I just finished reading the first dog training book by Cesar Millan: Cesar's Rules‐Your way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog. This is his first dog training book as his other four books before that dealt with understanding the behavior and psychology of dogs and how to be a good pack leader to our furry companions.
I am a dog trainer myself and constantly read some book on dog training or behavior as I personally like to always learn more, understand different philosophies and approaches and increase my own knowledge. I have to say that this book was a refreshing difference from many other dog training books I've read over the years as it incorporates the views and approaches of not only Cesar Millan but also 10 other dog trainers; some with very different philosophies. The book is written in clear English anyone can understand. It is a valuable resource for every dog owner and a great reference for any trainer. Seeing all this expert knowledge combined in one book when some of these trainers clearly see things very differently from Cesar Millan is a wonderful example of diverse people setting aside their professional differences to come together to help dogs and their owners; this is what dog training should always be about in my view.
All dogs are different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach in dog training. Every dog requires a slightly different approach and this book truly captures this reality by providing the reader with a wide variety of approaches and recommendations that will allow making an educated decision on what is best for your dog and have a tool set and reference guide to get to work.
The trainers who collaborated in this book are Cesar Millan, Robert Bailey, Bonnie Brown-Cali, Patrick Burns, Martin Deeley, Barbara De Groodt, Ian Dunbar, Mark Harden, Kateena Jones, Joel Silverman, Jerome Steward and Kirk Turner.
The book starts off by providing an interesting overview on the evolution of dog training and outlines the differences between training dogs and training ourselves. Cesar Millan also uses a very neat background story around his Emmy appearance a couple of years ago where he rollerbladed on stage with a pack of untrained but balanced pit bulls to explain the important but often misunderstood difference between balance and training.
Following that is a detailed explanation of how dogs learn and a good summary of the meaning, purpose and importance of operant conditioning including all of its 4 components; dog trainers call this The Quadrant (use it to quiz your own dog trainer if you like‐he/she should know it‐otherwise get a new trainer). Cesar also briefly reviews the American Kennel Club (AKC) dog groupings. As they are based on the physical attributes and abilities of dogs, understanding them is quite important for every dog owner when devising a training approach. I.e. if you have herding breed dog, you need to take that into account for his exercise requirements. We also learn more about the most important behaviors owners are looking for their dogs to learn and see an interesting breakdown of the methods Cesar Millan has used himself on his Dog Whisper show in the last 6 years. I think some people will be very surprised to see the statistics on this, as they are very different from what most of Cesar's critics claim. It's hard to argue with facts.
Cesar Millan of course also briefly reviews his philosophies of exercise, discipline and affection; rules, boundaries and limitations and the importance of calm-assertive leadership. For those who have read his previous books, which went into these concepts in great detail, this will be just a quick reminder (it's fairly short in this book). For those new to the subject, it will provide a quick-start guide but it might make you interested in exploring it in greater depth later on. Parts of this segment are also the rules the book was named after by the publisher and in case you are wondering how many rules there are; it's 10 and they are good rules.
Next, Cesar Millan works with Mark Harden, a movie dog trainer in Hollywood of over 30 years and he guides us through Mark's approach of training reliable movie performance in dogs. The casual way the training is outlined is informative, entertaining and educational and like the entire book a good read. If you want to know how they get dogs to do the things we see in movies, this chapter will especially interest you. I will give away as much as that it involves a lot of patience, hard work and repetition. Reading what it takes for a professional movie dog trainer to get the performance he needs from his dogs on the set, is what we all need to keep in mind if our dogs don't follow right away after we repeated an exercise a dozen times.
The next chapter discusses off leash training methods and who better to work with for that than Ian Dunbar. Interestingly enough, Mr. Dunbar used to be very opposed to Cesar Millan's approach and some disagreements remain I took it but my respects to Cesar Millan for trying to convince Ian Dunbar to participate in this project and for Ian Dunbar to agree. Two professional opposites coming together for the good of dogs and owners is a wonderful thing and I have heard Ian Dunbar in a radio interview praising the book overall as very good. The segment is interesting from the perspective of training a balanced dog but I personally would have liked to hear more from Ian Dunbar on no-touch approaches on dealing with aggression in dogs; a field he is an expert in. This is not really fair, as it is not his book and he doesn't control the content but I think a couple of pages on that would have been a good addition (it's probably the dog trainer in me).
The book continues with step-by-step instructions on teaching basic obedience commands from all the different training angles described in the book. For all of the following behaviors you'll read how the different trainers teach them so you can pick what works best for your own dog:
The Walk: This section is dedicated on learning how to walk a dog correctly and also provides a solid review of all important training collars with their pros and cons so you can make an informed decision for you and your dog.
Coming When Called: This is the most important thing to most dog owners and you learn 2 great ways to teach this behavior.
The Sit: This section teaches 6 different ways to teach your dog to sit on command.
The Down: This section teaches 3 different ways to teach your dog to lie down on command.
The Stay: This section teaches 3 different ways to teach your dog to stay and doesn't miss to include the equally important release command.
The Stand: This section teaches 3 different ways to teach your dog to stand on command.
The book concludes with a fascinating look at the truly amazing instincts dogs have. You learn about dogs that are being trained to sniff out cancer to work as an early warning system for cancer detection in people and you get some important insights into protection dogs as well. The last 5 pages are great references for further reading.
Overall this is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to all dog owners who want to learn how to teach their dogs better and all dog trainers who want to broaden their horizon. It is easy to read and understand and your dog will thank you for it.
If Your Dog Could Talk is a "straight-forward" guide to understanding your dog.
If you ever wonder what your dog is thinking, this book is for you. Dive inside your dog's mind and read in plain English how your dog sees the world and you—its pack.
Learn what it means to be a dog and how dogs relate to other animals and the people around them.
Understand how dogs learn, how their minds function and the foundation of all dog training and behavior modification.
If Your Dog Could Talk helps you understand your dog like never before!
Ralf Weber is a certified dog trainer (IACP CDT) and behaviorist. A professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and an AKC evaluator for Puppy S.T.A.R., Canine Good Citizen, and Community Canine certifications.