A nation of dog-lovers discovered Cesar Millan a decade ago on the Animal Planet series Dog Whisperer, in which he rehabilitated dogs that seemed beyond hope. He’s currently working on the latest season of his new Nat Geo Wild series, Cesar 911, and bringing his touring show, Leader of the Pack, to the Palms this weekend. Weekly sat down with Millan to talk about his worldwide fame, who inspired him and when it’s not okay to ask him for advice.
Is this the first time you’ve been to Las Vegas? Yep! I’m super excited. I do shows all over the world, live shows, but Vegas is a very specific destination where you’ve got Celine Dion, you’ve got Elton John, you’ve got big, big, big people. This is the first time for a dog guy like myself. I’m bringing a show that is entertaining, funny, obviously educational, and we have surprises because I’m tailoring this show specifically for Vegas.
Describe the format of Leader of the Pack. People think that what I do is unique. Some people think that I have magic. Some people think that I have a gift. I think when I do a live show I get to break down why I do what I do, why I am very disciplined about following certain steps. And so when you are in a live show situation, you have the element of bringing dogs to stage live. The TV show makes you a fan, but the live show makes you a believer. And for me to break it down in such a short period of time, where you understand what you need to do with your dog and why energy is so important, and why leadership is so important … America loves to behave excited with dogs, so most Americans see a dog, this is what they do: (speaks in very high-pitched voice) “OH. MY. GOD!” So they fuel this excitement. I always behave calm, and that’s why dogs change. Once you see it live, you say, “I can see what he’s talking about.” Because, to me, people are thinking everything is edited, but once you see it live, you know it’s real.
What’s the strangest dog behavior you’ve ever witnessed? For me, it’s the dog chasing the tail, or the dog eating the poop, or a dog barking for seven hours. That’s strange for me, coming from Mexico. But for me, more it’s the strange behavior of humans. There was this mom who called me because she was afraid that her dog would die if he doesn’t eat one day. So she would have a menu for this dog. One day he would eat spaghetti with meatballs. The next day he would eat a hamburger. The next day he would eat steak. But her son would eat cereal every day. Coming from a third-world country, if you’re going to give food to the dog or human, most would feed the human and give the leftovers to the dog. Here the leftovers were shared with the kid!
In all the years doing Dog Whisperer, were there any dog sessions that never made it to television? And if so, why not? Some people are not television friendly. The casting is very important. Sometimes people are too not expressional. They don’t have a lot of conversation. It’s never because of the dog. I want to work with dogs. I just want to help the dog, but if the human is not TV friendly, that would be the only reason they would not make it into television. ... TV likes drama, action … So we try to bring everything to the TV show.
You’ve done an enormous amount for dogs over the years—your shows, the Dog Psychology Centers, your books. What’s been your proudest single accomplishment? I came to America because I wanted to learn from America how to train dogs after watching Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. I believed that all dogs in America behaved like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Then when I came to America I saw that none of the dogs behaved that way. My story is the journey of an immigrant guy who wanted to learn from America, became a dog walker and then he had a TV show. And then the world called him the Dog Whisperer. What I saw was that we shouldn’t train the dogs—we should train the people. I train people, I rehabilitate dogs.
Before I came to America, people were blaming dogs. But now people are taking responsibility. ... People have bad habits, so if they have bad habits, the dog can only imitate that bad habit.
When it comes to dogs, America is pretty confused, because we want the dog to be a baby, and because he’s a baby, he shouldn’t have leadership. So that dog never grows. But we know that babies eventually become toddlers and then teenagers, and so they need guidance and leadership. So the dog cannot be treated like a baby. To change that, to revert confusion from people’s minds, is a big contribution. This, a country that took man to the moon, yet we don’t know about how [to] walk a dog.
Who has been the biggest single inspiration in your life? My grandfather. Without a doubt. “Never work against Mother Nature.” Those were his words. “Gain their trust, gain their respect, and they’re going to give you a beautiful gift: their loyalty.” “To be a great leader, you have to be a great follower.” So very simple things, you know. Very common sense. And that’s what I teach. My grandfather never went to school. He died at 105. I was raised by a very wise man.
I know you are very involved in rescue pets. Pet overpopulation is a chronic problem in the U.S., and it’s particularly bad in Las Vegas. What do you think is the solution to this problem? Spay/neuter. If you spay/neuter, you control the amount of dogs, therefore you control the inundation of disposable behavior that exists. How do you stop addiction? You stop the selling, and then the addict has nowhere to buy it. So how do you stop dogs from getting killed? You stop the production.
Is it hard for you to live a normal everyday life? That is, are people who meet you constantly trying to get free dog advice from you? Yes! (Laughs)
And how do you deal with all these constant requests? Well, you understand that they really want to talk to you. But the only place that I would like a little bit of private space is in the bathroom. Because, you know, when I’m in the airport, and the guy next to me that is peeing says, “Cesar? I have a problem with my dog!” (Laughs) I say, “We will talk outside.”
And yet you still give out free advice? Absolutely, man! I know for a lot of people it’s like once in a lifetime. My only two places where I want privacy is when I’m in the bathroom, or when I’m with my kids. Otherwise, you can ask me as many questions as you want.
On that note ... When the staff found out I was interviewing you, they all came to me with their respective dog questions ... It’s very simple. Dogs have to do three things: They want to follow, they want to play, and they want to explore. But for that, the humans have to lead, play and explore. So how do you do those three things? You do exercise, discipline and give affection. So when a dog develops issues, no matter what that issue is, it’s never from the lack of affection. It’s from the lack of exercise or the lack of mental challenge. So once you increase one of those two, the behavior stabilizes.
People have to play a game called “Honestly.” Honestly, how often do you exercise your dog? Honestly, how much do you mentally challenge your dog? And if they’re honest, they’ll say “30 percent,” “20 percent,” “10 percent,” “I don’t.” Most people do affection, affection, affection. So what I’m saying is exercise, discipline, affection—body, mind, heart. Once the needs of a dog are met, there are no problems. Lots of people, we make it complicated. Dogs don’t care about money, don’t care about fame, don’t care about degrees. My client is a Harvard graduate, but they can’t walk a Chihuahua. My clients are famous people, but the dogs don’t know. My clients own the world, but the dogs don’t know.
Are there any dog breeds you feel are getting passed over for more popular breeds, like golden retrievers or cocker spaniels? Some dogs have good PR, good marketing. If people would watch statistics of what breed bites the most, it’s the cocker spaniel. But they’re fluffy. If you go to a shelter, black dogs don’t get adopted as much as the white dogs. In Texas, black dogs and cats would not get adopted. Dogs don’t look at you as black, white or yellow. They evaluate your energy. But people are prejudiced.
America goes through periods of passing over certain dog breeds. For a while, it was the German shepherd. Then it was the Doberman. Then came the Rottweiler and then the pit bull. It depends on the era.
What about fear in small dogs? My wife and I recently fostered a Chihuahua that is very fearful of me. The worst thing is to feel sorry for him or try to comfort him, [the belief that] When a dog is in front of a human that feels worse than him, he won’t be afraid. And when the dog is afraid and the human is comforting, the human is saying it’s okay to be afraid, so there’s no change. You have to build self-esteem, and you have to challenge him in things he would normally not do. So you have to help them move forward, even if it’s one foot forward per day.
Cesar Millan Live: Leader of the Pack August 15, 8 p.m., $39-$149. Pearl, 702-944-3200.