Down, Dog Whisperer!

Via Neil Sattin
on May 25, 2010
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The below comes via a twitter and then email conversation I had with Neil as a result of my post relating questions and criticisms some dog trainers have regarding my hero, Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.” It’s published with permission and thanks. ~ ed.

I saw your post on the Dog Whisperer–pondering his philosophy and the alternatives that exist.

Your post does a great job of highlighting the conundrum of what happens when people focused solely on positive reinforcement see someone such as yourself offering praise for Cesar Milan–suddenly you get a whole lot of “negative reinforcement” coming your way! While I myself am not an advocate for Cesar’s techniques, as someone who promotes an alternative, I have certainly experienced a surprising amount of “negative” coming from otherwise positive-oriented people.

I’m writing because it seemed that you were, indeed, looking for alternatives.  The way that I train is based on a dog’s emotional experience of the world, teaching people how to attract and resolve their dog’s emotional energy particularly in energized moments (which are also, generally, the moments when we most want our dogs to respond to us).  I show people how to tap into their dog’s hunting drive–which is essentially the healthy outlet that “nature” gave dogs for releasing energy (and pent-up stress).  A good description of it (particularly in relationship to Cesar Milan’s methods) is here.

I also write a little bit about how what I do is different from Cesar in my FAQ.

I think that the problem with arguing about who’s “wrong” or “right”, particularly in the realm of behavior, is that it’s sometimes hard to argue with “I tried these methods for myself, and they worked.”  That seems to have been your experience with Cesar’s methods, right?  Many people succeed with his methods–and many people also don’t (they are, as you rightly stated, based essentially on an “old” theory about dominance being a driver of doggie behavior).  Many people also succeed as strictly positive trainers–though there are also many who don’t get quite what they’re after here too.  The real problem is:  What do you do when what you’re trying doesn’t work!?

I myself found that neither approach worked when I was trying to help my dog deal with aggression issues towards other dogs, which is what led me to, Natural Dog Training (the philosophy on which my training method is based) in the first place.  Note that I didn’t invent it (it was created by Kevin Behan, who was looking for something to bridge the gap between dominance theory and positive training regimens).  I apprenticed with him, experienced an enormous transformation in my dog’s behavior, and subsequently started my website (initially simply as a resource to the clients I was working with here in Maine).  Well, as you know, websites have more than a local reach, and the rest is history.  This past summer I released a DVD set that teaches people how to do exactly what I do.  Much of that is already on my website in written form, but I had enough requests for video instruction that I had the DVD set produced.

I’m really just hoping this information would be helpful for elephant in your quest for “alternatives”. If you are looking for more to read–here’s a thread on the forum at dogwise where some people were asking questions about the particulars of “pushing” (one of the fundamental techniques that I teach), and you can see first-hand how I was the recipient of some negative reinforcement.  Needless to say, it didn’t change my behavior!

Please check out the trailer for my instructional DVD set, Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals –

Neil Sattin, the author of is one of the nation’s leading experts in Natural Dog Training. Neil began studying Natural Dog Training through an apprenticeship with Kevin Behan, after being told by a prominent trainer that his beloved rescue dog Nola should be euthanized because of her aggression. He witnessed an amazing turnaround with his own dog, and in the many years since then has helped countless other people effect similar transformations using the techniques of Natural Dog Training. Along with helping dogs, Neil Sattin specializes in guiding dog owners to create change in their own habits and mindset, so they can effectively change whatever they do that is contributing to the issues they’re experiencing with their dogs. Neil produced the 2-DVD set “Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals” – the only complete video instruction available to learn Natural Dog Training techniques at home.  He also designed an ultra-long, ultra-durable, high-visibility training lead, giving people the freedom to train and play with their dogs while maintaining total control.  Neil also maintains a forum on, where people from around the world gather to discuss their experiences with Natural Dog Training. Neil Sattin lives outside of Portland, Maine with his wife, two children, three cats, and of course his dog Nola.


About Neil Sattin

Neil Sattin is a father, husband, educator, dog trainer, coach, musician, friend and physical comedian. Neil is also one of the nation's leading experts in Natural Dog Training, a method that utilizes a dog's emotional awareness of the world to resolve problem behaviors and elicit obedience. He is the author and creator of the Natural Dog Blog. In 2009 he released a 2 DVD set, Natural Dog Training: The Fundmentals. Neil also recently published the online course "How to Speak So Your Dog Will Listen" in partnership with DailyOM. A member of the founding coaching certification class of the Robbins-Madanes Center for Strategic Intervention, he also coaches and writes about relationships and personal development at his eponymous site.


5 Responses to “Down, Dog Whisperer!”

  1. swati jr* says:

    so awesome! thank you. i appreciate dialogue about dominance behavior techniques. the same model is being used in the human world. and look at the mess we're in emotionally, psychologically, etc. canines our such a gift and are our best teachers.

  2. Jenny says:

    Thanks, Neil, and Elephant Journal, for opening up this discussion.

    How I work with animals and their people is closer to Neil and Kevin than to Cesar.

    I take a yoga-based strategy, which is definitely a work in progress, that draws on my experiences working with horses, dogs, and people and that I have a scientific and statistical background.

    Rather than asking people in families to become quasi-pack animals, I think it's more helpful to consider 'the multi-species household'. If you aren't a domineering person, why should you become one to your dog (or horse)? Isn't there a way that there can be some communication that respects each participant in the relationship for what they are? That's the question that I keep asking.

    My own background is that of a cross-over trainer, once used dominance methods (puppy rollovers, leash corrections, etc.) and when I started to instruct people on how to train their own service dogs, became a clicker trainer ( I worked with the local Handi-Dogs for 5 years doing that).

    I like the clicker because the communication can be very clear and most dogs and horses appreciate that clarity. People tend to be less clear than the critters do, which is where the yoga comes in. I try to help people be in the moment with their critter companion just as it is, and we go from there. Being clear with expectations, and focusing on the dog's actions, and not making up stories about why they do what they do can go a long way to coming to more of a mutual understanding. It's this 'making up of stories' where I really depart from what Cesar does and how he acts with the dogs that come to him. Why they do what they do is up to the critter. We can theorize, but it's all theory. Why not just work with the actions?

    Even though I do like the clicker as as communication tool, it's just that for me – a communication device. Once a person begins to learn more subtle and connected forms of communication, the clicker can be used for learning fun and unusual tricks, but it becomes only one of many available forms of communication.

    Yoga-wise, I follow the 'pancamaya' model, viewing beings from a 5-dimensional perspective. (my own blogs explore that, if you want to check them out (, and

    Ultimately, I'm not comfortable with being with my animal companions in a manner of having to be the boss, to be dominant, or even as being the treat dispenser. I'm curious about them just as they are, and am constantly exploring how to reconcile these relationships within our wider social structure.

  3. It’s Bush’s fault

  4. Essie Almario says:

    It’s Bush’s fault

  5. kenny kings says:

    I like using hand commands for my dogs, clicker is a good tool, but I like to be more personal with training