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Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan brings wisdom to Victoria

Nothing like getting pet advice from the top dog. Cesar Millan -- the so-called Dog Whisperer -- is probably the most famous canine trainer on the planet. He launches his first Canadian speaking tour in Victoria on Tuesday.

Nothing like getting pet advice from the top dog.

Cesar Millan -- the so-called Dog Whisperer -- is probably the most famous canine trainer on the planet. He launches his first Canadian speaking tour in Victoria on Tuesday. Fittingly, for a man boasting rock-star status in the dog-obedience world, Millan presents Cesar Millan Live in a 7,400-seat arena previously host to ZZ Top, Billy Talent and Mötley Crüe.

Since leaving his native Mexico two decades ago and briefly living on the streets of San Diego (he survived on hot dogs), Milan has become a cultural phenomenon. His television series on National Geographic Channel, Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan, is seen in more than 100 countries. He has co-authored six books, including the just-published Cesar's Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog.

Last year, the New York Times reported Millan -- whose Cesar Millan Inc. sells everything from dog food to pet-training DVDs -- is on his way to becoming a $100-million business. As befitting any pop culture superstar, he has been lampooned on South Park and Saturday Night Live.

Millan, a 41-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair, has glamour appeal, too. His celebrity clients include Oprah Winfrey, Nicolas Cage, Charlize Theron and Scarlett Johansson.

When he phoned recently from his Los Angeles home, I was keen to score free doggie advice from the king of the canines.

The problem? Our pug dog, Ollie, has a funny habit. When we take him somewhere in the car and one person leaves the vehicle, he howls and whines. This despite the fact other family members are still there to keep him company.

"That, to me, says he controls the situation," Millan said immediately.

"My question would be, how are the walks? When you take this dog out for a walk, is he next to you or behind you?"

"Um ... usually in front," I said.

"That means he's the pack leader."

And therein lies the key to the problem. When it comes to dogs, Millan stresses owners must, at all times, be the pack leader, not the dog. And we must always project "calm, assertive energy" to the animal.

Millan typically focuses on the actions of owners as much as on their dogs' behaviour. In Cesar's Rules he writes: "Like children, dogs are always watching us and learning from our actions and reactions."

His training methods recall the British Second World War slogan: "Keep calm and carry on." He said his clients tend to be "very intelligent" and "very emotional." Talking with Millan, one senses if dog owners would only be less silly and indulgent, things would go better all around.

For Cesar Millan Live he will talk -- often in a humorous vein -- about common dog problems and his own experiences. Crowd participation is encouraged, although audience members cannot bring pets to the show. He said the first half is about "understanding the psychology behind a dog." He'll also discuss his own uncanny empathy for the species.

It was actor Jada Pinkett and her husband Will Smith who tipped Millan on his journey to dog-coaching stardom back in 1994. Impressed with his expertise, they recommended him to show-biz friends. The word spread like a runaway greyhound.

One of Millan's clients is Oprah, whose spaniel Sophie was attacking other dogs. To help rehabilitate the animal, he took Sophie for a stroll with six other dogs. Oprah, meanwhile, failed to project calm, assertive energy while observing this exercise.

Recalled Millan: "She was very, very scared. This is a woman who is fearless. But when it comes to something so personal [as her dog], this comes out. In the animal world, she's not Oprah. In the animal world she's the energy she's projecting."

When it comes to working with famous Hollywood actors, Millan has no qualms about telling them to get over themselves.

"The first thing I say is, 'Your dog doesn't know you're a movie star. You know that, right?' "

Being in a position to scold Tinseltown royalty is especially astounding, given Millan's humble origins. He was born in Culiacan, Mexico, to a dirt-poor family. They survived on what they raised: chickens, vegetables, fruit. Millan said on the days there was no food, his parents gave them coffee to quell hunger pangs.

After crossing the border illegally in 1990, Millan -- then a non- English-speaking 21-year-old -- spent a desperate month living under freeway bridges in San Diego. The homeless formed different "packs;" he avoided those dependent on drugs and alcohol.

Millan existed on hot dogs. He could buy two a day for 99 cents. It wasn't so bad. After all, back home in Mexico, hot dogs were a delicacy.

"We could only have them like at Christmas time or somebody's birthday. In America I was having hot dogs every day. It was like, 'Whoa, I'm like super rich,' " said the Dog Whisperer, laughing quietly.

Cesar Millan Live is on Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. Tickets are $25 to $125 and can be purchased by phoning 250-220-7777.

Millan will also do a free book signing at Bosley's Pet Food Plus at 491 East Burnside Rd. on Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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