Lost-for-Words Wednesday: Video of CM Kicking Dogs

I’ve been busy with other writing projects, including a fiction-writing grant application, a carnival post (with happy training video), and other stuff.

I’ve also actually been taking Barnum out, since my chair is currently functional again. (I don’t expect it to last. More on this another time.) But, for now, we are both very happy to leave the yard together. (Yeah, I’ve left the ramp for the first time in . . . how long?)

So, this is a quick post. A lot of bloggers do a “Wordless Wednesday” post. Instead, here is my “At a Loss for Words” Wednesday post. It’s a video of Cesar Millan kicking countless dogs.

These were aired on the TV program, the Dog Whisperer.

I can’t put up the actual video here, because — shockingly! — it was taken down from youtube. But you can view it where it’s still up, on the DancingDogBlog.

[Access note: Because I can’t download the video, or upload it to another site, there’s no way for me to caption it or transcribe it. However, honestly, I couldn’t bear to watch it again anyway, even if I could. I apologize to my readers who can’t access non-captioned or transcribed video.]

I just watched it. I found it extremely upsetting. I only ever watched a few episodes of the show (I’d just end up yelling at the TV), but I bet I saw him kick some dogs and never knew it. You see, he kicks them from behind, so it’s harder for people to see. What a great “training” technique. Honestly, it looks like a good soccer-pass fake. Too bad these are dogs, not inanimate objects intended for being kicked around a field.

He usually kicks the abdominal area/testicles. You’ll also see him hanging dogs by their collars (choking), and other forms of abuse he calls training.

Of course, it’s not news to anybody who knows anything about modern dog training that his methods are dangerous for people and dogs and inhumane. In fact, before the first episode of the show ever aired, the American Humane Society and various other dog behavior professionals told National Geographic that they don’t support the methods shown. They asked National Geographic not to air the show. (Note: Several months ago,I did read the aforementioned AHS position paper on Dog Whisperer, and there are multiple links to it, but the links for the original document now bring up a 404 error message. Funny how things critical of CM keep getting erased from the web, huh?) The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior wrote to Merial, asking the corporation not to support Millan’s videos.

Given this, why, you may ask, does this matter? There are plenty of good trainers out there, knowledgable people, and he is just one guy.

The biggest problem is that people buy it and buy it and buy it. I have friends who quote him. People who would never hit their dog, but who try to emulate him. Because he doesn’t call what he does “hitting” or “kicking,” he calls it “interrupting behavior” and “redirecting.”

They spout his rhetoric and take his viewpoint to heart, essentially that any means necessary to make the dog do what you want is the right thing to do. These are not bad people. They love their dogs. However, CM is selling them faulty goods.

I and countless others who have switched our methods had to understand a new underlying philosophy about training. CM and his dominance and ends-justify-the-means message interfere with the learning processes of millions of people.

The other problem is that people say, “But his methods work! He saves these dogs from being put down. Isn’t that the most important thing?”

What I hear in these arguments is, “If the dog is terrified in the process of being ‘trained,’ isn’t that for the greater good? Don’t the outcomes speak for themselves?”

No, it isn’t, and no, they don’t.

Let’s start with the “some discomfort is okay for the dog’s own good” argument. All you have to do is watch these dogs’ body language (or sometimes, listen to their yelps), to know they are way beyond “discomfort.” The dogs in this video are throwing every kind of calming and appeasement signal they can at CM, and they are punished for it. The blatant body language of anxiety, fear, and distress was the worst part to watch, for me.

Secondly, even if you think such tactics are justified, we have no idea what is actually happening because there are many hours of video edited into a few minutes. In the video montage above, you can clearly see at least two places where editors cut CM’s more horrifying kicks, such as the one to the snout. How do we know what happens weeks or months later, after the dog with behavior issues has experienced this additional trauma? Does the dog stay “calm” (CM’s term for “scared/shocked into total shutdown”) forever? Are the cameras around for that fallout?

Eileen, whom I mentioned in some previous posts, recently put up this terrific video, showing the difference in her dogs responding to a cue taught by positive reinforcement and by negative reinforcement. I told her I thought this was very brave — to go public on a mistake and own the consequences. But this is how people learn. (This video is captioned. Much of it is also narrated.)

I have certainly made my share of wrong-headed training decisions in the past, and occasionally I still make mistakes that I regret. However, unlike Eileen and me, CM has repeatedly refused — despite offers from many qualified, kind behaviorists to show him a better way — to change his mantra of outmoded, disproven dominance theory and his tactics of coercion and punishment.

Having, in fact, trained an old dog to do new tricks (with clicker training!), I know it’s not only possible, but easy. So, what’s CM’s excuse for not learning?

My dogs were getting paid with kibble, hotdogs, and cheese. CM is getting paid many millions of dollars. The value of a reinforcer is determined by the one being taught. Clearly, CM sees fame and fortune as much more reinforcing than actually helping, not hurting, dogs.

Please contact the National  Geographic Channel and voice your concerns.

With a heavy heart,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I was mostly spared those horrors), and Barnum (I am blissfully unaware of human nonsense!)

P.S. Comment moderation is on. I once made a negative comment about a CM video on  youtube and was called some nasty names. None of that will be showing up on my blog, thank you.

11 Responses to “Lost-for-Words Wednesday: Video of CM Kicking Dogs”

  1. 1 Giselle March 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for this entry, Sharon – sharing!

  2. 2 Courtenay March 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    A quote from Shirley Chong, I have permission to share:
    “When he kicks a dog, his own body language is so casual and his motion is so graceful (seriously) that it doesn’t look like much has happened. It’s when I focus on the dog that I can see he’s really kicking very hard, even when he’s employing a behind the back kick (crossing the right leg behind the left leg to kick the dog).

    Quite often, the dog’s hind feet both leave the ground involuntarily. With some of the smaller dogs, their front feet are also shifted sideways or backwards by the force of the kick.

    There is a bit at the beginning of the video that shows a drawing of a dog with the spine and ribs shown. An arrow indicates the area of the loin that is the typical target of his foot. As the caption noted, this is an area unprotected by the ribs. I’m a little uncertain on that one, since I think if he aimed at ribs, he’d be risking breaking a rib and thus potentially puncturing a lung or other internal organs.

    My vote would be that the safest location for a kick would be his arse.”

  3. 3 Allison Nastoff March 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    I have listened to the Dog Whisperer a couple times and don’t remember hearing anything from the dogs that indicated abuse, and therefore admired his “way with dogs.” While I will occasionally put a pinch collar on Gilbert when I am in a situation where I really need him to behave, I use this collar very rarely and gently. Kicking or hitting are things I would never do because I agree that love and positive reinforcement are more effective than fear. Now that I know how abusive his “training” methods are, I am ashamed that in my last Assistance Dog Blog carnival post, I made a passing comment admiring Cesar Millan. To make up for this ignorance though, I will share this post on Facebook. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler March 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm


    Thank you so much for this quote. It’s really true that he does it with finesse, and that is probably why I — and so many others who have seen the program — have never seen the kicks, because so much else is happening. (I was serious when I said it looked like a great soccer back-pass motion.) I think Dr. Sophia Yin’s suggestion to watch the show with the sound off, focusing on the dog’s body language, is an excellent one, for this reason.

    I’m glad to get your comment, because I’ve had one person unsubscribe from my blog since this post went up, and received another inappropriate/rude comment (which you’ll notice has not been approved!).

    Although this is not a laughing matter, I have to say, the last line of her comment (the arse) made me laugh.

  5. 5 Sharon Wachsler March 25, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Allison,

    Thank you so much for passing this along! I think it’s very important because the show is so very popular and is having such an impact.

    I hope you won’t continue to feel ashamed, because a lot of people are taken in by him. I had no idea he was kicking dogs until I saw the video.

    Plus, a lot of what happens on the program that shows how miserable the dogs are is very visual — the dog’s body language, particularly. If you were in person with the dog, you would be able to read that body language, but with a visual disability, I would guess that it would be very difficult to sense from the TV program.

    I think that is why, even with sighted viewers, he is so able to distract from what he is doing, because of the banter. And because what he, the narrator, and the dog owners say, is so at odds with what is visually revealed.

    And, I do want to emphasize, one of the people I like very much, who is a wonderful, loving, caring dog owner, with a wonderful, happy dog, who played with Gadget, admires CM. She often quoted him and tried to emulate him, even though the trainer she worked with in real life was using positive reinforcement most of the time.

    That’s why it pains me so much — because good-hearted people who are trying to learn and do right by their dogs still take away damaging messages. I have done this, myself. I have done alpha roll-overs on rare occasions in the past, but never again. I will probably write a blog about that some time, because the reason I committed to never doing one again was the way a child, nearby, reacted with such fear, just seeing it.

    Anyway, I digress. Particularly disturbing is that in the video, sometimes the owners see him kick the dogs, but he does it while he talks to the owners, and calls it “getting the dog’s attention” or “focus” or “interrupting the dog,” and the people nod their heads, because they are trying to learn what to do. So, this really inappropriate “technique” is then legitimated.

    There was a comment on the blog I linked to where someone saw a person walking their dog do this behind-the-leg kick to the dog’s abdomen, and wondered why they did it. When she saw the video, she realized that’s probably where she learned it.

  6. 6 Courtenay March 25, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Hi Sharon,
    I’m glad you enjoyed her comments. I’m sorry to hear you’ve lost some followers, but you certainly can’t control others’ reactions to facts and evidence. I theorize often on why/how people can believe the things they do around dog training, and I think it’s similar to a religion in many ways..

  7. 7 Sharon Wachsler March 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Yes, definitely like religion.

    How you train, and what you feed, your dog, are the “religions” of the dog world. More combustible than politics, money, or religion!

  8. 8 Sarah TX March 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I was bitten by a dog “trained” with dominance methods similar to Cesar Millans (although this happened in 99 or 2000, before he got his television show). I am not a trained dog psychologist (neither is Millan, who says he is “self-taught”), but to me it seems like the big problem with setting up a pack relationship in the dog’s home is that the dog is trained to figure out where any new stranger fits in the pack. In my case, I was walking on the public sidewalk outside this dog’s house, he dug under the fence and saw me in his pack’s territory, and challenged me to find out where I “fit”. When I walked away (because I was a tiny, scared 13-year-old girl), he bit me in the ass!

    I can’t help but think that if the dog had been trained to feel safe and secure with his place in the family or pack – to see strangers as an opportunity to make a new friend, rather than as someone who could challenge them for their “spot” – then it would have been a happier dog and not a threat to the neighborhood children.

  9. 9 Sharon Wachsler March 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m really sorry you went through that. It sounds like an awful experience and very scary.

    There’s really no way for me to know why this dog bit you, what he was thinking, what led to it. If he was biting out of fear or out of “true” aggression (not that makes any difference to the 13yo who has been attacked!), so I can’t weigh in on the dog’s motivations.

    I will say that what I’ve witnessed, and especially what I’ve learned from true dog behavior experts, like Patricia McConnell (reading two of her excellent books right now), is that pack and dominance issues tend only to play out among dogs, and not between dogs and people.

    Emma Parson’s book, Click to Calm, makes a powerful case-study of her own dog, Ben, a golden retriever, who started out with a mild aggression/reactivity issue, and after one session with a trainer using the types of methods in the videos above, developed an extremely severe, life-long aggression issue, which Parsons learned to modify and control with clicker training, over the course of his life.

    Definitely, confident, happy dogs are much less likely to be a danger to themselves or others. I couldn’t agree with you more about that.

  10. 10 Sarah TX March 28, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Thanks Sharon, I will check out that book!

    I remember, shortly after the attack, being more afraid for the dog, who had bitten an adult a year before. I did not want the dog to be put down!

  11. 11 Sharon Wachsler March 28, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Aw, you were such a kind-hearted kid!

    Actually, I remember once playing with a lovely collie mix at a soccer game — the dog of one of the other girls — because I far enjoyed playing with a dog than my peers (the dog was much nicer to me!), and we were playing tug with a stick. I got my thumb much too close to her mouth, and she accidentally put part of a tooth through my nail.

    The parents got a bit hysterical, and I kept saying, “It wasn’t her fault! It wasn’t her fault! We were playing! She did it accidentally!” I didn’t want the dog to get in trouble.

    Later, the girl cornered me at school and accused me of trying to get her dog put down. I told her what happened, and that it was an accident, and that I was trying to get the adults to understand what happened. So, I didn’t get my ass kicked, and the dog lived, thank god!

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