César Felipe Millán Favela, known as Cesar Millán has helped millions of families and their dogs around the world, but don’t call him a dog trainer. The Mexican-American was born in 1969 in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico and he crossed the border when he was 13 with only $100 in his pocket and big dreams. After getting caught and released by border patrol agents, he paid a ‘coyote’ his $100 to successfully make it to California. After struggling for 2 weeks to cross, he was then faced with the challenge of surviving in the US without knowing English, and he experienced homelessness, sleeping under freeways for two months, while he worked for cash in San Diego and other border towns.
When Millán saved enough money, he headed to Inglewood, and he began asking people if he could walk their dogs, for free. He eventually began charging them and local media found out about his work. He was offered work by TV production companies and after creating the Pacific Point Canine Academy, he shot the pilot episode for Dog Whisperer, which premiered in 2004 and quickly became a worldwide celebrity dog behaviorist filming Leader of the Pack, Cesar 911, and Cesar Millán’s Dog Nation. Now, Millán is filming season 2 of his new show Better Human Better Dog, at his Dog Psychology Center in Santa Clarita, which he refers to as “47 acres of magic.”
HOLA! USA had the opportunity to visit Millán at his center, surrounded by mountains, flowers, and Mexican art. While we talked, we wondered how proud his father must be, who was on the grounds gardening. Millán’s story is inspiring, and in this exclusive interview, he opened up about his dreams, his immigration story, his struggles with mental health, how he channels his late Pit Bull Daddy, and more.
“Daddy represented the first 16 years of my life in America. So if you think about it, it was a pitbull and a Mexican that changed the world.”
I will say that the message is more clear, and people are finally understanding it’s not the dog. And that, as a family, they have to do whatever it takes to fulfill the need of a dog. So I’m very proud of that. And season two, I mean, the cases are way more difficult. Somehow they find new cases, and that’s what inspires people. Like if that case can change, then my case is not as bad. Cause people tend to self-evaluate and use other people to determine how bad their life is or how good their life is. And so that helps people to get inspired and so that, that’s always really good because it’s easy for me to change a dog or to rehabilitate a dog, what’s most difficult is to find the words, the actions, the energy that will make you get inspired to change. That’s the most difficult part.
The biggest challenge? I haven’t seen it as a challenge, honestly. It’s a goal. It’s my goal in life. And now Better Human Better Dog, is my mission in life. So once you know what your goal is, you don’t really feel challenged.
So here at the ranch, we’re going to start with the guys that are here. Five little dogs right now, one Macaw, she’s over there. And 25 Kois. We have three dogs and 12 chickens, and then we have two emus. We have one cow, we have one llama, one alpaca, three goats, a donkey, a horse, and four tortoises. And that’s pretty much it. And I rescue them all. I personally meet them and I say, ‘okay, you can come and live with us.’ Cause I like to see the compatibility, you know what I mean? I don’t just take any animal if it’s not compatible with the environment.
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Because it’s part of our identities, Colombians are Colombians, Puerto Ricans are Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Argentinos, Barcelenos, and to me, as a Mexican, there are so many things I’m proud of, and that’s my roots. That’s part of my breed. And so it’s my identity. It’s my culture. It’s my food. It’s my music. It’s my women. It’s my religion, it’s so many things that make me me. And it’s very, happy, Mexico is very happy it’s that culture. They have Dia De Los Muertos. Nobody has that. We see death as colorful and we laugh about it we celebrate it. So it’s something that we should be very proud of. So I’m very proud of being Mexican.
“First I wanted to be the best dog trainer in the world, that’s the dream I had in Mexico. But once I came to America, my dream was to own my own mountain. Cause then it’s my rules, my boundary, my limitations.”
At the temple. The temple is a beautiful place. I mean, you can see the whole thing. When I first purchased the place, nothing was here, nothing was here, nothing, absolutely nothing. So I went all the way to the top of the mountain and I looked down and the first thing I saw was a temple. I said, ‘I’m going to put a temple right there.’ And then the second thing I saw was the dog park, ‘I’m going to put a dog park right there.’ And then I just started, you can see it, you can just visualize everything. And so I spend a lot of time there, that’s why I call it the temple of dreams, cause my dream was to have a mountain. Well, first I wanted to be the best dog trainer in the world, that’s the dream I had in Mexico. But once I came to America, my dream was to own my own mountain. Cause then it’s my rules, my boundary, my limitations. Cause I was getting so many tickets for walking dogs off-leash, I was called the Mexican guy who walks dogs off-leash. I didn’t know it was illegal to walk dogs off-leash in America, the land of the free, you can’t walk a dog off-leash, you get a ticket, it’s a leash law. But dogs need to walk off-leash as their right. It’s like a bird has to fly, and a fish has to swim. You know what I mean? You can’t swim a fish with a leash. So that’s when I said, ‘okay, I’m just going to dream to have my own mountain.’ And so I call it the temple of dreams.
Well, I think it’s a layer before instinct, which is your spirit, you know? And one of the most beautiful things about growing up with very little money- they call it poverty, I didn’t see it that way, is to have a high faith. You really learn to believe you can speak with someone that we call God, right? So I’m from 1969, that’s what we call it. Now they call it ‘universe’ or whatever other things they call it. But that to me is very real. And so when I was 13, I heard the voice say, ‘you wanna be the best dog trainer in the world.’ When I was 21 it said, ‘you have to leave.’ So I listened to the voice. If it’s my voice, God’s voice, whatever. So, my instincts help to survive, right? And then my passion helps me to stay in the hardest moments and to keep passionately doing it. And my creativity is what creates the tangible thing that is inside of me, my spirituality, my instincts, and my passion. So it’s definitely, not just a combination of instincts. The instincts are important, you know it’s where I find my calm, confidence. But definitely, the guidance and, the belief system comes from spirituality. And so it’s a combination of having a high spirit, having high instincts and high passion, and some creativity. Cause that’s what you get when you are born with no money, you get to turn on those four things, you know, for us, that’s the Bitcoin now, that’s the money, you know what I mean? That’s the currency. How do you create things out of nothing? Well, faith, hard work, passion, and being creative. No te rajes and no llores se algo pasa. You know? We’re Spartans. That’s how we grew up.
All of them, obviously some have made a bigger impact in my life like Daddy, cause Daddy represented the first 16 years of my life in America. So if you think about it, it was a pit bull and a Mexican that changed the world. And at the same time, we both are labeled the wrong way. You know, the pit bull is labeled as an aggressive thing, Mexicans an aggressive thing, (laughs) you know? So here we are a pit bull and a Mexican changing the world, you know? So it is just a beautiful thing. I mean, we help each other. Definitely. I feel that he helped me more. That’s why there’s a statue over there of him because it was the beginning. I didn’t have papers. Practically two years later, I married and I became a dad and I didn’t speak English. And I mean, it was a lot, now that I think about it, I just went through it. But now that I think about it, it was a lot, and thanks to him, you know I was able to always stay calm, always stay confident, love, joy, and he did that. He knew how to do it. I didn’t know anything about therapy dogs. And so that is the example of it you know, but I didn’t know the level, obviously.
We need someone, we need someone at this moment. At this point, you need to speak, you need to talk about your feelings. You need someone, you know, somebody that you can go and say, ‘I feel this way.’ And if you have a little power, just go for a walk, just don’t stay in the same place too long, because it is just this energy that would just keep you there. And then your mind will go into this relief. This ‘what’s the point of your existence?’ You know what I mean? So all this creativity, all this toxicity inside of you is stuck inside of you. So when you move, it goes away. When you say it to somebody else, somebody gives you a different point of view, right? And so it is about movement. Move the energy away from you. Having somebody that you can trust, respect, and love. That’s why it’s so important. You know, even if it’s a dog, just talk to the dog. That’s a perfect moment to just talk as much as you want and just let it out. And of course, a dog always wants to walk. So go for a walk and don’t come back until you’re super exhausted. It allowed me to understand people. I have gone through many things and, it’s important for me because I can identify where people are. So in a way you have to go through things so you can empathize with where people are. Cause at the beginning of my marriage, I went to marriage counseling and I asked the guy, ‘are you married?’ I said ‘No, I’m out.’ You don’t have the knowledge. How can you empathize with me? I want the energy. I want to know that you know where I am, so you can help me get out. Otherwise, you’re just talking from here, (points to his head) you’re not talking from here, (points to his heart). So, I make everything that is bad, good. That’s what I have learned to do. So, I embrace it. You know, it’s not an easy thing to do, but I have helped a lot of people. And just the fact that I talk about it. Just the fact that I talk about it and people say, ‘but you’re a pack leader.’ I know, but we’ll have weaknesses. We all have something that we learn along the way. You know, it’s a family, it’s a community. It’s the whole state of Sinaloa, it’s the era that I grew up in, it’s TV shows that I watch. There are so many things giving you information. So we are all going to develop some kind of negativity. The goal is to get it out, to let it out. But then people like me can influence people and motivate people to be okay, to talk, because we consider that weakness, especially in my culture, you don’t talk with that. In my time, if you cry, it was the worst thing you can do for my dad. ‘Hombres no lloran.’ So what do we do with this sh**? (laughs) Suppressing things is the worst thing. A lot of people, just quiet things down, and they suppress things. And I’m just enjoying that, that people come to me and say, ‘listen, thank you for saying that.’ They don’t just come to me because of the dog, they come to me because I had the strength to share it.
It’s America, there are no dogs in the streets. I WISH there were dogs in the streets. I would’ve not felt homeless. You know what I mean? It would’ve been much nicer. I would’ve had a pack of dogs living with me, taking care of me under the bridge. Go for walks and stuff with me. You know, I didn’t have anybody. It was just me, me by myself. No, it’s America, no dogs off-leash. Except if you go to New Orleans or something like that.
I think so. Yes (laughs). My ex didn’t like pets. That’s why she’s my ex. That’s a red flag, but you know, I love my boys. I think it’s something that has to be part of the compatibility, part of the connection, part of the communication, the relationship. I mean, animals are great indicators of people, good energy, or bad energy, right? So if the person is not capable or unwilling to connect with a dog, it is absolutely something unnatural to me.
Red flag, and it’s sad. Because they’re missing something natural. I mean, hopefully, they do it with plants or other animals. Some people, I know people, they like reptiles and they like birds, they don’t have a dog. But as long as you connect, with mother nature in some shape or form. I’m good.
Well, there are a lot of people who are not conscious that they are already carrying a virus, meaning toxicity. People don’t see that if they have the wrong energy and the wrong philosophy and the wrong activities, that makes you toxic. So it’s definitely something that once people understand that by listening, they know what they have to change. So this is what I mean when I say, “calm, surrender, happy, go, lucky, calm, confident.” Those are the three states of mind that allow you to make a change in your life. But the first one is calm surrender, and that’s the most difficult of all of them. Because many times people misunderstand the word surrender. They think you have to be weak, and surrender means mind open. So the equivalent of when people go to church, or they go to a library, you have to surrender to it, and you have to be calm. Calm, surrender. So when you’re in a calm surrender state, whatever people are saying, you can hear it, you can feel it, and you can see it. So that’s the first step, to be a good listener.
Somebody asked me that question earlier, but, a spiritual relationship, it’s Daddy. Cause Daddy, was not a dog. He knew things that I had no idea. Most of the dogs I have are instinctual, so it’s easier for me to see the instincts. And normally I’m helping them, you know? But Daddy had extra. It’s like your mom. Like your mom knows when you’re not feeling good, or she prays, so you feel protected. There’s something special about Daddy that I can’t really describe. My son, Calvin, has a 22-year-old Chihuahua, and he was describing exactly how I felt with Daddy. So I’m to have the same relationship with another dog, it’s a beautiful thing. So it has to be Daddy. Sorry, junior. But Daddy, I love Junior too. You know, Junior was just instinctual. I mean, it’s way more fun than Daddy, but Daddy had intuition.
All the time. When I’m not feeling well I always wear ‘the shirt.’ It’s a big face of Daddy. Or if I’m going to walk into a meeting and it’s a good meeting, I bring Daddy with me. I need my spiritual animal to be with me at a very important meeting.
Well, I don’t train dogs, right? To begin with, I don’t train dogs. Actually, I promote more for you to come here without a dog, or before you get a dog. Right? So it’s like, people are very aware that if you’re going to get a car, and if you don’t know how to drive a car, you learn about it. And so nowadays we are actually becoming more prepared before we get married. Like lets me as a man, let’s learn about women. Not because you love women, you know, women. And so it’s the knowledge- gain the knowledge. It’s easy to give the love, but you can give the love at the wrong time. Right? So that’s why for me, training a human being is more important than telling the human to adopt a dog or do this or that. Because if the dog ends up with a human whose knowledge is a level one that poor dog is going to suffer. So it’s an irrelevant technique if the human doesn’t have the right energy, the right philosophy, and the right activities. So if you are not healthy, to begin with, a technique is irrelevant. So they’re stuck on a technique. I don’t train dogs. I actually work with humans who sometimes don’t even have a dog. I work with humans who are afraid of dogs. I work with humans who don’t like dogs. So the reason why I work with humans who are afraid of dogs and don’t like dogs is that I wanna create a world where love is what you project. You don’t have to have a dog, I tell them but there is no need for you to live with fear. It’s no need for you to live with hate. It’s no need. You don’t even have to have a dog. I just don’t want you to have the wrong energy, that’s it. So, in order for somebody to practice technique, that person has to have a dog. My philosophy is without a dog. It’s better human, better dog, or better human, better planet. You know, my mission is not about training a dog. Dogs are fine, it’s the human who needs to reconnect to his natural, simple, and profound way, just to be a good human. So you can be a good human as a dad, as a husband, as a son, and as a member of the community. Just have the right energy, have the right philosophy, do the right activities and be a good human.
Well, just the fact that you know, I grew up watching The Jetsons. Do you know what that is?
There’s a dog in the future, a dog in the future. Where the treadmill (he points to the treadmill they have on the grounds to exercise the dogs.) That’s the first time I saw a dog on a treadmill, in a cartoon. I was what, three, or four years old. And now, I’m in the future! I’m really reliving Astro. I’m really reliving The Jetsons. So with the collar what I helped do, in the beginning, they just wanted to have a satellite that tells you where your dog is at all times. Right? So GPS, so just like your car, just like your iPhone, find my iPhone type of thing. And then to create a boundary, so you can take your dog everywhere and you create this invisible boundary, no matter where you go, the beach, the mountains, whatever you want. So it’s very important because a lot of times people don’t know how to set three things: rules, boundaries, limitations. So, now you know where your dog is at all times, even when you go to work, you can see your phone. Cause people, you know, get very worried about dogs. And then whenever you go outside, most people have a leash on the dog, and the dog can never experience freedom without the human worrying even more. Right. So then the other component is the little things like this, it’s called a beacon. So when you go away you put this little circle thing in the kitchen and your favorite bed, and your favorite sofa, and in your bedroom, that way the dog can practice rules. Don’t go into the kitchen if the human is not there. Don’t go into the bedroom if the human is not there, don’t go on the favorite couch, if the human is not there. That way the dog practices invite versus invading, cause the dog is going to invade the kitchen. The dog is going to go into your bedroom without being invited. So that’s how they become territorial. So, in a way, it’s like having a babysitter inside your house and then the newest feature is you’re going to press a button on your phone and it’s going to create a halo within a foot away from you. So instead of having a leash, you have the halo around you. So that’s the future! So rules by limitations with a collar. Just from the phone. So, I helped them to create the rules and the leash. They already had the GPS and the boundaries I said, but can we do this? Yes. Oh, well, let’s go. So I’m an inventor!
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