Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dog, Pit Bull, Trinity: Did Cesar Erase the Aggression?

I've watched Cesar's show on NGC for years. While I don't subscribe to most of his techniques, I'll admit, they make for good television. After his most recent, hour-long episode involving pit bulls, Trinity and Sandi, and owners, Monica and Justin, I wanted to comment.

For those who missed the episode,
I'll summarize it...

Monica and Justin have two female pit bulls, Trinity and Sandi, both 2-2.5 yrs of age. The girls used to get along, until one day, they did not. After a number of blood-drawing fights, the owners separate the dogs full-time. They buy a new home that enables them to separate the dogs more easily. The dogs sleep in separate crates and have separate yards. The routine they establish is working and there isn't a fight for months.

They contact Cesar because they want the dogs to get along and play together like they used to. Cesar meets the dogs and determines Trinity is the one in need of reform which can only be accomplished at the center. After 2 months at the compound, Cesar is ready to reintroduce Monica and Justin to a reformed Trinity. They meet in the hills at the site of Cesar's future dog psychology center. Cesar has a pack of his dogs running loose along with Trinity when Monica and Justin arrive. As soon as they exit their car and Trinity realizes her people are there, she grabs onto another pit bull. This starts a chain reaction among the other pit bulls in the pack and several other fights ensue. Cesar and crew manage to get everyone separated.

The incident prompts Cesar to offer Monica and Justin a trade -- he suggests they leave Trinity with him for life and take one of the other dogs in his pack. While Cesar, Monica and Justin are discussing the offer in a cramped trailer, Trinity latches onto Daddy. Cesar manages to separate the dogs and expresses his concern about Monica and Justin's ability to own a dog like her.
Monica and Justin decide to think about Cesar's offer. They do some fitness and stop smoking in an effort to be stronger pack leaders. Final footage shows Trinity and Sandi hiking off-leash and drinking out of the same hose together.

My Thoughts...

There are several scenes of dogs fighting in this episode that are replayed, ad nauseum, with warnings attached. Do we need this visual repeated over and over to know how awful it is? And, where were the breaksticks? The quickest way to end a pit bull fight with the least amount of damage to the dogs is to use breaksticks.

Cesar attributes the fights to Monica and Justin's 'energy.' Then he suggests they aren't fit to own such a powerful dog and, with no apparent concern for their feelings or attachment to their pet, offers to trade them one of his for one of theirs. People appeal to him for help in the first place because they want to keep their pets, not trade them in.

Cesar infers that all dogs can live peacefully in packs with a human pack leader in charge. He suggests that dogs will follow their natural canine instincts to be part of a pack over their breed hard-wiring. This may work at the dog-psychology center when Cesar's there to administer corrections with military precision, but what about when he's out of the office?

Suggesting that two dogs who've previously fought can snuggle and play together is not possible without constant, expert supervision and, even then, it may not be possible. And, to think Trinity's dog-aggression was 'erased' by hanging out in Cesar's garage with a non-threatening puppy and several tiny, terrified dogs is ludicrous. Hard-wiring can not be loved, trained or socialized out of a dog. Just as the instinct to herd is strong in Collies and the drive to fetch is high in Retrievers, the instinct to scrap with other dogs is ever-present in terriers. To ignore or downplay this fact does a disservice to the dogs and sets them up to fail.

Cesar does promote daily exercise as well as setting rules, boundaries and limitations. And, while Cesar doesn't claim to be a dog-trainer, much of what he does relies on the dogs' responding to basic obedience commands, so he is indirectly promoting good obedience. And, he's begun promoting spay/neuter! These practices are truly the core of developing a healthy bond between dog and owner.

In the end, Justin and Monica remain committed to their dog and refuse Cesar's offer to trade in Trinity for a less-powerful model. This couple is a great example of what responsible dog-ownership is all about. I hope they realize they were fine before they met Cesar and will continue to be capable owners and leaders for Trinity and Sandi.

~ Sanya


EmilyS said...

I'm not in the "hate Cesar" crowd, but this episode was horrific. The couple had developed the perfect crate/rotate system. All Cesar should have done was enforce the correctness of what they were doing and assure them that not every dog can/should be expected to get along. And then give them some types on de-sensitizing the dogs to each other so at least they could be walked together at the same time (by different people).

Instead, because of the STUPID NOTION that dogs are always supposed to get along with each other, we had to witness freaking DISASTERS of pit bull fights. I really believe some dogs were hurt more than the show let on.

And poor Daddy, who appears to be the sweetest "cur" (I mean the "wouldn't attack another dog if it had a pork chop tied to its neck" type of pit bull) had to endure something he absolutely did not deserve at the hands of someone he trusts (I mean Cesar for putting him in that situation)

Ugh. Just ugh

Amanda4APS said...

Extremely interesting post. I wish there was a way to get in touch with the owners and assure them they did the right thing by staying committed to their dogs, and that they were doing the right thing in the first place with the crate/rotate scenario. And I bet it couldn't hurt to suggest they join some pit bull forums to learn even more about the breed they own, from REAL people that own them too. I do think Cesar is right in that we all need to be exercising our dogs more, as well as show strong leadership. But pit bull DA is part of the breed, and to 'trade in' a pit bull b/c of DA is like trading in an Aussie that is wanting to herd. Or a hound that won't quit sniffing! Come on!

Designing Hilary said...

I didn't see this particular episode although I do enjoy watching Cesar on NGC.

I agree with your position here. And I'm glad the couple chose to stick it out with both of their dogs.

We have a pit (Nino) and he used to get along with our Ebony, a Lab/Rott mix, for a couple of years. Then things changed and we had them live "separate lives." Unfortunately, because of the open architecture of our house, this meant they were on long chains. They had free running time outside, separately, and they were exercised separately.

Ebony came down with bone cancer and she passed away in December, but because we have two much loved cats, Nino remains restrained in the house. He's in the family room where we spend the majority of our time, and I work at home so he has a lot of company and interaction and he seems to be content with life.

Pits are what they are, and the same traits that make them fun-loving and good companions for active humans are what cause the social issues we have to contend with when they cross paths with other animals.

Personally, as much as I love our Nino, I feel this breed should just slowly fade away. As much as I appreciate and respect the breed, I feel all pits should be spayed and neutered. I'm angry at the proposed legislation that was presented at the Ohio state assembly calling for the mass extermination of all pit bulls (and thankfully I live in Texas) within the state, but I do agree with BSL that recognizes Pits have issues and humans have to address them.

We do not have a breaking stick. I read about them, but they strike me as something that requires training for proper use so that the animal is not hurt. I've had to break up a horrible fight between Ebony and Nino and my adrenaline was running so high I reacted on pure instinct. Using a breaking stick would NOT have been instinctual without training.

Although, I must admit, I did think of the concept ... it took me awhile to get control of 180 pounds of canine flesh in the throes of the fight. So I rammed my fist into Ebony's mouth to break her hold (yeah, it was the Lab/Rott who was getting the upper hand). I had to go to urgent care later because of several puncture wounds with the possibility of tendon damage, but luckily the tendons were untouched. Poor Ebbers had to spend 10 days at the vet under quarantine.

Sorry to go on so long, but you've brought up some excellent points! I'm bookmarking your blog. I found you from a Google alert on pit bulls.

Victoria said...

Wow, I can't believe no one has responded to that last comment. (Although maybe they just haven't been approved by the moderator yet...)

To say that pit bulls should "slowly fade away" seems antithetical to what most people who read this stand for. And to hear it from a pit bull owner seems all the more disheartening. All I can really say is that I disagree strongly! The animal aggression in pit bulls is something humans bred into them and, whoops, now we realize maybe we shouldn't have done that. Now we're called upon to deal with it as best we can, taking responsibility as a community.

Cesar's way of dealing with it is not the way I'd choose. But I'm not Cesar. Each dog owner must deal with dog aggression as it comes in a way that works for his or her particular situation. And everyone who brings a pit bull or other so-called "aggressive-type" dog into their homes must be prepared to deal with such a situation.

But to say that the pit bull breed should "slowly die out" is extreme and, to me, a shame.

Anonymous said...

The notion that pit bulls should "fade away" is indeed extreme. But the more important point is that it's entirely irrelevant, because it's not going to happen. Pit bulls are one of the most popular dogs in the country. Even if, hypothetically speaking, we could make them all disappear (and I wouldn't want that; there's no other breed with such a terrific personality), don't you think that lowlifes would find another breed to terrorize? The problem is dog fighting, not the dogs that are exploited as gambling tools. I have never witnessed two pit bulls fighting themselves just for kicks with other pit bulls standing around barking gleefully and clutching wads of cash in their paws.

Effective animal welfare doesn't operate in the realm of wishful thinking but in the realm of the pragmatic. So the options are: do nothing and watch the situation get worse, or do something, anything.

Amanda4APS said...

I agree with anonymous above, 100%. Actually, I was going to post the very point that if it weren't pit bulls, it would just be another breed down the line being targeted, back-yard bred, with behavior issues that become a part of their genetics.

Actually, this DOES happen in practically every breed, thanks to puppy mills and BYBs.

For one example, the once confident and regal German Shepherd has become an often fearful, anxiety-ridden breed.

Ugh, it all such a shame.

Anonymous said...

I think if the owners we're not a strong enough people to handle their dog they should have left the dog with Cesar. If you couldn't handle the dog, had to move to separate homes, separate crates and separate yards.... your not a pack leader. You are letting your animals control you. Also if you had the chance to let your dog go to a good home where he or she has the room to run and play and interact with other animals then why not let him live a good life. vs. Going back to a home where he has a separate yard, crate, house and will never get to interact with another dog.

Now you tell me if the owners made the right dicision!

Amy said...

In response to the comment above. Some dogs just don't like other dogs...period. Does that mean they should be subjected to other dogs? Maybe that dog is perfectly happy living a life with people only and sharing its people via separation. Cesar couldn't manage the dog either and we saw that on tape. How is what he could provide..better?

Elizabeth said...

I didn't think this episode was "horrific." In fact, I thought it was one of Cesar's best episodes. It taught me a lot about the breed and about red zone cases. Cesar didn't just use his smaller dogs and a puppy to rehabilitate Trinity. He used his entire pack of full-grown pit bulls and other breeds to rehabilitate her, plus his calm assertive energy. It was clear that Trinity got extremely excited when her owners arrived at Cesar's center, and as Cesar said, in red zone cases the least bit of excitement can send a red zone case over the edge and cause them to provoke a fight by going from excitement to dominance to aggression.

Given that at the time the owners visited the center, the owners' energy was primarily excitable and/or anxious energy, and given Cesar's experience with red zone cases, I thought Cesar's offer to exchange one of the lower energy dogs in his pack with Trinity was perfectly reasonable, given what Cesar was evaluating at the time. Cesar did not know that the owners were going to commit to going to yoga classes together and to quit smoking. None of that was known by Cesar at the time. That the owners wanted to think about it and later decided they wanted to work with Trinity was also perfectly understandable. Cesar fully supported their decision, and that was very clear from the TV show.

But it should be noted the humans, the owners, did vast rehabilitation of their own habits, by doing yoga consistently and quitting smoking, before Trinity went home to them and by working on their calm assertive energy. And still as Trinity went home to them it was clear they did not have the experience that Cesar had to ensure the dog does not go from excited to dominant to aggressive. But they were determined to make it work, and this determination, along with their truly changing their habits, and learning from Cesar, is what led to a successful reunion.

It is no life for two humans with two dogs that have to be to constantly be crated/rotated. That is two packs, not one pack. You want one pack. The fact that, with Cesar's leadership, these two owners were able to successfully integrate their dogs into one pack speaks volumes about Cesar's methods. I really admire Cesar and what he does.

It was clear that all dogs were given immediate veterinary attention after the fight and the show explicitly stated which dogs had stitches or treatment. Cesar was very upfront about this. They didn't have to show the footage of the dogs fighting, but I'm glad they did show it, for to me it was educational to see how a fighting mentality spread throughout the pack, and also how they broke up the fight.

Cesar didn't put Daddy in any "situation." A fight occurred in a trailer because Trinity was trying to protect her owner. The fight was stopped quickly and it isn't something Daddy is going to hold onto. If Cesar went around constantly anticipating the negative, that there were going to be fights, etc., he would never get the positive results you see him obtain. Trinity had been acting fine around his pack, including Daddy. Cesar has had many cases where dogs act up when the owners are reintroduced into the picture, but this isn't a constant, and there was no way of knowing whether or not Trinity would misbehave. I believe Cesar was giving Trinity the benefit of the doubt as well as the owner. I see nothing wrong with this. Cesar has years of experience dealing with this breed.

Cesar is a "real" person who owns pit bulls. Of course Trinity and Sandi's owners can get advice from other owners, but don't you see? They took Cesar's advice, worked on their calm assertive energy, worked on not exciting the dog (keeping its level of excitement low, thus lessening the likelihood of excitement leading to dominance leading to aggression), learned how to read their dogs' body language, and successfully took Cesar's advice and made their pack work, successfully integrating Trinity and Sandi.

Cesar commends them for wanting to work with their dog, a true red zone case, and for the owners not giving up. He did not try to talk them out of it. He left the decision in the owners' hands. It was clear to me that the owners had a LOT of work cut out for them. But they did the work. Cesar was the first to offer high praise to the owners. They succeeded. He did an entire episode on these two pit bulls. I thought it was one of his best episodes by far, and to me gave a lot of valuable insight into the breed, and into red zone cases in general regardless of breed.

I didn't see any exploitation here and I only saw people who all wanted what was best for Trinity. Luckily her owners were determined enough to see her rehabilitation through, because as Cesar said you can easily end up with a dead dog if you have two dogs that fight like that. But they took Cesar's advice to heart, they listened to him, and they ended up with a balanced pack. I felt that everyone who watched that episode was rooting for Trinity, her owners, and Cesar, all of whom were integral in leading to a happy ending between Trinity and Sandi.

Cesar LOVES pit bulls and powerful breeds. They were how he started out, as he has said many times on his shows. I watch his show often, and I really admire Cesar and how he can read dogs and is so in tune with them. I felt he did an excellent job on this show with the two pit bulls. I found it a most thought-provoking episode. Of course I was thrilled to see the owners succeed with both pit bulls, and getting them into one balanced pack. I know all of Cesar's fans were hoping for a happy ending, and we got one. Cesar tries to get people to understand powerful breeds like pit bulls. He is a champion of pit bulls. He tries to educate people about pit bulls and that, like other powerful breeds, they require extra measures of exercise, discipline and affection; otherwise they will go to their "gladiator" behavior. The idea of showing the fights was to show what happened in that moment with that red zone case, not to suggest that "all pit bulls will always behave in this manner." If anyone took *that* away from the episode, they certainly were not watching the same episode I was. What I took away was, it is all about the energy you share with the dog, and that all dogs, especially powerful breeds, require a balanced pack, and exercise, discipline, and affection. Most importantly, excited energy in a red zone case is something that must be diligently watched and controlled.

I completely admire Cesar's methods and felt they were integral in the owners' success with Trinity and Sandi. Thanks to Cesar's show, I have a great admiration for the pit bull breed and feel I understand them a lot better (go, Daddy!). Thanks, Cesar!

Pit Bull Rescue Central said...

We at PBRC respectfully disagree with Elizabeth's comments and we feel that Trinity was not "rehabilitated."

Anonymous said...

Just watched this episode and found it encouraging, but sad at the same time. Encouraging that we have ones like Cesar although not as many as we need and saddened by the fact that many including Rescue groups that gave up and said to put the dog down. Not the kind of rescue dog owners are looking for.