Cesar Millan Interview by Grover Gardner
GROVER GARDNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Grover Gardner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Cesar Millan. Cesar is the star of National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer and Leader of the Pack. He is the most sought-after dog behaviorist in the world, and is recognized for his expertise in canine psychology. He is also an author of several New York Times bestsellers, including Cesar’s Way, Be the Pack Leader, and A Member of the Family. His latest book is Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog. Cesar is the founder of the Dog Psychology Center in Los Angeles and established the Millan Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping shelters and rescue groups, and he is the recipient of the National Humane Society Genesis Award Special Commendation. Blackstone Audio is publishing the audio version of Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog, narrated by Armando Durán, simultaneously with the hardcover on January 1, 2013. Thank you for joining us today.
CESAR MILLAN: My pleasure.
GG: Congratulations on your new book. Can you tell us a little bit about what you cover in this book?
CM: In nine years of doing the TV show, as I know about dogs, I also learn how people learn. I went into the world wanting to habilitate dogs and found out that I needed to train people. I also learned, on the way, how people learn. So you teach people everything they need to know, then you create a manual for them, so they can practice on a daily basis the code or the lifestyle. I live a certain lifestyle, and this is why I’m able to do what I do with dogs. Every day, I wake up in the morning and I recognize how I feel. It’s the steps that I follow, so if you follow those steps you can create the outcome that you want. A lot of people think that Cesar Millan has a certain magic, a certain gift. Well the gift or the magic is the lifestyle I live. So I managed to put that in a book. It’s a short guide to a happy dog, but what makes a dog happy is the consistency of a human creating balance. A lot of times people think they’re creating balance, but they skip exercise, discipline. Most of my clients still do affection, affection, affection. If you become disciplined to live a harmonious, balanced life, you’re going to achieve the outcome that you want. A lot of people love the short manual version of what they need to do on a daily basis. Like the steps: What do you do every day? Give me ten steps. So this is what we put in the book.
GG: How did you get started in dog psychology?
CM: I didn’t call it dog psychology in the beginning, obviously. Growing up on a farm you learn how to be with the earth—that’s what you feed yourself from—and then animals also provide a relationship with you, so you learn how to be with Mother Nature. My grandfather always said: “Never work against Mother Nature. Always gain their trust and respect. They’re going to give you a beautiful gift called loyalty.” So that to us on a farm was common sense. In the city or the modern world, it’s called psychology, but to me, psychology—what that means—is the logical cycle of life. So it goes back to what makes sense to a dog. So unconsciously I grew up with a mind to follow the natural way of being with Mother Nature. And then when I came to America, I saw all the differences of styles, of techniques, that people will use to relate with their dogs, but they were skipping the most important, which are the fundamentals: trust, respect, and loyalty. That’s the first thing we must learn to earn from a dog before we try to teach them something. So when a dog doesn’t have trust, respect, a dog develops issues because he is confused. He lives in an environment that has affection, but there is no balance. And that’s really what dog psychology means to me: How do you go back to basics? How do you reconnect to Mother Nature without trying to change nature?
GG: How did the television show develop? When did that get started?
CM: Before, I was called “the Mexican guy who can walk a pack of dogs,” and that’s how LA pretty much knew about me. Some Mexican guy in South Central walks packs of dogs off leash. And back then, I walked forty dogs off leash—rottweilers, pit bulls, and German shepherds. And, of course, I’m still Mexican, right. So the news started becoming interested in this guy who walks dogs in the streets, off leash, and he’s Mexican. Pit bulls and rottweilers. They had the story of pit bulls being aggressive or dangerous, and then this guy is walking dogs off leash, but nobody’s fighting. The LA Times came to visit me and they followed me for three days and, at the end of the interview, the person said, “You’ve got Nicolas Cage, you’ve got Will Smith, you’ve got the NFL, you’ve got the NBA, you’ve got people from England coming to see you here in South Central Los Angeles, the hood. That’s a good thing. You’ve got a great thing going on.” And then the next question was “What would you like to do next?” And I said, “I would like to have a TV show.” So she wrote it down in the newspaper. The newspaper came on a Sunday. By Monday, there was a line of producers outside my center in South Central that wanted to know what the show was going to be about.
GG: Were you surprised by the reception the show got?
CM: Absolutely. I didn’t realize there was going to be such a phenomenon, with shows in more than a hundred countries. And everybody has the same problems—aggression, anxiety, fear, insecurities—but at the same time they’re all related. It’s not the dog. It’s the human. That’s what they love the most. Of course, the world has learned to embrace this understanding of, “Okay, we’re not going to kill the dog.” A lot of people were euthanizing their dogs because somebody told them the best thing you can do is euthanize them. It’s too aggressive and things like that, so they were actually evaluating them the wrong way. So the show not just gave an entertainment or an educational aspect, but also gave hope to people. The world has actually taken this show to heart. I go everywhere in the world and they say, “You changed my life. You changed my dog’s life. You saved my dog’s life.” Just the perception they had and the direction with the dog, and they were now making sure the dog’s happiness was in place, and that’s what they love. I put the responsibility on the human, which is exactly where it should be.
GG: What is it between people and dogs? Why do we devote so much time to them? They’re a very special pet. Cat people, dog people. So, for many people, dogs are such extraordinary partners. What’s the connection between our species?
CM: Because the dogs are masters at fulfilling your needs, and they know what you need, and they know when you’re sad, and they’re so unconditional about it, and they’re not asking anything in return. We love the genuine side of them. We love the unconditional side of them. We know that they would die for our relationship, and we know that it’s not about the money. It’s about the internal relationship that every human being seeks in another human, but unfortunately humans are not as in tune as a dog is. I always say my clients are Harvard graduates, but they can’t walk a Chihuahua.
CM: That’s a true thing. So they’re very smart, but they can’t have a relationship, and a human looks for a relationship, as well as he looks through other things in life, but what creates happiness is harmony and balance in your life. And a dog is capable of giving you access to that simplicity.
GG: How has all of this affected your own life?
CM: Well, good and bad. Obviously you’re not prepared for the downs. Everybody knows how to be in the ups, but definitely everybody knows the downs are what teach you about life, give you wisdom. I always keep in mind that the mission is not about me. It’s about what can I do for the world. I really embrace the concept of Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I feel that if this message is delivered around the world, it’s going to make a big transformation in humanity because we take into consideration every member of society. Like you say, you know dogs are very endearing to most humans. A cat is an endearing species, but the dog is capable of becoming more of a family member, since the cat is programmed differently. So to me, that is one of the biggest missions in life, and that when I’m really in a down time, that’s what inspires me and motivates me to get up. But you get the good and the bad. That’s the whole point of life: You learn to manage, and you pass the wisdom to someone else.
GG: Do you work with shelters? Because you talked about how we treat our animals. We’ve adopted two dogs from shelters, and boy, it’s kind of overwhelming when you go there. What can we do in America to try to get the stray pet thing under control?
CM: The most humane way not to kill a dog is to spay and neuter. That would be ideal for us to understand and really embrace the concept of it because what we need to know is how many dogs we kill in the United States of America. Well, the number is four to five million pets, and that includes cats, so why—four to five million every year—why does a society that loves dogs so much also have a huge amount of animals that are going to be put down on a yearly basis? The consciousness of the whole country has to become a priority, and still in people’s minds—and this is not just in certain cultures, but among all of us as American citizens—we don’t agree in a large number on spaying and neutering. That’s the most humane way not to kill a dog. Bob Barker was so ahead of his time saying “spay and neuter, spay and neuter,” but it hasn’t become fashionable, something that is on a daily basis in people’s lives. And that’s why I created a Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum at Yale University. So kids at an early age, in preschool and kindergarten, understand why it’s so important to spay and neuter, why it’s important to go rescue and adopt a dog instead of purchasing a dog, why that should be priority number one—how you make a difference as an individual—because most of the time when people purchase a dog, it’s a status symbol. It’s like, “I’ve wanted a German shepherd since I was little because they told me they’re very smart.” But it’s not the breed that’s smart. It’s not the breed that is loyal; it’s the dog in him.
CM: So we have to learn to love the dog so then we can help all of them. Otherwise, people become very breed-oriented. Pit bulls are bad, but the rest of them are good. That’s a really big misunderstanding. It’s not the breed and no dog’s born to be dangerous. It’s how you treat them, how you make them become balanced.
GG: What’s next?
CM: Oh, man, there are so many things that are next. Right after that situation in my life, I decided I was going to claim life again, and there’re so many opportunities, the new TV show Leader of the Pack. When they asked me, “So you ended nine years of Dog Whisperer, a very successful show, nine years is a long time in television,” and I said, “You know what? That show had passion.” I love what I do, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I was looking for a mission. Things that inspire and motivate your life is something that I seek all the time. Otherwise you get bored and you get depressed, even though you have achieved something. But I wanted a mission, and so as I traveled the world, I learned that it’s not four to five million dogs that will die every year. It’s six hundred million. So around the world, six hundred million pets will die every year. In some parts of the world, the way they euthanize them is hang them or throw them from a bridge, or shoot them, or drown them, or throw boxes full of puppies in a river. So, that’s my mission; I’m going to change that. That’s why I felt that Leader of the Pack was the next step for me. It’s a show with a mission. I change relationships, but this show is going to save lives, and that’s something that I’m very, very happy about. And my son, Calvin, who’s fourteen, is also going to have his own TV show. He’s going to focus on prevention. He calls himself the Puppy Whisperer.
CM: And I’m very proud that he wants to make a difference at such an early time of his life. So we have a magazine, we have a book, we have many TV shows that people want to do with us, but to me it’s all about how can we make a difference at the same time—obviously television, you need to have a factor of entertainment. Otherwise, people change the channel.
GG: This is fantastic. Thank you so much. We appreciate your time. We’re looking forward to the new book and the audio version from Blackstone.
CM: Thank you sir. Thank you.
GG: Thank you for joining us for this exclusive interview with Cesar Millan. You can find Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog and all of Blackstone Audio’s titles at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in December 2012.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog
After more than nine seasons as television’s Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan has a new mission: to use his unique insights about dog psychology to create stronger, happier relationships between humans and their canine companions.
Both inspirational and practical, A Short Guide to a Happy Dog draws on thousands of training encounters around the world to present ninety-eight essential lessons. Taken together, they will help any owner apply the key aspects of Cesar’s celebrated philosophy to create the most fulfilling life possible with their dogs.
In these pages, Cesar delves into crucial themes that go beyond obedience-school basics to reveal the hearts and minds of our beloved pets. In short, practical takes, he explores
• the basics of dog psychology;
• instinctual behaviors;
• creating balance and boundaries;
• managing common misbehaviors;
• choosing the right dog for your family;
• helping your dog adjust to life transitions.
Throughout the book, inspiring stories from Cesar’s case files—and from his new show, Leader of the Pack—provide moving real-world applications and surprising life lessons.
Smart, easy to use, and packed with Cesar’s remarkable insights into human and canine behavior, A Short Guide to a Happy Dog is an inspiring tool for anyone looking to live a better life with a beloved member of the family.