Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” built a multimillion-dollar company on his skill with pets and their owners. “God was my lawyer,” he says.
Originally appeared in the New York Times on 10/11/2009
BY: Amy Wallace
IT’S a miracle. That’s what the humans believe, more often than not, after watching this compact, 40-year-old C.E.O. do his work. He enters a room purposefully, his chest thrust forward and a smile on his face. “How can I help?” is his standard introduction, and the way he says it — calmly, assertively — indicates that your problems are about to be solved.
It’s unbelievable. That’s what the humans say when they see what Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” can do. And the dogs? To a pooch, they appear to be thinking: “Thank God, help has finally arrived.” To prompt a visit from Mr. Millan, these dogs have exhibited seemingly irrational fears (of motorbikes, toasters, linoleum floors) and strange obsessions (biting rocks, ankles, tractor tires).
Their owners, meanwhile, have told poignant, if at times ludicrous, stories. One couple sought out Mr. Millan after their two pit bulls, hell-bent on killing each other, forced them to live apart. Another hadn’t slept in the same bed for months because their Yorkies wouldn’t allow it.
If you have a television, you may know Mr. Millan from “Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan,” whose sixth-season premiere was on Friday on the National Geographic Channel, a cable network piped into about 70 million homes. Nearly 11 million Americans tune in each week. You may have stumbled upon his new glossy magazine, Cesar’s Way, or his four books, the latest of which, “How to Raise the Perfect Dog,” went on sale last week. His first three books, all New York Times best sellers, have cumulatively sold two million copies in the United States and are available in 14 other countries.
Partly because he is based in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the entertainment industry, Mr. Millan has become something of a cultural icon, a Latino man who commands respect wherever he goes. He has helped scores of movie stars and moguls — among them alpha dogs like Oprah Winfrey, the actor Will Smith, the former Disney chief Michael D. Eisner and the director Ridley Scott — become pack leaders in the one place they fail to rule: their homes.
No wonder Mr. Millan’s reputation as a fixer — he says he rehabilitates dogs, but trains people — has been immortalized in pop culture. “What is the ‘Dog Whisperer’?” has been a winning answer on “Jeopardy.” An episode of “South Park” featured the mom of Eric Cartman, the spoiled, foul-mouthed brat, hiring Mr. Millan to discipline him. A New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell quoted scientists and dance experts analyzing how Mr. Millan’s bearing instills confidence. The conclusion: his fluid movement communicates authenticity better than words could.
Not bad for a once-poor native of Culiacán, Mexico, who crossed the border illegally 19 years ago with nothing in his pockets. (He became a United States citizen this year.) When he talks about transformation, in other words, he’s living proof that it’s possible.
With his wife, Ilusion, he runs Cesar Millan Inc., the center of a constellation of businesses that coordinates all things Cesar beyond the show, including speaking engagements; executive leadership seminars; a line of organic dog food, fortified water, shampoos and toys that sells at Petco; and the charitable foundation financed by an undisclosed percentage of the company’s revenue.
His Web site, cesarmillaninc.com, grosses annual sales in the mid-seven figures, according to a company spokesman, chiefly from DVDs, books and merchandise like the Illusion Collar, designed by his wife to help control challenging dogs. Nearly 400,000 visitors are on the site monthly. Then there’s his Dog Psychology Center, a 43-acre mecca he calls a “Disneyland for dogs.” Under construction north of here, near where he and his family live, it will be the first of many such centers nationwide, he says.
According to MPH Entertainment, the production company that is Mr. Millan’s partner in all its many offshoots and co-owns the TV show with the producers who discovered him, he will be a $100 million business in a few years. And he says he’s just getting started.