Catherine Clarke Fox

"There is nothing more rewarding than taking a pack of 40 dogs to the beach for a pack walk," says Cesar Millan of his work with canines.

A typical day at work for Cesar Millan might include putting on his running shoes and taking a four-hour jog though the mountains with 40 dogs—dogs large and small, young and old, and none of them on leashes.

Amazingly, most of those dogs belong to him. The rest are at the heart of his work; they are troubled dogs sent to Millan to learn good behavior.

Obviously Millan, star of the National Geographic Channel's show Dog Whisperer and author of the best-selling book Cesar's Way, has a special gift for working with these animals.

Growing up on a farm in Mexico, Millan knew he wanted to work with dogs. His first job, at age 15, was helping a veterinarian.

He was so good at calming scared dogs and handling all kinds of situations, people started calling him el perrero, Spanish for "the dog boy." Since then, he has built a rewarding career around his favorite animal.

"My grandfather taught me at an early age not to work against nature," he explains. In nature, dogs are pack animals. They form a group and follow one leader. Millan's specialty is teaching people to be pack leaders for their dogs instead of letting the dog have the run of the home.

Everyone in the family should lead, he says. The dogs in his pack respect his wife, Ilusion, as well as his sons, Andre, 11, and Calvin, 7.

Studying dogs on the farm where he grew up, Millan realized they need lots of exercise to be calm. He explains his approach: "Exercise and discipline first, and then affection!"

He says a lot of people get it backwards because they don't realize what dogs really need. So the Dog Whisperer doesn't just train dogs; he trains owners to understand that their pets need rules. He's helped big celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and movie star Will Smith and everyday people too.

At his Dog Psychology Center in Los Angeles, California, Millan also works with dogs whose dangerous behavior has prevented them from finding homes. He teaches them to be loving, gentle pets.

On the TV show The Dog Whisperer, viewers can actually see the change in dogs with troublesome behavior. Some dogs go crazy when visitors arrive, for example, while some have more unusual problems. "Like Kane," says Millan, "who was afraid of shiny floors, and a sheltie who barked at the toaster."

To find the right career, Millan encourages kids to do what they enjoy. "A lot of people don't realize I've been working with dogs for more than 20 years—long before my TV show or book. Success followed me because I was following my dream of being the best dog trainer in the world."

Millan offers this advice: "You can always find a job. (I washed cars and worked as a dog groomer.) But I find that happiness comes when you follow your passion."

Fast Facts

  • The term "Dog Whisperer" is a take-off on a term for people with a special ability to communicate with and train horses: "horse whisperers."
  • To understand dogs, you need to understand how they "see" the world, says Millan. Nose first, then eyes, then ears. According to his book, human's have only about 5 million scent receptors in our noses, while the average grown dog has 220 million!
  • Lots of hard work goes into helping dogs at Millan's Dog Psychology Center. Just feeding all those hungry hordes means dishing up 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of food a day.
  • To read Cesar's Way, visit your local library.
  • To see the show Dog Whisperer, check your local cable listings for the National Geographic Channel.

Text by Catherine Clarke Fox