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Scott D. Pierce: 'Dog Whisperer' tries to train errant owners

Published January 25, 2013 11:32 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Although he's known as "the dog whisperer," the main focus of Cesar Millan's work isn't canines, it's humans.

"I say I train people and rehabilitate dogs," Millan said. "When I came to America and I saw how people are walking their dogs, I said: 'I'm not going to train dogs. I'm going to train Americans.' "

And a lot of dog owners need all the help they can get. If we haven't had dogs that bark too much, act destructively or act aggressively, we know someone who has. And watching Millan on his TV shows — including his current Nat Geo Wild series, "Cesar Millan's Leader of the Pack" (Saturdays, 8 p.m.) — he makes dealing with dogs look easy.

"Growing up in Mexico on a farm, my grandfather said: 'Never work against Mother Nature,' " Millan said. "You must earn their trust, earn their respect, and they're going to give you something beautiful that's called loyalty. Animals don't follow unstable pack leaders. Only humans follow unstable pack leaders."

What looks like magic to unprepared dog owners is just simple logic to Millan. "The formula [is] exercise, discipline, affection," he said. "My clients do affection, affection, affection."

It's the American way. Not the right way, but the way far too many Americans treat their dogs. "Dogs in Mexico are skinny, but they don't have psychological problems," he said. "Dogs in America are nice and chunky, and they have psychological problems. It's not the dog. It's how the dog is being treated. It's how the dog is being fulfilled."

Millan said he grew up with dogs who followed their owners even without being leashed, but learned that Americans have trouble dealing with dogs even when they're leashed. "My clients are Harvard graduates, but they can't walk a Chihuahua."

Too many people feel sorry for the dog they've just adopted — that "adoption is more emotional than logical. The dog senses that the human is in a weak state, so the dog takes control of the situation. My clients are dog lovers, but they're not knowledgeable dog lovers."

It's all about being the leader of your own pack. "That's the bottom line," Millan said. "Life is simple. We make it complicated."

Millan is bringing his brand of wisdom to Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m. at Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City. He'll share his secret to happier, healthier relationships between humans and their dogs. (Tickets are $37-$84 and are available at arttix.org, 801-355-2787, or at the box office.)

This is for humans only. Dogs aren't invited to attend the Abravanel Hall event.

It's not about them, anyway. It's about their owners.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce