As a professional trainer and someone who deeply loves animals, I have never enjoyed watching Cesar Millan handle dogs.
In his role as a television personality on various programs, he often scares dogs in the name of training and seems oblivious to this fact — or he simply does not care. He’s been called out over and over again by countless organizations, professional trainers, and behaviorists for using outdated and physically painful methods.
Millan is once again under international fire for a recent episode of his current show, Cesar 911, in which he decides to “train” a French Bulldog–Boston Terrier mix out of his pet-pig-killing ways. I wonder if he is feeling the flames? Because of the episode, there are several petitions calling for his TV show to be cancelled, including this one by Dog Decoder creator and trainer Jill Breitner. Numerous mentions of charges for animal cruelty and animal-baiting also are circulating.
Long-time partner National Geographic Channel produces and airs Cesar 911. On it, he purports to “rehabilitate” dogs, although there are legions of top dog training professionals — including veterinary behaviorists — who publicly have asked Nat Geo to remove this program. The 4,000-member-strong Pet Professional Guild issued a position statement back in 2012 in which it notes: “…showcasing training methods that use force, fear, or pain are morally and ethically wrong as well as damaging to the animal, damaging to the human-animal bond, and potentially create hazards for the pet-owning public that may attempt to use such methods.”
Possibly because Nat Geo executives do not have a background in training dogs (but instead in creating must-watch TV programs), they saw no problem in promoting the Feb. 26 show with a clip titled “Tiny Pig Slayer.” The clip has since been removed from YouTube, but you can watch the entire episode on the network’s website.
The dog, named Simon, was brought to Millan by his owner. Millan put this dog in a slip-lead leash – his first dangerous decision as brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs can have a hard time breathing and a slip lead puts pressure on the dog’s neck and airways. Simon should have been in a harness to keep pressure off his neck.
Millan takes Simon into an enclosed area where several of his own pigs roam loose. The dog is on leash and ignoring the pigs at first — and that was a terrific opportunity to reinforce the behavior his owner DID want, but Millan ignored it. Millan announces that he will “use a new environment for Simon to my advantage . . . He already has killed two pigs in the past, but if I can give him a new positive memory with them, it will be a great foundation that can translate to a better behavior with all animals.”
Millan failed to give this dog that “positive memory.”
Millan failed in protecting the pigs when he took Simon off leash and a pig squealed off camera. Simon took off running and launched onto the pigs, leaving one with a bloody ear missing a piece. (Some who have watched this video feel it was a setup by a producer who was holding one of the pigs by a back leg.) Can you imagine the real-life fear this pig felt? He didn’t know that Simon had two successful kills already, but you can be sure that pig understood Simon meant him harm, and that caused the pig completely unnecessary stress.
Millan failed the owner who had to watch her dog attack yet one more animal.
Millan failed Simon repeatedly, which this video with commentary by professional dog trainer Vicki Dawe shows:
Millan DID succeed in causing enormous pain and fear in the bitten pig, and later in Simon when Millan finally re-captured the dog and put him on his side several times in an unhelpful and cruel method of teaching a dog “who is the leader.”
There was nothing positive created in Simon’s memory, nor in all of those who had to watch a pig killer nearly be enabled to kill once again. Part of the reason Millan now faces increasing calls for legal consequences for these actions is the argument that the episode constitutes animal baiting, a form of animal torture that is illegal in many places the program airs.
It is problematic and harmful to dogs that a TV personality is legally able to put his hands on dogs and employ decades-old training methods that have been scientifically quashed for many years. Millan believes, or at least heavily promotes, an archaic and disproven theory that dogs are trying to dominate us, so we humans must out-dominate them at every turn. This would be laughable, but because Millan is granted a highly visible TV perch, countless dog owners believe this utter nonsense. Dogs who are thrown on their sides or backs either shut down completely or bite in self defense (and then can be put down for the bite).
In addition to the two pet pigs he killed, Simon has been in altercations with other dogs, with his owner at risk of losing her approval to foster dogs for a local rescue. Simon is a dog who needs the help of a trained, certified animal behaviorist. His problem is not one that can be solved by allowing him to run down and attack pigs. His problem is not one that can be solved in a short, heavily edited TV program. This program did nothing more than scare the hell out of the pigs, and it allowed the dog to practice (and succeed) at a behavior his owner does not want him to do.
And as Simon is terrorizing pigs in the episode, he has a frustrated man chasing after him saying “I got it, I got it.” I cringed the entire time watching the video, as did many other professional trainers and behaviorists. If I had been watching in person, I would have dialed 911 after Millan grabbed the dog several times and forced him onto his side. The dog was already panting heavily, and putting a panting brachycephalic dog on his side and clamping down on his neck could have stopped the dog from breathing. And then Millan might have been handed another lawsuit for a death of dog under his company’s control.
You don’t have it, Cesar Millan. You really don’t. You don’t seem to know how to effectively and without force help dogs learn new behaviors. You do know how to make dogs afraid of you, as many of them on your programs are forced into a helpless state of fear in which they shut down and stop moving. You do effectively teach them to be afraid of a man named Cesar Millan, but you do little to nothing to fix the unwanted behavior. You didn’t even do what you set out to do, and that is “a positive memory” for Simon.
I’ve signed the petition above to get this TV show off the air. If you are concerned about animals on this program, please do the same. The training protocols used by Millan on his television programs are outdated and unnecessary, and it’s time to get such bad dog training advice off the airwaves.
You can also call the American Humane Association and demand they protect ALL animals appearing on TV shows: 202-677-4227.
And you can email the CEO of National Geographic and ask her to ensure that no animals be harmed for the sake of a TV show: Courteney.Monroe@NatGeoChannel.com. I asked Monroe this question (we did not hear back from her as of this writing): “Do you feel that Mr. Millan’s training methods helped the dog in the program (Simon)? If yes, how so?” We’ll update this story if we do get a response.
Read more by Annie Phenix:
About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She is also working on a book due out in spring of 2016: The Midnight Dog Walkers, about living with and training troubled dogs. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.