I'm about to interview Cesar Millan and I'm dead nervous. Nervous that he's going to sense through the phone that I don't have a dog. And have never owned one before. He is the Dog Whisperer, after all.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a still a fan. For all my friendly ambivalence about pooches, I could watch Millan exert his famously 'calm, assertive energy' over troubled dogs in episode after episode of his (recently-ended) TV series 'The Dog Whisperer.' With barely a flick of the wrist, Millan seems to transform 'problem' dogs into obedient, calm, affectionate companions. How? What kind of dog voodoo does he use exactly?
Turns out the problem isn't with the dogs, it's with the humans. And that's what Millan has set out to tell pet owners across Canada. The celebrity dog-trainer has brought his 'Trust Your Instincts' live tour our way to train dog owners to understand that the key to resolving their dog's bad behaviour actually lies in resolving their own issues.
Now this is something I, as a non-dog owner, can get behind. I don't have a pet, but issues? Got my list right here. And trusting my instincts is something I've never been good at. But Millan is: Having grown up poor in the Mexican countryside, all he had was his instincts to rely on, he says. That, and some wise animal teachers.
Millan never once questions my dog-owning status during our interview, but he does go to great lengths to patiently explain how to trusting your instincts can change your life -- and yes, your dog's life too -- for the better.
Check out Cesar's tips on how to trust your instincts in the slideshow below:
Dusting Off Your Instincts Is Key, But It Ain't Easy
"Everybody wants a solution on how to help their dogs, but we can't really see the problem until we reconnect ourselves to our instinctual self," says Millan. "When you live in a modern society, that's not something that society asks you to become. It asks you to become more intellectually driven, it asks you to be part of a more excited world, it asks you to numb emotions, it invites you to activities like... smoking is ok, drinking is ok. And that only hurts your instincts."
Know What's 'In Your Bubble.' Huh?
In order to get back in touch with our instincts, we need to take stock of our current situation and selves. "The first step to make it simple is to really evaluate what's in your 'bubble,' you know, what's in your being, what's inside of you," Millan says. "What's inside of you becomes part of the bubble that you project."
"A lot of people, for example, live an anxious life," he says. "They don't realize they have a super-high level of anxiety. So we're gonna work on really writing down how anxious you feel at the moment you wake up. There's nothing wrong with it; the point is you learn to evaluate yourself and regulate yourself.'
Your Dog Is Your Emotional Barometer
Sometimes the barrier to changing how you feel is not knowing how you feel, but, as Millan says, a dog makes those feelings tangible by mirroring them back to you. "The dog can only become what's in your bubble," he says. "The dog is imitating the energy that is in your bubble. You are the source, the feast of energy. If you feel anxious, the dog becomes anxious with you. If you become nervous, the dog wakes up nervous with you," he says.
And likewise, when you're on the right track, your dog will reflect that too. "The dog is the one who's showing you you're doing the right thing," Millan says.
Change What's In Your Bubble; Act With Integrity
So once you know your dog's problems are in fact all about you, what do you do next? You get ready to face down your shortcomings. "The truth is, people don't like change," Millan says. "Change takes effort. And the reality is, most people don't want to put in effort to better their life.
"So this is where you're measuring every day: Do you follow through with the awareness that you have?" Millan says. "And this is where you measure your integrity. You see, to have a relationship with a dog, you must be honest, and have integrity to create loyalty."
You Need To Have An 'A-ha' Moment
Here's how Cesar gets his clients back to their instinctual selves and help their dog's problem behaviour: "The first step is to pop their bubble and get them to realize it's not the dog. They honestly believe it's their dog. They honestly believe it's the people knocking at the door, they honestly believe it's the doorbell, they honestly believe it's the microwave, they honestly believe it's the kids on skateboards. You know, they really believe it's everything else, except them.'
But once they understand that it's their negative bubble causing the problem, "their whole life changes in a matter of an hour," Millan says. "To realize, to have what Oprah calls the 'a-ha' moment -- this is the 'a-ha' moment, this is the moment that your dog wants you to have so you can then start changing his bad habits."
Goals Matter, But Maybe Not The Ones You Think Do
The biggest difference between humans and dogs? Priorities. And this is where our animal friends can teach us a thing or two. "Human goals are often to become famous, wealthy, and have a degree, but the dog's goal is just harmony." Millan says. "His biggest goal in life is to have a harmonious life with his family."
"For him, wealth is harmony. For him wealth is his family. For him wealth is living in the now. For him, wealth is calmness. For him, wealth is a sense of direction."
Time To Make A Lifestyle Change
"It takes the same amount of concentration and dedication to be an addict for healthy things as it does to be an addict to unhealthy things," Millan says. So the key is to focus your energy towards healthy habits. And guess what? Your dog can help you with that.
"A dog is a good example of a healthy addict," Millan says. "A dog, his addiction is what? Joy. Harmony. Being with you. Living in the moment. Honesty. Integrity. Loyalty. Unconditional love. Those are addictions."
"We give them a different name: we call them passions... But it's the same amount of energy."
Life Life Simply: Let Your Dog Be Your Dog
"We need to adopt ourselves to a simple lifestyle that benefits not just the dog, but benefits everybody in the house. What we're doing wrong is we want our dogs to adapt to a very complex lifestyle. We want our dogs to become human," Millan says.
"Therefore we're suppressing their identity, and we actually change their ability to help us," he continues. "What we need to do as a modern society, we need to reconnect to that lifestyle, because we've become disconnected to instinct."