Obama's Dog Trainer Responds to Dog Whisperer's Claims

Cesar Millan says any dog pulling, tugging to the end of the leash, is in charge. He told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes:

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"If your dog doesn't learn to follow, you'll never have a disciplined pet."

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Cesar Millan

I argue Millan's theory, and I wrote about that in a blog post, Millan's Theory: It's Dog Crap.  But I am outside of the White House; I decided to go to the person who ought to know, she's been inside the White House, the Obama family dog trainer herself, Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz.

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Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz

So, I interviewed her (click here to listen) October 7. This was the first she had heard of Millan's claims. By then, Millan had appeared on several TV shows spouting off about the Obama's lack of leadership with their family pet.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz had every opportunity to growl back at Cesar, but she was restrained - though clearly questioned his "old-fashioned" approach.

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She told me the story of how she came to be Bo's trainer, and the techniques she used to train Bo (with the assistance of her African Gray parrot - a funny story). She also described what Bo knows. She maintains the Portuguese Water Dog can walk in a heal - if asked to do so. She also suggests that every time you take a dog out - the dog doesn't need to be in a perfect heal.

I believe Millan is making these statements solely to get media attention, you see, "coincidentally" he has a book which is about to be released. Sylvia-Stasiewicz has a book out, right now, "The Love that Dog Training Program.".And she's not making exploitative statements to sell books. She's also not dishing about the First Family, though she politely answered my questions,  She's talking about dog training. 

As it happens, "The Love That Dog Training Program" is the best dog training book that's crossed my desk in a very long time. It's easy to follow - with lots images (so you can see what she means). All are modern training methods, implementing today's technology (head halters, clickers), but still offering choices to owners. And everything Sylvia-Stasiewicz suggests is science-based.

Listen to my interview with Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, Bo Obama's dog trainer, here.


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  • From point 2:27 to point 2:52 in the Leslie Stahl interview with Cesar Millan, SHE asks CM the question re: Bo and CM answers the question. Any talk about Pres. Obama and former Pres. Bush is over within about 30 seconds!! The rest of the interview is about how he trains people to train dogs and is very interesting and informative. Your interview w/Bo's FORMER dog trainer and her new book would have been a good one too, if your obsession with criticizing CM hadn't kept coming through to spoil the focus on her. Just my opinion.

  • In reply to harpercollie:

    Well, interesting your focus on defending him....For the record, not only my obsession....animal welfare groups, the four primary groups of expert behaviorists and majority of dog trainers have the same issue(s) with Millan.Truth is, I am grateful for much of what he's done....but when he delivers inaccurate messages.

    It seems Millan has an obsession (or did last week) appearing on MANY shows ONLY pretty much to talk about the Bo leading the President issue. I used the "60 Minutes" example because it is readily available, and other topics were discussed (as you said), which I also have problems with....and others - like the program to enhance empathy of children using dogs - which I think are terrific.

    I talk to dog trainers all the time and never bring up Cesar....I am not obsessed with the dude. The next podcast to go up has to do with the Michael Vick dogs, and their fate (mostly pretty good) after the trial. No mention of Cesar.

    I am planning the next podcast now - unlikely an mention there are....I rarely talk about him on the air..but I will - and he needs to be called out on ideas he just makes up, or that were out of some 1948 dog training manual.

    Just my opinion.....Totally, do thank you for participating in the blog. I'm sure there's much more that we will agree upon than not. Or maybe you'll just enjoy like the video of the turtle agility.

  • In reply to harpercollie:

    I saw that interview and I really didn't see it as Cesar bashing anyone. He was simply asked a question and he answered it honestly. I thought the same thing when I saw Bo pulling Obama across the yard in that picture. My dogs don't always have to be in a perfect heel, but they are never allowed to drag me. They always have time to explore on our walks, but only when allowed to. I have 6-7 dogs in my house at a time and without learning from Cesar I would never have been able to do this.

  • In reply to harpercollie:

    You are taking what he said and adding your own connotations to it. He said the dog was "in charge" and how can you disagree with that? The dog is clearly in charge of his own walk, taking charge of the situation, and soforth. Wether that has anything to do with "dominance" I don't think Cesar said that, but if he did I would disagree. He is a tv personality and PR is everything, he probably wishes the Pres hired him instead, LOL

    That photo does show a lack of discipline, no dog should ever be pulling, and yes they should be at a heel (as in the heel of your left foot) all the time, at least while they're still in training. It's not making this trainer's training look good when the dog is clearly (from the photo, and other things I've seen vid of the dog jumping etc) not trained. But of course clients don't always keep up with training on their own very well :-) I always remember my dogs are a representation of my "product" so I hope my clients don't let their dogs do this on the street and then say I trained them!

  • In reply to harpercollie:

    By the way, did anyone see First Lady Michelle's tour of the White House with Oprah ? Bo ran up to them at the start of the tour and Mrs. Obama was definitely in charge, not Bo. When she said "sit", Bo sat. I thought he behaved pretty well for a young dog.

  • In reply to harpercollie:

    Aha - I did not see that - so does that mean the dog is in charge? Of course not.

    This dog is also let out in the yard to pee ....so he only goes out on a leash, you can't have him heal all the time - that's not right.

  • In reply to SteveDale:

    Mrs. Obama was clearly in charge of Bo at least in the Oprah video (January 2010, White House tour). And why isn't it right to ask a dog to "heel" whenever you want him to heel? There's the formal AKC Obedience "heel" with the dog on the handler's left side - dog's right front leg lined up with handler's left leg. There's the informal "approximate heel" with the dog on the left, close enough to the handler that they can walk easily together, there's the "walking on a LOOSE lead" on the left or the right side. All of these commands can and should be taught. You can always "release" the dog from the heel or side position for sniffing, marking, whatever. The point is, THE HANDLER decides when that is, NOT the dog.

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