANOTHER! :) :)

Happy Clicking!
PS- don't forget a reinforcer doesn't just have to be food! It can be their favorite toy! Or Ball!

Friday, February 20, 2009

idea for a real great reinforcer?

If you took your pup off leash in the house and let her run over to her favorite thing-toy/treat/bed etc- what would it be?? Use this as a real reinforcer next time you train!

You won't have to carry treats with you forever as you train- but you may soon find out as you continue on with training that you WANT to! :) It's just like being prepared with all the "stuff" you have for your children when you go somewhere- ie: bottles, snacks, wipes, diapers etc! :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Clicker training works on horses too!

It was my horse Chrissy's birthday yesterday so I went out to celebrate her 19th year! :) I finally was able to do a quick solo video of the "settle" I taught her with positive reinforcement training. The more you work on it the more consistent and reliable the behavior will be! With this video you'll notice I name the "shake" at the end once she gets up. I began working on this a bit ago but at this point I'm just capturing it because I know she will do it!! Stay tuned for a more Reliable "shake" behavior alone! :) enjoy!

The birthday girl!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


My official business name is : Get Pawsitive!! Since I focus on positive reinforcement training I thought why not make a statement! :) Of course everyone loves to use the pun on "paw"....... keep your eyes out for more cool stuff!!

Off to train.....

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Sat Jan 24th is Change a Pet's Life Day across the USA in 300 shelters!

You should ALWAYS adopt your pup at a shelter! SO many doggies are there just waiting for a good home!

What is this event all about??
Certain shelters nationwide are giving special discounts to adoptions. Fees for the first 10 adoptions at each participating shelter will be paid for by Topeka-based hill's Pet Nutrition- which organized the events. Some pets will be given to some adopters at no's a nationwide effort to boost the number of homes found for all the shelter dogs out there.

Typically adoption fees range from $25.-$300 depending on the shelter, dog and its age.

History proves for some shelters that this day almost doubles the amount of adoptions they have which as a result can equally effect in reducing the euthanasia rate.

The shelters are promoting this event on their websites, local media and even Craigslist.

What else?? Adopters even receive free science diet pet food and a training/info DVD to all adopters and will receive a toll-free number to answer pet questions.

You can find the list of participation shelters at:

Pass this along to anyone you know who is in the market for a new family member!!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This is Sammy! Sammy did great last week and has improved tremendously with his potty training- as a result of his owners consistent efforts to keep an eye on him and get him out frequently! Sammy and his owners learned the fun in practicing recalls last week. Sammy LOVED the game. Remember- with a recall you want to get the behavior of the dog actually running towards you before you yell out the cue of "come" (or whatever you choose to use). We can "name" the behavior of them running to us simply because they are actually doing it!!! The more you practice this .....the more the cue will be reliable when you need it the most! In the meantime, let's remember to close the front door behind us so the pups don't escape!

This is GIDGET!! Gigdet can be a little treat focused so we really worked on paying attention WHERE her focus was last it on the treats? Then no treat! Gidget does wonderfully on leash with walking .... try upping the ante a bit though with higher vaule treats when you step outside your house into an environment with a lot of distractions. We also worked on reinforcing taking the treats with gentle lips.... Gidget still has her sharp sharky puppy teeth! Recalls were also on our list last week. Do you have a lot of family members and want to be sure to involve them with training? Remember- recall games are a great way to include everyone! Practice getting the dog to WANT to come in your direction and call out the cue as she runs to you. Reinforce heavily when they get to you! Next, another family member calls her name and repeats. Play this game back and forth with the pup amongst each family member! How fun!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Potty training tips!

Little Sammy was away at Grandma's for two weeks and regressed with his semi-potty trained regime. Sammy pooped and peed repeatedly in the house. When I worked with Sammy's owners it was decided that they are going to committ to the crate for potty training.

What's the best method for potty training? I believe, from experience, Crate training is the best potty training method along with serious consistency! It should start with a plan and the best way to plan is to keep a log. I will touch on how to make the Crate a Positive place to be in another post... in the meantime- what about this potty training?

I always say.... with anything takes at least 30 days to build a habit! And even then ....maybe longer!! It surely isn't something that happens over night! So let's get that dog consistently going potty where you want him to- probably outside, right!? And reinforce. A week can make a big difference so stick to your trainnig!

Timing: Plan to take your dog out every 1-2 hours and be willing to be flexible if mistakes are made within this timeframe. Gauge your puppy’s threshold on how long he can wait until the next potty break BEFORE an accident occurs. This is where a log is helpful to track success! :)

Look for signs: Look for some signs that your pup needs to go out such as- sniffing the ground, stopping playing, sniffing in circles, starting to squat, play biting more, scratching at crate door, barking at door, racing around the house at lightening speeds, approaching the door.

It's important you "see" your pup go to the bathroom when you take him outside. Don't just assume he went when you let him out... we all know what happens when you assume! ;) Having the dog on leash in the beginning so they don’t wander off and “forget” about what your goal is is equally important as going with your dog to the designated potty area. Eventually you will be able to remove the leash. ** what if they don’t go in that small timeframe? Take them back to the crate or confinement and wait 10-15 minutes and then take them back again starting the process again.

No interruptions:
Try not to be excited when he does go- as happy as you are!-.... the process needs to be "boring" and the last thing you want to do is interrupt him while he is going. If anything, a non-excited "good dog" is sufficient. If you use a clicker you can click and treat after the pup has finished. Reward with a nice high value treat! Leave an impression! Regardless- TREAT afterwards.

Naming the behavior: Since the dog is in the act of "doing" you can name it! Pick a simple cue/word you wish to call it- ie: potty, pee pee, poops, business, etc etc. While the pup is going pee simply "name it" (calmly and just once) while he goes. Feel free to use a separate cue for the poop. I use "potty" for pee and "poops" for poop. :) After some WILL then be able to say the cue to help the dog understand and connect that name with the behavior you are wishing him to go complete!

What if they start to go in the house?? Calmness and making it a “non-event” is important on your part. Quietly guide your dog outside to the potty spot and go through the process of your outside potty training- 3-4 minutes of waiting. If they didn’t finish going potty in the house stay with them outside until they do and then reward them. If they DID complete their business inside you will still guide them outside to the spot for the standard potty time. **now you need to keep a closer eye on the pup until the next potty break!