Best known as the "Dog Whisperer," Cesar Millan is a world-renowned dog trainer who came to the United States from Mexico as an illegal immigrant and became a celebrity training dogs for the rich and famous. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Cesar's Way, Be the Pack Leader and How to Raise the Perfect Dog. He also founded the Dog Psychology Center in California. The Millan Foundation rescues and supports abused and abandoned dogs.
His show, The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan, took the brand to the next level. While his professional life was off-the-leash successful, his personal life was in the doghouse in 2010. His wife filed for divorce, and his beloved dog Daddy died. But he found his way back, and the 44-year-old stars in a new show on the NatGeo channel, Cesar 911. It premieres Friday at 9 p.m.
Q: What do you think makes the relationship between dog and humans so special?
A: I think this is where the human can actually be himself. Most people want to look good. You don't want people to know your weaknesses, so you are not really free. A dog actually provides a really awesome platform for you to be you. He will accept you as who you are. It really goes into the soul of the human, the emotion of a human, not the physical body of the human.
Q: How have your training techniques evolved since you first started?
A: I think the only thing that has changed about me is how much I focus on the human and prepare the human. In Cesar 911, that is what people are going to see. In The Dog Whisperer, you see an aggressive dog and a guy comes in and he rehabilitates the dog and then he goes. Now you are going to see how you, the human being, trigger everything in your dog — the good, the bad and the ugly. I want us to take responsibility for what we are doing wrong.
Dogs aren't born unstable. We make them unstable. If a dog lives with a human who is afraid, the dog has no choice but to be afraid and to overprotect the human. Most people see the dog's aggression or fear, but they never take the time to find out where he learned to be afraid. So parents who are afraid of dogs can only teach kids to be afraid of dogs.
Q: Why do you think pet owners have started to treat their dogs more like real companions with clothes, pampering and sometimes lack of discipline?
A: We live in a very selfish society. We are going to keep fulfilling ourselves by utilizing the dog as a source of fulfillment. You see now people are not getting pregnant until they are 30 or 35, which is uncommon in the history of humans. Humans have decided to prioritize their careers and financial status, but (they) still have an empty space. So the dog came in and somebody obviously said, "Let's dress the dog up!" The human starts fulfilling his own little story, his own little dream. That's when the Louis Vuitton bags (carrying cases for small dogs) came into the picture and this extravagant approach toward the dog. I am not saying it is wrong. I am saying this happened, not because the dog asked for it.
Q: I was reading about your life. You went from being an illegal immigrant to a celebrity. Was it hard to not let the fame and money go to your head?
A: You know, when animals live with money or celebrities, they don't know they live with that. As you know, my clients are celebrities and very wealthy people, but the dogs don't know. When you let things go to your head, that means you are different. You are something better than somebody else. If you do that in front of a dog, he is going to imitate that and become anti-social.
This is when your roots are so important, where you come from is so important. Being humble and growing up poor helped me stay grounded. I did have motivation and inspiration to take my family to a different economic platform but not because I was going to be better than somebody else. You know what I mean? I think it has to do a lot with moral values and where you were raised and who raised you. I've got great parents. I still listen to what my mom says, to what my dad says. They still can influence the way I behave.
Q: You have experienced some dark days, but you pulled yourself out. Was it faith and family that helped?
A: It was a combination of many things. The pack had a lot to do with it. My pack, when I came here to the ranch, they saw a human like they never saw before in their life, and they all started licking and nudging, reviving me. Sometimes you don't want things to happen, but it has to happen for a certain reason. Sometimes you don't get the dog you want but the dog you need. You don't get the situations you want, but the situations you need. It really brought focus back.
Now I am going back to leading my life the way I wanted to. One of my dreams was to have many different species on my ranch. Now we have a llama, we have a horse, we have a tortoise, we have chickens, we have chameleons, we have guinea pigs. We are giving workshops. I did not stay true to my core beliefs. So, you know, some things needed to happen.