Cesar and the Latest Science

An article, purporting to be the latest science on dogs, has been making the internet rounds in condemnation of Cesar Millan.


Cesar Millan is a particularly nettlesome burr under the saddle of progressive learning/training theorists, who believe that animal behavior is driven by reinforcement. Cesar is challenging this view, in effect saying that there is an underlying template inherited from the dog’s ancestor the wolf, which in Cesar’s view, endows the dog with the drive to follow a pack leader. He believes dogs are always seeking to satisfy this primordial and innate urge.

Yes I do believe that Cesar’s confrontational approach can cause aggression. But it’s hyperbolic to lament that Cesar represents the end of science in dogdom. Lots of people were bitten after the publication of the Monks of New Skete book in the seventies and their popularization of the “alpha roll,” yet Dogdom moved along. And in fact, if we look back over the early years of dog work, some amazing herding, service and even police dogs were trained well before science became involved in a discussion of training, and people were certainly more heavy handed in those days. In point of fact I contend that today there is even more aggression being caused by the positive school with their positive, hyper-manic stimulating–stimulating—stimulating ideology. So while I disagree with much of what Cesar does, I don’t believe he’s a dog abuser. Let’s ratchet things down. Cesar is a good guy trying to help dogs and has been blessed with many riches for his talents. May we all be so fortunate. Those interested in the science of dogs (in other words the theories and practices which make the most sense) should welcome Cesar as a springboard for a deeper discussion. This is why for example I don’t understand Neo-Darwinism’s vitriolic treatment of Intelligent Design when it should be seen as an opportunity to engage millions of young people in the finer points of evolutionary theory. I say let’s go! Let’s have a debate and see what evolves from an open and free ranging discussion. (I thought the positive folks believed in evolution?)

The author of this particular article considers the following critique a rigorously scientific approach:

“While it isn’t unreasonable to think that early humans might have captured wolf pups and tried to rear them, taming wolves is extremely difficult and the resulting adult would have been hard to handle.[39] Early humans were migratory, and would not have stayed in a particular area long enough to influence the genetics of the nearby wolf population even if they did exert slight control over the breeding of wild wolves. It is much more likely that some wolves ‘chose’ to domesticate themselves. As humans began to create temporary settlements instead of migrating constantly, trash would have accumulated. The wolves in nearby populations who were less wary of humans would have learned to conserve energy by accessing this easy-to-find food.[40] At that point, natural selection would have taken over and these less-fearful wolves would have begun to differ from those that were still completely wild.[41] Over time a tame type of wolf would have developed. During this process, it was likely that humans would have recognized the reciprocal benefits of having such predators around the camp. The camp would have been cleaner; resulting in fewer vermin and less disease, and the presence of the proto-dogs would have warded off other predators.[42] Without the presence of humans and their debris, wolves would never have had the opportunity to evolve into dogs. A domesticated dog’s ‘natural habitat’ is anywhere that humanity is – in cities, towns and homes.[44] It’s not possible for a domesticated dog to return to its humanity-free roots, as they never existed in the first place. Millan advocates this romanticized idea of domestication because of its appeal to the layperson, but it has no factual basis.”

The positive school favors the scavenger theory, in conjunction with Mech’s view of a wolf pack as an extended family group, because it minimizes the innate nature of a dog and emphasizes an owner as a care giver rather than a pack leader, and supports the learning by reinforcement model. Want to understand a dog? Need not consider its nature but its affiliation with humans, the main supplier of resources. Of course the problem with this is that it leaves aside the nature of humans just as much as it does the dogs.

Previously I’ve articulated my objections to the dog-as-scavenger theory. For example, why was it only wolf-to-dog, not fox-to-fox/dog, or coyote-to-coyote/dog, why isn’t there a domesticated version of the raccoon perhaps the most prolific animal at the dump? <<BTW, my question isn’t why didn’t foxes, raccoons or bears evolve into domesticated versions. I know why they didn’t, they aren’t group hunters of a physically superior prey. My point is that the village dump is not a logical basis to presume that wolves evolved into domesticated versions by virtue of access to same. Domestication amplified the hunting group dynamic, it wasn’t a “taming” process selecting for docility or submissiveness. >>All these animals had the same access to village dumps and yet no such domestication event happened. But even more importantly the hunting drive in the domestic dog is legendary and saying that dogs are scavengers denies their obvious hunting drive, the fact that every breed class, and virtually every breed name, is derivative as to how it was selected to hunt. Clearly domestication is an evolutionary process not an arbitrary artifice of man and this is because hunting has been integral to the evolution of human nature as well.

The biggest irony in this article is that the author is using what he/she views as the latest science so as to club Cesar upside the head with, and yet the most recent science is trending away from the scavenger theory.


Anthropologist Pat Shipman has studied “Mammoth Megasites” wherein hundreds of mammoths were killed in the same spot over hundreds of years, the site may be as old as 45,000 years. During the same period wolf/dog-like skulls have been found in affiliation with humans, many tens of thousands of years before the village dog scenario. Some of these proto-dog skulls found at megasites have healed fractures, indicating that a human may have nursed them back to health. The evidence at these sites suggests a hunting symbiosis between man and canine, especially given that there are proto-dog burials done in a ritualistic way.

 So Cesar is closer to the best science than is the positive camp because the dog is the dog due to the wolf. Cesar is right on this broad point. However, the key to the wolf is how it hunts as a group. My study of the dog led me to conclude that the hunting style of the wolf begat the social style of the wolf, not the other way around. Wolves are social because of how they work as a team, not because of how they live as a pack. With all due respect to Dr. Mech, he was still using the alpha as in pack leader designation in 1992 when I articulated in “Natural Dog Training” exactly how this group dynamic works. And now saying that wolves are extended family groups isn’t really saying anything. Bonobos form extended family groups, as do African Wild Hunting Dogs, and yet these species will never be capable of living and working alongside human beings. So there still remains a group dynamic around which the family organizes, and again this is due to their hunting nature, a nature amplified not dampened by the domestication process. So note to the positive folks, put your Cesar Basher down so we can just talk dogs!

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Published June 11, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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26 responses to “Cesar and the Latest Science”

  1. Rip says:

    “Let’s have a debate and see what evolves from an open and free ranging discussion.”

    Feared and threatening words to the Progressive/purist/pure positive disciple. It’s the last thing they want. This is about ideology and its dominion, not liberal discourse and greater understanding; about shutting down debate, not engaging it. To them, the “science”, here as elsewhere, will always be selective and absolute.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I don’t believe anyone has the right to bash anyone else until they spend some time trying to understand their point of view. We live in a very quick-to-judge society and it creates more havoc and negativity than it does good.

    To anyone that speaks ill of Cesar and how he relates to dogs, I invite you to go spend a week with him THEN form an opinion. I did just that, and it was life-altering in the most profound way: http://packfit.net/2013/12/my-week-with-cesar-millan-the-dog-whisperer/#comment-38

    If we all poured more energy towards our passion for dogs, helping them to thrive and live a quality life, instead of funneling it into this dark, dense place where unfounded and unwarranted criticism, judgement and negativity circulates and pulses, we’d all be much happier. Promoting what we love instead of what we hate. Especially when it’s based on assumption.

    We spend far too much time feeding and nurturing negativity. Imagine what life would be like for all of us if we spent that time and energy feeding something else.

    Live. Love. Woof.

  3. Kimberly says:

    (Great, thorough article, btw, Kevin!)

  4. Julie Forlizzo says:

    If it wasn’t for Cesar Millan, I would never have known about the “heart” of the dog. I learned from him how important our feelings are to the dog, and how dogs mirror us. He does good “flow” work. He was the first person via TV to teach about feeling calm and not being anxious – for our well-being and for the dog’s well-being. We really should give credit where credit is due. He loves and treats dogs for the beautiful species they are. He learned the dominance theology from his home growing up, but that doesn’t mean he will never change his mind. He’s a good guy!!

  5. Anne-Marie says:

    I was actually just debating about this article on a facebook dog training group lol

    I am from the positive school, so using only R+ methods, but I am open to other methods as long as they do the least psychological or physical damage, so I still disagree with most of Cesar’s technique and go with R+ methods that I know. But I don’t have a lot of years of experience so I am always trying to find out what are the best methods.

    The studies about the mammoths and dogs is pretty interesting! I didn’t know about it.

    I really am more from the positive group, but I believe what’s missing in both those methods is like you say, the relation between the dog and the human, how they evolved together. I didn’t really have a look at this particular subject.

  6. Jen Bianchi says:

    So here is my question relating to the scientific critique of Cesar and his methods. Aside from obviously being written to a lay audience, not as a ‘scientific paper,’ and to elicit certain emotions of pity and anger toward CM’s methods, I want to know if it is actually possible to design a truly unbiased experiment comparing two dog training methods? And quite frankly, that question aside, I don’t know a scientist that would begin an analysis with the sentence “I’ve now been training dogs for a decade. I find Cesar Millan’s training theory and advice appalling.” That is a personal opinion coming from an emotional place. Where is the data? The experimental design? And what researcher would not put their name on their work?

    To me, it seems impossible to make all variables equal enough to get reliable, repeatable results. If the same person acts as the ‘trainer’ in both methods, how would they be able to execute each method equally well? We are human after all, and someone studying dogs will have an opinion one way or another. One does not get into the science of dogs without an affinity for dogs. How could that person NOT let that opinion affect not only their execution, but their very experimental design, and would they even know if it did? They are already primed before the experiment even begins. If they were to choose two trainers, each respected in their training methods, how would they be able to determine if it was the method or the trainer executing the methods? Some unknown factor (aka, flow)? After all, the trainers are respected because they produce results. How could environment be equaled, without influencing results, but replicating real daily life for dogs? To me, creating an unbiased scientific study in this case seems impossible. Dogs and dog training taps into much more than just pleasure vs. pain, reward vs. punishment. It’s a gross oversimplification of the interplay of what’s happening between dog and human. Not to mention differences between basic temperaments of individual dogs, breed traits, and prenatal and early post birth experiences, etc.

    Do you think it’s possible to design an experiment that can really tackle one training method vs. the other?

  7. Ben says:

    So if I’m understanding correctly, the gist here is that that it behooves one to keep an open mind and to invite open debate rather than succumbing to outright bashing. Additionally, accepted modalities of the past often did not have the outcome that today’s trainers warn against. Those proclaiming they are on science’s side and thus have the intellectual high ground can be often refuted with seemingly contradictory studies. Good points and I agree with much of what you’re saying, but I wanted to offer some thoughts.

    “So while I disagree with much of what Cesar does, I don’t believe he’s a dog abuser. Let’s ratchet things down. Cesar is a good guy trying to help dogs and has been blessed with many riches for his talents. May we all be so fortunate.”

    I don’t see it to be unfair to call a spade a spade. There’s plenty of video and first-hand accounts of Cesar interacting with dogs in a way that most would deem to be abusive in nature. Most would agree that kicking or striking a dog is abusive especially in a punitive context. It is clear, and Cesar admits as much, that some of his techniques are meant to be punitive. Ethical treatment of animals is not black and white by a long shot, but there are some instances that are. Cesar, to me, has done some things that fall squarely into unethical treatment. I don’t know Cesar personally so I certainly can’t comment on whether he’s a good guy– but from what I’ve seen and read he exhibits classic narcissism which is no real surprise given that he’s drawn to celebrity and wealth. There are those that will flock to his type of personality and defend his every move, but that’s to be expected with fame and the persona he presents.

    On a personal note, it was NDT that drew me away from Cesar’s techniques and I know first hand the damage they can do to a dog. Dogs are incredibly resilient but that does not mean people have the right to use abusive techniques.

    “Those interested in the science of dogs (in other words the theories and practices which make the most sense) should welcome Cesar as a springboard for a deeper discussion. This is why for example I don’t understand Neo-Darwinism’s vitriolic treatment of Intelligent Design when it should be seen as an opportunity to engage millions of young people in the finer points of evolutionary theory. I say let’s go! Let’s have a debate and see what evolves from an open and free ranging discussion. (I thought the positive folks believed in evolution?)”

    This might be an unfair characterization or oversimplification. There have been many that study Darwinian evolution that have thoughtfully engaged with those aligned with an Intelligent Design ideology. I say ideology because the core of Intelligent Design is unequivocally pseudoscientific (it’s not a scientific theory). There IS a debate (a long one!) True science is a process that thrives on doubt, uncertainty, and debate. The difference here is that the criticisms of evolutionary theory by those defending ID are most always the result of not understanding, not knowing, or mischaracterizing the science which is not true debate but a distraction and impediment to true scientific inquiry and advancement. The finer points of evolutionary theory are constantly refined, discussed, and debated by those both in and outside of those fields (like Bejan’s Constructal Law). One could waste all of their energy and time dealing with those that are completely shut off to any argument. As Ken Ham admitted in his debate with Bill Nye, he essentially said “nothing” could change his mind about Intelligent Design. That is a frightening mindset. As Karl Popper wrote, one should not tolerate the intolerant.

    Unfortunately you have fundamentalists on both sides that tend to draw all the attention and claim to be the authority. I’m specifically speaking of people like our friend the Unknown Scientist. They engage in a kind of scientism or science fundamentalism that is actually the antithesis of true scientific inquiry and debate. It’s a waste of time to engage with someone like that. Unknown Scientist nor this author of the article against Cesar represent or have authority over science.

    In a dog training context, I do not morally tolerate Cesar. Therefore, I see no reason to tolerate his viewpoints as they clearly lead to actions that are unethical. Cesar readily uses reinforcements and discusses them in that context. He speaks many times of rewarding dogs, correcting dogs, etc– this is basic operant conditioning that he espouses. Yes he throws in the pack mentality drive, but he’s not so much challenging the behaviorism view but simply defending his version of it which includes lots of correction and confrontation. One has to ask if that really stimulates any kind of useful debate, or is it just dredging up outmoded ideas?

  8. Joy Kaczmarek says:

    I find your challenge of the scavenger theory very interesting, as I see the reinforcement model fail with dogs that aren’t “food motivated” (dislike this term — what isn’t food motivated?). At a recent conference, a veterinary behaviorist was explaining clicker training vis a vis reinforcement. She acknowledged that not only is the method unintuitive (owners often misunderstand how the clicker works as reinforcement); as a secondary reinforcer, the clicker needs to be charged continually so one must always figure in reward. This seems ungainly to me.

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    I think you’re right that it would be impossible to do a truly controlled study as there are almost infinite variables. Even when raising or training a dog myself, one comes to all kinds of crossroads and one must choose to go one route or another, and maybe within the paradigm these variations don’t matter, but I always try to puzzle it out nonetheless. What would have happened had I done this first and then that? The laboratory experiments don’t seem particularly valid either, I’ve been to the Harvard Canine Cognition Lab, they didn’t weight some things I felt were important. It all boils down to going-by-feel and constantly learning from experience. I cannot overstate how important it is to build a model for the canine mind wherein everything must fit or else options are to remain open. A model brings hidden assumptions up to the surface and this is the only way they become available for examination and testing. So that’s where I stand. My assumption is that all behavior is a function of attraction, in one fundamental way Cesar attracts a certain kind of energy in a dog, and I see that also to be true of the positive school as well. I think Cesar comes closer to developing a model for the mind than the positive school, and he’d certainly be a lot more fun to talk dogs with if my experience on the positive dog training forums is any guide.

  10. Kevin Behan says:

    I can understand people’s objections to Cesar’s methods, but I think we have to be very careful about moral outrage as it tends in each of us to be highly selective, some things trigger it and yet curiously, other equally noxious things don’t. We’re funny like that. I don’t think it will prove good for dogs to indict Cesar as unethical and abusive. The positive school would brand me abusive by “putting dogs over threshold,” whereas I think Dunbar’s “Leave It!” and “NO” stuff with young puppies is “abusive” to the developing canine temperament and ends up with many dogs being euthanized. But I don’t have anything against Dunbar or even Dodman who is advocating the wholesale sedation of the most social species on earth. We are imperfect beings trying to adapt a dog’s wild instincts to our artificial world. I always return to it’s not about the dog, it’s about how the dog makes us feel. From what I’ve seen, if Cesar has hit a dog it was due to his trying to solve a severe case of aggression and he can probably harken back to many dogs in Mexico on the farm that were rectified with a quick show of force. These were free ranging dogs that were “bleached out” and channeled by the natural ways of the land they were raised and lived upon so the confrontation didn’t show up in a negative behavior. This formed the basis of his perspective on leadership and so I think he’s operating from a very honest platform. Were Cesar to raise a dog from puppyhood I doubt he would be physical whatsoever, my impression is that he wants to effect leadership in a subtle, understated way. Meanwhile there is a movement afoot to demonize Cesar and this is going to lead to a standardization of dog training and total control by the positive school of thought over how one is allowed to raise and train a dog. In certain countries pinch collars are being banned. Once we invoke the morality clause then we descend into majority rule, or more likely, rule by the most vitriolic minority, and I know this will never be good for dogs. I don’t believe in spanking children but let’s hope behaviorism doesn’t end up in control of parenting. The question is who will be anointed as the head arbiter of tolerance.

    Actually on a crude level Cesar is talking in contravention to learning-by-reinforcement in that he invokes an auto-tuning/feedback dynamic, as in “If I act calm/assertive, you will trend toward calm/submissive.” An owner begins to see their dog as their emotional mirror. My complaint is that there is a finer point to be put on this dynamic, i.e the principle of flow.

    As for evolutionary theory, I see Neo-Darwinism and Intelligent Design as twin brothers, both having a creationist faith. The latter is easy to see, but Neo-Darwinism practices a faith in the God of Randomness. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, just that they are making a leap of faith as is Intelligent Design and Creationism. It’s no wonder they don’t welcome debate as they don’t want to open the door to competing theologies.
    I hope you’ll indulge my preoccupation with the Unknown Scientist because alas he’s the only “expert” (albeit anonymously) who’s willing to engage in debate (until that is he degrades into ad hominem and homing-homina-homina which is usually pretty quickly). I believe the counterpoint is edifying enough to be justifiable.

  11. Ben says:

    Excellent points and definitely food for thought. I think my first reaction is “don’t we have to draw the line somewhere?” In other words, when does something become unacceptable, regardless of the justification used for it? I find this to be a tough and complex question to answer in many cases. I wholeheartedly agree with your examples from the positive camp in that those are abusive– albeit maybe not outright physically, but certainly emotionally. One of the issues I have with Cesar is his framing of his actions– he may do what he does because of how he was raised, but many times he has called his kicks and strikes “touches” which is a thinly veiled attempt at subterfuge to “cleanse” the appearance of his actions. That is dishonest (he does at least rightly call them corrections). I have no disillusions that when I use a prong collar on a dog, I’m creating a sensation of pain. The difference is when and in what context it is applied that makes the difference for me because I know the visceral experience changes for the dog. I find him anything but subtle or understated and instead overtly domineering.

    As for morality, I think the danger is in a Kantian-style rational ethics approach. Ethics derived from pure rationality has inherent limitations. To me, morality is absolutely critical and crucial, and I side with Schopenhauer in that morality stems from compassion and empathy. Clive Hamilton’s “The Freedom Paradox” explores this more in depth, but essentially identifying that in which is the same in all of us (he calls it the universal Self, but this could easily be translated in NDT terms) is the basis for morality, and this can be extended to animals. We are (meaning humans) all moral agents, and as he said, “lawgivers”. True morality and autonomy means rejecting external sources of authority. Laws followed because they are imposed by an authority is not morality. So while there IS a danger of a “positive” training fascism taking hold, I think the danger is in exercising pure rationality (based on perhaps faulty understanding of methods, tools, etc) and forgoing morality altogether. In other words, go by FEEL like you say.

    Onto evolution: The mechanisms behind random mutations are fairly well understood (natural selection by definition is not random, but the mutations are according to the theory). It’s not a case of scientists saying “Well everything here is random and we don’t know how or why this happened”. The theory says that it is “random” in the sense that there is no defined purpose or end goal in a mutation, but if you take determinism to absurd levels you could (in theory) develop a cause-and-effect for the process. I still see and agree with your point in that such a reductive focus on each mechanism of mutagenesis might completely miss what a more holistic view may offer. Keep in mind there are MANY other theories and functions involved in evolution that are debated, like symbiogenesis, self-organization, etc. There’s even a theory of adaptive non-random mutation which is controversial but still ongoing. My point here is that it’s not like scientists have closed the chapter on evolution, dusted off their hands, and said “job well done”. Some fundamentalists may proclaim that, but it’s far from reality.

    And apologies if I’m derailing the discussion around the article at all– I find the above to be challenging to think about and I really enjoy it.

  12. Leslie Craig says:

    Thank you so much! I also find the current Cesar-fuss overblown. One thing I really appreciated about him was the shows that demonstrate dogs who had problems face-to-face and stationary being calm moving side-by-side. I just thought the “calm-submissive” description of a dog would be better expressed as just “relaxed.” I also wonder how much, for the sake of the show’s popularity among out-of-shape Americans, he discounts his own athleticism as an advantage. The more control-focused type of dog training probably benefits quite a bit from the trainer being a two-legged perpetual motion machine!

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    As for Cesar you’ve artfully drawn some important distinctions and set the table for a proper discussion. And I agree that all should have their own personal standards based on the best evidence they have available to them. But the vitriol directed at Cesar is far out of proportion to whatever ill he is being accused of inflicting. It’s gratuitous to put that picture of him on the article when he’s obviously been tormented by someone off camera. This kind of demonization makes me suspicious. It seems there is a soft tyranny creeping in whereby certain people become vilified and little by little the net will be widened to snare more and more who might dare to think outside the consensus.

    Good point about the meaning of random in a scientists’ mind as to whether something is being directed or not. The question as to whether mutations are, in the mathematical sense, random or not, my hunch is that they are not. There is an experiment wherein bacteria were denied their normal nutrients in the agar, and yet they spontaneously generated a gene that could produce the enzyme to digest the novel material. My idea given my theory of emotion as a universal operating system of consciousness, is that nature evolves as a whole and when the “network” shifts, as it becomes more complex, then the genomes of interconnected species shift as well to maintain a set equilibrium point. I feel this is where epigenetics is going to ultimately lead us. In my view animal learning is the same process of evolution as well, and I don’t believe animals generate random behaviors and then go by what sticks. Rather, they generate behaviors according to a template, and likewise I believe we’ll discover that mutations are generated by a template in order to maintain this overall point of equilibrium. This doesn’t mean it’s directed, it just means that it’s shifting according to the laws of nature in an organized way, not by random in any sense of the word. (Symbiogenesis would be a more active phase of the nature-as-a-whole shifting) At any rate, these are just ideas that occur to me as I read about evolution and then attempt to reconcile it with what I see in behavior.

  14. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes when dogs are aligned and in sync they feel in the flow and then they can perceive movement and feel safe. When it is head-to-head, this static configuration triggers physical memories and if these are bad, it has the opposite effect and can produce an overload. The good news for us is that one can condition a dog to feel alignment and synchronization through the harmonizing power of the spoken word, all we have to do is first create the alignment/synchronization template so that this is the strongest physical memory that can be triggered.

  15. Rip says:

    Ben says:
    June 12, 2014 at 8:21 am
    “There’s plenty of video and first-hand accounts of Cesar interacting with dogs in a way that most would deem to be abusive in nature. Most would agree that kicking or striking a dog is abusive especially in a punitive context. It is clear, and Cesar admits as much, that some of his techniques are meant to be punitive.”

    Please explain and link. I’ve seen every Dog Whisperer episode and don’t recall anything “abusive in nature.” If tapping a dog on the side with your leg or flicking a finger to startle it out of a loaded, proto-aggressive state is “abusive,” then it would seem we have a language and definition controversy, and not something “most would agree” on or that “is clear” at all. Punitive is not the same as abusive (and why in any case is tapping a dog in a punitive context over a random context “especially” abusive). And I do not think Cesar does “admit as much,” i.e., admits to abuse or to the conflation of punitive touch and abuse. Dogs are constantly interacting with each other in ways that are fleetingly punitive or corrective. To believe a dog cannot experience these types of corrections from its handler for unwanted behavior in the moment-to-moment interactions is demeaning to dog and handler.

  16. Kirsten says:

    Have any of you read Laurie Cookson “Our Wild Niche”. He offers a lot of complex ideas about animals and how they exist in the world, but one idea that I have been sitting with is how he translates evolution. He suggests that instead of it being defined as a self-selection process where beings are in a constant state of struggle constantly promoting themselves over others, it’s a self-enhancement process where they make themselves more valuable to the system. Cookson suggests that evolution then becomes more of a creative process rather than a struggle process.

    So, maybe it’s that we need to expand our definitions of evolution rather than always try to place one over the other.

  17. Kevin Behan says:

    I haven’t read his work but couldn’t agree more. From my reading of animal behavior there is not a competition within a realm of limited resources. Nature is a flow system and animals collectivize their actions in order to exploit its unlimited capacities. I believe that therefore nature is evolving in the direction of complexity, a networked-intelligence and that therefore it is purposive, but not that it is directed. This is why I take issue with the term random because it fails to identify the thermodynamic reality upon which nature evolves. Indeed very well said; “it’s a creative process rather than a struggle process.”

  18. Ben says:

    “It seems there is a soft tyranny creeping in whereby certain people become vilified and little by little the net will be widened to snare more and more who might dare to think outside the consensus.”

    While I stand by my judgment of Cesar’s techniques, I agree that this is a legitimate and serious concern.

    I would not be surprised in the slightest if your theory, or a variant of it, comes into the scientific “mainstream” eventually. For the past few years I’ve been studying the latest theories on consciousness and how it is generated, and nothing could make it more painfully clear how a reductive materialist approach is not always the right answer.

  19. Dogkart says:

    I’m looking to get a dog soon, but I live in a pretty small house with a very small yard. Do you have any suggestions as to what the best type of dog would be? I’ve been looking around, but would love some input! My contact is http://dogkart.in/.

  20. Kevin Behan says:

    I’m not very good at prescribing the right dog for someone other than the obvious bromides. However I have come to learn that it all boils down to chemistry and destiny so my only advice is to follow your heart.

  21. Skip Skipper says:

    The Latest Science. Is this where we’re headed?

    Anderson and his colleagues used optogenetics to produce a video dramatizing the love-hate tensions deep within rodents. It shows a male mouse doing what comes naturally, mating with a female, until the Caltech researchers switch on the light, at which instant the murine lothario flies into a rage. When the light is on, even a mild-mannered male mouse can be induced to attack whatever target happens to be nearby—his reproductive partner, another male mouse, a castrated male (normally not perceived as a threat), or, most improbably, a rubber glove dropped into the cage.

    “Activating these neurons with optogenetic techniques is sufficient to activate aggressive behavior not only toward appropriate targets like another male mouse but also toward inappropriate targets, like females and even inanimate objects,” Anderson says. Conversely, researchers can inhibit these neurons in the middle of a fight by turning the light off, he says: “You can stop the fight dead in its tracks.”

  22. cliff says:

    Cesar is like a Christian who has swallowed the whole yarn: virgin birth, death/resurrection, etc., but still manages to do good works, believes in science, and basically, is mindful of the more positive teachings of that rabbi from Jerusalem. Wrong theory, but pretty good practice. NB: when a woman dots her “i”s with a heart, I reach for my revolver.

  23. Paula says:

    I think what everyone forgets is the dogs Cesar works with are already coming from a place where the behaviors are set in and in most cases serious. Not all dogs need the same techniques. Every dog is an individual and if the dogs he worked with didn’t need what he gave them I would hardly expect him to be called there in the first place. As someone who has ruined two dogs with “positive” training I can say that using what I interpreted from Cesar has saved my dogs’ lives. My dogs were not mean, however they were a danger to themselves. They were door bolters,leash wise, prey bolters, you name it. Any excuse to run full pelt down the road, after large animals or into the wilderness. I now understand and have a relationship like I’ve never had with them before, and unlike anything I have seen. (My one recently put herself between me and a bear we encountered on a walk.) They are now the best behaved dogs in my town, and I am deeply proud of them and myself. I know what my dogs are saying, I know what they need and I respect them for being who and what they are. And I never stop learning. The way Cesar explains things makes sense to me and I have seen the results for myself. And it all starts with the person behind the dog.

    I think where to draw the line of abuse vs correction comes to whether or not excessive force was used(per the individual dog)and whether or not a correction was justified. The level of the correction has to match the infraction, it is, also, the intent to harm or do malice esp out of anger or spite.
    I’d bet money that me stepping on the end of a long line as they bolted out the door would feel much better than being hit by a car or devoured by another animal. With added exercise I only needed to do this once. Now I only need say a word and they stop and wait for me. They are not stupid animals and had me trained for a long time on how they wanted me to use treats. It is my job to protect them, they don’t know any better, that’s why the humans are held responsible for their actions. My dogs are no less vivacious than they were before they just do so into channeled ways now, and how content they are now that I take care of all the stuff I should have been taking care of.

    What I interpreted for Cesar is that his definition of dominance and submission are not what the ‘mainstream’ definition is. The mainstream is being a bully for the sake of being a bully and making oneself feel superior to others by down trodding them. This is what most people associate with the word dominance.
    Then there is his, and my, definition that is leader for the benefit of the group, to keep everyone working together and from breaking up via little squabbles. The leader is the head, everyone else in the body, both are useless with out the other.

    Sorry Kevin Behan but the way you try to explain things does not work for me, don’t take it personally, everyone’s an individual. And when I try to work out the ‘positive’ methods of others, I realize a lot of them are ludicrous. An excellent, top trainer once said to me. ‘If it doesn’t make sense, don’t do it, cause how is the dog supposed to get it if you don’t.’ So I now follow my gut and be honest and direct with myself and my dogs. But, I too am an individual. I will make mistakes, and I have, and one of the things I like Cesar the most for is he does not guilt trip, or blame, when we make them, unlike these ‘positive’ trainers who will have you wallowing in guilt forever. Especially after they couldn’t help the dog you came to see them for and recommended putting down cause it was too hard for them to “deal with”. “I guess you should have done it the ‘right’ way to begin with.”

    Don’t forget other people also have different agendas. I have seen ‘positve’ trainers viciously attack Cesar because he is Mexican and could not possibly have a ‘real’ understanding of dogs.(?) There are also those who hate anyone with money or prestige. I have never seen Cesar attack any training method or individual because they were contrary to what he does.
    Just like the bible, everyone will interpret what he says and does differently. Everyone comes with certain preconceived baggage. How they deal with it is up to them. It takes the bigger person to open their mind and see what was really meant, most people are so stuck in ‘my way is the only right way, and everyone else is wrong, so they must be attacking me.’ But this gets us nowhere and does much more harm then good. I find it truly sad, and I mean this in the true definition of the word, that in what is supposed to be the age of knowledge and information some people continue to refuse to see things from others points of view.

    Some will attack and hate me for what I wrote here today, it would not be the first time and I hardly expect it to be that last. But this is my truth. I have seen it, felt it and been it, and I refuse to lie or say otherwise because others want it. If I’m not honest with myself then who can I be honest with? And if something does not work for me or an individual dog I try something else, I don’t ‘give them up for dead.’ some are going to misinterpret what I have said and apply their own person meaning, usually as a personal attack when none such was meant. The ego is no one’s friend.
    You wanted a debate, and I gave you my view. My dogs are the only ones I really need to listen to in this matter.I always understood them better then other humans anyway. Probably that whole ulterior motive thing. Dogs are straight up with you, humans. . . not so much.

  24. Kevin Behan says:

    I’m not sure if you’ve apprehended the essence of my article. I’m not a Cesar basher and certainly not a “positive” dog trainer as I believe the negative defines behavior not the other way around. However the negative has to be a catalyst for flow rather than order for the sake of order and it takes a lot of positives to grease the skids so that the negative is a catalyst for flow. I for one admire what Cesar has accomplished but not everything he teaches is correct. If there truly is a leader in a wolf pack, then there would be no need for training aids such as leashes, treats, electric collars, all of which Cesar employs if I am not mistaken. There also would not be a need to neuter male dogs as whole males are the rule in wolf packs and I have heard Cesar advocate for neutering which shouldn’t be necessary if there is a true leader concept driving a wolf pack and by extension dogs. My experience with dogs has shown me that if the language isn’t absolutely correct, when we get to the limits of our understanding, we will be limited by the language we’re using. This is why I turned away from the dominance language in the seventies because I could see its limits. If one would like to explore these limits one could do some advanced kind of training and then one finds that when a dog loses its capacity for independent action under duress just how dysfunctional limiting language can be on the trainer/dog relationship. What I don’t like about the Cesar bashers is that they try to discredit him personally rather than having the intellectual argument they claim to enjoy. This article is to show that Cesar is actually on firmer scientific ground than are the positive camp. Nevertheless, it all has to add p or nothing makes sense and so I strive to be on as solid a logical platform as I can be. Feel free to challenge any of my points (with specifics please) as I enjoy an intellectual argument.

  25. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Kevin, I am not able to translate all these quantum physics narratives. It’s a language that would take a lifetime for me to understand. I worked in the legal field for many years, and that is another language that one could find difficult to understand. So with that said, I have to keep it simple here. I get that you do not bash Cesar, and rightfully so. If I didn’t find out about him several years ago, I would not have known about a dog’s heart. Learning about a dog’s heart led me to NDT, and I am thankful for that. One of my wishes would be for you and Cesar to talk. Now that would be a debate, not an uncomfortable one though. I have a feeling you and he have been verbally attacked enough.

    One other point – the subject of neutering. There are just not enough responsible dog owners. I see on the internet everyday dogs lost – please help to find them. I lived in TN for 15 yrs., which is where I found my dog Rocky. I lived in the country and dogs ran loose most of the time. Either that or they were tied to a post with no shelter. I used to hear gunshots all the time, people shooting strays. I saw female dogs nursing their pups in the middle of the road, people whizzing by or running them over. I’ve also helped out at many, many shelters. I would get attached to a dog, and come in one day, and told its time had run out, and the next bunch would come in, and the cycle went on. Education is the obvious answer. But people can’t even control their own children, most times. At least, that’s my observation.

    I understand if you don’t respond. Just needed to get it out.

  26. Kevin Behan says:

    The quantum paradox which normally is seen as reserved for the microscopic realm, applies to the points you’ve raised relative to the paradox of responsible owners and neutering. In the quantum realm, one can’t know both the position and the momentum of a given particle at the same time. The very act of measuring forces the particle to conform to the nature of the measurement and limits what can be known. Reality conforms to the perspective of the observer. So if the argument is that responsible people should neuter their dog, and education is intended to raise the responsibility quotient of the dog owner, then why can’t responsible people not neuter their dog because they are responsible enough to train or confine their dog in an educated way? In the Northeast with strict animal enforcement dogs aren’t free to roam for long and there aren’t these free breeding populations of dogs that you’ve found in your region. People are held accountable by dog wardens. So if only irresponsible people are left, are we then to empower animal control officers to forcibly neuter dogs of such people? And then can neutered dogs run free? Finally, who is going to judge the responsibility of an owner—who is going to design and take the measurement?

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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