Cesar Millan is a self-taught expert in the world of dog training. Born in Mexico with the name César Millán Favela, he now lives in California, in the United States of America.
He is most commonly well-known due to his television series, which has just completed its final season, “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan”. The programme is shown in over eighty countries around the world.
Millan moved to America, illegally, at the age of twenty-one, and began working in a dog grooming parlour, working primarily with the most aggressive dogs.
While still in Mexico, aged just thirteen years old, he stated to his family that he would be the world’s best dog trainer. Even then, he was known as “El Perrero”, or “the dog boy”. He knew nobody in the country at the time he moved, and also spoke no English at all.
He opened the Pacific Point Canine Academy, which became popular in the area. One of his first clients was Jada Pinkett Smith, who provided him with an English tutor for twelve months, enabling him to learn the language. Millan would then go on to open the Dog Psychology Centre, which is in Southern Los Angeles, and specialises in the training of large breeds of dog.
In 2000, Millan would finally become legally resident in the United States, after ten years of living in the country illegally. In 2009, he became a US citizen.
The television show “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” was introduced in 2004 on the National Geographic Channel. The initial episodes lasted for half an hour each, but the following year, the show was lengthened to an hour for each episode, and moved to a primetime slot on the channel. The episodes focus on problem dogs and how they can be trained using behaviour modification techniques.
Each episode begins by introducing the dog and its particular problem, which can be an inconvenience such as excessive barking, or something more extreme that may result in the dog being put down if the problem is not controlled.
Millan has stated that he has no knowledge of the dogs and their particular problems until he arrives, unless there is likely to be any danger to him and his crew. He will firstly interview the owners, and then go on to demonstrate how they must become the “pack leader”, if the dog is going to follow their commands. He will frequently bring one of his own dogs to the sessions, claiming that this helps to transfer another dog’s “balanced energy” and calm down the problem dog.
Sometimes, the dog will stay at the Dog Psychology Centre for several weeks, learning to interact with other dogs (mainly Millan’s own pets). At the end of every episode, the altered behaviour is shown to the owners.
A wide range of problems has been shown on “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan”, with producers inviting submissions from the public, which must include a short video of the problem. Issues shown on the programme include phobias, aggression, obsessions and many more. Sometimes, a themed show is filmed, such as the “Beverly Hills Divas”, which rehabilitated dogs that had been spoiled rotten by their owners.
Much of the filming is done in the Los Angeles area of California, though occasionally the programme does go on the road, and look at problem dogs in other US cities, and occasionally in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Criticism of the Dog Whisperer
In 2006, the American Humane Association (AHA) asked for the programme to be removed from National Geographic’s schedule, claiming that the treatment of the dogs was inhumane. Millan invited the AHA onto the set of “The Dog Whisperer”, who finally took him up on the offer in November 2009, at which time they changed their opinions about what was cruel. They would later announce that despite a few lingering disagreements, there were also many areas where Millan and they were in agreement.
Millan was criticised in the New York Times, in 2006, for his “simplistic view of the dog’s social structure”, and National Geographic, in the same article, were told that they were responsible for putting back progress in dog training by twenty years, due to showing “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan”.
Debra Horwitz, president of the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists, blames the show for attributing many problems to dominance, which was not always appropriate, though also stated that “The Dog Whisperer” has many benefits. This included making the owners of problem dogs aware that they are not alone and also providing excellent advice on the need for regular exercise and for rules to be implemented.
Millan states that a dog should be handled with calm, assertive energy, and this will then be passed to the dog from the owner. He is keen to establish with owners that dogs are pack animals, and they are the pack leader.
The dog’s primary needs are exercise, discipline and affection, and it is the owner’s responsibility to see that these are fulfilled, in that specific order. Affection, he says, should be avoided when a dog is frightened or excited, as this may reinforce the poor behaviour, making rehabilitation and retraining more difficult.
He also claims that exercise is integral to the dog’s behaviour, as this allows dog and owner to bond, whilst the owner is being recognised as the “leader”. Millan encourages owners to strengthen their own posture as a way of asserting themselves with their dog.