I recently was asked to join in a conference call with Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer,” in which he discussed his new TV series, “Cesar 911,” and answered some questions on dog behavior. “Cesar 911″ premiered at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, March 7, on Nat Geo Wild. Additional information can be found at www.cesar911.com.
The conference call was hosted by Katherine Taylor. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in the call because my sister was very ill and in the hospital at that time. Katherine was kind enough to send me a transcript of the conference call to share with readers. The following is a partial transcript of the call.
Cesar Millan: Yes, ma’am.
M Gellers: I have presently a 7-year-old whippet and he’s typically very calm, occasionally he gets himself in an aggressive state, like one time I picked him up from, he was in the kennel overnight, I was taking his lead off and he wrapped his head around and snapped at my hand and scratched it. And then just a few weeks ago we had a plumber in the house and I had him on his leash and I was going to put him –- not the plumber, the dog -– in the crate, and he did the same thing, he turned around and snapped at me. So it seems like I don’t understand what makes him in that state.
C Millan: Your question, and everybody’s situation, it’s pretty much the same: aggression, insecurity, fear. How you deal with it is more important. Most people focus on the dog. “I have a dog, my dog is aggressive.” But I always focus on why do you think the dog is aggressive, what is it that you are doing or not doing that your dog has developed this? Because they’re not born with aggression, for example, in society, and so that’s what we have to learn to identify, is what are we doing that we trigger this.
You and I as groomers, most people don’t really work with the dog or actually condition the dog to be touched in certain areas, but by the time they give it to us we have to actually recondition the dog and ask the dog to trust us in an hour. So it’s not the fault of the dog, it’s the human who he lives with is not a proactive human. We don’t really live in a proactive world or in a world with good habits. Most people have bad habits and they’re not proactive.
So he’s unsure, you know, why is he, I don’t know, fearful, insecure, unsure, those are the three main points why a dog will actually redirect his behavior, especially towards a human, the human that he lives with. Why he loses trust at that moment, that’s for me a better thing to focus. That’s why I like to go to people’s homes and see how the human deals with the situation and reacts to the situation. So, my question to you, are you feeling nervous, are you feeling tense, are you feeling unsure, are you confused, all of those are symptoms, all of those are signs, signals that we give to our dog so the dog doesn’t feel comfortable.
M Gellers: When the people were doing some plumbing work in the house I was like, should I leave him in the crate, should I get him out of the crate, you know, I was in my mind going back and forth, because he was licking the crate, he was panting. So, I got him out and put him on a leash, so he didn’t have his own freedom in his home that he was used to having.
C Millan: Right, but you went into the “Should I, should I, should I?” so you’re not sure, and that makes a dog feel uncomfortable. And all that’s related to the person that came in, so they can either go after the person or redirect the energy towards you.
Sadienna Bowman with TV Equal: What was your most rewarding case this season?
C Millan: For “Cesar 911,” obviously helping a dog stay alive, because most of the cases that I work with are life and death, and most people want to put the dog down. The first one you’re going to see is how the whole community wanted to put the dog down because the dog was attacking the family, and almost like the question that I got earlier, you know, the dog is biting, not in the form of attack, but people get nervous and afraid and leave him with somebody that he loves. And so to restore the balance in the community and the trust that actually is a very rewarding feeling, because “Cesar 911″ is about a whistleblower calling me to help them in the community. In “Dog Whisperer,” the owner of the dog called me, but this time it was the community concerned about making sure somebody helps.
Anna Cooke with New Barker Dog Magazine: New Barker Dog Magazine asked our readers what would be the one question they would like to ask you given the opportunity to meet with you, and the main subject matter that kept coming up that I’d love to have you address is the issue of dominance over our dogs. And as you, I know, are aware, training techniques can be such a polarizing subject matter and I know that your techniques are just one of many in the so-called tool chest, but with Cesar 911, how can you address again the subject matter of using dominance over dogs and will you be using other techniques?
C Millan: You know the beauty of “Cesar 911″ is how much we’re going to focus on training the human. I always say, “Train humans and rehabilitate dogs,” and in Dog Whisperer you saw more rehabilitation of dogs, so people came up with these feelings and misunderstanding. So, most people don’t understand the concept of the meaning of a word, so the word “dominant” can mean two things.
For example, in television they say that “The Lakers dominated the court,” so the word “dominant” is used in a very positive way, that nobody had heard, they just masterfully controlled the situation.
They won as a team, as a pack, so most of the time it’s a misunderstanding of what certain words mean because a word can change your emotions, your feelings, you know, or the outcome of certain things.
One of the things that I do help people is to understand how do they express themselves, and then the humans have to pick a word that actually he feels comfortable with. To me the word “calm and assertive,” “calm and confident” is the equivalent of dominance, right? But confident people feel a little bit more comfortable, assertive people have two feelings about it, but everybody agrees with calm. So I don’t just say be dominant, I say calm and assertive, because calm creates trust. Confidence creates respect. Most people don’t behave confident. Most people behave nervous, tense, anxious, so they can’t really lead or create trust with their dogs. That’s when the dog takes the front position. You either lead a relationship or somebody will lead the relationship. So, where people have problems with their dogs is because they’re not fulfilling their needs, or they’re not taking a position that allows you to give direction.
A Cooke: Do you feel that the word “dominance” then is overused and that you’re evolving in your training techniques?
C Millan: I’m always evolving. Sometimes I use other species to help a situation. Sometimes I change the way people think about it so they have a different experience. A lot of people mislabel what they have. Most people think they have an aggressive dog and what they have is an insecure dog. So, by understanding how to label or how to identify the problem, I think you give a dog a better chance to know why he behaves that way.
Like I said earlier, most people have bad habits, not good habits, so the dog is not going to be able to give you what you’re looking for, which is harmony and balance, because you’re not giving him harmony and balance. Most people blame the dog. This is one of the reasons why banning certain breeds is almost like okay. They’re not born unstable, we make them unstable.
So, three things control the world: ignorance, fear, and people who mistreat animals. I don’t believe that people that mistreat animals should have dogs, but I believe fear and ignorance can be changed by educating them. Most people don’t know dogs. They love dogs, but they don’t know dogs.
A Cooke: So, “Cesar 911″ is going to be, as you said, a whistleblower trying to save the community, and I wanted to let you know that we have a situation here in Florida, Buck and Bill, who are two Australian Shepherds, and they are in Animal Services right now with an order to be euthanized. They are two family dogs and there’s a huge social media effort in trying to save their lives. They are not aggressive dogs. Evidently they ran out of the yard, provoked by a stranger in the yard, and so now they’ve been taken in by Animal Services. So, again, what you’re saying is the
actions of the humans have provoked dogs and have gotten the dogs into a situation where now they’re going to have to be destroyed.
C Millan: Dogs don’t have a voice and sometimes they don’t even have rights. When they make a mistake it’s not because they wanted to make a mistake, but because the human unconsciously provokes it, or make the mistake.
Why homeless people have a better relationship with dogs than people who are not homeless is because they leave the dog. Most homes the dog is in the back off leash, so why handicapped people, blind people can walk a dog better that can’t see is because they’re leading the dog. So those two people are practicing what I want people to understand, that’s what leadership is all about. They both have an amazing relationship.
Homeless people, 9 out of 10 have pit bulls, right, and most of the time on the news is not because the homeless person attacked somebody, it’s because a dog that had a home got out and harmed somebody. So that’s a dog that’s been frustrated, often they live with hostile humans, and so the dog can only learn negative behavior. So that’s why I always say handicapped people make dogs normal, and normal people make dogs handicapped.
Diane Rich with Canine Chat: I am not just media, I’m also a dog trainer, so you’re kind of preaching to the choir here with your philosophies and approach. So, I appreciate what you say. I want to know with what you accomplished with Dog Whisperer and this new show, have you noticed that behavior problems have increased over the years?
C Millan: Well, I think more the awareness of when people, especially when they see me in the airports and they say, “Cesar,” I know it’s me. Do you know what I mean? At least that’s a big change because in the ’70s they blamed the Doberman, in the ’90s they blamed the Rottweiler, and now they’re blaming the pit bulls. But at least humans are taking some sort of responsibility, some sort of, “I know I have to be more consistent with exercise, I know you talk about it.”
But when a dog trainer comes into people’s home, it shouldn’t be for rehabilitation. It should be just for modification, to condition, because some people don’t have good timing. But in my profession I build it out of people not understanding dogs, so the dog ends up in a very unstable situation, you know, extreme fear or extreme aggression, those are the cases that I work. I don’t work with dogs that are mild. I work with dogs that are more likely going to be euthanized if nobody does anything about it. But by that time most people are afraid of them.
And so what I know is they’re misunderstood, and so I think we have to keep working, make sure the human understands that it’s not the dog, it’s the human behind the dog. For example, and in Cesar 911 you’re going to see how the neighbors, so these neighbors throw parties all the time and the neighbor came into the house and the dog bit one of the neighbors. Well, the owner of the dog blamed the neighbor. But guess who called me to save the dog’s life? The victim. Because the victim knew that the owner wasn’t doing the exercise and the discipline.
But then when you find out why the owner wasn’t doing what she’s supposed to do and then you understand, okay, I get it, the dog saved your life, but still we have to move forward. Now the dog is
overprotective of you because you only practice affection, affection, affection.
So that’s a beautiful story for me that’s happening on “Cesar 911,” where the victim, instead of calling a lawyer, which is very common, or call the animal shelter to take the dog away, they call me.
D Rich: Yes, and that’s fantastic. It doesn’t always work out so well when a neighbor or the community calls somebody because a person, as you said, doesn’t always see the problem, they just blame somebody else. And I agree with you that the aggression is just a symptom of the bigger problem, but over the years have you seen aggression, or aggressive behavior, on the rise, or have you seen it decrease a little bit based on shows like yours and all the information that’s available and all the dog trainers that are available to people these days?
C Millan: I think there’s less blaming on the dogs. There’s still the level of aggression. We still have accidents.There is now a high population where they’re exercising more, you know, you see more people walking together, or riding a bike together, but there is not a dog in it. And I hope one day people walk with their dogs, bike with their dogs, because a tired dog will never get in trouble, ever.
Paris Permenter with Dogtipper.com: I was watching your videos for “Cesar 911″ on the computer this morning and had a question. Were you kind of inspired to start this new show because you were seeing that many dogs were winding up in shelters because of neighborhood complaints?
C Millan: Four to five million. We have to do something about it. A lot of people give up on dogs. A dog would never do that to a human. But we are very quick to say, “You know, I did everything.” Most people don’t do calm. They don’t behave calm. They’re not consistent with what they’re being told from me or from anybody else. The consistency is really important to create the structure that we really want in our dogs.
And so actually the show was born after I announced that I wasn’t going to do “Dog Whisperer” anymore after 10 years, and we started receiving a lot of letters and e-mails, but not from the dog owners, from neighbors and family members that said, “Listen, we can’t go, we have a problem in our neighborhood and we’re afraid that one of this dogs is going to kill one of the kids. And we can’t come to my relative’s home because the dogs are always jumping up on us, biting and stealing food, and we don’t want to visit them because of that.” And the owners are in denial. So, that’s the reason why we call it “Cesar 911,” because it felt like an emergency.
D Rich: You know my second follow-up question was kind of related to one you answered earlier, in that what do you do when the owner doesn’t recognize that there’s a problem? You know, when you go to the house and they say, “No, my dog’s great, there’s no problem,” how do you handle that kind of situation?
C Millan: Well, we stay there as long as we can to show them, you know — humans have to see it to believe it — so by the time that I come in obviously they’re a little upset because they didn’t call me, I mean, they feel a little betrayed and bothered by the situation, you know, “How dare you call Cesar. My dog is perfect.” But the dog is trying to kill somebody at the same time. And it’s like, well, just give me a chance for a second, let me show you a different way of just how to hold the leash, so we can actually talk and you prove your point. And when they see the dog changes by me holding the leash in a different way and the energy that I have and how the dog is relating to the neighborhood, and how the neighborhood is looking at her now, it’s like, “Okay, I do have a problem.” Do you know what I mean?
Most people fight problems, more people fly from problems, more people avoid problems, I would say, fight, flight, avoidance, surrender, and that’s why on “Cesar 911″ we’re going to focus more on the human. I think this is the show that is definitely going to make humans more responsible and people are going to say, you know what, we have to change. We have blamed our dogs for many, many years, we have euthanized them and killed them wrongly, and so we can see now why we did what we did because we’re lacking in information. Most of us are ignorant and fearful.
Linda Fuoco with the Pittsburgh Post: I write a weekly pet column for The Post Gazette, and I watched the show on the computer. Very interesting, and you sort of just addressed what I was going to ask you about. You told the owner of Auggie, “Nicole is a classic, classic neurotic dog owner.” That’s brilliant. You can get away with doing that and the people actually listen. Probably dogs are easier to change than people, so how do you deal with the people? I’m sure you can make any dog do whatever you want apparently, but how do you get the people to change? Some other dog trainers
could probably appreciate that tip.
C Millan: That’s right, the biggest challenge is not the dog. The biggest challenge is the human that is not willing to transform. And so sometimes this is something that you learn along the way, you know, how to put a little pressure on people, how to say certain words that can trigger discomfort. Discomfort is good. People don’t like discomfort. They just want a comfortable state, they just want flowers and everything else.
But when it’s transformation time, when it’s the life of somebody, especially a dog that they say they love, this is when you can put a little bit of pressure, because it’s love versus reality. And so by you using certain words without making them wrong, it’s not what I say, it’s how I say it, you know, and I don’t hide it, I actually share it with the owners. Especially in the episode you’re talking in “Cesar 911,” we take the dog to the dog park, the dog is ready, ready, I’m talking … . And the funny part is it’s the dog’s birthday, right, and so it’s a coincidence, but she was going crazy. She said, “The dog is going to kill somebody. The dog is going to kill somebody.” And then we gave her a timeout, and I said “You’ve got to go. You’re ruining your dog’s birthday.”
L Fuoco: It’s funny about the dog park because the reason I don’t take my wonderfully well socialized, well behaved Cocker Spaniel to dog parks is I don’t want to run into dogs like Chip, or…
C Millan: … in order for me to change your perception I … worst nightmare. She didn’t believe in a million years that this dog can be in a dog park without killing all of them. Do you see? So, I did it for her, not so much for the dog. I wanted her to see that it’s real, that it’s possible. I also wanted to educate her about when, if you want, to come to the dog park, because from 9:00 to 10:00 you get a certain energy, from 11:00 to 12:00 you have another energy, from 3:00 to 5:00 you have another energy, so you have to know when is the best time for you to come to the dog park.
Jamie Smith with FoxFurPaws.com: I have a friend who has a really bad case of PTSD and is getting a service dog from Florida. I was wondering, how do these dogs work? These people that have these mental conditions are horribly depressed and have all these side effects, and I’ve seen service dogs like this before and they just don’t give up, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how that happens and if you see any merit in getting a service dog for PTSD?
C Millan: What happens for PTSD people, for you to be close in their intimate space they develop a lot of anxiety. They get overwhelmed, and so they’d actually rather you keep a distance, which is actually how I teach people with dogs. The relationship with a dog does not begin when you are in an intimate space. It begins from a distance. It begins from a public zone. Proximity is something that allows a person with PTSD to stay calm. So, the dog, because it’s not judging, it’s not asking what’s wrong with you, most people say there’s something wrong with that person, and so that makes the person feel more uncomfortable because they already know there is something wrong with them.
So the dog accepts you as who you are, and that relaxes a lot of people. And at the same time the dogs that actually we pair with PTSD people, it’s a dog that’s actually compatible to the energy of that human, so, it’s always going to stay calm. And then we train that dog to get in front of the owner, so the other person that is coming in, that’s as far as it goes. So it becomes like a block, and it’s almost like it’s covering the intimate space bubble. The worst thing you can do to a person with PTSD is come too fast into their intimate space, you see? And so the dog is a reminder of staying calm and security. And so it redirects the person with the problem to focus on giving directions, so there’s feedback that they have with each other, there’s a team. Especially when it’s a soldier situation, they’re so used to having an awesome team and when they come back to civilization it is not team related, it is more a self-oriented environment, and so they don’t feel like they have a bigger purpose, like they had when they were in the service.
J. Smith: Right.
C Millan: So it’s a huge help. Actually, I just placed a dog that was going to be put down in that situation, and it was a pit bull that actually was doomed to be put down, and he’s now helping. He’s the right energy, he’s awesome, he’s going to do great. And I’m not an advocate for pit bulls, I’m an advocate for dogs, period. I think we’re killing them and we’re not giving them a chance to do a better service.