The power of Cesar

Leader of the Pack
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  December 16, 2009


Interview: Cesar Millan. By Jeffrey Gantz.
The funniest moments of Cesar Millan's PackPower Tour show at Agganis Arena last Sunday came during intermission, when the three big video screens showed a snippet from "Tsst," the South Park parody episode where the Dog Whisperer goes up against Cartman. But Millan himself did a pretty good job of keeping the crowd in stitches during the nearly three-hour "seminar," especially when imitating dog owners who don't practice calm, assertive behavior ("Sit! SIT!! I KNOW you're LISTENING to me!!!") and recalling answers to his standard opening "How can I help you?" line ("My dog is my soulmate, but he wants to kill my husband").

Millan's methods are controversial in some quarters (in a Boston Globe article that ran Saturday, the president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants claimed that he's "single-handedly brought dog training back into the dark ages"), but the near-capacity Agganis crowd whistled and whooped for the star of the National Geographic Channel's Dog Whisperer as if he were fronting a rock band. Or maybe they were hoping he'd bring out his right-hand dog, 16-year-old pit bull Daddy, the epitome of a calm, balanced canine. Daddy didn't make the trip, but we got to see him on the video screens in footage where he approaches two cows by turning sideways. The cows, Millan pointed out, aren't thinking, "Is that a pit bull? We gotta get outta here!" Or, "Is that Daddy? Get the camera!" They just appreciate the signal that he means no harm.

The first half didn't offer anything we haven't seen on Dog Whisperer, but no one seemed to mind. Pacing the stage, Millan asked, "You guys watch the show?" (everyone does, to judge by the response), and elaborated on his "Exercise, discipline, affection" mantra. A reminder that your dog doesn't care what you do for a living was followed by a "leadership in crisis" moment on the video screens: First Dog Bo dragging our first African-American president in his wake. In another video segment, a rambunctious rottweiler was able to work off energy by reconnecting with his roots as a shepherd dog. Millan, meanwhile, demonstrated the wrong way to leave your dog to go to work: putting peanut-butter treats everywhere and then sneaking out the door.

After the obligatory merch-table (DVDs, caps, T-shirts, the Illusion collar) break, during which, Millan reported, "I talked to Daddy on the phone," the second half of the show sent him into action with problem dogs on stage. There were no instant fixes: a border collie was less fearful of a nearby vacuum cleaner when she walked on a treadmill, but an aggressive German shepherd continued to lunge at a balanced German shepherd while his owner tried to remain calm and get the hang of the leadership thing. As Millan would have told Cartman's mom, "It's not the kid. It's you."

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