(While I’m on vacation until October 10, I’m finding creative ways to populate this blog. This includes piggybacking on a colleague’s story. Morieka Johnson wrote this piece.)
Evidently, the business of rehabilitating ‘bad’ dogs is booming.
Armed with a warm smile, Cesar Millan has spent the past seven years helping people and their problem pets on his National Geographic show, “The Dog Whisperer.” Issues range from fear of appliances to aggression towards skateboards. Millan’s mantra during each visit: Dogs need exercise, discipline and affection — in that order. People need to embrace their role as leader of the pack.
Since the show’s 2004 debut, Millan has turned his brand of dog psychology into a multimillion-dollar empire that includes books, DVDs, magazines and pet gear such as collars and leashes. His National Geographic show airs weeknights at 8 p.m. It also airs in more than 100 countries, including Japan, New Zealand and Thailand. A Spanish-language training show is on the horizon.
Although his approach to training has drawn criticism from dog behavior experts, fans simply can’t get enough of the Dog Whisperer. There’s even an iPhone app called “Cesar’s Way,” featuring quotes — and reminders to catch his show each week. Those who crave an audience with the real thing can see Millan in action October 2 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
Q: Is the tour about motivating people or training their dogs?
A: The dog is ready anytime. I try to motivate people so they can make a difference with their family. The dog senses that you changed, that you are different and motivated. He gets excited about whatever you want to do.
A live experience is really difficult to explain. A dog is brought on stage, and I touch the leash and the dog changes — not because of magic — but because of the dog’s capability to transform. The goal is for you to see that the dog changed because somebody came with a different approach. I’m blessed and happy that people make mistakes because I get to have a job, but in reality I hope everyone has an amazing relationship with a dog.
Q: What are the biggest dog behavior problems?
A: We all are terrified of aggression. Recently a little girl was mauled by a pit bull in Australia. People say the solution is to ban the breed. Aggression is not the problem. The real problem is humans not educated to keep Pomeranians, Lhasa Apsos or even a Chihuahua balanced.
I have pit bulls and my kids were raised around pit bulls. I became the Mexican guy who could walk with Rottweilers and pit bulls. They gave me the opportunity to show it’s not the breed but the human behind the dog. It’s a shame that in 2011 we can do amazing things with technology but people can’t handle a dog.
Q: How do you respond to criticism from trainers who say that a positive, rewards-based approach is better for dogs?
A: The most positive thing you can give a dog is an educated human. Food is a tool, but if timing is wrong you can reward the wrong behavior. The dog will tell you what works for him. It’s not for the trainer to say what works for the dog. The homeless are a good example; they don’t need food to reward their dog. For that dog, the reward is a job. The reward is companionship.
Q: How have you and your family dealt with the death of Daddy, the pit bull who helped you rehabilitate dogs on the show?
A: A lot of times we don’t want to go through the pain or we say, ‘I don’t want another dog.’ That’s a little selfish. Your knowledge can save another dog’s life. To the boys, Daddy was their uncle. All our dogs are family. I asked them to witness the end so they could have closure. Birth, life and death — that’s the cycle — and I wouldn’t be a good daddy without telling them about reality.
An evening with Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer
Dog expert and TV personality discusses training techniques. Tickets are $45, $55 and $75, plus fees; 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 2.
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway. Atlanta. 770-916-2800, www.cobbenergycentre.com
(Note: I had to close comments because I’m not moderating while on vacation. Sorry!)