Cesar Millan has been a household name since he landed his first cable show in 2004, but controversy has followed him in the years since. Groups ranging from animal rights organizations to other dog trainers have challenged him, claiming that his techniques are bogus and based on bad science, and there have been allegations that Millan is a fake dog whisperer.
Under Millan's training methods, a human shows dominance over their dogs as if they're the alpha in a wolf pack, even using displays of physical force. This reflects our old understanding of wolves - that a pack's leadership is always in flux as wolves challenge each other for the alpha position. But a lot of recent research contradicts those ideas.
These controversial theories have resulted in allegations of animal cruelty against Millan. The National Geographic network also began issuing an on-screen disclaimer during Millan's show, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan: “Do not attempt these techniques yourself without consulting a professional.”
Cesar Millan bases much of his training techniques on the idea of dominance theory. According to dominance theory, a dog's human owner should display power over the animal to become the alpha leader, stemming from an old understanding of leadership in wolf packs.
However, many behavior experts and dog trainers dispute this theory, claiming it's based in debunked science.
On Cesar Millan's blog Cesar's Way, a post titled "Science catches up to Cesar" by Jon Bastian highlighted a study in which European researchers used GPS to track the movements of six vizslas over 14 long walks.
"Dogs that led more often had higher dominance ranks in everyday situations, assessed by a dominance questionnaire," the study found. Still, researchers conceded that "there is still much debate as to whether groups of domestic dogs have a social hierarchy."
Cesar Millan's training style has come into some criticism. According to Nicholas Dodman, a dog behaviorist and professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Millan is abusive. Others have pointed out that Millan carries no medical or behavioral psychology credentials to legitimize his theories.
In 2008, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior advocated against the use of punishment when training dogs - like Millan's methods of pulling on a dog's collar, forcing the animal onto its back, or poking it in the stomach - except in specific circumstances.
On his show, Cesar Millan often trains a dog by poking it in the stomach or pinning it to the floor and grabbing it by the neck, claiming he's asserting his dominance over the creature. However, many behavioral experts and trainers state that the fear Millan sometimes instills in dogs is actually harmful.
According to a 2009 paper in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, efforts to establish dominance can actually make a dog more aggressive.