Cesar Millan's Positive Dog Training Techniques
Cesar Millan always makes a distinction between dog behaviorists (himself) and dog trainers. Whatever label you choose to use, the fact is that dogs respond to classical and operant conditioning.
Simply put, classical conditioning is responsible for involuntary responses, e.g., a dog salivating when dinner is served, while operant conditioning is responsible for voluntary responses, e.g., a dog sitting for a treat.
Behavior modification and dog training are both based on classical and operant conditioning techniques. Operant conditioning techniques can further be divided into reward dog training and aversive dog training.
Here, we focus on Cesar Millan's positive or reward based dog training techniques.
Cesar Millan's Dog Training Techniques - What Works
1. Body Blocks
This technique works by taking away space/freedom.
Body blocks can be effectively used to get your dog not to move into a particular space. This space may move as you move. Once your dog moves into the forbidden space, you correct him by body blocking him and getting him to move back.
Note that a body block is just a block. There is no hitting, beating, or poking of the dog.
Body blocks work very well for keeping my dogs from rushing out of doorways. It is also very useful for claiming space when I am sweeping the floor, or when I do not want my dogs crowding me.
Alternatively, you could get your dog to do a stay, which also takes away his space and freedom.
2. Consistent Use of a No-Mark (Tsch Sound) and Follow-Up
This is a general dog training technique for communication.
It is important to be consistent in your communication with your dog so that he does not get confused and stressed.
In addition to obedience commands, there is also a mark, for when your dog is doing something right; and a no-mark, for when your dog is doing something wrong.
Sometimes, trainers have several different marks and no-marks to indicate degree of rightness and wrongness. A mark need not be verbal. Clickers or other devices (bell, keys) can be used to generate a unique sound to mark or no-mark dog behaviors.
Many owners have problems with their dogs because they do not communicate with them (i.e. tell them right from wrong) and because they are not consistent in their communication.
Cesar Millan recommends using a consistent no-mark (the tsch sound) when a dog is misbehaving. If the dog continues to misbehave, it is important to follow-up the no-mark with some action (e.g. a body block or time-out) so that the dog understands that there are consequences for ignoring a no-mark.
However, the consequence need not be a physical correction. In fact, the most effective consequences are the ones that take away a valued resource.
For example, if your dog misbehaves with guests, his access to guests get taken away until he calms down.
3. Use Treats for Putting on a Muzzle
This technique only works if you spend the time necessary to properly condition your dog.
This is one of the few treat/food based techniques that Cesar Millan uses.
In most cases Millan is dealing with dogs that already have a very negative association with the muzzle. He cautions his clients not to force the muzzle onto the dogs, but to make it into a positive experience. Millan shows how you can get dogs to put their nose into the muzzle themselves, through the use of dog treats.
This type of counter-conditioning works well, but it requires a fair amount of time. Many weeks or months may be needed to recondition a dog to see the muzzle as a positive object, rather than an uncomfortable restraint that keeps him from opening his mouth.
Unfortunately, Cesar Millan does not have the time to do this properly given the time limitations with his clients. He ends up using a small number of treats (< 10), before forcing the muzzle on.
While it is good that he is trying to introduce such reward based counter-conditioning methods, it would even be better if he verbally instructed people that this is a long process, which may take weeks or months. Indeed counter-conditioning should be performed slowly and according to the dog's comfort level.
What Do You Think of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer?
4. No Talk, No Touch, No Eye-Contact.
This technique works by taking away attention.
When meeting dogs, Cesar Millan always institutes the no talk, no touch, no eye contact rule. You give the dog no attention until he is in a calm, submissive state, then you can praise him and pet him as a reward for being in that state.
This technique works very well but can be difficult to follow. Most people have a hard time not giving a dog eye contact, especially when the dog is so happy and excited to see them.
After using this technique for a very short time, my dog stopped jumping on family members. He still occasionally jumps on strangers because it is rare to find someone who can follow this rule especially with a cute, foxy-looking Shiba Inu asking for their attention.
This technique is essentially a time-out lite. In a time-out, you remove a dog to an extremely low stimulus area (e.g. laundry room) and leave him there to calm down. In this way, you take away all of his freedom, and all of his external stimuli.
With no talk, no touch, no eye-contact, you are not taking away freedom, or stimuli from the surrounding environment. You are just removing your own attention. This technique is especially effective for dogs that are people focused, and highly motivated by owner attention e.g. the Border Collie.
Holding back attention only works in limited cases for training my Shiba Inu, e.g. when he is actively asking for attention. In most other cases, he is perfectly comfortable entertaining himself, and does not ask for, or particularly desire much human interaction.
A full time-out works very well though, because my Shiba Inu likes being around his pack (line of sight), and having interesting things to see, smell, and do.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.