In December 1990, at the age of 21 and speaking no English, Cesar Millan crossed the Mexican border into California. Soon after, he landed his first job grooming dogs, Millan gained a reputation for his calming effect on even the most difficult dogs.
Now, 30 years later, Millan—known by millions of pet lovers as The Dog Whisperer—has built an impressive empire, with his achievements including a lengthy list of best-selling books, a line of pet products, and the creation of “Training Cesar’s Way,” an immersive dog-training program available to pet owners worldwide.
He is widely known for his television series The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, broadcast in more than 100 countries. Prior to The Dog Whisperer, Millan focused on rehabilitating severely aggressive dogs and founded the Dog Psychology Center I in East Los Angeles, which later moved to its permanent home in Santa Clarita, California.
Through a series of phone calls with Millan, we were able to glean information about Millan’s background, his views on today’s pet parents and his tips for the pet care industry. His beginnings are humble, to say the least:
“When I came to America, I didn’t come to teach Americans. I came to learn from Americans. I grew up [in Mexico] watching Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, so I thought all dogs in America were just like that. I saw a dog that was almost human. I was naïve. When I came to America, I was ‘Oh, OK. That was just a TV show.’ I realized that Lassie was five of them. Rin Tin Tin was seven of them. OK. OK.
“I thought I’d grow up, go to America, and learn from the best and then come back home and open my own dog training facility. Nobody knew anything about that in Mexico because there, the empathy and compassion for animals were completely different. It’s changing. But immigrants bring a different way of looking at the world. I’d never seen a dog having a birthday party in my entire life. I never saw dogs having toys for Christmas.
“As immigrants, we have a creative mind. Where can I help? I had heard [John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural quote] ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’ and I took that to heart. That’s when the people from National Geographic came and asked ‘What do you do?’ I change people and rehabilitate dogs. They went ‘Ohhh, this guy’s different.’ So I became the first guy to say ‘I change humans and rehabilitate dogs.’
“I didn’t come here to save the day or to enhance the industry. What I grew up learning in Mexico made more sense. Dogs in Mexico are skinny but they don’t have psychological problems. Dogs in America are chunky but I get to have a TV show. A dog that lives in America needs outside help.
“If you go to Mexico, nobody walks a dog on a leash. A dog experiences freedom. Here they’re more a part of the family. A dog gets to have a birthday party, experience Christmas, sleep in the human’s bed, experience Thanksgiving. But in other countries, dogs are allowed to be themselves. You love your dogs very much, but I found if you want to love a dog the way he wants to be loved, there is a formula, and that’s the way I went from being the Mexican guy who can walk a pack of dogs to being called The Dog Whisperer.”
According to Millan, a dog’s biggest goal is to be happy and balanced, with a motivating desire to live in harmony, fulfill its dreams, and accomplish its goals. He noted that there are three types of people: dog lovers, people who don’t like dogs, and people who are afraid of dogs. Along those lines, dogs behave in the way they are being treated.
Millan teaches that dogs have three primary needs: exercise, discipline, and affection—in that order. Body, mind, and heart are another way of saying instinct, intellect, and emotion. In other words, it is the owner’s responsibility to fulfill the dog’s energy level needs through challenging exercise; then to provide clearly communicated rules, boundaries, and limitations; and finally, to provide affection.
His work focuses on handling a dog with what he calls “calm-assertive energy” that enables dog owners to establish their role as the calm-assertive pack leader. However, it involves much more than that:
“If you establish connection, communication, relationship, the outcome is trust, respect, love. If you have trust-respect-love, you can have a dog off-leash. If we want to have well-behaved dogs, all humans have to know the same. But some are afraid [of dogs] and some hate [dogs]. You still have to understand dogs.
“It involves knowledge. How do you fight aggression, fear, a dog that doesn’t obey? It’s knowledge. How do you fight something that you don’t like? Knowledge! Knowledge is the solution to fight a virus or people who love dogs but the dog doesn’t listen, people who are afraid of a dog have to get rid of the fear, or people who don’t like dogs have to get rid of the hate. It’s not good for you to hate it anyway.”
Millan has been harnessing his experience and expertise over the past 25 years, enabling him to become an entrepreneur with an innovative product line under the Cesar Millan brand. In recent years, he has partnered with innovative companies in the pet tech and wellness space. Millan has partnered with Petcube to develop a Cesar Millan Edition pet camera with a built-in treat dispenser. Within the wellness space, he unveiled a new brand of pet CBD with Mike Tyson at Global Pet Expo earlier this year and is developing an organic human-grade dog food line.
Most recently, Millan joined a team of pet and technology experts formed by Ken Ehrman to help create the Halo Collar, a 4-in-1 smart dog system built on a mission of “no more lost dogs” and designed with three main goals: safety, communication, and freedom.
Halo is meant to give a pet owner the peace of mind that your dog is safe before an accident can happen. Combined with Millan’s step-by-step 21-day dog training program, the Halo System teaches pet owners how to have the best relationship with their dogs, while automatically keeping them safe in any location. Meanwhile, Halo’s Smart Fence feature allows users to create fully-closed virtual safe areas that allow a dog to safely roam off-leash inside the Halo Fences created by the pet owner:
“The way I teach is I create formulas. [When a client claims] ‘My dog is chewing on my furniture. What kind of solution can I buy so he doesn’t chew on my furniture?’ Let’s talk about honesty. How long do you exercise the dog? And then you sell them exercise products such as a backpack, the right leash, boots, or harness for the harness to pull. The only reason the dog is chewing is it has so much physical energy. Then you get mind games, the toys that have to do with challenging the mind. Recommend agility, search-and-rescue, and obedience. Things like that. Obedience is the equivalent of you going to school and reading a book. Agility is the equivalent of you going to the track and jumping over obstacles.
“I come from a third world country. We didn’t have pet stores. We didn’t have toys. Our dog toy was a stick or they would go find a rock. We used to hide from our dogs so they could find us. Creativity is very important, as is knowledge.
“People want things fast so we created the Halo. It’s a knowledge-based product. Everybody comes from a Mom, and Mom wants to know certain things; where you are, that you can respect the boundaries, respect the rules. That’s a halo. She wants to keep you in your space so she can protect you, give you directions and give you love. Animals have their own halo. They don’t need technology, they know their children will follow them. But humans have become dependent on technology and have become very knowledgeable about technology. So we have a smartphone to connect, communicate, and have a relationship.
“Even if you’re not paying attention, technology will do it for you… your phone will keep your dog within the three-foot distance. You have to do the introduction. The only thing people have to follow is the first 21 days because Most people quit in the second week. Don’t quit in the second week. Go all the way to the 21 days, and you’ll build that habit. For 21 days, this is the boundary, these are the rules, these are the limitations.
“After the 21 days, technology does it for you. For the rest of the dog’s life, you leave it up to the technology. In the beginning, you’re doing the introductions. It’s the same thing with boots, a backpack, or a muzzle.”
Another product that Millan supports is Happy Again Pet, which was founded by biotech scientist Anja Skoda. He became an equity partner in the collagen supplement last year after his personal experience with the product, which is a unique, proprietary formula designed to maintain the cartilage of younger dogs to prolong their youth and to help rebuild it in older dogs to improve their mobility. The supplement combines a blend of collagen with a blend of glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, and vitamins:
“One of my most beloved pack is Junior, who is 15 years old. Age is something you get to see in their joints. Junior is super sport-oriented… [Skodda] flew over from Germany and told me about the product. I gave it to my dog and he used to do skateboarding. She told me about the product, and at first, I was skeptical. But something about her, she was so confident about it.
“I gave it a try. Two weeks later, Junior went from slow to his normal self. I said this thing works! A dog will not lie. [The product’s formula] with the collagen, it actually lubricates and starts growing things. Now Junior swims and hikes. We work out eight hours a day, and the guy doesn’t stop. He’s 15 and he outruns a puppy. I just turned 51, if I can feel that way, I’m good and healthy.”
Although a product can be effective, it needs to be available to consumers in a way that they can also understand it and determine if it’s appropriate for their companion animals. In addition, and something that is important to Millan is that the consumers need to have knowledge of how to accurately introduce the product to their pet. When it comes to the role that the pet care industry plays in a dog’s life and how pet owners raise their companion animals, Millan has some very strong opinions:
“If you go to a vet—most don’t understand how to connect, communicate with a dog. They just don’t. If you go to a retailer, they know about the product, but not about the customer. The customer is the dog. If they don’t understand what the proper energy is to be with a dog or don’t know how dogs learn, about trust, respect, love, they won’t know what to tell the human client about what to use and what steps to do and what strategies to use and what should be the mission.
“Everyone has ‘This is the new thing.’ Well, I understand there is a bottom line, but there is a way where we can be honest, integrity, and loyal and we respect the spirit, instinct, and heart of a dog. That has to do with education. That’s why I train humans how to rehabilitate dogs. It’s very important that a human learn how to connect and communicate so it can have an amazing relationship with a dog.
“Your child is a dog, cat, bird, so if you have a child with special needs, you the parent need to be educated on how you’ll teach this child to connect and have a normal life. Most retailers go into the business because they love animals because it’s an opportunity or they inherit the business. But very few people actually understand at a natural level how to educate the customers. So the customers, when they purchase something from you, and what you sell them, it’s from an educated point of view. That’s where the loyalty comes from—you’re giving them education. That is what’s missing from the retail world…
“When I’m at expos, everybody wants to know about the product, but nobody knows how the dog should be introduced to the product. How to put a boot or backpack on the dog, or why this treatment might not be good for your specific dog.
“There’s no DMV for pet parents. There’s no place for humans to get trained to be a profound pet parent… In Germany, you have to go through education. After you get the initial OK to have a dog, then every year you have to [pass written and practical tests]. Germany is all about structure and discipline. We have to understand, Rottweiler and German shepherds are powerful breeds, but if you don’t understand how to control power, [a breed like those] can become dangerous. My clients are Harvard graduates, but they can’t work a Chihuahua. He’s little but a Chihuahua can still trigger a bite. Our society loves dogs the most ever, but it’s still ignorant about how to keep them balanced.
“It has to be a collaboration between a pet store owner, a dog trainer, and a dog behaviorist. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a group of people to help give [a dog owner] the right guidance. The pet retailer should know the same thing as a dog trainer. Their client is the dog. The dog trainer will give you structure, and more precise handling skills. The retailer should remind you of those ideas.
“Everybody serving the dog should speak the same language but everybody has their own thing. So what happens to the human customer is she becomes confused. Who does she follow? This person says this, but this person says this. The heart is going up, the love for a dog is going higher and higher, but the confusion is also getting higher and higher. The vets are the one that sells Prozac instead of exercise. A retailer can’t sell you Prozac, but only vets can sell you Prozac. That’s huge, my brother. It’s like medicating kids instead of telling them to do karate or football. It’s a big big big unfortunately big, big thing. The vet is not really going after the natural, simple, profound. The vet has to pay bills—I get it. He owes his school and all of that stuff—I get it. It becomes a more bottom line than actual life. The reason they went to school to become a vet wasn’t to become wealthy; it was to save an animal’s life. But then something happened.
“OK, let’s get the retailer in the room; let’s get the vet in the room. Let’s get everybody who’s making money off the dog and make sure we all [are on the same page] and do the same thing. Then all humans are going to do the right thing. It’s simple as that. Life is simple, we make it complicated. We’re talking about animals. Nature will do the same thing no matter where they are in the world. A human is the only one who has his own way and confuses the crap out of other humans. [Pet care] creates money, I get it. This causes a side effect and you have to cure the side effect. And the only one who gets hurt is the dog. That’s not what you get a dog for. A dog will never medicate a human. A human medicates a dog. We have to look at things in a more natural, simple, profound.”