Cesar Millan became a household name with his dog-training TV series “The Dog Whisperer,” which was on the air from 2004 to 2013. “The Dog Whisperer” has also become Millan’s nickname, and he’s parlayed his expertise into dog-training seminars, home videos and other ventures. Millan also runs a sanctuary/rehab facility for dogs that have behavior problems.
Millan returns to starring in a TV series with “Cesar 911,” whose premiere is March 7, 2014 at 9 p.m. EST/PST on Nat Geo Wild. In “The Dog Whisperer,” Millan went the homes of people whose dogs had behavior problems. In “Cesar 911,” the neighbors, not owners of the problem dogs, who are asking for help. Here is what Millan said in a recent telephone conference call interview to promote “Cesar 911.”
What are the biggest problems with the dogs that you help?
Your question, and everybody’s situation, it’s pretty much the same, aggression, insecurity, fear. How you deal with it is more important. Most people focus on the dog. “I have a dog, my dog is aggressive.” But I always focus on why do you think the dog is aggressive, what is it that you are doing or not doing that your dog has developed this? Because they’re not born with aggression, for example, in society, and so that’s what we have to learn to identify is “What are we doing that we trigger this?”
You and I as groomers, most people don’t really work with the dog or actually condition the dog to be touched in certain areas, but by the time they give it to us we have to actually recondition the dog and ask the dog to trust us in an hour. So it’s not the fault of the dog, it’s the human who he lives with is not a proactive human. We don’t really live in a proactive world or in a world with good habits. Most people have bad habits and they’re not proactive.
What was your most rewarding case this season?
For “Cesar 911” obviously helping a dog stay alive, because most of the cases that I work with are life and death, and most people want to put the dog down. The first one you’re going to see is how the whole community wanted to put the dog down because the dog was attacking the family, and almost like the question that I got earlier, you know, the dog is biting, not in the form of attack, but people get nervous and afraid and leave him with somebody that he loves.
And so to restore the balance in the community and the trust that actually is a very rewarding feeling, because “Cesar 911” is about a whistleblower calling me to help them in the community. In “Dog Whisperer,” the owner of the dog called me, but this time it was the community concerned about making sure somebody helps.
Can you talk about the issue of dominance over our dogs? Your training techniques can be a polarizing subject matter.
You know, the beauty of “Cesar 911” is how much we’re going to focus on training the human. I always say, “Train humans and rehabilitate dogs.” And in “Dog Whisperer,” you saw more rehabilitation of dogs, so people came up with these feelings and misunderstanding. So most people don’t understand the concept of the meaning of a word, so the word “dominant” can mean two things.
For example, in television they say that “The Lakers dominated the court,” so the word “dominant” is used in a very positive way, that nobody had heard, they just masterfully controlled the situation. They won as a team, as a pack, so most of the time it’s a misunderstanding of what certain words mean because a word can change your emotions, your feelings, you know, or the outcome of certain things.
One of the things that I do help people is to understand how do they express themselves, and then the humans have to pick a word that actually he feels comfortable with. To me, the [phrase] “calm and assertive,” “calm and confident” is the equivalent of dominance, right? But confident people feel a little bit more comfortable, assertive people have two feelings about it, but everybody agrees with calm. So I don’t just say be dominant, I say calm and assertive, because calm creates trust.
Confidence creates respect. Most people don’t behave confident. Most people behave nervous, tense, anxious, so they can’t really lead or create trust with their dogs. That’s when the dog takes the front position. You either lead a relationship or somebody will lead the relationship. Where people have problems with their dogs is because they’re not fulfilling their needs, or they’re not taking a position that allows you to give direction.
Do you feel that the word “dominance” then is overused and that you’re evolving in your training techniques?
I’m always evolving. Sometimes I use other species to help a situation. Sometimes I change the way people think about it so they have a different experience. A lot of people mislabel what they have. Most people think they have an aggressive dog, and what they have is an insecure dog.
So by understanding how to label or how to identify the problem, I think you give a dog a better chance to know why he behaves that way. Like I said earlier, most people have bad habits, not good habits, so the dog is not going to be able to give you what you’re looking for, which is harmony and balance, because you’re not giving him harmony and balance. Most people blame the dog. This is one of the reasons why banning certain breeds is almost like OK. They’re not born unstable; we make them unstable.
So three things control the world: ignorance, fear, and people who mistreat animals. I don’t believe that people that mistreat animals should have dogs, but I believe fear and ignorance can be changed by educating them. Most people don’t know dogs. They love dogs, but they don’t know dogs.
Can you talk about how “Cesar 911” is going to be, as you said, a whistleblower trying to save the community?
Dogs don’t have a voice, and sometimes they don’t even have rights. When they make a mistake it’s not because they wanted to make a mistake, but because the human unconsciously provokes it, or make the mistake. Why homeless people have a better relationship with dogs than people who are not homeless is because they leave the dog.
Most homes, the dog is in the back, off leash. Why handicapped people, blind people can walk a dog better that can’t see is because they’re leading the dog. So those two people are practicing what I want people to understand, that’s what leadership is all about. They both have an amazing relationship.
Homeless people, 9 out of 10 have pit bulls, right, and most of the time on the news is not because the homeless person attacked somebody, it’s because a dog that had a home got out and harmed somebody. So that’s a dog that’s been frustrated, often they live with hostile humans, and so the dog can only learn negative behavior. So that’s why I always say handicapped people make dogs normal, and normal people make dogs handicapped.
What behavior problems have increased over the years?
Well, I think more the awareness of when people, especially when they see me in the airports and they say, “Cesar,” I know it’s me. Do you know what I mean? At least that’s a big change because in the ’70s they blamed the Doberman, in the ’90s they blamed the Rottweiler, and now they’re blaming the pit bulls. But at least humans are taking some sort of responsibility, some sort of, “I know I have to be more consistent with exercise. I know you talk about it.”
But when a dog trainer comes into people’s home, it shouldn’t be for rehabilitation. It should be just for modification, to condition, because some people don’t have good timing. But in my profession, I build it out of people not understanding dogs, so the dog ends up in a very unstable situation, you know, extreme fear or extreme aggression, those are the cases that I work.
I don’t work with dogs that are mild. I work with dogs that are more likely going to be euthanized if nobody does anything about it. But by that time, most people are afraid of them. And so what I know is they’re misunderstood, and so I think we have to keep working, make sure the human understands that it’s not the dog, it’s the human behind the dog.
For example, and in “Cesar 911,” you’re going to see how these neighbors throw parties all the time, and the neighbor came into the house, and the dog bit one of the neighbors. Well, the owner of the dog blamed the neighbor. But guess who called me to save the dog’s life? The victim? Because the victim knew that the owner wasn’t doing the exercise and the discipline.
But then when you find out why the owner wasn’t doing what she’s supposed to do and then you understand, “OK, I get it, the dog saved your life, but still we have to move forward. Now the dog is overprotective of you because you only practice affection, affection, affection.” So that’s a beautiful story for me that’s happening on “Cesar 911,” where the victim, instead of calling a lawyer, which is very common, or call the animal shelter to take the dog away, they call me.
Over the years have you seen dog aggression or aggressive behavior on the rise, or have you seen it decrease a little bit, based on shows like yours and all the information that’s available and all the dog trainers that are available to people these days?
I think there’s less blaming on the dogs. There’s still the level of aggression. We still have accidents. There is now a high population where they’re exercising more, you see more people walking together, or riding a bike together, but there is not a dog in it. And I hope one day people walk with their dogs, bike with their dogs, because a tired dog will never get in trouble. Ever.
Were you inspired to start “Cesar 911” because you were seeing that many dogs were winding up in shelters because of neighborhood complaints?
Four to five million. We have to do something about it. A lot of people give up on dogs. A dog would never do that to a human. But we are very quick to say, “You know, I did everything.”
Most people don’t do calm. They don’t behave calm. They’re not consistent with what they’re being told from me or from anybody else. The consistency is really important to create the structure that we really want in our dogs.
And so actually the show was born after I announced that I wasn’t going to do “Dog Whisperer” anymore after 10 years, and we started receiving a lot of letters and e-mails, but not from the dog owners, from neighbors and family members that said, “Listen, we can’t go, we have a problem in our neighborhood and we’re afraid that one of this dogs is going to kill one of the kids.
And we can’t come to my relative’s home because the dogs are always jumping up on us, biting, and stealing food, and we don’t want to visit them because of that.” And the owners are in denial. So that’s the reason why we call it “Cesar 911” is because it felt like an emergency.
What do you do when the owner doesn’t recognize that there’s a problem?
Well, we stay there as long as we can to show them. Humans have to see it to believe it, so by the time that I come in obviously they’re a little upset because they didn’t call me, I mean, they feel a little betrayed and bothered by the situation, you know, “How dare you call Cesar. My dog is perfect.”
But the dog is trying to kill somebody at the same time. And it’s like well, just give me a chance for a second, let me show you a different way of just how to hold the leash, so we can actually talk and you prove your point. And when they see the dog changes by me holding the leash in a different way and the energy that I have and how the dog is relating to the neighborhood, and how the neighborhood is looking at her now, it’s like, OK, I do have a problem. Do you know what I mean?
Most people fight problems, more people fly from problems, more people avoid problems, I would say, fight, flight, avoidance, surrender, and that’s why on “Cesar 911” we’re going to focus more on the human. I think this is the show that is definitely going to make humans more responsible and people are going to say, you know what, we have to change. We have blamed our dogs for many, many years, we have euthanized them and killed them wrongly, and so we can see now why we did what we did because we’re lacking in information. Most of us are ignorant and fearful.
Dogs are easier to change than people, so how do you deal with the people? How do you get the people to change?
That’s right, the biggest challenge is not the dog. The biggest challenge is the human that is not willing to transform. And so sometimes this is something that you learn along the way, how to put a little pressure on people, how to say certain words that can trigger discomfort. Discomfort is good. People don’t like discomfort. They just want a comfortable state, they just want flowers and everything else.
But when it’s transformation time, when it’s the life of somebody, especially a dog that they say they love, this is when you can put a little bit of pressure, because it’s love versus reality. And so by you using certain words without making them wrong, it’s not what I say, it’s how I say it, you know, and I don’t hide it, I actually share it with the owners. Especially in the episode you’re talking in “Cesar 911,” we take the dog to the dog park, the dog is ready, ready, I’m talking.
And the funny part is it’s the dog’s birthday, right, and so it’s a coincidence, but she was going crazy. She said, “The dog is going to kill somebody. The dog is going to kill somebody.” And then we gave her a time out, and I said “You’ve got to go. You’re ruining your dog’s birthday.”
She didn’t believe in a million years that this dog can be in a dog park without killing all of them. Do you see? So I did it for her, not so much for the dog. I wanted her to see that it’s real, that it’s possible. I also wanted to educate her about when, if you want, to come to the dog park, because from 9 o’clock to 10 o’clock you get a certain energy, from 11 o’clock to 12 o’clock you have another energy, from 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock you have another energy, so you have to know when is the best time for you to come to the dog park.
How do therapy dogs work for people who have post-traumatic stress disorder?
What happens for PTSD people, for you to be close in their intimate space they develop a lot of anxiety. They get overwhelmed, and so they’d actually rather you keep a distance, which is actually how I teach people with dogs. The relationship with a dog does not begin when you are in an intimate space. It begins from a distance. It begins from a public zone.
Proximity is something that allows a person with PTSD to stay calm. So the dog, because it’s not judging, it’s not asking what’s wrong with you, most people say there’s something wrong with that person, and so that makes the person feel more uncomfortable because they already know there is something wrong with them. So the dog accepts you as who you are, and that relaxes a lot of people.
And at the same time, the dogs that actually we pair with PTSD people, it’s a dog that’s actually compatible to the energy of that human, So it’s always going to stay calm. And then we train that dog to get in front of the owner, so the other person that is coming in, that’s as far as it goes. So it becomes like a block, and it’s almost like it’s covering the intimate space bubble. The worst thing you can do to a person with PTSD is come too fast into their intimate space, you see?
And so the dog is a reminder of staying calm and security. And so it redirects the person with the problem to focus on giving directions, so there’s feedback that they have with each other, there’s a team. Especially when it’s a soldier situation, they’re so used to having an awesome team and when they come back to civilization it is not team related, it is more a self-oriented environment, and so they don’t feel like they have a bigger purpose, like they had when they were in the service.
You see, this is a big shock because they’re so used to doing exercise, discipline, they’re so used to having activities, and then all of a sudden you don’t have to live in that edge, and they don’t know how to re-enter. So the help of animals, horses, it just redirects the human so that he doesn’t think about the problem, but it thinks about how can he give direction to a dog. Right?
Yes, so it’s a huge help. Actually, I just placed a dog that was going to be put down in that situation … and it was a pit bull that actually was doomed to be put down, and he’s now helping, he’s the right energy, he’s awesome, he’s going to do great. And I’m not an advocate for pit bulls. I’m an advocate for dogs, period. I think we’re killing them, and we’re not giving them a chance to do a better service.
For more info: "Cesar 911" website