In Which I Get Angry at Cesar Millan (Because There’s No Point In Being Mad at a Dog)

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June 4, 2011 by Leah

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with Duke, lately. It all started when he was acting aggressively towards my parents in March (barring them from the kitchen and our bedroom with a low growl), and I wanted to take him to school. Aaron’s take was that we are both intelligent adults and we should be able to find what we needed from books. So, I checked out and read a couple of Cesar Millan (aka the Dog Whisperer) books and, while Duke stopped growling at my parents and subsequent houseguests, I can’t really say my life has improved.

Ever since reading that Cesar mandates an hour-long walk (or shorter run) for your dog, first thing in the morning, every day, I have been feeling guilty. I’m anti-running at the moment. I don’t do anything well (except cook breakfast) first thing in the morning. Sometimes I have other things I want to do. So, Duke gets walked 5-6 times a week (sometimes in the afternoon, the horror), for at least 40 minutes. This, of course, is not good enough, and I agonize about it. (Aaron says this is not the case and just because I read something in a book doesn’t mean I need to feel guilty all the time. Hah.)

Add to this punishing schedule the problem with walking the dog, himself. He has a very streamlined head so I can’t just walk him on a regular collar or he gets right out of it. We had him in a harness, but he pulled so much I couldn’t handle him (and he’s only 50 pounds). His vet suggested a Martingale collar, which seemed to be a dream (and, indeed, when we tried the harness again the other day, we realized that it’s definitely a better option). Yet Duke still pulls like crazy against his collar, and he’s losing a spot of hair on his neck, and he doesn’t seem to care if he’s ruining his tender soft tissues by pulling so hard he’s half off the ground, nor does he care that I feel like a horrible dog parent when he is constantly trying to strangle himself.

Getting his collar on is something of an epic battle. He knows how to “come” and “sit,” and he will actually do so when I tell him to come and sit while I’m holding his leash. Then, if I make a move to put his collar over his head, he does this funky twisting leap backwards and ends up lying on his belly with all his legs bent, primed to leap up and run away again. He seems to think this is a game. Aaron and I think it is infuriating and either sit quietly until he comes to us or pretend to leave the house until he comes and sits. This is why our walks are not always an hour. Sometimes it takes us 20 minutes to leave the house.

Also per Cesar, Duke is supposed to walk at my heel or behind me, but because he is so single-minded, I have to hold him at my side or behind my back with his leash wrapped around my hand a bunch of times. About half the time this works. The other half the time my hands get crushed or I step on Duke’s feet or get our legs tangled because Duke is trying to hare off after a bird, a squirrel, a feral cat, or a sprinkler. (He also shows an interest in other dogs and humans, but tends to let me take the lead in those situations.)

He’s really pretty creepy when he spies one of these small animals. He doesn’t bark, he just starts hyperventilating and pulling for all his might on his leash. If I try to walk by the distraction, sometimes he’ll let up on the pulling and pretend he’s being good, and then leap back towards the squirrel/bird/sprinkler. He hasn’t managed to pull the leash out of my hands yet (probably because our walks haven’t managed to cripple my hands yet, although after 40 minutes with Mad Dog on the end of the leash, I feel is it only a matter of time).

I’ve tried stopping every time he pulls his chain tight (the Martingale collar has a pull chain that will tighten it to a certain point, at which the dog is supposed to realize he needs to calm down, hah) in order to teach him to walk beside me with his collar pleasantly loose. It works for a few minutes, and then he’ll spy something. Sometimes he’ll calm down for almost the last half of the walk.

Yesterday, I paid $5 for the privilege of taking Duke to the biggest park in the area for what I mistakenly thought would be a fun adventure. I figured he’d pull to start but calm down after a while. I was wrong. By the time we got back to the car after walking a little over two miles, I was almost in tears because his relentless pulling made my hands hurt so badly. I told Aaron I never want to get another dog. (Not true, but I was really in a state.)

This sucks. What should be a fun experience where both the dog and I get some fresh air and exercise is a complete nightmare about 50% of the time. I’m angry at Cesar Millan. I should be really happy about how much Duke has improved his behavior when we are at home or in our yard – he will actually obey commands most of the time and act nicely with visitors. He will cuddle our feet if we’re in bed or on the couch, and he likes to play toss ‘n’ chase. He’s protective of me (even from Aaron) and of Aaron (even from his mom), but there’s not nearly as much aggression behind that protection as there was when we first got him. (He used to leap on Aaron if Aaron so much as tried to hug me.) He’s not overly affectionate (he only licks me if I spill something on my toes) but he’s a valued member of the family all the same.

I want to be excited about all these things. I don’t want to be dreading the hour a day where Duke and I are supposed to be enjoying ourselves, but I feel like I have to walk him or he’ll just have too much energy and start acting worse at home. I’m so frustrated. I’m sick of feeling guilty. I worry that my guilt and frustration over this issue with the dog mean I’ll be a terrible mother, so then I think I should probably punish myself by not having kids and going on death marches with Duke every day for the rest of our natural lives. Gaaaaaah. Maybe I need to read some different books about dogs. Or hire a walking service a couple of days a week. I just don’t know.

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8 thoughts on “In Which I Get Angry at Cesar Millan (Because There’s No Point In Being Mad at a Dog)

  1. Aubrey Clark says:

    Have you ever heard of a gentle leader? It might be a more effective for Duke than a pinch collar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6XMb2XRVVs

  2. David G says:

    Try reading other books, or be happy that you treat your dog better than 70-80% + of dog owners. I bet half of the dogs out there never get to go for walks.

    I walk my dogs when it is convineint for me, which is not always in the morning. And due to the heat, over 100 degrees this week, they might not get a walk or it will be a short walk.

    Don’t feel bad about Duke nearly pulling the leash out of your hand. Hiro has pulled the leash out of my hand 4 or 5 times in the last year, and he is only 11.5 pounds.

    A dog still has wild instincts to hunt, chase, and protect. If those slip out occasionally on a walk so what. That is just a dog expressing his dogginess. If he is not aggressive towards other people and animals, then let him express himself. good luck

  3. Kim_F says:

    I was going to suggest the gentle leader too– I used one with great success w/ my last dog, who was otherwise so powerful and enthusiastic that I really couldn’t walk her on my own.

    Also, you SHOULD be angry at Cesar Millan, he has mislead you!

    I was really excited about his methodology after I saw several episodes of his show five or so years ago. Around the time, my ex and I had recently gotten the aforementioned dog who, thankfully wasn’t aggressive, but otherwise needed A LOT of training. We tried some of his techniques on her, and some of them did work, but she also started getting much more skiddish. Plus, it just felt wrong. I didn’t care if she was a dog, not a human… that just felt like the wrong way to treat a member of my family

    After doing a lot of research, I discovered that his methods are pretty outdated, disavowed by most dog trainers and not very well supported by the current science of dog psychology. Domesticated dogs are not wolves, and don’t have the same psychology as wolves– that’s one of the reasons they’re “dogs,” and not “wolves.” Millan likes to pretend otherwise. Not only that, but it turns out wolves (when viewed in their natural family groups, in the wild, don’t even act like that. It turns out that only wolves from different family groups who are thrown together in unnatural settings act like that!)

    I think this is the article that first got me thinking: http://responsibledog.wordpress.com/2009/05/24/the-problem-with-cesar-millan-warning-letter-to-rescue-and-clients-january-2006/

    But you can find out all kinds of good stuff by Googling “Cesar Millan is a Liar.” or maybe “Problems w/ Cesar Millan” might be better. 😉

    It’s gotten to the point where just about the only thing I agree w/Millan on is that dogs need exercise. Basically everything else he says annoys the crap out of me. Let the dog walk next o you or in front of you! (which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to work on pulling… but I think the gentle leader will help a lot with that!) And dogs should be allowed to smell whatever they want to smell as long as it’s not going to cause a real problem for you or someone else! (Imagine if you weren’t allowed to look around at, or touch things as you were walking!)

    Anyway. I’m ranting. Imagine that. I’d say try looking into a more positive reinforcement method of training. Good luck! I know this is extremely frustrating, but you guys can and will get through it! (Just think of it as practice parenting for those frustrating toddler and teenage years! 😉

    • Thanks for the resources and encouragement. I think I need to order a Gentle Leader or EasyWalk Harness so Duke and I can start enjoying exercise, not hating each other, and being calm for the training that will follow. I’m going over to the library website right now.

  4. Vic says:

    I personally have been using the majority of the techniques learned from Cesar Millan, to great effect with my 8 month English stafford, and with great results also. I don’t use a “illusion collar” and just use a regular harness (contrary to what he suggests) – the point being his techniques DO work, but I assume not for every owner, and every dog.

    In these cases it’s probably time to look into another method or trainer, as owning and training an animal should be enjoyable experience not a chore.

  5. Me says:

    I can’t agree enough with what Kim has said. You need to stop following the advice of that man.

    A gentle leader is an AID, not a crutch. You should use it to help manage his pulling while you’re teaching leash manners. Every time he pulls, pause the walk. When he stops pulling, continue the walk. He’ll learn that pulling gets him nowhere and not pulling gets him the reward of the continuation of the walk. If he’s reactive, turn in the opposite direction of what he’s reacting to and walk him away. If it’s something that you encounter frequently, try BAT. You can Google this.

    When the walk becomes enjoyable for him, he’ll let you leash him without problems because he’ll be raring to go on his walk! There’s no reason why the walk can’t be enjoyable for both you and him. And you do NOT need him to walk in a perfect heel next to you as long as he’s not pulling. The dominance theories have been debunked, it’s nonsense. Just because Cesar Millan can’t accept that and move on doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to.

  6. Me says:

    Sorry, I meant to write you should use it to manage his strength, not his pulling.

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