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celebrity animal trainers

Who would you let train your pet?

Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan are arguably the two most famous celebrity animal trainers in the world. But they do have different styles. So, who would you let train your pet?

Does your naughty pup need an intervention? If so, who would you hire? Victoria Stilwell takes a practical stance, where Cesar Millan prefers a more psychological method. Let's take a look at the key differences in their dog training approaches.

In this corner: Victoria Stilwell

In this corner: Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog, is a feisty Brit who prefers positive-reinforcement to dominance techniques. She uses treats or favorite toys as rewards for well-behaved pets. She coaches dogs into more positive behavior by rewarding them when they do as they're told. When they don't, there's no negative consequence (other than perhaps a firm scolding or a hand gesture). In fact, she's instructed some owners to actually ignore misbehaving pooches to avoid giving them the attention they're trying to get through the negative behavior.

In this corner: Cesar Millan

In this corner: Cesar Millan

Cesar Millan, on the other hand, uses a technique that takes advantage of theories of alpha-male dominance to establish himself and the owners as higher-ranking individuals in the pack. It makes sense, though a recent Time magazine article called "Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Dominance" does call his technique into question.

Millan uses dominance techniques like jabbing his finger into the dog or forcing a dog onto its back (forcing the dog to "admit" his dominant status) to correct behavior. To be clear, Millan doesn't abuse the animals. These are light jabs and flicks intended to cast him (and the owner) as the alpha of the pack. He considers himself a dog psychologist, rather than a trainer.

Taking off the gloves

While no one's arguing the results of either celebrity trainer, the debate among experts is about the validity of the science behind their techniques. Many experts believe that the science that Millan's techniques are based on is outdated and could do more harm than good by making dogs insecure, rather than really calming them down.

But dogs, at the end of the day, are dogs. Should we be trying to communicate with them on their level, as Millan does? After all, we're supposedly a species with superior intelligence. Do we need to just make ourselves a leader? Or do we need our animals to know we're the alpha?

Tell us

What do you think? Would you hire Stilwell or Millan? Tell us in the comments section below.

More on dog training

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How to train your dog
New puppy: Including the kids in puppy training

Photo credits: Apega/WENN.com, Johnny Louis/WENN.com

Tags: victoria stilwell


Comments on "Celebrity animal trainer face-off: Victoria Stilwell vs. Cesar Millan"

Karen March 26, 2014 | 12:27 PM

Both. They are both clearly knowledgeable in how to handle dogs and both methods work, depending on the dog's personality, issues, strengths and weaknesses. I have four dogs and work in dog rescue. From what I observe they are certainly pack animals. My four enjoy each others company, there is a hierarchy, they send each other signals with their behavior and I spend a great deal of time with them, observing this behavior. I have never seen Cesar Millan do anything I would consider cruel, and his dogs are not fearful and dying inside, as some say... they learn their place and become comfortable because they have structure and direction and their existence is more comfortable. That's evident in their behavior as they are rehabilitated. Each dog owner should do their homework and decide what will work best for their individual dogs needs, it's that simple.

mumei March 24, 2014 | 11:36 AM

I have watched both their shows for a long time (though I do not think It's Me or The Dog airs anymore). I like both of these trainers. There is not one right way to train or handle a dog. Different breeds, different problems, different solutions. I personally use a combination of either's techniques as well as other training advice. I believe there has to be positive and negative reinforcement. And that a dog should respect you as their leader, not just see you as a companion.

Kate March 23, 2014 | 2:46 PM

Cesar. !00%. I went and saw him live and he demonstrated in real time how quickly he was able to get a dog-aggressive pitbull under control on stage IN REAL TIME. I've seen my dog respond VERY well to his method of exercise discipline and affection. She needs rules, boundaries, and limitations. And will positive reinforcement work? Sure, but not if the dog is imbalanced. What I don't like about positive reinforcement is the humanization of the animal. This is a dog; its not a child. It's an animal that has very animal specific needs and we as humans cannot fullfill that with a clicker and a wedge of cheese. A dog needs to be a dog. Plain and simple.

Tdellert March 13, 2014 | 3:41 PM

Victoria only. Do not like Cesar. He is no phsychologist. Force is never the answer. Troubled dogs need more time , effort and love. They never need to be dominated. If you love your dogs it's an easy choice. You are not using your brain when you promote domination. Love your animals, pets, friends, companions, & family. Do you dominate your people also, be that family or friends. People that want to dominate have their own personal issues. They should never be pasted along to your animals. Love your pet enought to get the training you need to help them. Yes people need to be trained to train their dogs. Help with true love. Make the time if you want a great pet.

Deb March 13, 2014 | 3:00 AM

Grace, I'd rather see a dog being put down than Cesar ''fixing'' the problem by shutting down the dog and make it experience learned helplessness, taking no initiative anymore and being absolutely scared on the inside but too afraid to showing it (people with actual knowledge of dog behavior like vet behaviorists can see it though). That's fixing the problem for the owners because they no longer have to deal with the problematic behavior, but it's cruel for the dog who is dying from the inside.

Grace March 12, 2014 | 2:17 AM

Another vote for Cesar Millan here!! It's not so much the method being used. It's the attitude, true dedication, and persistence of the trainer. Cesar demonstrates passion, dedication and persistence --- all the while showing calmness and leadership. I highly doubt that Cesar Millan would recommend putting a dog down until he has exhausted all possible options. I don't think he would recommend ever putting a dog down, period!!!! Stillwell, on the other hand, has recommended putting their dogs down when she could not effectively resolve an aggression case. She just gave up on those dogs. Not much of a "special celebrity trainer" in my opinion. A smarter decision Stillwell completely failed to make --- call Cesar Millan before telling your clients to put their dogs to sleep!!! He can fix the problem!!!! Because you can't Stilwell!!

Marta Young March 07, 2014 | 2:14 PM

Your argument in the article that Ceasar's science is outdated misses the mark. Not only is the science outdated, but disproven. Dogs are not pack animals and do not have a 'pecking order' or structured hierarchy when in groups. Dogs do not make aggressive displays, nor do they touch each other punitively unless an actual fight is about to kick off. Dogs do not 'roll' each other to assert dominance. One dog may acquiesce by rolling on its back to show 'no harm', but the alpha roll and throat holds that Ceasar inflicts on dogs just would not happen between two dogs, either in a domestic or wild situation.

Deb March 07, 2014 | 1:29 AM

Not sure what to debate: Science has PROVEN positive reinforcement/non-confrontational methods are more effective than confrontational/punitive methods AND safer for dogs and humans. Research measuring stress (cortisol) levels also have proven dogs trained with confrontational methods/Cesar's methods, have significantly higer cortisol levels and show more signs of stress, than do dogs trained positively. Why in HELL use Cesar's outdated methods rather than evidence based methods? It's like debating whether the earth is flat or round.

Erica March 06, 2014 | 6:29 PM

Victoria. Because real science shows it works, and because we know how dogs think, and what approaches most quickly and effectively resolve those issues, particularly without causing secondary behaviour problems. I'm not sure why people think positive can't work with aggression and that tv word 'red zone' - I've worked with hundreds of dogs, most of whom were so severely aggressive I was their last chance - and all of which i've used positive methods with successfully. I often wonder how the Millan followers will feel when he comes completely away from the old dominance theory, further to all his training with positive trainers in recent years. Oh - and no, dogs are not humans. They aren't wolves either. (if compare the actual DNA structures, humans have a closer relationship to chimpanzees than domestic dogs do to wolves, so using the wolf theory is kind of like watching chimps to learn how to raise your children). Lastly, when there are thousands of ethologists, veterinary behaviourists, trainers etc etc etc who work exclusively with dogs who have issues, and all follow the same basic principles, versus the one guy on tv, I'm gonna go with the thousands of people who are right (and if you do your homework on who Millan is now learning from - guess what, he's starting to agree with them too!!!)

Randee February 28, 2014 | 5:00 PM

I think Cesar is a wonderful dog psychologist I have never seen him use any type of aggression that hurts the dogs in anyway yes he does a slight kick but he's not kicking the crap out of the dog the man has proved himself time and time again he has been in the room with some very aggressive miss behaving dogs but he gets in there shows them no fear and gets right down to what needs to be done and what is causing the problem he must be doing something right to have a pack of his own of at least 50 dogs and have them all so well behaved even when he brings in another dog for training they don't attack and show aggressiveness I wish people would lay off of him and just be glad he does what he does because of him taking time to train dog owners he stopping dogs from being put down due to aggression..Victoria on the other hand is a totally nut case who knows nothing about dog training she is incredibly stupid who the heck puts a voice command collar on a dog and goes in the other room to try and get the dog to listen to me that is a coward who is afraid to go around dogs and needs to find a new profession she is in the wrong one I can't stand the whole put the toy in the mouth take the toy out to me that is teasing a dog and just not right and it seems like everything she does revolves a treat that is wrong because every time you want the dog to do something there going to expect that treat in your hand and it is going to get to the point where they are not going to listen with out the treat she just doesn't have the compassion that Cesar has there is not connection there I feel like here show is phony and scripted and needs to be taken off the air

Hanna January 30, 2014 | 8:19 AM

Victoria. Cesar's methods are potentially dangerous in common man's hands. Choking, kicking, poking and straining a dog on it's side or back are just not natural behaviours in dogs, they don't do it to each other and they don't understand it. Why rule your dog with fear when you can avoid it.

Jared January 28, 2014 | 5:46 PM

I don't like how it says "alpha male" under Ceasar's approach. It's Alpha. Period. In the wolf world, Alphas can be either male or female.

Frank January 26, 2014 | 2:21 AM

Cesar. If you watch both shows, you will know who truly is the one that has that special unique connection with dogs and not. And for anyone calling Cesar, abusive and cruel, are obviously idiots. The guy is far from cruel and has handled far greater danger with dogs than victoria has

Jackson January 20, 2014 | 4:53 PM

Cesar trumps Victoria. Victoria doesn't seem to have that special connection with dogs that Cesar has. She just seems like a regular dog trainer to me. I understand positive reinforcement and praise, but not all dogs are in a state of mind (some are so far gone) to accept praise, rewards, and all that positive reinforcement stuff. Also, I don't like Victoria's "time-out" method of discipline. It seems passive-aggressive to me. Taking a Husky into another room and leaving him there for mouthing visitors doesn't seem brillIiant to me. Some dogs won't understand why they are being left in the room. The dog is supposed to guess why all of the sudden he is in another room getting the silent treatment? I prefer Cesar's more straightforward approach --- immediate correction and direct attention to the problem, right then and there. Just direct communication on the spot. I don't think Cesar Millan's methods are abusive. Abusive methods have anger and frustration behind them.

Art January 20, 2014 | 11:43 AM

Cesar all the way!

Jenna December 30, 2013 | 3:45 PM

I can't believe just how plain stupid people are when it comes to a dog's mind. They are NOT people and they do NOT think that way. The only reason why VS has any credit to some people is because they refuse to accept that their dogs are not humans like them. VS caters to the human mind and makes the owners feel good because human psychology makes sense to their human mind. I'm not saying her techniques don't have it's place, I'm just saying CM opens his mind up enough to understand how dogs think and work with them properly. Another thing people need to realize is that VS is a trainer, CM rehabilitates. VS will teach a dog what the human wants and hope the dog chooses to listen. CM heals the dogs damaged mind and brings them to a place where they can take in training and want to obey the human. When CM is accused of being abusive it's because he's working with a severe case that requires a firmer hand. If a happy go lucky calm and obedient dog walks up to you, you're probably going to pet it. Would you do the same if that dog was charging you and barking aggressively? All they nay sayers need to actually see what CM does and recognize that he also caters to extremely fearful nd abused dogs by building their trust and uses positive reinforcement when it's called for.

Karin December 26, 2013 | 5:11 PM

Cesar. I have rottweilers (since they were pups) and with Victorias ways it just doesn't cut it with these type of dogs (there will always be rotties that are complete idiots and easy from day one). I know a guy who also has a rottie and goes by her methods and the dog is pure evil. One week with me and the dog would be fine. He asked why my rotties were so well behaved, I said I basically do what Cesar does and he thought that was too abusive, yet my rottweilers are very well behaved and happy!!! While his is uncontrolable. What people seem to forget is that Cesar works with the worst case senario dogs, once these dogs are out of the aggression zone all I have ever seen him do is praise the hell out of these dogs, even applauding and says that the owners have to do that aka positive reinforcement!!! I'm the biggest cheerleader on the planet when it comes to praising my dogs when they behave well and gotten strange looks from people, but at least my rottweilers don't attack animals and people. Cesar all the way!!!

Sara December 22, 2013 | 3:42 PM

I used to think Cesar's way was the way to go & I tend to still use his "shh" noise as an aversion for unwanted behavior, but I've found that a few years down the road, confrontational & punitive training methods I've used have actually CREATED resource guarding or mildly aggressive behavior in certain situations in one of my dogs. He still loves me & wants my attention as usual, but he gradually stopped trusting me with certain high value treats & such. I'm slowly rebuilding the trust & good behavior with positive reinforcement techniques & have done a ton of reading & the science is totally with Victoria's methods! She's not as popular because positive reinforcement isn't flashy enough & many people don't think it's a quick enough fix. Just because a fix is quick does't mean it's lasting! I have a coonhound I adopted last year who was SEVERELY abused & distrustful & I still have to work on resource guarding & trust a year later. It only takes 1 instance of punitive or dominance type corrections to make him distrust me for a week or longer.I have to retrain myself! Positive reinforcement training does not mean permissive of bad behavior! If you believe that, you really don't understand the actual method or the science behind dog behavior.

Rick December 04, 2013 | 8:20 PM

Ceaser. I've watched much of both trainers, and while I believe Victoria's methods have some validity, Ceaser fixes dogs with serious behavior problems. I've never seen abuse. Physical contact, yes, but not abuse. Ceaser seems to be more in touch with how the dogs brain really works, and is able to tap into it. Some dogs DO need firm discipline, while others may be able to be trained with different methods. It depends on the behavior problems and the dogs specific personality. I think both trainers have valid points and it's best to take the good from each trainer, and use the different methods from each trainer and see what works for you and your dog. I know I have. I've seen truly abused dogs. They want nothing to do with humans. They're very distrustful. And Ceaser on his show, has been able to take dogs, who do not trust humans, due to past abuse, and allow them to regain trust. Different methods for different scenario's. If Ceaser really abused dogs, do you really think his dogs would be so affectionate and trustful of him? His dogs are very well behaved and well well mannered. There has to be something said for that.

Danny November 21, 2013 | 7:36 AM

Cesar 100%. Victoria is too weak-minded, no dog respects her like they respect Cesar. It's all about respect in the animal world. Just watched Victoria's show featuring a boxer and the boxer jumped on top of her, licked her face...Cesar would never allow that to happen. That's not love, that's disrespect. Maybe hire Victoria if you want your dog to sit at your command, but hire Cesar if you want a balanced dog that loves you back through respect.

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