Cesar Millan, for those who may not have heard of him, is better known as ‘The Dog Whisperer’. The twinkly eyed Mexican with the perfect set of gnashers has risen to worldwide fame due to his seemingly supernatural ability to tame the most vicious, neurotic or disobedient dog. You may have caught him on TV as he silences a howling pooch with a look and a stern “Tsst!”, instructs a clueless owner in the application of ‘calm, assertive energy‘ or out rollerblading with a pack of his dogs. Let’s face it, he’s such a dude that he’s made rollerskating cool again, after Cliff Richard killed it off in the video for ‘Wired for Sound‘.
Cesar doesn’t talk much about his private life in his show, so we at Dream Dogs are going to take a peek at the guy behind the curtain operating the wheels and levers.
1) Cesar grew up on a farm
Born in 1969 in Culiacán, Mexico, to father Felipe Millán Guillen and mother María Teresa Favela de Millán, young Cesar grew up on a farm owned by his grandfather. He displayed a natural affinity with animals, but more so with dogs. Such was his skill, he was nicknamed el Perrero, or ‘the dog boy‘. Cesar credits his love of animals to his grandfather. He said:
“To him, everything about an animal was beautiful. He adored them. He didn’t love animals in the way Americans love animals – to see a birthday party for a dog, he would get a kick out of that.”
“He was the epitome of honesty, integrity, loyalty. And that’s what he loved about animals.”
2) Cesar remembers the exact moment that he wanted to work with dogs
He was 13 years old and was being accompanied by his mother to a judo competition. He stopped in front of a statue, and declared to her that he wanted to be the best dog trainer in the world. He admits that at the time he was unaware that you could learn about dog psychology, but he knew there was no turning back from that moment.
In fact, Cesar often visits the spot. He commented:
“That spot is a big deal to me. As soon as I land [back home], I eat shrimp tacos, I get my mom, and we go to that spot. Just to express my gratitude.”
3) Cesar was an illegal immigrant
Millan made a break for the American border when he was 21. In 1990, after scouting the situation for weeks in Tijuana, he took the plunge and crossed over into the US. He admits to feeling no fear about it – just an all-conquering sense that it was what he needed to do, regardless of the physical dangers:
“I was in the water for four hours”, he recounted.
“I felt like someone was taking care of me.”
4) Cesar was a bum
Following his crossing into America, Cesar had to live rough. Whilst homeless, he managed to find odd jobs, and survived by eating cheap hot dogs and drinking soda.
“One of the things I always wanted to drink was soda. My mom did not allow us to drink soda. And here, you get refills! For $1.69, you can get all the soda you want!”
Cesar soon found a steady job grooming dogs, and specialised in the more aggressive pets. Soon, he was able to open his own dog training business, the Pacific Point Canine Academy.
5) His received a leg up from a movie star
Although his dog training business was slowly taking off, Cesar had to supplement his income by washing limousines. He met film star and wife of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and she soon fell under his spell. She provided him with an English teacher for a year, and his new command of the language enable him to open his first dog psychology centre in Los Angeles.
Cesar admits that he owes a great deal to Jada, as she recognised the potential he knew he had:
“To me, she’s an angel. She opened up my ability to communicate”.
6) Not everyone loves Cesar
Even though his method of training a dog is tried and trusted, Millan has drawn flack from some quarters.
Director of the Animal Behaviour Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr Nicholas Dodman fired a salvo of criticism at Millan, citing him pinning a dog down or jerking on its leash. He stated that Cesar had “set dog training back considerably”. In 2006, the American Humane Association (AHA) published a scathing critique, written by director of The Academy for Dog Trainers, Jean Donaldson, of Millan’s methods of confronting an aggressive dog and his use of a choke chain. The AHA even went so far as to ask the National Geographic Channel to pull the show from its schedule.
”Some people don’t like me. I know I’m doing good.” was Cesar’s response.
7) Cesar has starred in more than just The Dog Whisperer
Millan’s fame has reached the point that he often guest stars in other TV programs. He starred as himself in an episode of The Ghost Whisperer, and gave advice to Jennifer Love Hewitt on how to help a spectral pooch cross over into the light. He also played himself in a 2008 episode of crime drama Bones, which featured dog fighting, and more recently cameod in the film The Back Up Plan, starring Jennifer Lopez.
However, his greatest appearance is arguably “Tsst“, an episode of the animated comedy South Park. Millan was brought in to tame an out of control Eric Cartman, using his dog training methods. Ironically, the character was not voiced by Cesar himself, but by South Park creator Trey Parker.
Well, there you have it. Hopefully, Dream Dogs has given you a bit more insight into one of the most effective dog behavioural specialists in the world.
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