He’s probably the most famous dog trainer in the world; but did you know that Cesar Millan initially wanted to become a football player or a soap opera actor whilst he was growing up?
It was only at the age of 13, when his family got its first television set, that Millan began watching Hollywood re-runs of movies such as 'Lassie' and 'Rin Tin Tin’ - which eventually inspired him to train and work with dogs.
Today, Cesar Millan (a.k.a. the Dog Whisperer) is famous for his uncanny abilities to deal with aggressive pooches and misguided owners alike.
How did a man who migrated from Mexico with just $100 in his pocket become one of America's biggest TV stars? Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about the dog whisperer:
1. Millan’s first lessons in dog training came from his grandfather
In an interview with Men’s Journal, Millan claimed that his grandfather, Teodoro, taught him many of the principles of dog behaviour he still employs today.
"When I started reading all the scientific books, I realised that most of those things my grandfather knew from experience, from trial and error,” he said.
“For example, he didn't know a dog's nose was 10,000 times more powerful than a human's nose. He just knew this is the way dogs experience the world – nose first. He never had training, but he was very instinctual, a natural pack leader, and I think he saw that same gift in me.”
The younger Millan grew up on a small cattle ranch in Mexico with his family till he was five years old. "We had nothing, but it was perfect," he said. "There was a pack of dogs on the farm, and for some reason they would just naturally follow me. It seemed like they knew things humans didn't know, and I was fascinated.”
2. As a child, Millan was bullied and nicknamed the “Dirty Dog Boy”
Despite moving from a farm to a small two-storey apartment in Mazatlán city so that Cesar could attend school, the Millan family remained rooted in their old lifestyle.
They kept chickens, exotic birds, and a pig in their house; and Cesar would also bring home stray dogs from time-to-time to look after.
Millan claimed that his village background and his love for dogs made him an outcast among the city kids.
"It was not very glamorous to be surrounded by dogs back then," he said. "I was pretty much an outsider.”
Millan also became known as “El Perrero", or the Dirty “Dog Boy”. "Maybe those people motivated me to get closer to dogs and move to America quicker," he told People magazine. "I'm grateful now but, at that moment, it hurt.”
3. Millan spoke no English when he first went to America
According to Millan, he finally decided to move to America when he could not find work as a dog trainer in his native land. But Millan had to become an illegal immigrant at first. He travelled to the US-Mexico border just days before Christmas in 1990 with $100 that his father had given him.
"Every day for two weeks, I tried to cross the border, and every time I got caught,” he said. "It scares the shit out of you in the beginning, but then you learn.”
Eventually, Millan chanced upon a “coyote” (a smuggler) who offered to take him across the border for $100, the exact amount his father had given him. With no money, no relatives in America and no ability to speak English, Millan slept under freeway overpasses for his first two months in the States.
4. One of Millan’s first jobs in America was to walk dogs for street gangs
Eventually, Millan found part-time work at a pet-grooming salon where he was sometimes allowed to sleep at night. Then, Cesar began dog walking and training services - for free at first - to the street gangs that lived in his neighbourhood.
Many of the dogs he worked with at the beginning had been used by the gangsters for protection as well as illegal dog-fighting.
"These were tough dogs, man! Dogs with one eye, three legs; dogs that had been lit on fire," he said.
Soon, Millan became a minor celebrity in the neighbourhood, as the guy who could rollerblade down the street with 10 or 12 gangster dogs at his side. "By law, you can walk only three dogs on a leash," he said. "But in that neighbourhood, it was like I was doing them a favour. They liked having me around."
His friends then convinced him to charge $10 a day for his services and after awhile Millan managed to save enough money to purchase a run-down property which had a small backyard. He would label the land the “Dog Psychology Center” and helped take care of up to 40-50 dogs a day.
5. Jada Pinkett-Smith paid for Millan’s English lessons so that he can start a TV Show
As Millan’s reputation grew in his neighbourhood, he soon garnered attention from a larger audience. In 2002, the L.A. Times snapped a photo of Millan walking up Centinela Avenue with a pack of eight thuggish-looking rottweilers and mutts strolling peacefully behind him.
Celebrity clients soon followed. Jada Pinkett (wife of actor Will Smith) was one of the first, showing up at the Dog Psychology Center with four rottweilers. Not only did Jada become a huge fan of Millan’s methods, but she subsequently recommended him to other celebrities like Oprah Winfrey.
Jada also hired an English teacher for Millan, after she learnt that he had dreams of hosting a TV show about dogs.
"Famous people don't do that a lot,” said Millan about Jada. “Special people do that. She's like the ultimate human being."
Watch “Cesar to the Rescue Asia” on StarHub TV
Today, Millan is famous for his training philosophy which emphasises on “calm-assertive energy.”
You can catch Millan on his latest show “Cesar to the Rescue Asia”, every Wednesday, 9pm on National Geographic Channel- StarHub TV Ch 411 and Nat Geo People StarHub TV Ch 412
Each week, Millan will be on the road, rehabilitating dogs and spreading his message of pack leadership to the citizens of Singapore and Hong Kong. Each episode will consist of one story within a community and conclude with all parties coming together at a central meeting place to celebrate the rehabilitation of the dog. Three of the four episodes will include segments from large group training sessions that Cesar conducted in each city.
To subscribe to StarHub TV, visit www.starhub.com/tv for more information.
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