How not to train a rottweiler

Watch this video from Cesar Millan aka The Dog Whisperer and his method to stop a rottweiler’s protective behavior. Then read our take on it.

We like and respect Cesar Millan, he’s done a lot of good for dogs by promoting owner leadership and implementing corrections when necessary. To do so in the public eye these days takes courage, as any form of discipline is met with harsh criticism from the far left. However in this case Cesar drops the ball.

First, we like protective behavior from our dogs when it’s justified. A stranger approaching your personal space (car) while you’re distracted (driving) is met with an alarm/warning (dog is not overly aggressive), that’s a good dog. In terms of liability, this dog is not looking to bite as long as the intruder doesn’t escalate/engage. Once a dog has alerted in this manner it’s unlikely an innocent person would provoke the dog further, they would back off. A person who would provoke the dog to bite would be someone who wants to cause you harm and the dog’s reaction would be justified. What rottweiler owner would not praise their dog for this behavior if their car is approached by a panhandler while stopped at a red light? If you don’t want this behavior why would you own a rottweiler in the first place? A rottweiler is meant to be a protective dog. If you don’t want this a Labrador is a better choice, although some exceptional individuals of this breed may have guarding behavior too.

That said there are cases where protective behavior does need to be stopped, such as when the dog is overly aggressive. And that’s really what this article is about, because Cesar’s approach is wrong. A dog can’t be bribed with food and distracted forever. Who wants to carry dog food around at all times? How fast can you reach for food once the dog initiates the behavior? Food will only distract the dog when the food value is more than the value of the behavior itself. Guarding behavior is self rewarding to the dog. When threat escalates the protective behavior intensifies, at some point food will no longer distract the dog. So what is Cesar really achieving here? A temporary behavior change, a show for the cameras and adoring ignorant fans. Not even a seed has been planted to correct the “unwanted” behavior.

So how to really fix it? The dog must obey his owner. The owner should have clearly defined parameters for what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior, and be ready to move in and correct the dog. If the relationship between owner and dog is good and the dog respects the owners authority, a “stop” command will be enough to let the dog know the behavior will not be tolerated. If the dog’s drive is high and the command is ignored a stronger correction will be required. Respect for the owners authority is achieved through obedience training, see this article Training Rottweilers, The Koehler Method. There are no shortcuts, no magic, no “dog whispering”, just honest work and effort with no food or toys involved.

Cesar is experienced enough to know better so why did he choose the wrong approach? Because changing a powerful dog’s mind, permanently and in his daily environment, must be done by the owner. The owner needs to be intelligent, have critical thinking, be balanced psychologically and have the physical ability to handle the dog. It takes time to build this tool-set. Cesar probably identified the rottweiler’s owner as someone who would not be able to do all that. There’s a half hour TV show to be made and time is of the essence. Superficially, broadcasting this video is not a big deal, with this particular dog who’s not serious (at this point), and achieving a temporary change in behavior. But to offer this method as a blanket solution for aggression, as naive viewers are bound to embrace it, is dangerous and irresponsible.