Cesar’s Rules – a ‘must read’ review

May 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm 7 comments

My friend Alison Lever recently wrote a wonderfully detailed and perceptive review of Cesar Millan’s latest book, Cesar’s Rules over on infopet. Go, read the whole thing now.

Alison discusses Cesar’s philosophy on living with dogs, his evolution as a trainer and compares popular behaviorism with Cesar’s dog psychology. Her observations on life with dogs in a small Spanish village provide an insightful bridge between Millan’s rural Mexican roots and the experiences of American dog owners.

I was especially struck by her discussion on the importance of touch in our relationships with dogs. In my puppy and beginning classes I spend much of my time teaching people how to use touch and other aspects of body language effectively. This is something I feel that I’ve always known and I’m sure that (like Cesar) I picked these skills up during summers spent on my grandparent’s farm when I was a young child.

Dogs on that Iowa farm didn’t have much formal training, but they had good manners and they understood what was expected of them. Even though they rarely, if ever, came in the house, they existed as fully integrated – and fulfilled – members of the extended family, like many of the dogs in Alison’s village in Spain.

The current fashion of treating dogs like voters (independent agents whose behavior should only be manipulated by indirect methods) strikes me as insulting to dogs and to their human owners. So when Ian Dunbar is quoted as saying that “Most human hands cannot be trusted,” I can’t help but wonder if the man hides some kind of dark secret.

Dogs are brilliant social creatures not just capable of tolerating, but rather thriving on, a full range of social input. And, with only rare exceptions, people aren’t mindless violent brutes. We all make mistakes in handling dogs – but those mistakes are an unavoidable and valuable part of life.

I believe that the growing fashion of “hand’s off” philosophy is having a terrible effect on dogs in the US today. Some trainer friends and I have been commiserating about how difficult it is to get our clients to commit to going beyond very basic management and bribing to deal with problem dog behavior. As the idea that “human hands can’t be trusted” gains traction, our society is losing the ability to use our bodies effectively to communicate with dogs (and also with each other). These skills are most effective when we learn them intrinsically, as a part of our culture (see the writings of Edward Hall for more on this), and I am deeply concerned that if we continue down this road it will be difficult, if not impossible, to turn back.

Based on Alison’s review, even though I’m not one of Millan’s fans (or detractors) I’ve added this book to my ‘must read’ list.

Entry filed under: behavior science, books, dog training, dogs. Tags: , .

Weedy SLAPP my ass and call me Shirley

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rick Touhey  |  May 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    I have not been a big fan of Cesar either, but based on Allison’s review, I’m definitely going to read this one. There are a a lot of good points in her review. As a trainer, it made me think and really look at what and how I train. Thanks for the post!

  • 2. ruthcrisler  |  May 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    “So when Ian Dunbar is quoted as saying that “Most human hands cannot be trusted,” I can’t help but wonder if the man hides some kind of dark secret.”

    I’ve often been taken aback by the profound lack of faith in humanity that seems to underpin such messages, as if the suggestion that the average person might be capable of productive natural communication with his or her dog was impossibly optimistic.

    Note also the frequent mentions of spousal and child abuse made by those arguing for a hands-off approach to dog training, as if the most critical thing to understand before embarking on a training regimen is that human beings generally are angry volatile creatures whose predisposition to cruelty presents a nearly unsurmountable obstacle.

  • 3. EmilyS  |  May 23, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    ” He recognises that most owners don’t have his skills for ‘reading’ dogs, or his timing, so they may end up being bitten if they try confrontational methods that he can get away with.”

    uh, she must not watch his show:… Cesar gets bitten all the time, BECAUSE of his confrontational and physically dominating techniques.

  • 4. Andrew Campbell  |  May 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Will now read the review, at least! But I wanted to reiterate that how we touch our dogs, both literally and by extension, through leads, collars, e-collars, makes a huge difference. It sounds like a platitude, but it’s not. I look at how some truly gifted professional pointing dog trainers minimize stress and praise positively through what looks like almost incidental contact. And frankly, after the amount of winning Kellie Short has done with her great dog, Sammy, I can imagine a lot more handlers and trainers will be hugging their dogs even in competition. (There’s a great little blurb about Kellie here: http://region1fieldtrials.blogspot.com/2011/04/winners-region-1-awsd-championship.html)

    all best

  • 5. dogs4ever  |  June 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Touching your dog is absolutely necessary and helps with bonding especially in puppies. I cannot fathom how anyone could suggest that we not touch our dogs. Our ancestors used touching to interact with their animals and one another, before dog leads, collars, harnesses, etc., they were able to share a closeness that is slowly edging away in today’s society.

  • 6. Dave  |  June 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    A verbally abused dog can equally be traumized as one that has been physically abused, so I am not really sure where Dunbar is coming from.

  • 7. Jay  |  July 1, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Very well said. I totally agree with your comments on the “hands off” approach to handling/training.

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