herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

They call it puppy love

It's 10:15am in St Stephen's Green park and the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, is negotiating a pack of dogs, a maze of leads and a cacophony of barks. The owners of the dogs (myself included) stand nervously on the sidelines, each of us praying that our little one doesn't upset the pack. "Please Snuggles, not in front of the Dog Whisperer . . ."

Funny, though, the only people who are whispering are the dogs' owners, such is the respect that the diminutive Millan commands.

He's here to launch the Pedigree Adoption drive, an initiative to encourage Irish dog lovers to adopt a dog from their local shelter. It dovetails nicely with his show at the O2 earlier this week.

The idea of a dog trainer packing out the O2 is a little hard to fathom-- and on Saint Patrick's Day to boot -- but Millan is no ordinary dog trainer. His method is revolutionary and his reach wide. His show, The Dog Whisperer, now airs in 80 countries.

The TV show, like his live show, is one part entertainment; three parts education, a formula that has won him both fans and followers. Why? Because we have a lot to learn. Few dog owners can boast perfectly trained dogs, or rather, most dog owners have chewed sofas, rooms that have become ad hoc toilets and a fear of the postman's trousers getting torn clean off him.

His fans consider him to have a gift. He does, but it's not a sixth sense or a psychic intuition. It's more practical than that. He understands dogs as dogs. He recognises their atavistic need for pack order. He communicates not by whispering but by "energy body language", as he puts it. "Being mindfully aware and emotionally in tune.

"It's very important that we understand the simplicity behind connection with nature. I grew up in Mexico and one of the things I heard over and over is never work against Mother Nature. Modern society works against Mother Nature to prioritise its needs."

In Mexico, Millan's family had seven dogs. It wasn't entirely unusual, with most families owning three or four. They didn't have pet shops. They rarely used leashes. "If we did, it was the same rope that we used on the donkey and it got passed down from generation to generation."

The natural approach to dog handling gave him his formative education into canine psychology. His affinity with the dogs led to him becoming locally known as el Perrero, "the dog boy". At 13 he declared that he wanted to be the "best dog trainer in the world".

When he was 18, he illegally crossed the border to the US with no money, no English and no associates. Dog walking was the obvious job choice, and what a sight it must have been. He would walk up to 55 dogs a day -- rottweilers and German shepherds among the pack -- from South Central Los Angeles to Inglewood. Unleashed.

He didn't have a marketing budget. He didn't even have business cards. He just walked and people, invariably, stopped.

"I charged low and paid high. My investment was to gain something you can't buy: the trust, respect and loyalty of the people. As a good Mexican man, we understand that concept."

He was stopped one day by actress, Jada Pinkett, the now wife of Will Smith, who asked him to help train her rottweiler. So impressed was she with his method that she championed him in Hollywood circles.

She even arranged English lessons. "She says, 'you know, I'm going to send you a teacher', and she paid for a teacher for a year. She's just one of those women who observes and sees the big picture. Jada is a very small person but she has this huge aura."



Celebrities

Millan soon secured a string of celebrity clients and the tag of "dog trainer to the stars". It brought him to the attention of Los Angeles newspaper, LA Weekly, who wanted to interview him. They asked him what he'd like to do next. "A TV show," he answered. The day after the article appeared, a horde of producers were camped outside his centre.

He didn't let money or the potential for profile raising shape his decision, though. He left it to the dogs.

"I wanted my pack to evaluate the people. Dogs will fight, flight, ignore or surrender. If they didn't surrender to the people that came in, there was no business."

So, does he think dogs can tell good people from bad?

"Absolutely. They don't know what you do for a living, if you're beautiful or not. They just know how you feel inside at that moment."

To find out more about dog adoption, visit www. pedigree adoption drive.ie

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