The Dog Whisperer sends a clear message

Dog trainer Cesar Millan, who will be in Singapore this weekend, is on a global mission to ensure that man's best friend is always on his best behaviour.

LIKE parents who spoil their children rotten out of love, dog owners often shower their pooches with endless displays of affection thinking it's the right thing to do.

But Cesar Millan says that is a common mistake most pet owners make. "Giving dogs nothing but affection, affection, affection - that's the quickest way to make your dog crazy because then she has no idea what you want," states the world-famous self-trained dog handler in an e-mail interview ahead of his "live" engagement this weekend in Singapore.

The Dog Whisperer, as Millan is nicknamed after the television series which shot him to fame as well as for the calming effect he has on canines, says that what man's best friend really needs is exercise, discipline and affection, in that order.

"Exercise drains their excess energy and makes them calm; discipline provides them with rules, boundaries and limitations so that they know what you expect from them; (and) affection comes last as a reward, but only when the dog is in a calm, submissive state," explains Millan, who has written numerous books and filmed multiple instructional videos on dog psychology and rehabilitation techniques. His new series Cesar to the Rescue is currently screening on cable's National Geographic Channel.

With more than two decades of professional experience in helping "bad" dogs, he has come to realise that the fundamental fault with problem pooches stems from their owners. "The most problematic dogs are the ones whose owners won't accept that they are responsible for their dogs' misbehaviour," he says. "I'd say that 99.99 per cent of all dogs can be rehabilitated, but if the human doesn't want to change, then there's nothing I can do for the dog."

He adds that his mission is not to get a pet to behave while he's around but to teach its owner how to apply the technique after he's gone.

"If they don't get that and follow through, then their dog's behaviour isn't going to change," Millan says firmly.

Born in Mexico, the 45-year-old has been handling dogs since he was a young boy while working on his grandfather's farm.

He crossed the border illegally into America when he was 21 years old, speaking no English and living a dog's life himself on US$1 (S$1.34) a day while sleeping under the freeways in San Diego.

But with the money he saved from working as a dog groomer, washing cars and running a freelance dog rehabilitation service - where his first "client" was a Rottweiler ("You can't say I didn't start big!") - Millan opened his Dog Psychology Center where he met Hollywood couple Will and Jada Smith.

He credits the latter in particular for helping to kick-start his career - "I had mentioned to her that I'd like to have a TV show working with dogs but my English still wasn't good, so she paid for a tutor for me for a year", he recalls.

"What made that first TV show (The Dog Whisperer), though, was a story in The Los Angeles Times: some reporter heard about this crazy Mexican walking a pack of 30 large dogs off-leash around South Central LA, wrote a story about it, and suddenly producers were coming to me."

Despite rehabilitating numerous dogs at his sprawling 17.5-hectare Dog Psychology Center in Santa Clarita Valley, California, and around the world, he still remembers Mango whom he met at the Animal Lovers League Shelter in Pasir Ris in 2012.

None of the staff there could coax the stray out of the kennel which he had stayed put in for seven years. Not only that, he would turn aggressive if anybody tried to make him leave.

"Mango had learned that if he reacted aggressively, he could control people and get what he wanted, so I had to snap him out of that by getting him used to being around the leash until I was finally able to put it on him," shares Millan.

"It took me an hour-and-a-half to coax him out of that kennel, but once I did, he seemed very happy to touch grass for the first time in years and to swim in the pool; I even took him rollerblading around the city!"

If not for his packed schedule here this time, Millan says he would like to pay Mango a visit.

"(But) he's probably having so much fun leaving his kennel that he probably doesn't remember me (anymore)!"

Cesar Millan Love Your Dogs Tour 2015 takes place at The Max Pavilion @ Singapore Expo on June 13 at 7.30pm. Tickets from S$88 to S$228 (with meet-and- greet) are available at Sistic.

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