Cesar Millan came to America with the goal of being the best dog trainer, but along the way something happened: he started working with dog owners and found his gift to them to be equal if not greater than his unique connection with dogs. It would be a little like Derek Jeter hoping to get a job at Dick's Sporting Goods and ending up as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. Cesar's gift would have that kind of wide appeal and could translate into seemingly limitless possibilities. I sat down with Cesar on the set of his show, The Dog Whisperer, last week to find out how it happened.
It's been documented in Cesar's first book, Cesar's Way, how his popularity skyrocketed simply by having the ability to communicate with dogs in their language. His ability to change nervous, fearful, or aggressive states of mind in dogs to calm submission and balance won the hearts of clients like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Oprah Winfrey and a long list of other celebrities. He soon began working on a television show (that airs Friday nights on the National Geographic Channel) meeting with dog owners who were unsuccessful in being able to subdue their dogs, in many situations, red zone cases -- dogs that have killed another dog or had the potential to.
Viewers were at first mesmerized by his ability to bring the dogs back to balance, but then a second phenomenon began happening -- the dog owners' transformations became equally appealing. Cesar showed them that their own unconscious issues were being manifested by the dogs. Aggression in the dog may have been covering for some weakness in the owner. By helping the owner become "calm, assertive," the dog fell back into a calm submissive and balanced state. But it was Cesar's unique modeling of "calm assertive" that displayed his power and transformed the dog owners. Viewers of the show can tell you -- Cesar's energy is unlike anything that's been seen before.
Since moving to primetime in 2005, The Dog Whisperer has become increasingly popular, doubling in viewership (over half a million) and going worldwide. He's wildly popular in Australia (the highest rated show on the channel), about to go on tour in England with live seminars and recently garnered a People's Choice award for favorite animal show in 2010. Cesar has already authored four books. And in a sort of tribute to how far he's infiltrated pop culture, Comedy Central's South Park featured an episode using Cesar to rehabilitate Eric Cartman.
To understand the gift, one has to get a feel for where he grew up in Culiacan, Mexico. Cesar explains that if life is divided into four worlds: instinctual, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. As he was growing up, he developed a deep connection to the instinctual and spiritual worlds. He had no access to education, and the emotional was not available because, "if you did express certain emotions you were called gay or weak." Cesar explains what got his attention when he came to America:
What I saw and what I knew was that dogs were not allowed, or the humans were not allowing themselves to be instinctual. And the instinctual world is in order. That's why we always say Mother Nature is perfect, because nobody interferes with Mother Nature and so it evolved as what it is. America is not focusing on being instinctual because they don't have to. America focuses on being very intelligent because that's how you make more money.
The way Cesar describes his upbringing, the instinctual was more available because of what he calls a "survival state."
It's survival as a ... waiting because sometimes you have to wait for food. So it forces you to be calm. Also surrendering to ... one tortilla and maybe a plate of beans, so it makes you surrender that this is a blessing. America, it's all about ... 'This is what I want, and I want it at this temperature, and I didn't want this much beans, I just wanted.' I mean it just gets into a more entitlement and they forget the gratefulness. You can go to church; it doesn't mean you're a grateful human being, that's just the behavior. Gratefulness to me is when you practice this appreciation every single day, so because we're lacking in food and our families are so large, we have no choice just to practice calm submissive state and our parents practice calm assertive state, this is just what it is. So we live more in what it is. We don't question life. And so it's almost like you live in a meditative state of mind.
In order to truly help his clients, Cesar would need to go through his own emotional transformation to fill in the missing pieces in his psyche. He's very open about his personal rehabilitation, having to work on issues of selfishness and understanding women's psychology. He feels that his culture taught him a macho or sexist attitude, but in order to transform his own marriage he would have to learn from his wife Ilusion how to speak to her heart first and then mind and body. (According to Cesar, humans are the only species where male and female are exact opposites ... men relate primarily in the order of body, mind, heart and women the opposite order. All other animal species male and female psychology is the same.)
The biggest fans of the show Cesar says are "humans who work with humans."
Child development, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists for humans ... we get a lot of great emails from them, 'Cesar, I practice calm assertive energy with my clients and it WORKS!' So you know maybe in the animal world I don't get applause from 100 percent of them (referring to the few detractors), but I'm getting it over here in the human psychology. The New York Times did an article about raising children with exercise, discipline and affection, so obviously the journalists got to see it the way you're seeing it. 'Wait a minute, we can actually implement this formula and regain balance in our children. Our children are becoming obese ... why, because the lack of exercise. Children are becoming disobedient . . . why, because of the lack of rules boundaries and limitations.' It's not that America is not giving affection. America does affection, affection, affection. But I think it's the three of them. The three of them represent balance to me. It's about fulfilling the needs.
Critics of Cesar's methods tend to focus on his work with red zone cases calling him "punitive" or using "negative reinforcement." They object to his either holding the leash in the air, (the perception being that he's choking the dog), or pinning the dog on the ground. "Positive training methods are the only way in all cases," say some. What they don't say is that they can't rehabilitate red zone cases and they favor medication or euthanasia. "I'm not for everybody ... I'm focusing on fulfilling the needs of the dog," Cesar points out. It's hard to argue with his results rehabilitating red zone cases and re-integrating them back into society as balanced happy dogs. They number in the hundreds if not close to a thousand.
I asked Cesar if he was offended at all by the episode of South Park on Comedy Central featuring him as the only reality show expert who could rehabilitate Eric Cartman.
Absolutely not, it was fantastic. They love the show. The guys called me, the creators of the show (Trey Parker and Matt Stone), they said, 'Cesar, we love your show, we're going to do a thing on you and we hope you enjoy it.' No, no it's fantastic.
Sitting with Cesar, I got the feeling that there was nothing he couldn't do. Because of the translatable nature of his instinctual knowledge it seems like the sky's the limit. Hold seminars for CEO's? Be an advisor to the President? Speak to psychologists about the natural order of things? No problem. His influence seems to expand to anyone or group looking for a shift in paradigm. Cesar agreed that the show is about much more than helping dogs. I labeled it as a shift in consciousness, and asked him what he thought?
It's a reconnect to simplicity, regain something that we lost. Our ancestors had it. They probably didn't know how to go to the moon, you know, and how to create certain things, but they knew how to live a very simplistic life. I think we are in the process of really living the four worlds, you know, the instinctual world, the intellectual world, the emotional world, and the spiritual world is going to be available for everybody. A dog is a vehicle, you know, a dog is a window to Mother Nature and that's the closest species we have. It's an up and down thing, the human goals, because the human is always an explorer, an adventurist. But many times they don't have to invent life, you know, they just have to keep it the way it is. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to reconnect and pass that information to the next generation, you know, so I feel blessed, I always say God chose me to be the person to help humans to reconnect through a dog. The dog is a vehicle. You can do it with anything else. Tony Robbins does it with people, Wayne Dyer does it with people, Deepak Chopra does it from a prayer, so it's a lot of people who want the same thing, it's just I'm the person who's doing it through dogs.