Does the Milgram Experiment Explain Cesar Millan’s Influence?

The intense blue eyes of a wolf

What would you do?

I’ve made several posts lately of my concerns about Cesar Millan and his show The Dog Whisperer. Every time I sit down to write a new post, I pledge to get down off of the Anti-Cesar soapbox and move on to other things.  But it seems like every day I see or hear something that brings me back to this subject.

Yesterday morning I saw a link that Pat Miller posted on her Facebook page about a company that was advertising a prong collar called Secret Powers. A collar that hid the fact it was a prong collar so that, and I’m quoting here, “When you are going down the street with your well behaved Dog, no one knows your Secret Powers.”

My response to this was the same as many who commented, if you feel that it’s something that you need to hide, maybe you shouldn’t be using it!

Intuition, your inner voice, sneaking suspicion, spider sense, whatever you want to call it, not paying attention to it may lead to another noun, regret.

I’m sure that there are many of you, who like me, have done things in the past even though something inside you felt it wasn’t quite right. There can be many reasons for this; expediency, curiosity, conformity, and perhaps the most important one for the topic of this article, our willingness to follow the advice of an expert even if that advice runs contrary to our own conscience.

In a famous 1961 experiment, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram devised a study to measure the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who told them to do something that went against their conscience. Simply stated, The Milgram Experiment undertook to determine if one human would administer shocks of increasingly higher voltages to another human while being told by an expert that it was okay and even necessary to do so. A full description of the experiment and its’ results can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment. It is well worth reading.

This experiment has been reproduced and modified somewhat in the years since 1961 but virtually each trial produces the same results, around 60% – 65% of the participants actually pushed the button that was supposed to deliver the maximum 450-volt shock to the student!

This brings me to the point of this article: Why do some people follow the advice given by Cesar Milan on The Dog Whisperer even though they may have reservations about the methods he uses?

The marketing and PR machine that is in place to support Cesar Millan is nothing short of impressive. Consider the following:

  • Cesar’s show The Dog Whisperer runs on The National Geographic Channel, an organization long known to be animal friendly.
  • Cesar has appeared on talk shows like Oprah & The Tonight Show.
  • Cesar’s clients include many famous people.
  • During the President Obama “dog watch” Cesar could be found on just about every news channel on TV offering advice to the President.
  • Many of the catch phrases that Cesar uses like “Calm Assertive Pack Leader”, “Dominant Aggressive”, “Dogs Sense Energy”, and others, are finding their way into the common vernacular, often without true understanding of just what these terms mean.
  • Even though the methods he uses often seem to be overly punitive and sometimes even cruel to some, Cesar constantly assures his viewers that they are harmless to the dogs.
  • Cesar’s admonitions that if we don’t come to dominate our dog, our dog will come to dominate us.

It is very easy to see how people that are not exposed to any other training or behavioral information about dogs would come to trust Cesar, even though they may not feel right about some of his methods.

If you are a follower of Cesar Millan, I would ask you to please read the AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals. Pay particular attention to pages three and four as they address many of the methods and myths propagated by Cesar and his show. I also encourage you to visit the website Beyond Cesar Millan, this website if full of information authored by qualified professionals as to the validity of the methods used by Cesar.  You can also find a list of positive training resources on our training page.

I hope that by exposing you to this information you will be more willing to listen to your inner voice when it comes to using methods on your dogs that just don’t quite feel right to you.

For those of you that are already on the positive training bandwagon, share you knowledge with someone who just may not know about the wonderful world of training and friendship that lies beyond Cesar Millan.

As always we welcome any comments you may have. Agree or disagree, all we ask it that you keep it respectful.

Cheers

Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha

3 thoughts on “Does the Milgram Experiment Explain Cesar Millan’s Influence?

  1. I’m not a fan of Cesar by any means, but I’ve also heard from people who use prong collars in a humane fashion that they think they’re actually safer than a flat collar. I’ve never used or even handled one, so I have only the vaguest concept of how they work, but apparently they can be used for a non-painful tap that just gets the dog’s attention. (One of the posts that briefly touches on that topic is here: http://blacksheepcardigans.com/ruff/general/hello-world-2/ with more explanation in the comments of this post: http://blacksheepcardigans.com/ruff/general/trainin-hatin/)

    My dog is nervous enough that I personally wouldn’t want to use even the mildest of aversives with her, because I think she’d be traumatized if she got poked in the neck while walking, even if it didn’t actually hurt. (This is the dog who was confused and slightly scared the first time she came out the front door after I had planted flowers around the walkway.)

  2. I do behavior therapy training for local shelters and even the SPCA on occasion in extreme circumstances, as well as for pet owners that have given up on group classes, ( or had their dogs thrown out of group classes ) – I use almost no corrective training in my process, nor do I use clickers or treats – the only time I use “corrections” is to prevent an aggressive attack, and the only time I use treats is when a dog is so frightened that I need some positive way to assure it that I can be trusted ( bacon has trust built into it – lol ) – I use a combination of controlled exercise, exposure to the problem, setting boundaries, and love and affection, in that order – it’s a humane way of using a dogs own nature to overcome it’s problems – of course there are some other things, little tricks the dogs have taught me over the past 35 years of having my own kennel, that I use to teach other things, such as a dog proper doggy protocol when meeting other dogs – I’ve closely followed such famous trainers as William Koehler, Cesar, and many proponents of click and reward training – I learned while trying Koehler’s methods that if you are not comfortable in how you are training, the dog isn’t either, and results are not consistent – Cesar has a remarkable talent for reading dogs, and some of the things he does when working with extremely aggressive dogs are effective and humane – but I find that some of the things he does are underdone, and a few are over the top – click and reward training is certainly useful when training most pets that aren’t already condemned for their extreme aggression – in my experience, there is no one right way – what ever works, if it’s humane, is the right way to train – consistency of training, a non stressed attitude on the part of the trainer, and staying calm in the most difficult of situations are more important than the “how” – I watched a tv program the other day that featured an “expert” on canine behavior being interviewed about separation anxiety – her fee was $500 per visit, with a minimum of 2 visits, plus the DRUGS!! needed, I was shocked, and when she said, unfortunately some dogs can’t be helped and have to be put down, I was aghast – I don’t make any guarantees of success of course, and I certainly don’t use drugs to treat separation anxiety, but so far I’ve been able to help every dog that’s come my way what ever their problems were, and there has been no need to have a dog put down – separation anxiety is one of the easiest problems to deal with – exercise, boundaries, exposure, and love and affection are all that’s needed – NOT DRUGS!! – it also helps if you have a pack of mellow dogs like mine

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