"Dog Whisperer" Aims to Train Humans Too

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
September 23, 2008

The dog may be man's best friend, but Cesar Millan has become the next best friend to millions of dog owners.

On his hit National Geographic Channel show, Dog Whisperer, the canine behavior specialist rehabilitates problem pets as well as teaching their frazzled masters how to deal. And these aren't just dogs that bark at postal workers—they're hyperaggressive, frantically phobic, even pathologically jealous animals.

Millan just celebrated his hundredth episode on September 19. He spoke with National Geographic News about his sometimes controversial methods, the show's toughest cases and the canine mind.

(The National Geographic Channel is partly owned by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

What's the secret of Dog Whisperer's popularity?

It's a show that tells you you're responsible for the balance of your dog. Everybody in America said, "Let's train the dog." Nobody was saying, "Let's train the human."

You treat dogs with severe behavioral problems. What are the most common issues you see?

My expertise is aggression—what I call red zone cases. The [canine] mind can do four things: fight, flight, avoid, or surrender. The goal is to [instill] a surrender mind.

But when the mind is in a fight state, it means the dog is dominant, territorial, aggressive, or hyper. When the mind is in a flight state, the dog is insecure, fearful, panicky, or neurotic. In the avoiding state, the dog is going to run and ignore humans.

Sometimes we see a combination of all of these minds, which is a very lethal cocktail.

What are some of your most challenging cases?

That's going to be Gavin, the ATF [U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] dog. [Gavin was sent to Iraq for 45 days of active duty and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.] Gavin is a hero who helped out the country, but he became very traumatized.

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