Exclusive Interview: Cesar Millan Hits The Vegas Stage

Viewers who tune into Nat Geo Wild’s two-hour special Cesar Millan: Viva Las Vegas (airing Friday, February 20th at 9/8c) will see the man known to millions as The Dog Whisperer as they have never seen him before: with a sense of humor.

Cesar Millan is a hero to a legion of dog owners. As The Dog Whisperer, Millan has dedicated his career to rehabilitating dogs and, more importantly, their owners by teaching humans how to be effective pack leaders. His work has made him an inspiration as well as a polarizing figure in the animal rights’ community, but when I met Millan during the weekend of his first live show in Las Vegas this past August, he was not larger than life; he was simply a man with a passion to keep dogs happy, healthy and safe. However, on stage that passion translated into a jovial, illuminating bit of showmanship that allowed Millan to reveal his true personality.

“Were you expecting me to be funny?” Millan asked me during our interview the Saturday afternoon following the show. Like his other viewers, I am accustomed to seeing Millan dealing with serious issues with a no-nonsense demeanor. However, on stage he was allowed to let loose, showcasing a knack for comedic timing and boundless energy as he leapt, rolled and dashed around the stage.

“That is me,” Millan said. “In The Dog Whisperer, the persona they put in is straight, but that’s one part of me. I’m disciplined. Most people don’t have good habits; you need discipline and exercise, not just affection, affection, affection. Really who I am is who you saw on stage.”

When the special airs, fans can expect to see not only a funny Millan, but a fearless Millan. He goes for laughs one minute while showcasing his big heart the next. Bringing dogs onto the stage, Millan showed the audience firsthand how no dog is a lost cause. For the first time, an audience was treated to witnessing Millan’s techniques in person. Not all of the dogs cooperated immediately—but that is part of the process. The two-hour show is more about awareness and Millan himself than it is about quick fixes. Millan would be the first to admit retraining people and dogs takes time.

In fact, he revealed they held a bit of troubled dog owners’ American Idol to decide which dogs would be part of the live show. Millan explained they chose dogs with relatable issues. “Some were more than a day cases, so we started cutting down to the dogs people could relate to with issues like excitement and obsessions.”

Each of the owners came to Millan with a phrase he hears all too often: we have tried everything. “If they had tried everything they wouldn’t be here,” Millan said with a smile. “Most of the time what they don’t try is calm.”

On the subject of people demonizing particular breeds of dogs, Millan ran through a list of breeds that have been accused of excessive violence throughout the years, including the most recent breed to be on the fear list, pitbulls.

“What controls the world is not love, it’s fear and ignorance,” Millan said with conviction in his voice. As people, we judge dogs just as we judge each other without realizing how human behavior and leadership guides the actions of dogs. “We blame someone who does not rationalize,” he continued.

Up on the stage, Millan worked what can seem like magic with dogs ranging from an over-excitable Great Dane to a dog obsessed with his toy. When I asked what he thought viewers at home would take away from his special, he acknowledged that they would not have the same experience as the people who attended the live show.

“Television makes you a fan, but not a believer,” Millan said. “Everybody else was there live as they showed the dogs right in front of your eyes. They are not going to get what you got. But they will see the humor, the beautiful background.”

They will also see an authentic picture of Millan, who talks about his own background, including coming to America illegally. His journey and his passion come through loud and clear whether you were in the audience or not. Millan is a man with great compassion and empathy for dogs, and a special understanding of how human behavior shapes our four-legged companions that he has made it is life’s work to share with others. His live show is a departure from what we have seen from Millan before, but it ultimately just reveals another facet to one of television and the animal activist community’s most fascinating voices.

Be sure to tune into Nat Geo Wild Friday, February 20th at 9/8c to see Cesar Millan: Viva Las Vegas.

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