Millan trains humans, through their canines
July 2, 2010
Sure, Cesar Millan is about dogs. As a kid growing up in Mexico and working on his grandfather’s farm, where canines were only the beginning of the menagerie, Millan declared that his future would include being the world’s greatest dog trainer. Whether he is the best is up for argument, but he is certainly the best-known: His show, “Dog Whisperer TV,” now in its sixth season, is the top-rated program on the National Geographic Channel and is broadcast in more than 80 countries; his first three books all made the bestseller lists; and he has crossed over the pop-culture threshold, appearing as himself in the Jennifer Lopez comedy, “The Back-Up Plan.”
But the 40-year-old Millan is as much about people as he is about dogs. Distilled down to its basics, his message is: Train the dog owner, not the dog. Millan preaches balance, calmness, selflessness and confidence for homo sapiens first, and then for canines.
Millan appears in the “Cesar Whispers in Aspen” events, presented by Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter, on Saturday, July 10. The day features three events – a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at the Animal Shelter; a lecture and interactive demonstration at 6 p.m. at the Aspen District Theatre; and a patron dinner at 8 p.m. – with proceeds going to the Animal Shelter’s campaign to spay and neuter animals.
Millan agreed to answer some questions from The Aspen Times about dogs, their masters, life and cats. Along the way he quoted Gandhi: “The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals.”
AT: What was your first dog?
Millan: I never had one dog. I had a pack of dogs. I was raised with a grandfather who didn’t believe in owning one dog. I learned to walk and crawl with packs of dogs.
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AT: Your pit bull, Daddy, died in February. Was that tough on you emotionally?
Millan: Yes. I don’t think you can ever get used to someone dying. You can always get used to birth and life; we learn to enjoy that part. But we can never learn to enjoy the departure of someone meaningful to us.
Daddy helped me with my other dogs, my TV show. I always had this master, this sensei, available to me. This eye contact he gave me before he left us was beautiful and amazing. He represents the global dream I want to achieve – bringing back the fundamentals of relationships. Between people, and between people and their dogs.
AT: Are there dogs that are simply untrainable?
Millan: No. There are humans that are untrainable. I rehabilitate dogs; I train humans. Dogs are not born unstable; they become unstable when people are not knowledgeable. There is no dog who refuses balance, who refuses to be part of a pack, part of a family, part of a natural way of being. But I know a lot of humans who refuse to be part of a natural way of being.
AT: Do humans, on the whole, have a healthy relationship with their dogs?
Millan: No. That’s why I have a TV show.
We fulfill our needs first – meaning we’re not there for the relationship. It becomes unhealthy when the pack leader is there for themselves, not for the pack. A pack leader provides protection and security. It’s about the pack, not themselves. John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” But look at our political leaders – they’re not leading the pack. They’re out for themselves.
AT: What’s the best fictional representation of a dog – in a movie, book, comic strip?
Millan: Astro, from “The Jetsons” – I like him. He’s the dog on the treadmill. He lives in space, and that’s pretty cool. He says, I live in the future, but I still need to walk.
AT: How do you feel about cats?
Millan: I feel cats are extremely amazing creatures. Every once in a while I see a cat who behaves like a dog. But they are not pack creatures. They don’t follow a person around. Lions are the only cats that behave like a family. They have a mane. The cats with stripes and spots are very individualistic.