Tonight, nationally renowned dog trainer, and author, Cesar Millan, will take the stage at the historical State Theater in Easton, Pennsylvania. The sold out crowd with get to hear tips, tales, and terrors from Millan, who practices a training technique known as “pack theory". In essence, becoming the “Leader of the Pack” enables the trainer to gain respective control over a dog, mimicking the ways of wolves in the wild.
And while tonight's event will be full of fans and cheers, some are not so positive about Cesar Millan's highly controversial forms of training.
Michael Girvin, of the K9 Connection, says “The pack theory has been debunked for over 30 years. Learning theory is how information is processed and absorbed, using environmental, cognitive, and emotional influences...”. The idea, here, is that animals learn with risk and reward situations, much like the human would. Girvin states that Ray Coppinger's observations of wolves in the wild have contributed to the pack theory, but even those “motor patterns” can be “modified through learning theory.”
Millan's approach is one of physicality. Heavy touching, and pressure points are used to instill a sense of command over the domesticated dogs. He has been known to use aggressive punches to mark his place in the pack. This physical interaction, according to those who follow Millan's teachings, is how one becomes leader. The dominant wolf has often times been seen using force on lesser cubs and pups in order to assume hierarchy. Ceasar Millan has taken these observations and used them as techniques, helping to promote owners and trainers as the lead wolf. They don't attack, but will use force (sometimes painful) to gain control.
Cesar's way uses the common practices of choke chains and prong collars to re-enforce training. These are to be used as tools, only, and not as full time collars. And the pressure they apply allows the handler to overcome most backlash and issues associated with the animal in question. But Kym Ohmacht, of Mrs. Beasley's Dog Training, says “Choke collars do exactly what the name states…they choke the dog, leaving it gasping for air and leaving the dog with no positive reinforcement training. Prong collars are similar to choke collars, only they don’t choke the dog, they pinch the dog to get it to perform a task. Again...leaving the dog with no positive reinforcement training. Both inflict pain upon the dog, which will make the dog think the unwanted behavior means pain.” “The reason I became a dog trainer was definitely NOT because of Cesar Milan. I believe Mr. Milan’s training tactics are outdated, unethical and do not give a dog any positive reinforcement.”
Michelle Rhoades, trainer with Passion for Paws of Pennsylvania, openly uses the pack method to train student dogs in her care. “His techniques work (and) they have proven themselves, time and time again. We are a dog's last resort so we use whatever it takes to help the dog ...” Rhoades discussed seeing dogs do a complete temperament 180 degree turn, with time and commitment. She has seen un-socialized animals become ambassadors for all dogs, through the training of Cesar Millan. According to the trainer's site, “Passion for Paws is recognised by Ceasar Millan as a rehabiltation program with aspects of its training specially designed to help rescued and sheltered dogs reintergrate back into a loving home.” Rhoades, and her partner John Eisert, pride themselves on not only training, but rehabilitation. She has seen the worst of the worst, and because of Millan, many of those dogs are living healthy, happy lives with families.
And many of Millan's fans agree with Rhoades and her observations. Through taped sessions of his television show in National Geographic, and articles in the magazine, “Cesar's Way”, people get to see how pack theory works. Millan's own “pack” consists of dogs that many thought were beyond the brink of help. It's hard to deny the effect his teaching has on many animals.
The Leader of the Pack training and daycare facility, in Allentown, also uses Millan's teachings as a way of daily life. Owner and trainer Lisa McDonald says that the pack mentality is used not only in classes but also in “daycare, to keep our rooms balanced.” The employees are trainer in Cesar's Way as well, so that each person knows how to use “calm, assertive energies” and behaviors to ascend to a position as head of the pack. By using these methods, taught by Millan, McDonald feels that pet owners and trainers alike can gain “a leadership role without scaring the dog.” But, at the same time, it's important for owners to not appear weak. “We can learn a lot from dogs and their behavior.” By balancing dog hierarchies, the Leader of the Pack is able to balance business and play.
New Jersey based trainer, Drayton Michaels, explains that Millan's fans don't always get to see the full story. Michaels in one of many trainers that not only publicly disagree with the Cesar Way, but also campaign against the star and his tactics. In a Facebook interview, Michaels provided links and discussions to back up his personal thoughts. One stands out above others. A video, which highlights steps in the training process of a dog named Holly, really shows Millan's use of force, physical contact, and the negative reaction the lab finally gives the trainer. “Milan is the “charlatan and a manipulator” (CM), as I (Michaels) have dubbed him. He is not even in the weight class of legitimate dog trainers or behaviorists.... He admitted to Bill O’Rielly, in 2010, (that) he has been bitten “100’s of times”, and that these were his “mistakes”. Yet, to this day dogs are still biting him due to his admitted lack of skills and mistakes.”
Positive reinforcement and learning method training theories are growing in popularity, mainly because of the negative effects some have experienced with Cesar's way. “This method can make the unwanted behavior worse than it already is. Positive reinforcement training” Ohmacht states, is important because, “when the dog performs a task, they are given positive praise (whether it be a tasty treat, favorite toy or just verbal praise from the handler) making the dog more willing to complete the task again.”
As Ceasar Millan continues to gain more notoriety and public exposure, the debate will continue. Tonight's event allows fans to meet the star and thank him for the positive things he has done. Among other things, pit bull advocates site Millan as one of the first high profile personalities to support the much maligned group of dogs.
Whatever the future holds for dog training, Millan, his supporters, and detractors, tonight will be a first for the area. Never before has so much buzz surrounded a dog trainer, and he's in the Lehigh Valley to talk of his vast experience.
There are no tickets remaining for sale. But, if they're in your pocket, come early tonight. Doors open at 6:30, and Peaceable Kingdom shelter, of Whitehall, will be meeting and greeting those in attendance, with a very special guest. Jade, whose story was told here, only a month ago, will be there to show off her beauty.
In the coming weeks, the Allentown Animal Advocate Examiner will be featuring more from Girvin and Michaels, and his campaign against pack theory. Keep your eyes open!