Cesar Millan Gives Us Some of His Most Surprising & Effective Dog-Training Tips

Let’s be real. Cesar Millan has the magic touch. It almost seems wrong to call him just a “dog behaviorist” or “pet trainer” because the guy is seriously on another level — and his reputation as the Dog Whisperer is well-earned. Suffice it to say, if Millan is giving you tips on how to whip your dog’s bad habits into shape, you’d better take his advice to heart.

We chatted with Cesar Millan to ask him some of our most pressing dog-training questions, and his answers delivered some solid advice.

Image: Becci Collins/SheKnows

Dog owners make training mistakes

SheKnows: What is the biggest mistake that pet owners make with their dogs?

Cesar Millan: The most common mistake I see is not following what I call the fulfillment formula — that is, exercise, discipline then affection. We tend to give affection, affection, affection and this creates unstable dogs and bad behavior because then you have trouble earning your dog’s trust, respect and loyalty.

Dog training formula: Exercise, discipline and affection

SK: How can owners instill discipline in their dogs, other than the usual “sit” and “stay” commands?

CM: This is about leadership and energy. Most training seeks to teach dogs how to obey commands, while my philosophy is more about rehabilitation through exercise, discipline and affection. A dog may be very well-trained and still be unbalanced, just as a balanced dog may not be trained. We need to start with the principles before we can get to the techniques (training methods) and that is how we achieve a positive outcome (good behavior).

Lead your dogs by example

SK: What if a dog receives one or two walks a day and still misbehaves?

CM: The walk is exercise and that’s great — but that’s only part of the formula. Dogs need discipline too — this is where rules, boundaries and limitations come in. Leadership is about showing the dogs — through your actions and energy — what you expect of them. Remember that you have to be consistent. If you break the rules, they will too!

More: How to Care for Your Dog’s Teeth at Any Age

Be a strong pack leader

SK: And what if a dog is constantly destroying the house?

CM: The dog is trying to tell you something! Either he’s not getting enough exercise to drain his energy, he’s bored and understimulated, or you are not being as calm and assertive a pack leader as you need to be. The reality is that most people have to go to work and leave their dogs alone for several hours a day. So you need to get the dog, right from puppyhood, used to that reality so the dog gets used to being alone without exerting frustration.

Walk dogs into calm

SK: What can dog owners do to reduce the likelihood their dogs will misbehave when the dogs are left alone in the house?

CM: It helps to start the day with a good, fast walk. And that’s not a walk where the dog is peeing on every tree and barking at every other dog on the street… which will just put him in an excited state. Then when you lock him up inside the house with that kind of energy, he’s more likely to be destructive. You want him in a calm, submissive state and a brisk walk, run or bike ride is the best way to achieve that.

Also, find activities that stimulate his mind and challenge him, like search-and-rescue activities. Try a treat ball or a Kong toy, have him wear a backpack on the walk, go for a pack walk with your neighbors and their dogs, or play a game with him, even for 10 minutes before you leave the house, that challenges him to use his nose.

It’s very important to analyze your own emotions and feelings. Are you trying to get away from something? How do you feel about your relationships? Remember that dogs are a reflection of us, so when we work with them, we are also working on ourselves.

Next Up: Dogs are mean — or are they?

Originally published November 2010. Updated May 2017.

Dogs are mean — or are they?

SK: Are some dogs inherently aggressive?

CM: All dogs can become aggressive, but the difference between an aggressive Chihuahua and an aggressive pit bull is that the pit bull can do more damage. That’s why it’s important to make sure you are 100 percent ready for the responsibility if you own a “power” breed, like a pit bull, German shepherd or rottweiler. Often we blame the breed, but in my opinion, it’s not the breed, it’s the owner. The owner has to be the pack leader and provide exercise, discipline, then affection. If you do that, you’ll have a sweet, loving, and balanced dog — no matter what breed!

More: Why Bone Broth Is a Healthy Diet Choice for Some Dogs

Puppy mills lead to problem dogs

SK: Can you comment on the problem with puppy mills?

CM: Puppy mills — breeding without consciousness — often result in dogs that are wired wrong, with neurological problems due to the devastating breeding and living conditions they are in. We need more awareness on this to change the situation. It’s important to note that aggression isn’t the problem. It’s the outcome of a problem.

No bad dogs, only bad dog-owners

SK: Have you ever worked with a dog whose behaviors you could not change?

CM: No, but I’ve worked with humans who I could not change. In many of the red-zone cases I see, the human is missing the fundamentals and not fulfilling the dog’s needs. They are not loving to the highest degree because this takes putting the dog’s needs first — and doing what you need to in order to earn the dog’s trust, respect and loyalty by providing leadership through rules, boundaries and limitations. Once those principles are mastered, the techniques can be applied and a better outcome achieved.

Tips to improve your dog’s behavior

SK: What’s one action that pet owners can take that will improve their dogs’ behavior?

CM: Dogs have found themselves in an odd predicament by living with humans. In the wild, dogs don’t need humans to achieve balance. They have a pack leader, work for food and travel with the pack. When we bring them into our world, we need to help them achieve balance by fulfilling their needs as nature intended. This takes exercise and discipline before affection, and always maintaining your calm, assertive pack leadership.

The best ways to manage your dog’s behavior:

  1. Create a schedule that includes a daily 30- to 45-minute power-walk in the morning, at the very least. This is critical for your dog’s health, both physical and mental.
  2. Set aside time every day to provide mental exercise by maintaining rules, boundaries and limitations. When these needs are met, the affection you give to your dog will be channeled as a reward.
  3. Always walk out the door ahead of your dog when leaving the house. This will show your dog who is in the leadership role. On walks, make sure that your dog is not in front of you, pulling you down the street. Instead, keep your dog to your side or behind you. This will also demonstrate to your dog that you are the alpha figure.
  4. Give your dog something to do before you share food, water, toys or affection. This way the dog earns his treat. For example, have him or her perform the “sit” or “down” command.
  5. Dogs seek attention from you. But by paying them that attention when they want it, you’re reinforcing the bad or hyperactive or anxious behavior that you’re trying to avoid. Practice — no touch, no talk, no eye contact — and see how you fare. You might be surprised at how quickly the dog settles down and looks to you as his pack leader for direction.

More from Cesar Millan

Becoming a pack leader: Sample clip from Becoming a Pack Leader, the second entry in Cesar Millan’s 3-disc Mastering Leadership series, a hands-on demonstration guide to honing pack leadership skills.