Rescuing dogs and humans

Cesar Millan is back!" declares the celebrity dog trainer of Dog Whisperer fame.

He is not just referring to how he will return to Singapore next month for a live show or his new television show, but he is also talking about his personal life.

"In 2010, I went through a very bad time. The world heard about my divorce and my attempt to commit suicide," the 45-year-old tells Life! in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

Last year, he told the media that he suffered from depression after his 16-year marriage to Ilusion Millan ended and attempted suicide by overdosing on pills.

But the father of two sons says: "I'm very happy with my life now. I am happy in my own skin and I have a sense of direction. With this new show, people can expect to see a new Cesar. It's like I'm back. Cesar's back."

His new show, Cesar To The Rescue, will show him dealing with unruly dogs in various communities. He decided to do it after getting feedback from fans who found out his series, Leader Of The Pack, was coming to an end.

"People were sad and felt as though there was not going to be help for them. I started receiving letters, many of which were not from pet owners," he says. Several were from home owners distressed by their neighbour's uncontrollable dogs.

"I felt a sense of emergency, to do something for these people," he says.

In this new series, he is sought out by co-workers, relatives, friends and neighbours who "blow the whistle" on dogs that cause disturbances and he addresses the situation with both whistle-blowers and dog owners present.

"People will get to see dog rehabilitation, but there is also more focus on the humans," he says. "I always say, I train people and I rehabilitate dogs. In this series, I will show how people are trained."

He says all the pet owners reacted badly to having the whistle blown on them.

"When you are not the one asking for help, you don't think you need help."

He recalls the case of a Greek restaurant owner, whose waitresses complained to him about how their boss' dogs were "terrorising" customers by barking obsessively.

"The waitresses were annoyed that customers were not tipping them and the man's wife was upset that he was blind to the dogs' behaviour. But when I sat down with him, he told me, 'I'm fine, my dogs are fine, I love them, I don't need help,'" says Mr Millan. "I told him: 'That's not love.'"

He says the owner admitted there was work to be done only "a few hours" later.

This series is his first time as executive producer. Fans will get to see him in action when he does a live show, part of an Asian tour, at The Star Theatre on May 2.

Through live demonstrations with dogs and their owners, he will teach the audience how to read a dog's body language, how to correct behavioural problems and how canine instinct shapes a dog's actions. Two to five dogs and their owners will be selected for the demonstrations.

He was last here in June 2012 when he presented his show over two nights at The Grand Theater at Marina Bay Sands.

The fundamentals of his training techniques have not changed. He says: "I always have an eye on making sure people get the message, that it's about us changing, not the dog changing, in a way that is quick, simple and profound."

On whether he feels Singaporean dogs or pet owners have any behavioural issues not found in other countries, he says: "The issues are universal: anxiety, fear, aggression, barking, jumping, digging. It is common with people whose dogs live in apartments and houses. When a dog spends too much time behind walls and the human does not drain its energy, then it will develop side effects because it is frustrated."

This article was published on April 21 in The Straits Times.

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