Talking to dog training expert Cesar Millan is a little like chatting with a master of Zen Buddhism.
He encourages followers to cultivate a calm, relaxed spirit. It's not how much you know, he says, but your state of your mind. Chill out and enlightenment will follow.
"My clients are Harvard educated, but they can't walk a Chihuahua," said Millan in a telephone interview. "They're people who are smart, highly trained, but they don't know how to create balance. That's why the Chihuahua doesn't listen to them.
"If you can combine training and balance, you have the ultimate dog."
Millan, whose television show "Dog Whisperer" has run for eight seasons on National Geographic channels, is a superstar in the world of canine conditioning. As the host of a hit show and author of three popular dog-training books, this 42-year-old Mexican immigrant stands at the center of a wildly successful franchise.
Now, he's taking the show on the road. Millan comes to Norfolk on Saturday, April 7, to give audiences a crash course on the basics of doggy discipline.
The presentation will cover the fundamentals of his approach, a method that's deceptively simple, he says. When dogs behave badly, it's often because the owner fails to project a calm, assertive mood.
"The dog does not respect them, therefore, he's not loyal to them," said Millan. "They love the dog, don't get me wrong. But they have mixed emotions. In order for an animal to follow a human, the person can't have mixed emotions. The animal senses that energy and fights."
Millan insists that it's possible to develop a relationship with the family pooch so robust that walking with a leash isn't necessary, even if it's required by law. A well-trained dog will walk beside his owner with perfect serenity — even if a squirrel or cat darts across the path in front of him.
Sound far fetched? Millan says it can happen if the dog respects his owner enough.
"I ask people if they can walk their dog off leash. They say, 'No way in the world. My dog doesn't know how to walk off leash.' I tell them, 'Of course they do! They were born to walk off leash. It's trust that they don't have."
In his seminar, he'll cover how to become the pack leader, how to understand dog psychology and how to change the relationship between man and man's best friend.
"By the end of the show, people get it," Millan said. "People totally understand why I'm so calm, why I'm confident, calm and assertive and why that formula works so well. Everybody has the capability. It's not just myself… They have the capability to be calm. They just have to become aware of when they're not calm. The dog knows. You can never fool a dog."
Not everyone is enthusiastic about Millan's methods.
"They're very outdated and pose a danger to the human and the dog," said trainer Samantha L. Speegle, as quoted in a story in The Columbus Dispatch last month. "He uses prong collars and choke collars, and I'm against anything used to teach a dog that involves pain."
In that story, Speegle cited information from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior that, according to Speegle, refuted Millan's theories.
"I think there are some situations where Cesar makes dogs afraid, and they don't learn well when they're afraid," Speegle told The Columbus Dispatch. "Our main goal is to build relationships between dogs and their owners."
Millan said he disagrees with the criticism.
On his television show, he helps dog owners get the most out various tool. That doesn't mean he necessarily advocates using choke collars and the like.
"They don't agree with a certain method. I totally respect that," Millan said of the criticism. "When I come to people's homes, there are people already using the tools. I show them how to use them best."
The headquarters of
Millan said he believes that PETA would approve of his presentation.
"I think they're going to like it," he said. "If they come, they're going to like the message. In the show, we concentrate on what my grandfather told me: Never work against mother nature. I came from a country where nobody uses a leash and no collar.
"It doesn't get more humane than that."
According to Millan's own website, he's a native of Culiacán, Sinaloa,
His reputation around Los Angeles spread and, in 1994, he met Jada Pinkett, the actress who would go on to marry actor-rapper
After a profile of Millan ran in the
"The beauty of an immigrant is we only see forward — we have no other choice," Millan said. "When you have so much hunger, when you have so much necessity, your energy, your intensity, it's very powerful ... The first border you jump is the physical one. Then you get to the immigration one, this political border. But it really fades ... When you bring something good to a country, eventually they embrace you.
"The energy in every country is different and this country is really about opportunity. If you have a good idea, you can make it happen."
Want to go?
Who: Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, presents secrets on how to transform dogs and their owners.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 7
Where: Chrysler Hall, Norfolk
Tickets: $35.75 and $45.75 from Ticketmaster