'Dog Whisperer' Leads the Pack

Apparently, top executives can turn into complete marshmallows when it comes to dealing with badly behaved Rover or Fifi.

That's when a call goes out to dog-behavior expert Cesar Millan, host of the National Geographic Channel series "The Dog Whisperer," regularly airing on Fridays.

"My strongest cases are billionaire men," Millan says, "[who say], 'Oh, no, I just want you to fix my dog.' [I say], 'You're not paying me to fix your dog. I'm not a dog trainer. I rehabilitate dogs, and I train people. That's what I do.'"

According to Millan, these men have no problem being the boss at work but crumble when it comes to taking control over aggressive, spoiled or frustrated canines.

"Education is the key of anything," Millan says, "to know more than the dog. In those first 10 seconds, they're going to know how much do you know, not how much you make, but how much you know, how much psychology do you know about them. If you don't know much, they're automatically going to take over."

A formerly illegal immigrant from Mexico now married to an American and on the path to citizenship, Millan worked his way from being a dog groomer in San Diego who knew no English to nationwide TV fame and a place on the New York Times best-seller list with "Cesar's Way," which elaborates on the canine psychology Millan learned growing up with farm dogs.

"This is the best country on Earth for that freedom that you get," he says of his adopted home. "You can be nobody, and you can take it to the top. That's the freedom that you get in America. Third World countries, no way. They will block you in a second."

While not all animal-behavior experts agree with his theories and techniques, Millan is firm in his belief that owners must show leadership with their dogs.

Millan's methods get a showcase during NGC's first "Dog Whisperer Week." Six straight nights of episodes include three premieres, airing Sunday, July 30 to Tuesday, Aug. 1.

The last original, called "The Power of the Pack," centers on Millan's Dog Psychology Center in South Los Angeles. It's located in a former auto mechanic's yard in an industrial section of the tough neighborhood, which gained unfortunate notoriety during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

On this hot, sunny day at the center, Millan is shooting a segment about teaching dogs to fear rattlesnakes, with the help of some of the nearly 50 dogs of varying breeds (from a little French bulldog to Rottweilers and pit bulls), that cohabit at the center, some permanently, some as visitors.

Many in the dog pack have violent pasts, but under Millan's leadership, they mill about peaceably, and if a visitor shows the proper attitude when entering ("no touch, no talk, no eye contact"), they're well-behaved around strangers.

A snake wrangler places a caged rattler (which obligingly rattles loudly during the whole shoot) in the middle of the paved yard. Unfortunately, many of the dogs investigate without fear. With the help of a burly red pit bull named Daddy, one of his most "balanced" dogs, Cesar demonstrates the proper reaction -- staying far, far away -- which Daddy learned on an earlier location shoot.

"Dogs in the city see snake, get bitten very often," Millan says in his still-imperfect English, "because they're not using their natural common sense. That's what domestication makes in them."

As anyone who watched the show's first season (now out on DVD) knows, Millan's main advice is that dog owners be pack leaders, radiating "calm/assertive" energy and offering plentiful exercise, discipline and then, if the dog reaches what Millan calls a "calm/submissive" state of mind, affection.

"Leadership is very important to pack-oriented species," Millan says. "You can create balance in animals once they are in front of an authority figure. That's why I am able to transform the minds of dogs when I'm there, because I am representing something the DNA respects."

In America, Millan believes affection often comes first, last and always, especially for beloved family pets, cosseted lap dogs and hard-luck adoptees from animal shelters.

"Most of these people don't have children, so the dog becomes that," he says. "Most of the people don't have a wonderful relationship with a human, so then they totally create this intimacy with the dog. I totally get what American people are so in love with the dog, because it really fulfills the empty space that other humans can't fulfill.

"So a dog can fulfill a lot of great stuff for human, but it doesn't mean the dog respects humans. So there's the instinctual world, the emotional world and the spiritual world, but my clients do it backwards. My clients do spiritual, emotional and instinctual."

A diligent student of such self-help gurus as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and Dr. Wayne Dyer, Millan also has some powerful celebrity clients and friends, including Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith. He has big future plans, whether it's a Malibu dog ranch or even a feature film.

With the help of his strong-willed wife, Ilusion, who offers "rules, boundaries and limitations" -- along with John Gray's "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" and marriage counseling -- Millan has learned a lot about what he calls "woman psychology." Someday, once he's old enough to be respected in Mexico -- "If I do it right now," he says, "they won't take me serious" -- he hopes to take his knowledge back to his birthplace, with its strong "machismo" culture.

"It's a challenge," he says, "and I like challenge. Any woman would appreciate being respected."