By Susannah Bryan
City & Shore Magazine
Rock-star dog trainer Cesar Millan is in the house.
Well, not literally.
Millan, known worldwide as the Dog Whisperer, is more likely to be on TV than making house calls these days.
The “dog trainer to the stars” has been called in to help Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz and Scarlett Johansson, among others. His hit show made its debut on the National Geographic Channel in 2004, and it wasn’t long before Millan had become a household name.
During the show’s nine-season run, he helped hundreds of aggressive dogs, coaching their exasperated, sometimes clueless owners and captivating millions of dog lovers from here to his native Mexico.
Millan, 47, is now a best-selling author and entertainer extraordinaire, appearing on stages around the country to share his expertise.
We apparently need it.
His Facebook page has more than 9.3 million Likes. He has more than 1 million followers on Twitter.
Millan’s fans say he has a way with even the most stubborn canine cases that is nothing short of magical. Clients treat him with reverence, wowed by his ability to communicate and understand their own dogs even when they can’t.
Millan shrugs off the admiration.
What he does, he says, is not magic.
It’s about one thing: Energy.
“Dogs can read energy – whether it’s weak and unstable or calm and assertive – and respond accordingly,” he says. “And that’s why a dog might misbehave, even if its owner is a CEO or a super star.”
RICH AND FAMOUS? YOUR DOG DOESN’T CARE
“The dog doesn’t know you’re famous,” Millan says. “The dog doesn’t know you have a degree. In the animal world, it doesn’t matter if you’re famous or have all this money. If you’re not stable, the dog won’t follow you. Doesn’t matter if you’re an icon or a celebrity or how famous you are.”
Millan tells a story about Oprah and her beloved cocker spaniel, Sophie, who had problems with aggression.
“Here is an icon,” Millan says of Oprah. “She’s confident. She’s calm. She’s funny. She inspires people. But when it came to the dog, she didn’t know how to make her dog behave.”
Millan, however, did.
“I was the third trainer on TV with her,” he says. “When she was around the dog, she became the opposite of what she is on TV. She became afraid. When you are afraid around animals they are not going to see you as a point of safety. And that’s what I taught her. I taught her, the way you are on TV is how you have to be around dogs. Calm and confident.”
Millan now teaches that same lesson to dog owners in South Florida.
He opened his Dog Psychology Center in 2014 at the Country Inn Pet Resort in Davie, an East Coast outpost of the 43-acre center he founded in the hills of Santa Clarita, California, more than 20 years ago.
This December, Millan will personally lead a five-day workshop in Davie. Despite the high fee – $5,950 for owners who bring their dog and $5,450 for those who leave them at home – people sign up for the training program from all over the world, says Monica Silva, who owns the Country Inn Pet Resort with her husband, Victor.
“When you meet Cesar, he has such a nice energy,” she says. “You love him immediately. When you ask a question he never makes you feel like it’s a stupid question. And he makes jokes. So people feel like he really cares. You feel like you are part of his pack.”
In previous years, dog owners from Rio, Tokyo and Berlin have been drawn in by the promise of Millan helping fix their canine problems, Silva says.
Angelika Rudolph attended Millan’s training in Davie last November with Sky, her Irish wolfhound.
“It was worth every penny,” says the West Palm Beach resident. “Cesar has such beautiful energy about him. I learned you have to have a quiet energy with your animal, even if they’re hyper.”
Millan says he’s planning to open a third Dog Psychology Center in New York in 2018.
Is there a market for it? Without a doubt, he says.
“Dogs in America are chunky and they have psychological problems – and they have three beds and all the toys in the world,” he says. “If you go to Mexico, most of the dogs in the street are skinny, no toys and no bed. And they don’t have psychological problems. Dogs in America have a luxurious life, but it’s not balanced. That’s why I have a show.”
Millan helps calm food-aggressive labs, high-strung Yorkies and hyperventilating owners who, in his eyes, are inadvertently causing the bad behavior in the first place.
According to Millan’s training philosophy, packs have rules, boundaries and limitations.
To establish their role as pack leader, owners should project a calm and assertive energy, he says. They should also give their dog the following three things, in this order: Exercise, discipline and affection.
Millan’s rags-to-riches story begins in Mexico, where he was known as “el perrero” – the dog boy – for his easy way with canines.
One of five children, he learned much of what he knows from his father and grandfather. But it was his mother who taught him the sharp tssst sound that has become his trademark correction signal.
With only $100 in his pocket and dreams of becoming a dog trainer in America, Millan snuck across the border in December 1990, but was caught by border patrol.
“Every day for two weeks, I tried to cross the border, and every time I got caught,” he told Men’s Journal in 2013. Then one day, a coyote helped smuggle him over the border for $100, he told the magazine, leading him through drainage ditches and concrete tunnels.
For the first two months, Millan slept under freeway overpasses in San Diego before eventually landing a job at a pet grooming store.
He met Ilusión Wilson, a Mexican-American woman who would later become his wife, at an ice-skating rink in Southern California. The couple had two sons. The marriage ended in 2012, three years after he became a U.S. citizen.
Millan is now engaged to Jahira Dar, a Dominican from Tampa who once worked in sales at a Dolce & Gabbana store. The two recently moved into a new $2.8 million home in Encino.
Millan is now busy filming a new show with his eldest son, 22-year-old Andre, whom he calls the “Millennial Whisperer.”
The show, Nat Geo WILD’s Cesar Millan’s Dog Nation, premiered in March.
In the series, the father-son duo crisscross the United States to work with non-profit organizations and volunteers rescuing and rehabilitating dozens of dogs.
In St. Louis, they help a German shepherd rescued from a puppy mill. In Los Angeles, they visit a non-profit that uses dogs to help children with emotional challenges. In San Diego, they travel to Tijuana to visit Dogs without Borders and help rescue one of the city’s many strays.
“Do I see him as the Dog Whisperer? No,” Andre says of his alpha-dog father. “I see my dad as someone who is very hard working and instinctual. Last but not least, he’s a great dad. He knows how to guide us, me and my brother. He never sends you down the wrong path. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play. But when you have to work, it’s time to work.”
Millan has dubbed his youngest son the “Puppy Whisperer.” At just 18, Calvin is following in dad’s footsteps, too, making a name for himself as star of the new Nickelodeon series Mutt & Stuff.
Millan rarely makes house calls these days, with a few exceptions.
Once upon a time, he charged $40 to $80 an hour for house calls. But that was 15 years ago. By 2009, his fees for a private consultation had risen to anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, according to a profile in The New York Times.
Millan’s handlers declined to reveal his current fees.
“He still does consultations for special cases,” says Erika Tuzkov, his publicist. “It’s very rare and only for special cases. He can’t go to everyone’s house.”
Die-hard fans can still tune in to Dog Whisperer reruns. Lucky for them, the occasional TV appearance also gets penciled into Millan’s calendar.
He recently appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, coaching a woman on how she can get her dog Snickers to stop chewing up crates, curtains and purses.
“This is a dog not getting his physical needs met,” Millan tells her, in his trademark manner: direct yet diplomatic, straightforward yet not condescending. He suggests she use a weighted doggy backpack to put some challenge into the dog’s exercise routine.
– AND ITS CRITICS
Despite widespread popularity, Millan does have his critics.
Some dog trainers see his tactics as harsh, claiming his training techniques have left some dogs emotionally damaged and are not based on science.
They believe dogs should be trained with rewards and treats, and never with any physical corrections.
Millan’s measured response came via email: “I respectfully disagree with those critics. In my opinion I think many, if not all of them, are misinformed on my philosophy. I would welcome other trainers to my Dog Psychology Center so they can see what my philosophy is really focused on and how my methods fall into this. I think they will quickly have a change of heart.”
Tyler Muto, president of the International Association of Canine Professionals, says he’s gotten hate mail for defending Millan.
“I don’t think he’s perfect, but none of us are,” Muto says. “[But] if you watch him interact with dogs, his compassion shines through. He is also somewhat gifted in his presence with dogs. Some people, if they walk into a room, heads turn. It’s not magical. It’s body language. Dogs communicate through body language. When you have a person who can communicate through their body and movement, dogs are going to respond to that.”
But Muto says he’s even more impressed by the way Millan can read and understand people.
“As trainers, most of our job is people training,” Muto says. “Cesar’s people skills are even better than his dog skills. He can figure out the way someone’s personal life may be affecting their relationship with their dog. He reads people like a book.”
And that, followers say, is key to his success.
The Dog Psychology Centers aren’t just for dogs, Millan says. They’re for people.
“I don’t train dogs. I train people. And then the dog becomes normal,” he says. “We’ll train as many humans as we can.”
UPDATED, Nov. 14, 2018
IF YOU GO
Dog behaviorist Cesar Millan will be holding his “Fundamentals of Dog Behavior and Training workshop” Nov. 28 at the Country Inn Pet Resort & Animal Hospital, 2100 Flamingo Road in Davie. The price depends on whether you attend with a pet ($5,950) or without ($5,450) Spots in the workshop are still available. For more information, call 954-424-6000 or visit countryinnpetresort.com.