On Cesar Millan: Does Calm Assertiveness Work?

I’ve been wracking my brain for the last week trying to figure something out. Everything I know about dogs and dog training tells me that Cesar Millan is just plain wrong, and yet, when I recently happened upon his TV show, he magically got these bouncy pups to walk politely next to him. They were a mess walking with their person, but when Millan took over, BAM, they stuck politely by his side.

How does he do it? Millan preaches that you have to maintain a “calm-assertive presence” for your dogs to behave. Is it possible that he’s right?

I decided to break it down to basics.

We know that one way dogs learn (just as all animals do) is by the consequences of their actions. For instance, when I say “sit,” if Emma puts her butt on the ground, I give her something yummy to eat. The next time I say “sit,” her tush hits the ground quickly.

I studied videos of Millan demonstrating his so-called calm-assertiveness to see if I could find a consequence to explain why the dogs walk better with him, and I figured out what is going on. Allow me to pull back the curtain for you.

Millan uses a slip-lead to walk the dogs, which is, essentially, a lasso or a noose.lbf-cam---lone-wolf-camouflage-flat-braided-rope-slip-lead_-6ft-x-5.8in

You place a loop over the dog’s head, which tightens up around his throat when the line is pulled. When Millan walks a dog, he chokes up on his leash and holds it close above the dog’s head. Choke is the key word here, because that’s what Millan is doing to the dog: he is cutting off his air. (And by placing the collar right under the chin, Millan is nailing the spot where the dog is weakest and most vulnerable.)

When the dog wears that slip lead and pulls, the collar tightens around his neck so that he can’t breathe. And when he stops pulling, the collar loosens, which allows air to flow again. Eventually he learns to stop pulling.

Did it work? Sure. The dog doesn’t want to suffocate. But does the dog walking “politely” now have anything to do with Millan’s energy level? No. The dog stopped pulling because he doesn’t want to die.

Looking at it another way, if all it takes to make your dog walk politely with you is “calm-assertive energy,” then why does Millan use leashes and collars at all? Shouldn’t the dogs just trot by Millan’s side? And why does he recommend THIS specific type of leash/collar?

It’s not magic and it’s not “calm-assertiveness” that gets the dogs to walk “politely” next to Millan, It’s the slip lead. He’s choking the dogs.

My heart hurts.



9 comments on “On Cesar Millan: Does Calm Assertiveness Work?

  1. Tracy—the slip lead in the photo is put on incorrectly. Don’t know if CM uses it in the manner pictured as I do not watch him.

    • The photo in the middle of the post? Yeah, it’s a work-in-progress to show how the lead is put on. It’s definitely not in place in the photo.

  2. Good article.

    The slip leash is however incorrect no matter where it is placed – the ring is supposed to drop down freely to loosen the leash off as soon as pressure is released, but as depicted in your photo it can’t.

    Either it needs taking off and putting on the other way up, or the handler stands on the other side of the dog.

    As far as I am concerned slip leashes shouldn’t be used for training at all but you’ll just get endless comments about it if you don’t change it, which will miss the point of the article entirely.

  3. Not to mention that you’re forever stuck having to grab up all that extra leash length to keep the dog in place next to you.

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