Fathers and Sons and Dogs: Cesar Millan and David Leepson and their Boys and Barkers

05/04/2017 01:10 am ET

by Elizabeth Sobieski

Andre and Cesar Millan: courtesy of Nat Geo WILD

As any one of Cesar Millan’s myriad of fans worldwide can attest: it’s all about the pack. Cesar’s focus is on dogs being pack animals and humans learning to lead the pack or at least shepherd a single member of the pack. In Cesar’s new series, DogNation, Cesar and his abundantly eyelashed 21-year-old son Andre travel the country, working with non-profit organizations, saving dogs who have been rejected: dogs who have been caged for years and even managing to rescue dogs who were designated for food in Asian meat markets. Viewers see hardened prisoners develop humanity by learning how to train shelter dogs for adoption and watch therapy dogs helping autistic children.

The Mexican-born dog behaviorist and his family, and his producer, the Connecticut native and five-times Emmy winning television veteran David Leepson (Leepson Bounds Entertainment) and his family, have become a sort of pack themselves. This is Cesar and David’s third show together, including roughly fifty filmed episodes of DogNation, Cesar 911, and Viva Las Vegas, and they’ve also worked on live presentations together. Leepson is also the producer of the new pet oriented talk show: PetTalk, which focuses on various species of animal companions and the $75B industry that has developed around America’s adoration of (and sometimes problems arising from) its pets.

David Leepson, Andre Millan, Cesar Milan: Courtesy of Leepson Bounds Entertainment

ELIZABETH SOBIESKI: Cesar, on DogNation you visit seven different US cities. What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed about the way dogs are treated in various parts of the country?

CESAR MILLAN: The differences aren’t so much defined by territory but culture and lifestyle. I grew up on a farm where dogs were necessary work animals. We respected their contribution to the farm. In large cities like New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, dogs are more likely companion animals. They don’t work for food and many of these house pets don’t have jobs. They tend to have more weight problems than farm or country dogs.

ES: David, When did you realize that Andre shared his father’s dog handling abilities, as well as his telegenic genes?

DAVID LEEPSON: Being Cesar's son, Andre obviously grew up around dogs. If you watch some of the episodes of Dog Whisperer, Andre is on the show helping Cesar. And there are moments, as you see in DogNation, that Cesar is just so proud of Andre. As far as Andre being telegenic, he's just like Cesar. He's charming, handsome and knows how to really connect with people.

ES: Cesar, I have seen dogs just a day away from being euthanized, due to their aggressiveness, anxiety or anti-social behavior, turn into loving pups in your care. You have spent 25 years rehabilitating dogs (and their owners). Have you ever met a dog that could not be rehabilitated?

CM: Of the thousands of dogs I have worked with, there was only one that I couldn’t help. It saddened me but there were mental problems affecting his behavior. I never give-up on a dog because they are so responsive to our help and guidance.

Cesar Millan: Courtesy Nat Geo WILD

ES: David, on your other new show, you feature birds and cats and rabbits and pigs and other legal animal companions. What has been your favorite and least favorite non-canine guest?

DL: My favorite animals are dogs. But since you're forcing my hand here, I'm going to have to go with the mini-pig as my favorite guest. My least favorite animal guest…that’s tough…but if I had to say, it would be an opossum. Opossums sometimes show up in my backyard and totally creep me out. But, after having them on the show, I think opossums get a really bad rap. They actually help minimize ticks and they're NOT rats; they are marsupials and are more related to kangaroos.

ES: Cesar, along with Andre, who also appears on PetTalk, I’ve seen your younger son Calvin, 16, on another show, the pre-school oriented Mutt & Stuff. Is there any siblng rivalry now that Andre is your co-star on the new series?

CM: None. They get along great and joke with each other about their respective roles on TV. Calvin is about educating and teaching young children the value dogs have to humans while Andre is all about heart and connecting people to dogs.

ES: David, congratulations on the birth of your son. I know you and your wife, actress Marieh Delfino, were hoping to become parents for a long time.

DL: Without a doubt, the best surprise of my life. Jude is our miracle and so is our fertility story. Marieh and I always wanted to be parents but it just wasn't happening. We went down every road possible for a bunch of years. But, then one very romantic night we made a pledge to just stop putting pressure on it...and, well, you know, we, um, had some champagne and we, you know, sealed the deal...And then, a couple months later while I was on a set, Marieh called me to tell me she was pregnant and we both just started crying and then laughing. And on September 7, Jude was born. I look into my son’s eyes and see him...and can also see my wife in him...and the rush of love is overwhelming.

David Leepson, Jude Leepson, Marieh Delfino: Courtesy Alex Weed

ES: Cesar, so much of your work is about training people in dog care. What advice would you give David about raising and training a son?

CM: David is so caring and nurturing I don’t think he needs my advice. I'm glad he has a dog. Families with dogs tend to be happier and more balanced than non-dog families… at least that’s what the research says.

ES: David, what has Cesar taught you about being a father?

DL: Most profoundly, he has taught me to live much more in the present moment. Most producers are control freaks. Learning about dogs, from the one and only Cesar Millan, has been a blessing in so many ways. In the many hours we spent on set, he'd talk about how dogs always live in the present moment no matter what. That I'd be a better dog owner if I did the same. The way I walked Maude before I met Cesar is so different than how I walk Maude today. I am much more present and really take time to bond with her. And a big part of that was getting off my cell phone. That certainly was good to learn before having Jude. Whenever I'm hanging with my son, I am there with him. I'm able to notice and take pleasure in all the beautiful little nuances.

ES: On the show, you say that dogs learn first through their noses, then their eyes and ears. How do sons learn?

CM: Children learn by observation and then by hearing. It’s so important that you introduce good role models for your children early in life. As parents, we are the most important role models for our children.

Cesar and Andre Millan: Courtesy Nat Geo WILD

ES: Cesar, when you arrived in the US, you survived by spending 99 cents daily on two hotdogs but soon found work as a “kennel boy” before the LA Times shadowed you for three days and you mentioned: “I would like to have a TV show.” Your sons obviously have not experienced similar financial hardships. What have you done to encourage their obvious work ethic?

CM: Well, I wouldn’t say that they haven’t experienced financial hardship. I remember having to buy new clothes at Costco so I could appear on T.V. My kids ate a lot of beans and rice growing up. If they wanted to buy something, they had to earn their own money.

Cesar Millan: Courtesy Nat Geo WILD

ES: David, of the cast members of your long running reality program, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, who would you say is the leader of the pack?

DL: This is a trick question. If I answer this wrong, my cell phone will blow up with angry cast members. In all seriousness though, the #RichKids of Beverly Hills cast holds a very special place in my heart. And one of the reasons why it's such a successful show is that in any given episode, in any given scene, any one of the cast members could take charge and really drive the story. For me, #RichKids all started when I serendipitously found myself in a meeting with Morgan Stewart and Dorothy Wang on one random Tuesday. Those two ladies manifested everything right then and there. They really drove the creation of the show with my buddy Doron Ofir.

ES: Cesar, I believe your most beloved dog was a pitbull named Daddy, who was your boon, or should I say bone, companion for sixteen years. Why did you name him Daddy?

CM: I didn’t name him. Daddy belonged to a rapper by the name of Redman and he named Daddy. Redman was filming a music video in downtown Los Angeles and asked me to come to see if I could train Daddy. That was the first time I met Daddy. When I got Junior, the TV production crew called him Daddy Jr…and I just shortened it to Junior.

Both DogNation and PetTalk appear on the Nat Geo WILD channel.

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