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Entertainment / February 15, 2010
By Eileen Jones


Other day I was walking down the street past a weedy guy and his obstreperous five-year-old who was clamoring to go in the opposite direction, and I heard the guy say to the kid, “Tsst!” The kid promptly heeled, and I knew that:

1) the weedy guy had probably seen the South Park episode in which Cartman’s mom hires Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, to get Cartman out of “the red zone” where he generally operates, and

2) the weedy guy was yet another convert to the true faith, which is called “Cesar’s Way.”

The Dog Whisperer has been on TV five years or so now, and Cesar’s Way is pretty familiar. “Exercise, discipline, affection, in that order” is what you provide your dog. Your job is to be the pack leader, projecting “calm, assertive energy.” Sounds simple when you put it that way, but the challenge is so enormous that if you could actually follow Cesar’s Way you would transform yourself into a Zen master or something.

Which is generally the theme of the show, the transformation of the human from hopeless mess into a bipedal creature of some semblance of dignity. “I rehabilitate dogs, I train people,” says Cesar, meaning that people are the problem and dogs generally need to recover from dealing with our batshit-craziness. He never says it explicitly, but he makes it clear: we are not worthy of our dogs. But we must become worthy, act worthy, project worthiness. If we are anxious we must be calm, if we are nutso we must be sane. Though we are dithering incompetents we must act with the godlike assurance of a samurai swordsman.

How the hell?

Cesar demonstrates how. He’s a short guy with a face like a chipmunk, but just watch him deal with a dog that, say, can’t walk on a leash without spinning around to rend its handler. He squares himself up to his full height, draws in a few lungsful of calming air, assumes an expression of lordliness, and strides forward like His Serene Highness Prince Impressive, with the formerly hysterical dog trotting along placidly at his side.


He gets such fast results sometimes it’s like watching an incredible Houdini stunt. Ever see the episode with the out-of-control Great Dane who comes charging at Cesar? Cesar points and says “Tsst!” from twenty feet away and the Dane stops like he’s hit an electric fence and stands goggling. And two minutes later, the Dane’s so civilized you could take him to the opera.

Far more challenging are the interactions with people. Cesar assumes an expression of impassive watchfulness when sitting down with such loons as the Pink Lady, who lives in a tatty apartment that looks like a Pepto-Bismol bomb was let off in her home, covering her clothes, furnishings, and lapdog in a nauseating shade of pink. It’s no surprise that the poor dyed-dog is attacking the Pink Lady’s scrawny ankles—who wouldn’t?—but Cesar patiently goes about setting things right with the full knowledge that the woman’s a fruitcake and yet the dog has to learn to put up with her somehow. Cesar might want to save the world “one dog at a time” but he can’t adopt them all. He’s already got thirty or so.

It’s further proof of Cesar Millan’s general awesomeness that slew of detractors have come squirming out of the woodwork trying to get his show canceled. It’s in keeping with the Mother Teresa-Christopher Hitchens Law of the Universe, or maybe call it the Abraham Lincoln-John Wilkes Booth Principle: if by rare chance a human being rises above his species’ typically abysmal behavior level and aspires to greatness, he or she will be afflicted with at least one total jackass determined on his or her annihilation.

In this case the main jackass is Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University. His shtick is positive training methods, which he thinks Cesar Millan doesn’t practice. This is because Cesar pokes dogs in the neck with his fingers to snap them out of extreme behavior, and in “red zone” cases when dogs go ballistic, he puts them down on their sides to return them to a “calm, submissive” state. The S & M implications of this seem to rattle some people.

As far as I can tell, the Dodmanites claim that Millan is relying on old, flawed, bad science, which held that dogs are pack animals descended from wolves, and basic wolf psychology involves keeping order through hierarchical systems of dominance. The new rap is that dogs are so far from wolves by now that the old wolf family connection doesn’t count, and even if it did, it turns out wolves aren’t dealing in dominance either or jostling for the alpha spot, like the old scientists said, so everything you ever heard or read about wolves is wrong.

They now claim dogs are more scavengers than predators, and not really all that invested in pack behavior, so Cesar Millan’s basic premises are all duds.


Dodman’s theory of dog-management is hording goods and services, “making sure that the dog understands that all good things in life come only and obviously from you.” So the dog just naturally ties himself in knots trying to please his keeper in order to keep the square meals and squeaky toys coming, and all is sweetness and light.

Hmm. Well, I don’t know how many dogs you know, but the ones I know have lots and lots of interesting individual traits that make such bromides problematic. Sure, if you’re holding his dish full of food, you can probably make your dog sit, easy enough. But suppose your dog has a nemesis, the Airedale that lives across the street, say, and goes into a barking frenzy whenever you walk by it? You don’t have the dog dish then, and treats will be useless to distract the your dog from the epitome of evil, the Airedale across the street.

Or suppose your dog has developed a strange phobia and, starting one random day, is utterly terrified of those blimps that float overhead advertising things, and wants to run home whenever she sees them? Like mine does. Especially the white blimp, with only a phone number in black printed on it. We call it “the White Blimp of Death” in honor of my dog’s horrified reaction to it.

In the grip of existential terror, my dog cares nothing for food, toys, or any other bribes past or present. It’s these kinds of “Now what?” scenarios that are Cesar’s specialty. Remember that great episode when Cesar helped an increasingly fear-paralyzed dog by using the handle-end of the leash to elevate the dog’s tale as they walked? Tail between the legs signals fear, tail high signals confidence, so what if you use the body position to tell the brain how to react instead of vice versa?

As for dogs and pack behavior, well, hell, I ain’t no animal behavior specialist, but it sure seems to me that pack behavior rules. Just go to the dog park, or observe a household with multiple dogs negotiate the presence of a new member. Cesar showcased just such a household, a home dedicated to pit bull rescue that had recently included a Chihuahua. Instead of becoming lunch, the Chihuahua got so dominant it ran the whole place, including the terrorized pit bulls. This is not size or strength, “this is psychology,” said Cesar, as the tiny alpha dog strutted through its domain.

The one charge you could make against Cesar is that he’s too good, that it’s impossible for anyone to replicate what he does beyond the rock-bottom basics of Cesar’s Way, and even that would be a triumph. He tries to teach people to read minute changes in dog behavior in order to respond before aggression escalates (“now you have two seconds to intervene—oh, see there, you waited too long”), but it’s plainly innate genius and/or decades of training to get anywhere near his level. He’s earned the right to say grandly at the beginning of each show, “I YAM the dog whisperer!”

For more ordinary, imitable, and sloppy levels of dog-assistance you can watch Dogtown instead. There everybody’s nice and dedicated and helpful, but there’s no eerie dog-communicating display that got Cesar the nickname “el Perrero” (dog man) in Mexico. But it’s cheering. Takes them months to help a dog, usually, and the show charts their progress, but all the time you know there’s no risk to the dog: the worst that can happen is that the dog lives the rest of its life at Dogtown, which is part of an 800-acre animal sanctuary called Best Friends in southern Utah.

Whereas Cesar often seems to be working without a net—many cases of dogs owned by hapless individuals who regard Cesar as the their last hope before they start thinking of dog pounds and euthanasia. Dogtown trainer John Garcia, who looks like he sings tenor in a boy band, never has to worry about that. It’s a much more melodramatic and sentimental show. (“If Missy the Pomeranian can’t learn to overcome her shyness around people, she may never find her forever home!”) But then, it can afford to be. Barring death from disease, etc., these dogs are saved and surrounded by reasonable, good-hearted, well-trained people.


Cesar’s show is rougher, carrying a whiff of the mean streets even into Hollywood mansions. Maybe it’s Cesar’s own background—poor, rural Mexican kid, came over the border illegally, was working as Jada Pinkett’s limo driver when she got impressed by his dog-training skills and decided to act as patron. Maybe it’s Cesar’s tough-mindedness, his determination to make do with what’s there, his gritty concrete compound for his dog pack, the “Dog Psychology Center” in L.A., featuring chain link fences and cheap plastic swimming pools so the dogs can cool off. Maybe it’s his visits in people’s homes where their economic status, educational level, health issues, and mental states are on full display and run the gamut of the addled American experience.

His show is Doggy Noir in a lot of good ways. Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, but who’s trying to help dogs and has to deal with people to do it.

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Add your own

  • 1. Jeff Albertson  |  February 15th, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Fully agree -it;s the best of the dog shows (although I like the one with midgets, I;m ashamed to admit) but. with respect this is further evidence that Eileen is John. Every woman dog-owner I know won’t watch the show because it challenges the notion that dogs are just like humans. Or, Eileen is an unusually intelligent and perceptive, but generally harsher and somewhat more gimlet-eyed cultural critic, who happens to have two X chromosomes.

  • 2. Jyp  |  February 15th, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Great article. I had the cable clipped years ago but if I still watched the tube I’d sure watch this dude after reading your article. I’ve had a dozen big dogs in my life and I can see at a glance this Mexican kid is right on the money. The other guy, the psychobabbler, is quite full of shit.

  • 3. Alex_C  |  February 16th, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Not having a TV, I’ve never actually seen Milan’s show. Only read about him, and somehow I’ve seen the South Park episode, I think at a friend’s. I think Milan is right on.

    Try living with GEESE. Everyone’s scared of geese, that’s right, I’m a badass because I live with geese. And I mean it, they’re right outside my door right now, they like to hang around me, it’s weird.

    Now, these are a mellow breed, Buffs. And I’m not sure if they’ve ever bitten anyone. But geese live in the same kind of world Milan maintains dogs do, only geese are smarter, less bribe-able, and constantly test boundaries. People can “train” geese to be absolute terrors, and often do. To get along with geese you have to learn about the world that matters, goose world. Learn what they’re saying and thinking, and you prevent mis-undertandings that result in unhappy geese and unhappy people.

    We all grew up reading about Dr. Doolittle, who could talk with animals. Well, the truth is animals talk all the time, they can’t shut up or keep a secret, and it just takes learning their language. And, you get to talk to ’em so they understand.

    About the psychobabbler, sad to say, he might end up with higher ratings.

  • 4. Pascual Gorostieta  |  February 16th, 2010 at 12:35 am

    I am Mexican though and I can attest that many of my uncles and great uncles in the rural areas around my native Monterrey use many of the mannerisms of Millan. The “ssssttt”ing in particular. However,he has adopted another aspect of rural Mexican dog owners and that is not overdoing the affection.

    Cesar has always seemed like a bad ass guy.

  • 5. The Engineer  |  February 16th, 2010 at 2:17 am

    Jeff Albertson: I suppose you are joking, most of my TV-watching lady friends are dog whisperer fans. Perhaps your lady acquaintances come from another subset of the population than mine, it is hard to draw general conclusions from evidence based on a limited subset of people.

  • 6. George  |  February 16th, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Comparing two dog baby-sitters is really like comparing two buckets of shit. Yes, you can notice differences in textures, smells and colours, but it is still shit.
    Dogs are disgusting animals and dog owners are even more disgusting. Dog owners are failed S/M people. Since they cannot dominate any person, even for consensual sexual purposes they have to get a dog that is completely helpless without a master.
    Would I lose my legs and arms, I would rather die than being taken care of by a dog owner. The dog owner would only take advantage of the situation, buttfuck you, play survival games (stop feeding you, giving you water etc).

  • 7. MQ  |  February 16th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    This is definitely Dolan. If you look over all the columns, got all the signs — loves dogs, nut about Ireland, etc. Apparently he’s spending a lot of time hanging around the house watching TV. Which is perfectly rational, TV is one of the best things about America.

  • 8. jimbo  |  February 16th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Hey if the mofo was really going to take that dominance stuff to the limit then he would fuck a few truly unruly dogs on camera to show how it’s done.

  • 9. Myf  |  February 16th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Good article, I completely agree, I’m helping my parents with their new puppy and I’ve been forcing them train it the Cesar way and to not let it own them and the house.

    And to MQ, why would Dolan need to write this stuff under an alias? Especially since it reads nothing like him? Secret fake writing to get around paying taxes? It doesn’t make sense. The war nerd thing is reasonable, he writes tons of things that the olive green and brown wearing sad sacks who hire college professors upset. Eileen Jones’s stuff never has anything overtly offensive or controversial

  • 10. Carolyn  |  February 16th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    MQ, I started thinking the same thing when she said something about vultures not having any gag reflex. I guess I really want to believe there’s a woman that smart out there, though, who’s pored over every issue of the eXile and is nuts about Dolan.

  • 11. homer  |  February 16th, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    you people try and turn every eXile author into Dolan.

    also, most of the “rural” Mexicans I know could give two shits about the street dogs that roam the town.

  • 12. Larry Sabu  |  February 16th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    I, Sabu, eat dogs.

    Try one. You’ll like it. Tastes just like . . . dog.

  • 13. rosie  |  February 17th, 2010 at 4:52 am

    Dogs aren’t pack animals? Who are these quacks?
    I live in Moscow and travel to different areas of the city for appointments and I am pretty familiar with at least 3 dog packs/ families. I know how many there are and which are the dominant ones and I’ve witnessed turf wars between dog packs.
    Just because most people who have dogs as pets only have 1 or 2 doesn’t mean they aren’t pack animals. Put them in the wild or in a home with a group of more than 3 and you’ll observe all kinds of cooperation and testing for dominance.
    BTW I’m a woman and I love dogs and know they are not people. If you treat a dog like a person it won’t be happy, just like if you treat a person like a dog it won’t be happy. – except maybe George there

  • 14. Mark  |  February 17th, 2010 at 6:16 am

    @ no 9
    Exactly. There is no reason to believe that this is Dolan. He can write movie/television reviews under his own name. Hell, I am pretty sure that he even mentions Eileen by name in one of his old-Exile reviews of a Michael Moore documentary. And for further proof see Eileen’s “Best and Worst Films in ten Years” article ( we all know that John would have already seen “The Hurt Locker” (and probably “Drag Me to Hell” too) by the time that article was written.

  • 15. euwhit  |  February 18th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Cesar is the real deal. I couldn’t stand dogs (or their owners) before I watched his show the first time a few years back. But this guy has charisma — for both humans and dogs (and even a pig in one episode!) — that makes him hard to ignore.

    I’ve never owned a dog and never will, but I now do NOT have normalish dogs jumping up on me thanks to his show. “No touch, no talk, no eye contact” works. It’s made it so much easier for me to deal with dog owners (yes, mostly female) knowing that mantra. Try it.

    Hail Cesar.

  • 16. Myf  |  February 18th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I think people just miss John so much that wishful thinking turns every similarity into concrete proof.

    Keep doing your thing Eileen. Without you there’d be one new exile article every 2 months.

    We’d all love to see Dolan back and writing a book review and a war nerd every month. Things must be awful for him. I wish the best for the whole exile crew. Everyone seems adrift without Moscow. I’ll pray for you

  • 17. tonyisnt  |  February 19th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Didn’t Eileen do a radio interview a while ago that posted on here? Dummies.

    I’ve always liked this show too, mostly because he basically gets to tell total idiots that they are total idiots (although half of the time they don’t get it even when he’s totally clear about it).

  • 18. Nestor  |  February 20th, 2010 at 6:58 pm




  • 19. aleke  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 10:43 am

    This is why they no longer use alpha male in regards to wolves

    own bitche!@

  • 20. Joe Blow  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 10:43 am

    and the part in the beginning with the whiny 5 year old… that’s real. I did it with my son. exercise, discipline, and affection.

    when he starts to get into some whiney ass complaining state I am all over that… “Shhhh! Psst! don’t go there…”

    Set limits, enforce them, reward good results.

    I told my ex for years she was spoiling him..and she would always give in and mostly just bought him shit to get him to like her. that was a complete failure.

    she’s like .. Oh he was so bad for me how was he for you?” and I’m like .. what? he is always good for me. does whatever he is supposed to and is happy and helpful”

    I only wish I had realised that I needed to boss HER around in the same way. we all would have been happier..

  • 21. Shaamex  |  January 16th, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I enjoyed the article. I still get a chuckle from the pic with Cesar flippin the bird…Its funny because he never really did it. He was talking with his hands like alot of us do and some one got the pic and coupled with his facial expression it looks real.LOL. After 7 seasons Cesar is not fading. And my dogs are alot happier since I quit shouting at them and started using less is more with them. Less treats, more walks.

  • 22. raymundo  |  June 11th, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    astig cool

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