Fortunately, dog behaviorist Cesar Millan comes to the rescue in the third season of his Nat Geo Wild show, Cesar 911, which premieres February 19 at 9/8c. The show follows Millan, who hails from Mexico, as he calls on U.S. communities and homes menaced by unruly canines. (See National Geographic's best dog photos.)
National Geographic chatted with the famed “Dog Whisperer” about his unwavering enthusiasm for his work, his excitement that his son is following in his footsteps, and what it was like to "train" the Seinfeld star in proper dog etiquette.
You’ve been doing Nat Geo TV shows for more than a decade, with a new season of your third show, Cesar 911, about to air. What keeps you going?
I’m always excited because each season we find new cases, different scenarios that you’d never know about otherwise. We meet dogs that you’d think can’t be fixed and we solve their problems. Also, I love the fact that I can help people understand something so simple. Really, dog behavior makes sense once you really look at it closely. But most important, the cases I work with are cases most professionals won’t touch. A vet will suggest euthanasia, but I know I can make that unnecessary. That keeps me going. (See "Dogs Are Even More Like Us Than We Thought.")
Tell me more about these cases—how do you turn an aggressive dog around?
I always say that I train people and rehab dogs. Dogs that I work with have been made terrible by their owners. But I can turn them around. What I see in aggressive dogs are dogs not getting enough exercise, dogs that are frustrated, dogs that get affection at the wrong time—teaching them that it’s okay to behave badly. If a dog knows where he stands and knows his job, he’ll behave better.
What was it like to work with Jerry Seinfeld?
I was super excited to work with such an icon. Jerry is a private guy; [he] doesn’t allow the press taking pictures in his house and such. But to help his dogs, he opened the door to us. It’s not like having a child with problems and bringing them to a psychologist’s office. I have to study the dog’s and owner’s behavior in the home, in real life. That barrier had to be broken, and he broke it for me.
What’s the problem with his dogs?
One is afraid of humans, especially Jerry—she barks and runs away from him all the time. Jerry feels like the dog hates him. And his wife Jessica then cuddles her, only encouraging distrust for Jerry.
The other one is the type who won’t stop barking at things, at the doorbell, etc. So the Seinfelds have one insecure dog and one excited dog in the house. These are the first dogs Jerry has ever had, and he’s just surrendered to the situation. We had to work through all that. (See "Why Can't Dogs Recognize Us on Our Phones and Tablets?")
Have you worked with other stars?
Yes, and it’s the same with many of the famous people I’ve worked with—Oprah, presidents, royals. They can be big, important people who love dogs, but they don’t know dogs. Jerry Seinfeld was the same way. And he’s funny about it! His ignorance combined with humor made him very endearing. Here’s this guy who is known and loved by millions who is being beaten by a pair of Dachshunds.
How have you changed over the years while working on these shows?
The only things that have really changed are my English [skills], which is better, and my patience toward clients, which is pretty high now. My sincerity and honesty and how I do things [are] still the same. Nothing I do is harmful or harsh, as people describe me sometimes. People disagree with my technique. But I focus on the fundamentals—how did you create the problem? People misunderstand what I do. I save dogs’ lives by changing the formulas that people follow and that don’t work. Most of the people I help have already gone through many trainers; I’m their last resort.
What do you say to people who say we should train dogs only using positive reinforcement?
Think about it: A human family is also a pack! Someone is the leader, is in control. People get caught up in the philosophy that affection and food are all that we should give to our dogs. I agree with that as long as it’s a puppy! But I’m talking about mature dogs who ... see that a human who isn’t acting like an authority figure will give him food regardless of his behavior. That’s when things go wrong.
Your son Andre is following in your footsteps with his show Pet Talk. How do you feel about that?
I’m very proud and excited about my son becoming part of the NG family, and that the world will get to see his talents. On Pet Talk, [whose pilot episode follows Cesar 911 on February 19], he’s a journalist on the street having new experiences, talking to young people, getting different points of view, learning about all kinds of animals. It’s not another dog show; it’s something new. It makes me happy.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.