When it comes to why dogs are constantly aggressive, timid or scared, dog behaviorist Cesar Millan’s philosophy is a simple one: It’s often because of how their human owners behave toward them.
The self-taught specialist—who rose to fame as the host of Nat Geo Wild’s “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” for nine seasons, and now hosts “Cesar 911” on the same network—explained in a recent telephone interview that certain human actions such as showering a dog with nothing but affection, or disregarding behavioral cues that come before a bite, can cause a canine to become disobedient, eventually resulting in an unruly pooch that creates an unstable home environment.
“Obviously, I work with dog lovers, and so the fun part is, even if dog lovers are sweet to their dogs, they don’t understand [how they should behave] around dogs,” Mr. Millan said. “The bottom line is, there’s a lot of confusion in the dog world. There’s a lot of love, but there’s also confusion.”
His method to rehabilitating dogs? A simple combination of exercise, discipline and affection, all of which he will showcase in his live show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday evening, July 24. In “Cesar Millan Live!,” Mr. Millan will present training demonstrations with rescued dogs from the Southampton Animal Shelter, based in Hampton Bays, and Paws of Wars, a Nesconset-based nonprofit organization that trains and pairs shelter dogs with United States military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The point of his live shows, Mr. Millan said, is to convey to people the right ways to approach, handle, play with, discipline and even walk dogs, and he does so by conducting brief training sessions with puppies, adolescents and seniors to show the different types of behaviors across the various stages of a canine’s life.
“I break it down so people see exactly how we make the mistakes, and when we make the mistakes. First I show them how we make the mistakes, then I show them … how I rehabilitate a dog,” he said. “Dogs are very honest. They like you, they don’t like you. They trust you, they don’t trust you. I come with a different approach that allows a dog to understand what I want to convey, what I want to accomplish.”
For example, during an initial interaction, it is important for a person to be calm toward a dog and not to project excitement. Instead, Mr. Millan explained, a person should be calm, and trust will be built upon that calmness. When it comes to meals, treats and toys, it should be understood that there is a distance between the human and the dog, as even the most friendly dog can snap when approached while eating or chewing a bone. “A dog understands respect when we practice distance,” the behaviorist said.
Consistency, structure and patience are also key. While Mr. Millan’s television shows are compressed to 60-minute episodes, his time with each dog in reality lasts about four to six months, as retraining does not happen overnight. Instead, canines are driven and motivated by continued reinforcement that takes place over a long period of time, making for a more gradual transformation.
“He has his own way of learning. He has his own communication,” Mr. Millan said. “When a dog has low self-esteem, you have to help them gain self-esteem. When you’re working with an aggressive dog, they think that they can get you.”
Aggressive dogs tend to be the more simpler cases for Mr. Millan. The challenging ones, he said, are when a dog is scared. The case of Gavin the German Shepard, a former military dog with PTSD that was hysterically frightened during thunderstorms in his home state of Florida, took much longer than usual for Mr. Millan, but there eventually came a day when Gavin was able to live without fear.
The cases of behavioral problems that Mr. Millan cannot help are ones in which the issues lie internally, such as with inbred dogs, or canines that were previously tested on in laboratories. “Anything neurological … there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “There’s something clinically wrong.”
Ultimately, though, Mr. Millan said it all comes down to the way humans interact with their dogs. While he often works with dog owners, he also works with dog groomers and veterinarians, figures that canines usually feel threatened around because of the constant touching and physical handling.
“My clients are more likely to be dog lovers. So why does a dog lover need me? The reason he needs me is because he doesn’t know what to do with the dog,” Mr. Millan said. “The only reason why a dog is in a shelter is because a human gave up on him.
“Most people don’t actually have common sense. My clients are Harvard educated, but they can’t walk a Chihuahua,” he added. “I believe that if I train humans, humans will know what to do. What techniques to choose, what motivates the dog. There’s so many little details that people don’t think about.”
“Cesar Millan Live!” will take place at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. VIP ticket packages, which include front section seating and a meet-and-greet and photo opportunity with Mr. Millan, can be purchased for $250, and all other tickets can be purchased for $200, $150 and $95. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit whbpac.org/event/cesar-millan or call 631-288-1500.