Better Human Better Dog: Cesar Millan shows dog owners how to become better pet parents

  • Animals
  • Saturday, 28 Aug 2021

Cesar Millan walking with the dog pack at the 43-acre (17.4ha) Dog Psychology Center in Santa Clarita, California. — Photos: National Geographic

Dog behaviourist Cesar Millan is back with a brand new TV series – Better Human Better Dog.

In this series, Millan will give new pet parents the tools they need to teach their dogs good habits and shed the bad ones.

With more than 25 years' experience in training humans and rehabilitating their dogs, Millan is one of the most sought-after authorities in the field of dog behaviour and rehabilitation.

His Dog Psychology Center in Santa Clarita, California, is the place where dogs can go for training and rehabilitation in a ranch-like setting. It has plenty of roads and trails for walks, a training pool, an Animal Olympic Track, an Agility Arena, and more.

Millan is also a best-selling author, having written numerous books such as Cesar's Way, A Member Of The Family, Be The Pack Leader, Lessons From The Pack, Short Guide To A Happy Dog, Cesar's Rules: Your Way To Train A Well-behaved Dog, and Cesar Millan's Guide To Bringing Home A Shelter Dog.

Going a step further, he also set up the Cesar Millan Foundation, which is dedicated to childhood education on animals. It connects youth with animals so that they can better understand their natural instincts, energy and selves. One of its goals is to help young people develop empathy for animals, and thereby decrease animal abuse in society.

Besides dogs, there are also llamas, alpacas, birds, a horse and a donkey at Cesar Millan's Dog Psychology Center.Besides dogs, there are also llamas, alpacas, birds, a horse and a donkey at Cesar Millan's Dog Psychology Center.

A press screener made available to members of the media featured a retiree, Judy, and her new pet dog, a boisterous Australian kelpie (a sheep-herding breed) named Shadow.

Shadow is a super-energetic dog who is highly excitable and can't seem to follow Judy's instructions. Shadow just won't listen or do as she is told. And whenever they go for walks, Shadow pulls very hard at the leash and goes wherever she wants, or lunges at other dogs.

What's more, Shadow is fixated on bricks! Whenever she sees Judy holding a brick, Shadow can't get her eyes off it and tries to get at it, to the point of jumping high to reach it and even biting Judy's hand.

It is a great challenge for Judy to learn to be assertive, to lead her dog, and to claim her space and her bricks.

So Shadow spends a few sessions at the Dog Psychology Center, where Millan and his team use various ways – putting Shadow on a treadmill and getting her to swim in the pool – to get Shadow to expend her vast store of energy and to teach her to slow down mentally so that she would reach a calm, surrendered state.

Shadow is also put in a pen with a flock of sheep but, surprisingly, she is at a loss and doesn't herd the sheep at all.

Millan gives Judy some assignments to do at home, to build her energy and confidence, and help Shadow achieve calmness through exercising on the treadmill.

In the end, Judy succeeds in becoming more confident and assertive and starts to command respect from Shadow. And Shadow's over-excitement comes under control, resulting in a calm and obedient dog. Finally, when they go for a walk, Shadow is able to do so calmly, without lunging or pulling at the leash. Both owner and pet are finally on the same page, with the same energy level.

In an exclusive interview with StarLifestyle, Millan, 52, speaks about the Dog Psychology Center, his superhero pack, the "pack code" and more.

Please tell us more about your newly updated Dog Psychology Centre. Besides dogs, what other animals do you have there, and for what purpose?

I dreamed about, and created, this place which has that energy. The community I've created includes my sons Andre, 25, and Calvin, 21. Now it's my family helping your family.

My land welcomes you... so you feel how we treat our land, not just how we treat our animals, and how we work together as a community.

I wanted to show the world how the land, the community and the activities there can change your visit with us. It's like the experience people get when they visit Malaysia – they've got to experience the land, the people and the culture.

So the ranch is that magical experience.

Millan at a live show in KLCC in 2015. He likens a visit to his Dog Psychology Center to the experience people get when they visit Malaysia: 'They've got to experience the land, the people and the culture,' he says.Millan at a live show in KLCC in 2015. He likens a visit to his Dog Psychology Center to the experience people get when they visit Malaysia: 'They've got to experience the land, the people and the culture,' he says.

We have llamas, alpacas, emus, tortoises, a donkey, a horse, sheep, goats, birds and chickens to create a beautiful paradise. The purpose is to influence. It's for the humans. Most of the people I work with live in the city so they don't get to experience live animals in their lives. There are people who have never seen a horse or a donkey or a live chicken!

It's humans who live in the city and they haven't had an experience with nature. That's why I started the ranch. We need the communication, the connection and the relationship – this relationship I talk about is not just for dogs but for anything on this planet, including humans. Here, they see how a dog is not chasing an emu, and a donkey is playing with a dog; people need to see this live.

Who is your 'superhero pack' and what do they do?

It's all the animals we have rescued, all the animals at the ranch, and the people I work with – especially my two sons who grew up in that environment – who have the same philosophy and respect. It's a group of people who follow what I'm following – like a culture and energy that we have created. It's almost like a tradition. That's my superhero pack. And animals are beautiful and will always make a difference in people.

What is your 'pack code'?

Honesty, integrity, loyalty – that's the pack code. As soon as you break it, it's going to create distress, disrespect and no love.When you have relationships with humans, and they are not honest or loyal nor have integrity, we feel bad.

The pack code – that's what animals live by. They are honest, loyal and have integrity. They don't break it. We humans are the only species that breaks that code.

In the press screener, you say that it is easier to work with an aggressive dog than a fixated dog. Why is this so?

A fixated dog is already "gone", like humans who are fixated – they are quiet, thinking, and ready to harm.

A human who is aggressive is expressing, venting – it is obvious.

Aggression is not as bad as fixation. Fixation is another level. With a fixated dog, you can predict what he's going to do but you don't know when he's going to act. But with an aggressive dog, you know what he's doing, and you can stop the aggression.

Is your end goal always to get the human to achieve 'pack leader' status?

Yes, that's the only position that allows you to give direction and protection.As a father, I need to be my kids' pack leader. My grandfather was my pack leader, so were my father, my mother, my grandmother and my aunts.

My culture is like your culture, where it's the elder who is the pack leader. And the kids are the followers.

So with an animal – whether it's an elephant, a horse, a dog, or any other animal – you need to lead them because they're not thinking (for themselves). If you don't lead them, they can get into trouble.

So it's a responsibility that a human gains when he decides to have a dog in his life. It's not just about giving affection. The dog needs exercise and mental stimulation, too. Exercise, discipline, affection. Body, mind, heart. Trust, respect, love. Honesty, integrity, loyalty. That's my responsibility.

As a pet parent, you have to take up a leadership position. Leadership is a big responsibility. We need to understand the responsibility it takes to own a dog, to live with a dog or to be a dog parent.

In this pandemic, with its multiple lockdowns, a lot of people have adopted pets. But when the humans go back to the office, many pets may be left alone at home, and may experience separation anxiety. What's your advice to pet owners on handling this?

Don't just let the dog practise following you all the time. If the dog follows you 50 times a day, for instance, you have to get the dog to not follow you 25 times, so it's 50-50. The dog has to practise to not follow you half of the time. It's simple.

Cesar Millan: Better Human Better Dog premieres on National Geographic Channel (Astro Ch 551/unifi TV Ch 508) on Sept 1, at 9pm. The series will stream on Disney+ Hotstar Malaysia from Nov 12.

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