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In the Wake of the Cesar Millan Controversy, Dogster Writers Share Their Favorite Force-Free Trainers

From Victoria Stilwell to Brandon McMillan, none of our favorites on TV and online use force or fear to train dogs.

Dogster HQ  |  Mar 21st 2016


The recent controversy surrounding Cesar Millan and his outdated training methods got us thinking: Which trainers can we recommend for Dogster readers to watch? Who takes a force-free approach to helping dogs and shares it on TV and the Web? A handful of our training-savvy writers share their favorites here.

Zak George

I don’t have cable anymore, and I miss Animal Planet. Thankfully, the Internet is filled with animal videos. It isn’t all just cats riding Roombas, though. There is some really great informational stuff as well, including Zak George’s Training rEvolution videos on his YouTube channel. George covers everything from potty training to stubborn leash pulling to off-leash recall and fetch.

One of the things I really enjoy about Training rEvolution is the interactivity of it. If you follow Zak George on Facebook, you’ll often see him asking his followers what kinds of issues they are dealing with and what kinds of videos they want to see.

Theresa Cramer

Victoria Stilwell

After getting her start as the owner of a successful dog-walking company in her native country of England, Victoria Stilwell has grown into one of the most recognized dog trainers here in the U.S. She has built an impressive brand focused on the mantra, “Kindness is powerful. Pass it on.”

My love for Stilwell begin when I first saw her Animal Planet show, It’s Me or the Dog. Luckily for the couples featured, Stilwell’s soothing voice and amazing skills teach the humans and their dogs how to coexist peacefully and happily.

Victoria Stilwell. (Photo courtesy Positvely.com)

Victoria Stilwell. (Photo courtesy Positvely.com)

Dog owners can find Stilwell’s advice, techniques, and training tips in almost every media platform available. Not only does she have a TV show, she also hosts a podcast, creates videos, and is a published author. And let’s not forget she is also a regular contributor to our very own Dogster magazine.

Stilwell provides a positively pledge that we can all proudly sign. It starts, “My dogs will follow me because they want to, not because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t …”

Wendy Newell

Brandon McMillan

If you’re a sucker for a good rescue story, the CBS TV show Lucky Dog deserves some space on your DVR. Each episode follows trainer Brandon McMillan as he springs a dog from the shelter and gives him the skills he needs to become adoption material. This is a guy who has trained exotic animals for movie roles, but Lucky Dog isn’t about helping pups fit in on a film set — it’s about getting untrained shelter dogs ready to fit into a family.

I like Lucky Dog not only because I am a sucker for rescue tales, but because I appreciate McMillan’s kind approach to teaching his “seven common commands.” He trains with lots of praise and rewards, and his techniques are easy to replicate at home. Lucky Dog airs Saturday mornings on CBS, and you can see more clips on YouTube and follow McMillan on Twitter.

Heather Marcoux

Tia Torres

Tia Torres of Villalobos Rescue and Animal Planet’s Pit Bulls and Parolees has taught me a lot about using non-forceful dog training techniques. I’ve been watching this show for years with my kids, and we have learned to pay attention to dog body language, to use treats, and that training is a process.

While the show is not a dog-training show, viewers witness Tia utilize principles of positive reinforcement in her work rescuing and rehabilitating dogs. I especially love how Tia has made rescue a way of life for her family.

Kezia Willingham

Michelle Huntting

Michelle Huntting is a positive reinforcement trainer whose mission is to promote humane treatment of all animals. She has earned two nationally recognized certifications (Animal Behavior College and Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) in professional dog training and is currently working on her graduate degree in behavior analysis.

Michelle helps pet owners understand the dog’s perspective. By helping the owner understand how her dog thinks (and reacts), their relationship will change — as will the training techniques an owner uses. Everything Michelle promotes is based on positive reinforcement and stress-free training methods. You can view training videos on her website or enroll in an online class, in which she works one-on-one via Facetime to see how you and your dog are interacting with each other and offers assistance in real time, on the spot.

Karen Dibert

Of course, our favorite force-free trainer is our own resident columnist Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA. Read her weekly column and pre-order her book, The Midnight Dog Walkers, on Amazon.

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