People may call Cesar Millan a dog trainer, but he swears he does more people training than anything else.
The man known as the Dog Whisperer has made a career and industry out of rehabilitating problem pets. But the real work, he said, is with their human companions.
“Humans are the cause of their own dogs’ misbehaviors, so I don’t actually fix the dog, I ‘fix’ the person, and show them how their energy and actions are creating the problem,” Millan said in an email interview with The Modesto Bee
“A dog knows how to be a dog until a person treats the dog like a human or doesn’t fulfill its needs. My job is to show people how to properly relate to dogs and discover the balanced relationship that’s always been waiting to happen.”
Millan will bring his training technique, tips and stories to his presentation, “Cesar Millan Live!” at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Friday. He will bring his dog Junior with him for the appearance, which will include live demonstrations.
The 45-year-old Mexico native built his dog-training empire from the ground up. After coming to the United States at age 21, he found work as a dog groomer and walker in Southern California. As his skill as a dog walker grew, that led him to open the Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles.
That in turn led to a profile in the Los Angeles Times, where he mentioned wanting a TV show. And that led to “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan,” which aired from 2004 to 2012 on the National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild channels.
For a man famous for being on television, it seems right that he developed his self-taught training methods from the medium, as well – or at least from some of its most famous four-legged friends.
“My first exposure to the concept of training dogs – as in teaching them tricks – came from watching dogs like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin on TV, so that seemed like the place to do it, especially in America,” he said. “Once I got to America and saw how the dogs here got way too much affection and were unbalanced, I realized that the only way to get my message to as many dog owners as possible was by being on TV.
“I think it works well there because what I do is very visual and the viewers can see what I do and the results I get as they happen. I don’t know why it caught on like it did, but I’m grateful every day for that.”
Millan bases many of his techniques on a pack-leader mentality. His fans and viewers also will recognize his signature “Tsch!” command when addressing dogs. He has published a series of best-selling books, from “Cesar’s Way” in 2007 to “Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog” in 2013. He also started Cesar’s Way magazine.
Still, in the midst of his popularity, Millan revealed that in 2010, after some personal setbacks and money mismanagement, he attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. He said he grew from the experience and pulled himself back from the brink.
“First, by unsuccessfully attempting suicide, which sent me the message, ‘OK, God isn’t done with you here yet,’” he said. “And my pack was a huge help as well. When I was going through uncertainty and depression, they abandoned me because dogs don’t follow unbalanced energy. So in getting myself back to a place where they would follow me again, I had a built-in monitor of my progress.
“They helped me get back in touch with nature, which is a powerful antidote to all kinds of negative emotions.”
While “Dog Whisperer” ended in 2012, Millan returned to TV with the documentary “Cesar Millan’s Leader of the Pack” in 2013 and last year launched his new series, “Cesar 911,” on Nat Geo Wild. He said the shows differ in scope. Whereas “Dog Whisperer” was dealing with one person or family at a time, “Cesar 911” involves a community struggling with a misbehaving dog.
“The great thing about it is that I’m also fixing human relationships, like when a dog comes between a couple, or is disrupting a neighborhood, or dog park, or workplace,” he said. “In a lot of these cases, the people who blow the whistle on the dog and owner see me as the last chance before the owners have to give the dog up.”
Millan’s mission for the show is to rescue neighborhoods “terrorized by badly misbehaving pooches” through his techniques. But his style of dog training has faced some criticism, with claims his pack-leader model is overly simplistic and even unnecessarily confrontational. He defends his admittedly self-developed techniques, results and rationale.
“Much of what I do I learned (instinctively) and from the experience of working with thousands of dogs over the past 25 years,” he said. “Sometimes people just misunderstand my goals. I don’t see a dog as a student, but rather as a teacher. My goal is to influence people’s understanding of a dog. I want to teach people how to respect them.”
Also, he notes, the dogs and cases he is seen tackling on TV are the most extreme examples of bad behavior, and therefore take more extreme measures to repair.
“So if a dog is very aggressive, for example, it’s going to take a lot more to rehabilitate than a dog that’s just energetic but undisciplined,” he said. “My methods have also evolved over the years because I do keep up with new discoveries in dog psychology and, of course, the dogs are constantly teaching me.”
His live shows are all about fun and education, he said. The events cover his techniques, especially the fundamentals, in more depth than he can go into on his series. He makes sure to bring along Junior, and sometimes – depending on the day – others from his home pack tag along, including his dogs Alfie, Benson, Taco, Coco and Bentley.
“ I teach people how to respect species and let a dog be a dog, and I help people understand how their energy affects the human/dog dynamic,” he said. “I bring Junior with me whenever possible, and I think he loves being on stage more than I do. He’s always trying to steal my spotlight.”