Cesar Millan, the self-taught dog trainer whose television series The Dog Whisperer has made him famous around the world, is now juggling his TV show with writing best-selling books, creating DVDs, publishing a magazine, founding non-profit organizations, even appearing in movies. And he has a wife and two children. WebMD the Magazine caught up with the busy dog trainer and asked him about his health habits, his family, and what he's learned about humans by working with dogs.
You have a cameo in the upcoming Jennifer Lopez movie, 'The Back-up Plan,' opening April 23, playing yourself at a signing for your latest book, 'How To Raise the Perfect Dog.' The first issue of your new magazine hit newsstands last fall. Films, books, magazines, all in addition to your hit show, 'Dog Whisperer.' What's been the biggest challenge in working in all these media?
I've played myself a few times now -- on Bones, Ghost Whisperer, Beethoven, and now The Back-up Plan with Jennifer Lopez -- and it's always such a big compliment. The biggest challenge is to make it sound real, even though you are doing the same scene over and over again. But each time is an opportunity to make it better, and I think it came out well in the end. Cesar's Way magazine has been a really exciting endeavor for my wife, Ilusion, and me. It's another way we can reach dog owners who are struggling with behavior issues and continue to inspire people to become pack leaders.
You've been the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel since 2000. During that time, have you learned more about dogs or about people?
I've learned a lot about both species. Every case is an opportunity to expand my knowledge. I really believe in keeping myself open to learning something new, and my goal is to teach something new to the people I am working with.
Walking the dog is good exercise for both of you. What else do you do to keep in shape?
Dogs stretch as soon as they wake up. So do I. Stretching is a real pleasure. I stretch, then I take the pack for a walk. I get the benefit of that. It helps me to be in shape.
What's the biggest mistake dog owners make with their pooches?
The biggest mistake I encounter is humans who don't fulfill the dog's needs as an animal. Instead, they treat the dog like a human. They shower him with affection, but don't provide physical or mental stimulation. These dogs are bored, so they find other outlets for their pent-up energy: barking, chewing, and other unwanted behaviors. Affection is wonderful -- everyone loves sharing affection with their pet -- but it should be saved until after exercise and discipline has been accomplished.
When you're with dogs, it's clear that you are the one in charge. Who is the pack leader in your household?
What have dogs taught you about raising your two sons?
With both dogs and children, you often teach by the patterns you set. If every morning you sit right down to breakfast without having exercised, you are teaching that the reward comes before the work. In this country, people often forget to be grateful. They feel entitled. I want my sons to respect our humble beginnings, to be balanced boys, not unstable men. We have enough of those.
What's your best health habit? Your worst?
My best health habit is probably meditation. I take time to focus myself several times a day. It helps me to stay balanced for what my day throws at me -- an aggressive dog, meetings, a frustrated owner, whatever. My worst habit is probably eating a big meal after 6 p.m.
Do you have a personal health philosophy? If so, what is it?
My personal health philosophy is the same philosophy that I use with dogs: Never work against Mother Nature. I really believe in organic food and natural treatments. Of course, traditional medicine is important as well, but sometimes the root of the problem is your diet or your exercise routine. Paying attention to your mental, emotional, and spiritual health can help your physical health. They are all connected.
Dogs need a balanced, centered life in order to thrive. So do people. How do you balance work and family?
I love what I do, so it is not really a job.
You recently turned 40. That's a milestone, even if it's not in dog years. How do you feel about getting older?
I don't think about it. My stamina today is exactly the same as it was when I jumped the border in 1990. And you have to have a lot of stamina to get across.
How -- and how often -- do you break away from the pack? What do you like to do when you are by yourself?
Like dogs, I'm a pack animal. If I'm not with my canine pack, I'm with my human pack -- or even better, with both species! To me, that's ideal, being with my dogs and my family. When it's just me and the dogs, I like to take walks around my ranch in Santa Clarita. I really enjoy being out with the dogs in nature. And when it's just me? I love to plant trees. We have 43 acres, and for me to get on a John Deere and to get down and dirty -- it reminds me of home. I can be out there forever, completely relaxed.
What's your favorite food?
I love food. I have not said no to any food. But if I had to pick a favorite? Ceviche: You never get fat, you never go wrong. It makes me happy just to think about it.
What's one of your guilty pleasures?
It would be having a facial and a massage all in one day. It feels good, but I feel guilty because I could be using that time to help a dog or be with my family.
One of my favorite quotes is, "We're the only species that will follow an unstable pack leader." What's a lesson that everyone can -- and should -- learn from dogs?
You hear so many politicians telling you that, "I'm doing this for my country." Until they get elected. Then it's clear they are only doing it for themselves. A real pack leader does everything for the pack. Everybody needs him, and he needs everybody. It is a basic way of being connected.