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'Dog Whisperer' helps dogs and their people on new ‘Cesar 911' show

By Patricia Sheridan
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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.”

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 premiered at 9 p.m. Friday.

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: It seems grieving for a pet has become more acceptable.

A: We do and we don’t. Obviously, we kill millions of them – 4 to 5 million (each year). Of course, the one that serves the community we are going to have more empathy for or the one that represents something closer to us. But the ideal would be to actually honor all of them and do less killing. Most of the dogs don’t have a problem. It is just over-population. But nobody is worried about those. I am saying we have to be fair to all of them.

Q: 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: Do you find certain breeds of dogs easier to train?

A: Because I’m not looking to train a dog, I am just looking to allow the dog to have the stability he should have regardless of breed. Some rules, bounds and limitations are applied to all dogs. Everybody, regardless of the breed they have, they want a social dog. My focus is on the balance and the well-being of the dog, for him to maintain a natural state of mind.

Q: You say the No. 1 thing a dog needs is exercise.

A: Exercise and mental challenge. Mental challenge is rules, bounds and limitations. If you don’t have rules, bounds and limitations, you do not know what is expected of you. Many people misinterpret discipline for punishment. Discipline actually helps to prevent you from making mistakes.

So if my kids follow what I say, they will be in good shape because I already went through it. I know what I’m talking about. I am going to set some rules, bounds and limitations. I am not punishing them. I am telling them to build a discipline so they know what to do and how to prevent unwanted things. If a dog does not have rules, bounds and limitations he is going to get into trouble. If he has rules, he will know how to be in society.

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