Millan is proof that Positive Reinforcement Works

Millan’s methods are a result of positive reinforcement. Not the dogs – they are not reinforced, they are almost always punished. It is Millan that has been positively reinforced.

Once upon a time Millan met a dog’s aggressive behavior with aggression. He managed to stop the behavior and thus was rewarded for his aggression. He was positively reinforced. It provided quick control, required no training an allowed him to deal with one dog and quickly moved to another; an assembly line of fear and punishment. Dealing with dogs like they were parts to be hammered into the desired shape; quiet and lacking any behavior. What he calls calm and submissive

From the first time that he was able to shut down a dog through the use of violence, he has been continually reinforced. For Millan punishing dogs was reinforcing. Dealing pain, fear and shutting down dogs was profitable, it earned him the admiration of his employers and the clients. There was no downside.

As his fame increased so did the value of the reinforcement. A television program, celebrity friends, books, travel, popular admiration, fame and wealth; the world rewarded him for using archaic and violent methods.

Many would be doing the same, even if they knew there was a better way. Changing his ways may lose him that fame. Change or the possibility of change comes with uncertainty, anxiety. In other words, it is punishing.

Cesar Millan has been using violence for long that his behavior is now a well ingrained habit. Very much like a positively trained dog. Or like the dogs he deals with who’ve been reinforced for unwanted behavior.

So, does positive reinforcement work? It worked on Cesar Millan.

He’s been reinforced for aggressive antisocial behavior and he needs re-training. He better hope that HIS trainer doesn’t subscribe to His philosophies or the retraining might kill him.

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41 thoughts on “Millan is proof that Positive Reinforcement Works

  1. I always respond to a bit of a scratch behind the ear and the occasional well earned treat. Someone’s violent towards me I would fight them to the death.
    Love your blog – Bones

    • Thanks, the idea of CM being “rehabilitated” by someone using the same methods Millan uses on is tragically funny. But in general, society does reward aggression over kindness.

      • I would agree with that as well. I think society, especially US society, is driven by instant gratification, and any reward that takes time and effort, though in the long run is so much MORE rewarding, isn’t worth getting in many eyes. Which is a shame, but the crossover can be hard, and there is a weird stigma associated with positive training. Something like all positive trainers are hippies and socialists, which doesn’t actually make any sense, but c’est la vie. I think eventually these old techniques will be antiquated and everyone will make the switch though. Progression may happen slower than most of us would want, but it always does happen.

        • Here in N Ireland, there is a minor TV celeb trainer -‘the dog whisperer’ – modelled on CM. He calls positive training the ‘Daniel O’Donnell ‘ style of training. For those from afar Daniel is a crooner who appeals to the middle aged , female section of society! I’m proud to say I’m a Daniel O’Donnell trainer

  2. I think CM’s methods are used extensively by other dog trainers unfortunately. I took my Akita to dog school and you would have been abhorred by the use of violence by the trainer. I know I was. My dog reacted to this by a little violence of his own and got kicked out of dog school. Having trained horses all my life, I took over training him myself with a very good outcome. Akitas are very loyal and very responsive to positive methods I think. I am looking forward to more of your science.

    • Very interesting, and I would have to say I totally agree. I also have akita, 8 of them as a matter of fact, and to use CMs methods on them would be devestating. Violence doesn’t belong in any relationship.

  3. I love your take on CM’s receiving his comeuppance. I have noticed he is no longer broadcast on any channels on cable. The few dog training shows that I have watched are all positive training methods , which it so amazing because everyone knows that if a dog is afraid of you he/she will not come to you.

    I took my Basenji to an obedience class and was shocked at one trainer who grabbed a dogs leash that was acting out and lifted it straight up off the floor and hung it till it stopped breathing. As a novice I was dumfounded.

    Another trainer later took my dog to demonstrate how to teach your dog how to heal, he kept jerking his choke chain, (I didn’t know any better back then) to which he yelped in pain. (Basenji’s don’t bark but they are very vocal).

    Needless to say we didn’t finish that class and If I had known what I know now I would have gotten my money back.

    • I too have basenji’s. I had 3, but just had to put my 12 year old one down a month ago, due to cancer.
      I also had him in a dog training class, but thankfully, there was another basenji there, and the guy used positive reinforcement. My basenji did great through the whole six weeks, until the night of graduation, and he became the basenji we all know and love. He became his true self, and did what he wanted to do!! The guy teaching, laughed and said to me “its about time, he showed the basenji side”.
      Basenji’s need positive training, once you mishandle them, they NEVER forget. At least mine don’t.
      Don’t care for Milan’s way of training. Liked Victoria Stillwell’s of “Its me or the Dog” training a whole lot better!

      • Yes, I love her too, she uses so much commonsense. Dogs aren’t just animals they were put here as companions to hunt and be our guides through life.

  4. This story is so bias, Define violent methods. ( His show is still on National Geographic Wild). I had a dog that didn’t like food for a reward or a toy. He was an Alpha male, and when he would walk into my pack of dogs, The submitted to him, He didn’t have to do anything. He was that way with people too. He would lay between my daughters friends and her the friends wouldnt move from were they were sitting. There was know growl, no bark, it was his prescenses.. He was an Aussie. Calm Assertive Energy, It is like natural horsemanship, the horse must need to trust you to be lead horse. Same thing with a dog it must trust you to be pack leader. Every trainer you can get something positive out of that works for you, So why be so degrading of a trainer that uses a method that has been around for years. Before ceaser.

    Why is this called the Science of Dogs, This blog has 0 science and all personal bias. You need to change the title.

    • The only accurate part of your post is that you had a dog. The rest is bunk, he was not an alpha, you don’t have a pack and they did not submit. Your description of the situation speaks more towards your incompetence than anything else. There are several common deficiencies among the followers of Millan, and one of them is their inability to positively motivate their dog; in their failure they blame the dog and label it as ‘dominant’ or ‘alpha’

      • What are your qualifications, how many dogs have you trained to do anything, I never said I was a follower of Millan, And My Dog Was an Alpha Male from day one. This dog lived with my family for 17 years because of his attitude. If he went with any other family he would of bitten and have been put down. Calm assertive energy works, ignoring dogs works when you go into a kennel or home. It all depends on the dog. But when you train stock dogs, you can’t use clickers, food, toys or obedience to train a stock dog, You have to be able to read the dog and how he works. There are leaders followers in every social group in the animal kingdom.

        • My qualifications are irrelevant. I am informing you that what you believe has been debunked in the scientific literature. Your dog was never alpha male, the very concept is meaningless; so much so that it has even been dropped among wolf biologists. Not out of political correctness but because it did not accurately describe the social dynamics.

          You are also wrong to claim that you can’t use clickers to train a stock dog. A little search is all it takes to figure out that you don’t know what you are talking about.

          Finally your speculation as to what would have happened to the dog in another family is just that, and all based on your biased and mistaken views on dogs.

          • Every dog is different, so one must use different methods for training. Some dogs are food motivated, others are not. Some are toy motivated, others are not. When one has more than one dog, there must be harmony in the household. Children need rules, boundries and limitations, just like dogs, horses, etc. There are extremes to every type of training. and raising children. Too many parents want to have children as friends. People treat dogs, as human, they dress them in outrageous outfits, strollers, handbags and so on. They are dogs, they are not human.

            For you to personally attack me is uncalled for. From your comments, I will assume you have never trained a stock dog in your life, And if you have I would love to see a stock dog be trained by a clicker working cattle, sheep, on a horse or on foot. I have been working and training Stock Dogs for 26 years. Now I am training service dogs which is a totally different type of training. I one cannot use different types of training and theory. I go to clinics and always come away with something that is useful for my pack, or you can call it a family. If one cannot be objective in a blog and have a professional discussion with the public. Then one should take some leadership training. I believe that if a person owns a dog, that person is responsible to train that dog to be a well behaved dog out in public and in the home. That person uses what works for them as long as the dog respects the boundries, limitations, and rules that the human has set. If you do not have that in place, you will have a dog that has taken charge of the house. Just like if you don’t set boundries , limitations, and rules for children they will be total brats and will not respect the parents or any type of authority. I do not believe in beating up dogs, All my dogs sleep at my feet, follow me every were I go, and are very happy when I come home and I can take them any were in the public and they behave in any social enviornment. So I have achieved my goal. I hope you achieve your goal what ever it may be.

            • If your dog eats, then it is motivated by food. Millan fans always blame the dog when they fail to motivate it. It’s not the dog that is not motivated by food, but rather you don’t know how to motivate your dog. Rather than accept your own failings and take some time to learn how to do so, you prefer to take the easy way out and blame the dog. Once blame is assigned, the justification to exact punishment is there. And you can feel good about it the use of violence. The low affect dogs you describe are usually the result of the abusive practices and it’s with these dog that it is specially important that the handler use dog friendly methods when dealing with them.

              People treat dogs as humans, projecting their own feelings of inadequacy and lack of accomplishments. They project dominance. They pretend dogs have the ability to assign ownership to items and people. They treat them like humans when they claim that the dog is competing with the human for the mate/bed/sofa. They follow stupid advice like ‘claim your space’ as if the dog had the human capacity to understand what that even means. And to quells all those imaginary notions, you guys resort to force because violence somehow will communicate these sophisticated ideas. It’s tragically stupid notions like these that doom dogs.

              Frankly, you can pretend to be whoever you like with 10000 years of dog training and 10^10 dogs trained. YOU SAID A STUPID THING, by claiming you can’t clicker train stock dogs; you are lying or you don’t keep up with the advancements in dog training. Either way, nobody should be taking your advice.

              You are not being objective. By rejecting the scientific evidence without any compelling reason (personal belief doesn’t count) you’ve made it obvious that a rational discussion cannot be had with you.

              Finally, the oft repeated meme of the Millan fans “use what works for you” is inherently selfish and does not take the dog into consideration. As we seen in the Shadow Turns Blue video, hanging the poor dog worked for Millan. Hanging stopped the unwanted behavior, and as long as you are willing to hang the dog everytime it happens that method will “work” for you. It’s not working for Shadow.

    • Maybe you should actually look up some scientific articles before you express yourself again. Dominance theory is FALSE as proven by SCIENCE. Check any scientific document on canid ethology (real ones anyways..) and you’ll find stark contrast to everything he says.
      http://www.sophiayin.com
      http://www.ploseone.org
      http://www.4pawsu.com/cesarfans.html
      http://www.urbandawgs.com/divided_profession.html

      As for violent methods? I call stringing a dog up by the neck until it can’t breathe, it’s gums turn blue, and it urinates all over itself, violence.

      Taking a dog who is fearful, overworking it (for the heat and it’s endurance level), and dragging it up stairs by the neck until it cannot breathe, that is violent.

      Some don’t call shock collars cruel, but most would agree that shocking at a high level, at random points of eye contact with something is not only cruel but going to cause major issues (fight or flight!). Personally I call it violent.

      And finally, while some of these may not be “painful” (in some people’s opinion, my own is that any form of intimidation is painful, if not physically then mentally, do you like the implication of getting fired from your job? having a beloved family member mad and you don’t know why?) they are far from science.

    • You can argue of lot of things. When we look at what experts have to say on the matter, when we look at the evidence, it’s easy to dismiss your claim re positive reinforcement.

  5. I agree with Lee Charles in only one way – Isn’t the removing of an aversive stimulus such as aggression negative reinforcement? Otherwise absolutely I agree he found his behavior highly reinforcement. I’d hate to see the extinction burst.

      • Oh well I certainly don’t agree with that! It exists as surely as gravity and magnetism! I guess I didn’t read it that closely; I was too busy thinking that CM’s behavior seemed driven by R-.

        But you can look at something like this as either positive reinforcement – an increase in behavior due to the addition of something like the feeling of success, pride, accomplishment, fame, etc. – or negative reinforcement – an increase in behavior due to the removal of something like the feeling of fear, endangerment, embarrassment, etc.

  6. So mouse person wild African dogs live in packs and they have a king and a queen according to Nat Geo wild. But hey what do they know. [Editor’s note: the rest of this post has been deleted because the troll veered off into irrelevant subject of politics and made some ignorant comments about Obama that have no place in this discussion]

    • Ignorant posters like you annoy me. Do a little research!! The African Wild Dog is not a dog. In fact, you don’t even have the correct genus, much less the species. The topic of discussion is Canis lupus familiaris not Lycaon pictus. They are on different phylogenic branches. We’d have to go back 6-7 million years to find a common ancestor for the Canis-Lycaon.

  7. It’s a good thing Cesar doesn’t make kool aide. So many of his sadly uneducated and highly biased followers would be drinking the kool aide! Why do they follow him like the occult followers, as if he speaks the gospel about dogs? It’s so so sad. Sad that people are unwilling to open up and realize that this man is an entertainer and that’s it. He knows nothing about dog behavior, nothing! Arrrrgh.

  8. Going back to the post re training stock dogs they are rewarded with positive reinforcement through voice (praise for getting it right) and a pat and treat if you wish at the end of the session, worked on my dogs, simples!!

  9. I didn’t expect to find any CM followers here since they dont believe in the science of training. And along comes one wanting to know where the science is! my favorite thing to ask his followers is what professional behaviorists with PhDs advocate his training and methods………

  10. Love your article!
    Not only Millan but many old style trainers have been trained using PR. Many of them are now on extremely thin variable reinforcement schedules as they wait endlessly for that elusive leg in Utility Obedience for example. And so they keep going with their punishing violent methods that have ‘worked for x number of years’. And they generalise so well compared to dogs – using the same bullying methods on any poor human that dares to contradict them by suggesting they use more humane methods.
    I hate to think of the extinction burst that CM will have if the story that he has been dropped my Nat Geo is true!

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  12. I am not a CM follower or fan. However, I do find that most R+ trainers are proof positive that P+ works or they wouldn’t use it so often on anyone who disagrees with them. Science does not bear out that R+ is the most effective way to go about behavior modification. Most of the studies referenced use P+ and abuse interchangeably and cherry pick which part of a study they quote. Skinner’s experiments which are most often cited as the scientific evidence of the superior power of R+ were skewed to prove a predetermined position… “You must always remember that the box is not there to keep the animal in but to keep the world out.” Ogden R. Lindsley PhD.

    • Not only is your point false it is also illogical. If true then it would mean aversive and dominance trainers are changing their behavior under the “punishment” of R+ trainers – that doesn’t seem to be the case. Actually, if you have been “punished” by R+ and you are still holding on to your position, it is evidence that P+ didn’t work.

      Also, you really might look up what people write before posting. Read Donaldson, Cobb, Yin, Dunbar, ect., you are more likely to see Seligman than Skinner during a discussion of R+/P+

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