Dog trainer and television personality
Born August 27, 1969, in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico; son of Felipe (a photographer) and Maria Teresa Favela (a seamstress) Millan; married Ilusion, c. 1994; children: Cesar, Calvin.
Addresses: Home—Los Angeles, CA. Office—Cesar Millan, Inc., 1033 North Hollywood Way, Ste. C, Burbank, CA 91505.
Began career as a dog groomer in San Diego, CA, c. 1990, and then worked as a dog trainer there and in Los Angeles; also worked as a limousine detailer in Los Angeles; opened the Dog Psychology Center, 1998; host of The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel, 2004–; published first book, Cesar's Way, 2006.
Canine-behavior expert Cesar Millan is the star of The Dog Whisperer, the hit reality series for the National Geographic Channel. His techniques for calming down nervous or angry dogs were more fully detailed in his 2006 bestseller, Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems. An illegal immigrant who came to the United States in the early 1990s barely fluent in English, Millan detects some national characteristics in his adopted homeland that play out in pet-ownership issues. America "is a very assertive society with people, but not when it comes to dogs," he told Deborah Solomon in an interview for the New York Times Magazine. "People are soft and kissy with dogs. That is why dogs take over. All dogs in America are suffering from the same problem—lack of exercise and lack of leadership."
Born in 1969, Millan spent his earliest years in Culiacan, a city in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, where his mother was a seamstress and his father worked as a photographer. His favorite place as a child, however, was on his grandfather's ranch in rural Sinaloa, where he was fascinated by a pack of wild dogs that roamed the property. He spent so much time observing their behavior that the locals tagged him with the nickname El perrero, or "dog boy." That fascination carried over indoors, too, where his favorite television shows and movies were ones that starred impressively trained actor-dogs such as Lassie. By his teens, Millan had decided on a career as a Hollywood animal trainer.
The U.S.-Mexico border proved the greatest obstacle to Millan's plan, however, and he decided to enter illegally by paying a guide to take him north from the foothills around Tijuana, the border town opposite San Diego. He made it safely across, but wound up living on the streets of San Diego for a month before he was able to find work. His first job was at a dog-grooming business, and when clients saw how well he soothed their nervous canines they began asking him if he could train the animals, too. He realized that there was a serious need for better caretaker-pet relationships in his newly adopted land, as he told another writer for the New York Times, Edward Wyatt. "Where I am from, the dog is always behind," Millan explained. "Here the dog is always in front. I thought maybe you guys were doing it right and we were doing it wrong," but he realized that the California dogs were indeed suitably confused.
Millan eventually moved further north, to Los Angeles, where he worked for an auto-detailing business, bought a van, and began his dog-training company out of it. Sometimes he took the most recalcitrant hounds with him for a few weeks in order to train them full-time, and he became a familiar sight on the streets of Los Angeles as the guy on in-line skates with a pack of leashed dogs trailing behind. In 1998, he opened his Dog Psychology Center in the South-Central area of Los Angeles, and word-of-mouth soon spread about his remarkable skills in training the most skittish dogs. His clientele grew, and came to include entertainment-industry professionals; the first mention of Millan in the national mainstream media came in People magazine in December of 2002 in an article recounting the transformation of a pair of Jack Russell terriers belonging to action-flick director Ridley Scott. Scott's dogs were habitual biters, then "they changed completely," Scott's girlfriend, Gianina Facio, told the magazine. "They are completely reformed. It was like a miracle."
Millan's contacts with the households of Hollywood A-listers led to an offer for his own show, and The Dog Whisperer debuted on the National Geographic Channel in 2004. The reality-television format was an ideal showcase for his dog-handling skills, and each episode featured a visit to the home of a troublesome dog and its beleaguered owner. Millan worked with the dogs—some of them demonstrably vicious even to their owners—while explaining his techniques as the camera rolled. His philosophy followed a simple formula of exercise, discipline, and affection—and in that exact order, he was also fond of saying. He was also still surprised at the cultural differences between America and Mexico regarding animal-human relations, noting that Americans seemed to treat their dogs as if they were their children. "This is a country that's controlled by children and dogs," he remarked in an interview with Morieka V. Johnson that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In Third World countries, nobody questions that the older person is the authority figure."
The Dog Whisperer was a hit for the National Geographic Channel, and soon went from a half-hour to full-hour format; in its third season in 2006–07, it was the cable channel's top-rated series, and even earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality Program. Millan's first book, Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems, was co-authored with Melissa Jo Peltier and was published just as the second season of his show began airing in the spring of 2006; it soon reached the New York Times bestseller list.
Millan is married with two sons. His success has given him the chance to expand his Dog Psychology Center to a less urban location, a 40-acre compound in the Santa Clarita Mountains, where he still keeps a revolving pack of as many as 50 dogs—some of them temporary guests of his Center, others unwanted mutts once slated for a mercy killing. Following his own rule to exercise them, he leads the pack on a daily four-hour walk, with the larger breeds setting out with backpacks so that they can carry the smaller dogs, who tire more easily. When the New York Times Magazine's Solomon asked him about the differences between New York City and Los Angeles dogs, he made a surprising observation, noting that dogs who live in big cities have a more even-keeled temperament, because they live in apartments without yards and must be walked regularly. "The backyard is not exercise," Millan asserted. "It doesn't represent freedom. It doesn't represent fun. It doesn't represent balance. The backyard is just going back and forth between walls."
(With Mary Jo Peltier) Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems, Harmony, 2006.
Be The Pack Leader: Use Cesar's Way To Transform Your Dog … and Your Life, Harmony, 2007.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 3, 2006, p. C1.
Bust, June-July 2006, p. 16.
Esquire, October 2006, p. 182.
New Yorker, May 22, 2006, p. 48.
New York Times, May 23, 2006.
New York Times Magazine, May 7, 2006.
People, December 9, 2002, p. 199; January 22, 2007, p. 105.