Cesar Millan is truly the leader of the pack. The star of
The Dog Whisperer and Leader of the Pack has dedicated his life to helping
families not only love and nurture their dogs, but also learn how to bring out
the best in them. And in turn, the dogs bring out the best in ourselves. We
spoke with Cesar about his partnership with Frontline, choosing an
energy-appropriate dog for your family, and how we can learn to be better human
beings by letting dogs be our teachers.
Photos: Gabbeli Photography
Let’s talk about your partnership with Frontline. Two days
ago, I found a tick on our dog, Sam, and it’s always a scary thing.
It’s a partnership that I have had for a long time. Me coming
from Mexico, the number one reason why dogs die is parasites. I remember seeing
dogs with ticks and my mother, father and I would take them off. We would bathe
them in a solution for cows, so their hair would fall off. Of course, that was
not the best thing.
When I came to America, I wondered how I would take care of
ticks. We didn’t have fleas in Mexico, just ticks. I am a very disciplined
person, so I found Frontline. It’s easy to use—you just put it between the shoulder
blades. But I would think, “How am I going to prevent this? I live on a ranch.
I didn’t want my dogs to ever catch anything that was unnecessary.” Here, we
have the luxury to prevent things. You just have to find what works for your
pack. I have 20 dogs. I don’t want anyone to scratch unnecessarily. I don’t
mind the dirt or the sand—we go to the beach all the time. But I do mind the
I think prevention is key. Our dog goes into the wooded
areas, where the ticks are. You don’t want them to get bitten but you don’t
want to prevent the dog from having the freedom to explore, either.
It’s like sunscreen for us. As a Mexican, I can’t stay away
from the sun, but you learn that too much sun will affect you eventually. You want
your dog to enjoy life, that’s his time. And this is a way to do that.
So now it’s springtime and people are getting excited about exercising.
How can you exercise with your dog? Last night, for example, we took a really
long walk with our dogs.
Well, that’s awesome. Especially after wintertime, doing
that 20-minute walk is great. It’s like you’ve been in hibernation in a way and
now you are exploring the world. After such a harsh winter, a long walk is the
best way to welcome spring and summer. It’s the best way to release pent-up
For both of you.
Absolutely. We have the advantage to go outside whenever we
want. We have a purpose, so we train our energy; we are constantly utilizing
our energy. In winter, there’s not a lot for dogs to do. Especially if you’re
in a city and you’re worried about the salt on the ground getting into your
So what advice would you give to us? Our Sam is an amazing
dog but he’s a horrible walker. I try to do what you do, but it doesn’t work.
[laughs] People tell me all the time that they try to do
what I do, but they don’t. I also rollerblade with my dogs. So when I have a
dog that is like a greyhound, I never try to walk him. I put on my
rollerblades. I always say never work against Mother Nature. When a dog wants
to run, he doesn’t want to walk. Humans think, “No, I have to walk him! But I
do the ‘tsk!’ and it doesn’t work!’” [laughs] So you have to think what is the
level of energy of your dog. Well, from 1-10 he’s a 9. So how can I make him go
to level 3 or 4 so I can walk him?
Yeah, because I’m not too good with the rollerblading.
[laughs] Well, that’s where the backpacks come in. You have
to find ways to harness that energy. It’s something you can use because the dog
has so much energy, and then the brain goes from pulling to carrying. You’ve
been to Peru, you saw people carrying things. They go into a different state.
If you use a harness, it will give you a certain connection. But ultimately a
harness is not meant for control purposes.
That’s great advice. I will stop ‘tsk’-ing at Sam! Now, what
advice would you give to families who want to adopt a dog but have never had
one before? I would say to adopt a rescue dog over a dog that comes from a
The advantage of a rescue is the gratefulness they come
with. They know a human already abandoned them. Their main thing is to belong
to someone. When you get a dog from a breeder, Momma’s there. They don’t come
thinking that way. They’re balanced and happy, but a dog that already
experienced a betrayal understands when another human gives them a chance. But
humans will come and say, “Oh, poor dog, he’s had such a bad life.” You don’t
want to tell a dog that he’s had a bad life. If you’re in a bad situation and
someone comes and says, “Oh, you’re doing so badly,” it makes it worse! But if
I say, “I like you. Let’s go!” it gives you a different frame of mind. So when you
rescue, don’t feel bad. Just be positive and move on.
And as a family, you have to have agreement. Often the kids
want the dog, but the parents might not. And they’ll get the dog to say, “Okay,
here’s the dog you wanted for 500 years!” so there’s no agreement. “Cesar said
we should get a rescue dog, so let’s go get one.” But you see, it didn’t start
properly. Everyone is going to have their own way of choosing the dog. It’s
three frames of mind, and none of them are working together. So immediately the
dog will sense that and gravitate towards the one he can control the most. Or
the one who has more empathy for him.
Which is usually the mom.
You got it. Because often the mom plays the nurturing role.
The mom is the one feeding and disciplining, so now it’s mom and the dog and
everyone else is outside the pack.
That’s so true.
This is why I have a show! [laughs] Eighty percent of my
clients are women. They come because they think they have a problem. It’s not
them; it’s the entire family. But I start with the woman first, because she is
the most open about the conversation. So it’s agreement, commitment, follow
through. So you have to agree, then you have to commit. What are you committing
to? Exercise, discipline, affection. Not just you, everybody. Same rules, same
exercise, same limitations. And then when to give affection? When the mind is
calm and submissive. Then you have an agreement. Now you have a team. The next
step is follow-through, to create that consistency. When you have the
consistency, then you have the behavior that you want.
But you should never get a dog that’s not compatible with
you. How do you know compatibility? When you have an agreement, then you have
to go after energy. I help to choose the energy for the family. My son Calvin
can say, “Dad, I would like a little dog this time.” But I’m always making sure
that I teach him about the energy. It doesn’t matter about the breed or the
size; I welcome dogs. I have a pack of dogs, but it’s always about the energy.
Is there ever a point where there are too many dogs?
Yes, when you’re going crazy! [laughs] You have to see what
kind of dynamic you have. If you’re not growing, it doesn’t make any sense. If
you already have chaos, you’re going to create more chaos. The right way to
grow is when you have stability, and then you bring in another one. In my case,
it would be number 21. For the 20 dogs that I have, they are already in a good
state. Everyone has their spot. So you can grow as much as you want but as long
as you’re providing stability. The dogs you have at home are going to tell the
new dog what’s up. This is how we behave, this is what we do, this is what we
eat, and this is when we eat. You don’t have to train every dog that comes
in—the pack will do it for you.
So our Sam is a black lab/pit mix. And before we had a pit
bull, I was like a lot of other people who thought pits were so dangerous. I
know that you had Daddy, your pit bull, and that you are also a big supporter
of pit bulls. I want everyone to know what an amazing, loyal breed this is.
Loyalty is in every breed. Like love is in every human,
regardless of race. I like to say that dogs period are loyal educators. I don’t
see dogs as students as much as they are teachers. We learn the basics of life
from them—honesty, integrity and love. Unfortunately as humans we have wars
because we don’t focus on those principles. So the pit bull is the cultural
background. It shouldn’t be the reason why we disagree with him because he is a
pit bull. It’s a form of racism. So that shows how ignorant we still are in the
year 2013, even though men have already walked on the moon! [laughs] Because
Petey from the Little Rascals was a pit bull.
But you never hear Petey the Pit Bull. You hear “Petey with
the ring around his eye.” So the media never focused on Petey as a pit bull,
but instead with the patch. I vigorously encourage that it’s not the breed, but
it’s the human behind the dog. There is no knowledge behind instincts; it’s all
reaction. The dog can only reflect what the environment offers it. Our children
can only become what we offer them in their environment. Solutions or
destruction, whatever we offer, they can only become that. Teachers teach ABC
and 123; we teach the fundamentals to make our children the best they can be,
raising them in a good environment with love. That’s the best we can do as
parents–and dog owners.