Interview: Cesar Millan

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Hail Cesar! Known to millions around the world for his work on popular TV series, Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan brings his canine capers to Hong Kong for a special live show. He tells Matt Fleming he’s looking forward to teaching us how to treat man’s best friend with love and respect

When it comes to controlling canines and educating their owners, the first name that always pops up is Cesar Millan. The Mexican-American star, known to millions across the globe for his work on TV’s Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, has become the world’s leading expert on pup behaviour due to the hit TV show, his bestselling books and his Millan Foundation, which supports the rescue and rehabilitation of man’s best friend. But now he’s turning his hand to the stage – and he’s heading to Hong Kong for the first time to take the lead in a live show that should get pooch lovers panting with anticipation.

Millan has more than 25 years of experience working with dogs, using what he calls ‘a philosophy of trust, respect and love’ to rehabilitate canines with behavioural difficulties. But the 44-year-old’s biggest challenge is rarely the dogs themselves. It’s usually how to educate their owners on how their actions affect their pets. And watching Millan’s work is hugely entertaining – hence the runaway success of Dog Whisperer, which drew millions of viewers between 2004 and 2012. The TV show saw guests become ‘pack leaders’ as Millan helped them to discipline and love their pets by using his expert techniques.

So, this all makes Millan a dog training authority, right? Wrong. “I don’t train dogs,” the star tells us on the phone from LA. “I focus on training humans to rehabilitate dogs. It’s all about dealing with aggression, fear, anxiety and frustration. When a dog has a side effect, it’s not because he was born with it. He was born into a family with that trait. Animals are perfect. Mother Nature is perfect. Humans bring imperfection.”

It’s this blame-nuture-rather-than-nature attitude that has helped Millan become much-cherished over the years. “I am from Mexico – a country where dogs are on the streets,” he says. “In the USA, they are not. They are behind doors for 24 hours a day, so they develop frustrations. I break it all down in a simplistic way. It’s important that you’re firm – that’s how you relate to a dog. If you do that, then you should not have a problem.”

Millan says becoming a household name has been something of a rags to riches story, starting from a dream he had about becoming famous when he was 13 years old. “You dream more when you are poor than when you are rich,” he says. “You dream a lot. The only way you can go is up. But now I am a pioneer. There are people now who want to be the next Dog Whisperer. It has become a science. You have to dream it and pray every day. But, with desire and intent, you can do it.”

The Dog Whisperer tells us his biggest challenge is not dogs or their owners, though. He says it’s raising his 16 and 19-year-old boys. “I have raised dogs my whole entire life,” says Millan, “but not kids. Dogs don’t talk back.” He says he tries to teach his sons to ‘have their own voices’ but, at the same time, ‘they also have to understand that I am their pack leader’. “I’ve been on this Earth for a while and I grew up in a different environment, so I have a lot more wisdom than they have,” he says. “They’re privileged kids – and I have worked really hard for that – but, at the same time, I also have to maintain them in a humble state.”

It’s going to be Millan’s first time in Hong Kong. His Cesar Millan Live Tour hits Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore before the May 11 show at AsiaWorld Expo. It’s set to be educational and entertaining, with Millan sharing tips on ‘how to fix common dog misbehaviours’. Expect plenty of live demonstrations covering topics like reading body language and the importance of instinct – but don’t bring your own pooch along. Millan says the show is for ‘people training’ only. “The show really helps me to teach the fundamentals,” he says. “It shows people the way I see a relationship with a dog. The techniques I use. I want people to understand and follow. It’s like practicing tai chi or kung fu. There’s a formula and a philosophy.”

Millan’s new TV show, Cesar to the Rescue, where the star responds to distress calls, has just started and is running every Tuesday on National Geographic Wild. But it’s the live show he’s waxing lyrical about. “In the live show, I lie down with dogs on the stage,” he says “On TV, it’s edited. You see it from our aspect and from the dog’s aspect on TV – but the stage gives me a platform for people to experience me and my work in real life. People are going to come for a different sort of experience. They are going to get a lot out of it – and so am I.”

We brief Millan, who is shooting another new TV show for National Geographic while he is here in Hong Kong, on our city’s bouts of dog poisoning – particularly in places like Bowen Road and on Lamma Island over the years – during our interview. He doesn’t like this news. He says: “Spaying is a better way to deal with a dog overpopulation. Humans need to know what being humane means. There needs to be a better way to deal with dog overpopulation than using poison!”

Millan says he’s excited about his first Hong Kong visit. “I’m looking forward to the smells, the sounds, the energy and the people,” he says. “I’m from a little town in Mexico and no-one in my family can believe that I’m now going to Hong Kong! They are all very proud of me!”

And what’s Millan looking forward to the most? “The food!” he says. “And I want to experience the life and how people live too. It’s not going to be the same as in the USA and Mexico, is it?” No, it’s not. But, hopefully, we – along with our pets – won’t be the same either after the Dog Whisperer comes to town.

Cesar Millan Live AsiaWorld Expo, Sun May 11. Tickets: $880-$480; hkticketing.com. For more details on Millan, visit cesarsway.com.

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