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Cesar Millan: Gimme shelter (dogs)

There is an assertive calmness to Cesar Millan’s dog-training wisdom that, even after years of diagnosing problem pups on television, on stage and in best-selling books, is still mistaken by canine owners for, in a word, “magic.”

“I’m pretty much able to determine a dog’s issue just by watching them — no camera tricks involved,” Millan says in an e-mail interview of the snap assessments he made during nine seasons of his wildly successful show “The Dog Whisperer” and, since January, on its Nat Geo Wild replacement, “Leader of the Pack.” “I would never meet with the people or their dogs beforehand. So when you’d see me walk into a house on the show, that was for the first time.”

Since retiring “The Dog Whisperer” in 2012, Millan’s self-taught, dominance-based dog-training methods have been focused on another set of pooches: shelter dogs.

How did you come up with the idea for “Leader of the Pack”?

Shelters everywhere are overflowing with adult dogs that would be a great addition to a human family. Teaching people how to find the dog that’s the right fit will help reduce the problem of adopted dogs being returned to shelters because of behavioral issues that are just as much the fault of the adopting humans.

What are some of the most-frequent dog behavior questions you get asked by live audiences?

“How do I get my dog to behave on the walk?” As soon as they’re outside on the leash, the dog is pulling and panting, or barking at other dogs, or just generally being difficult. The other most-common questions are about excessive barking and separation anxiety.

What are common problems you notice among shelter dogs?

To the dog, humans have just chased it, grabbed it and confined it. Once the dog is in the shelter, what do a lot of people do? They run right up to the cage and make a big deal and try to get the dog’s attention. So you have an already fearful dog in a cage, and people coming right up into its space, making loud noises and showing lots of excitement. Another common issue with shelter dogs is that they can have way too much pent-up energy from being kept in a cage and not walked or exercised enough. It’s a great reason to volunteer at your local shelter, by the way.

You’ve said that exercise, discipline and affection are your keys for successful dog training.

It’s my fulfillment formula for dogs, and it’s what they need to become calm, submissive and balanced. Exercise is important for getting rid of your dog’s excess energy. Discipline involves what I call establishing rules, boundaries and limitations, and also helps dogs get into a calm, submissive state. This also teaches them their position in the pack — they must do what the pack leaders want before they get what they want. Now, I never have to explain “affection” to humans, particularly in America. That’s any special attention you give your dog, whether it’s petting, feeding, giving treats or grooming. The important part is to never give affection to a dog that is excited or unstable, because this just reinforces that unwanted behavior. Only give affection to a dog that is in a calm, submissive state.

In Miami-Dade County, owning a pit bull has been illegal for nearly 25 years. Since your dogs Daddy and Junior are pit bulls, you’re obviously passionate about this breed.

It’s not the breed of dog, it’s the people. Before pit bulls were the banned breed of the month, it was German shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, and so on. Go back to the 1930s, and pit bulls were nanny dogs. People would leave them alone with small children, and nobody was being attacked. Banning a dog because of its breed is just as wrong as discriminating against a human because of their race or gender. Laws should deal with aggressive dogs and negligent humans, period.

Millan takes his canine advice on the road with an 8 p.m. Friday talk at the Fillmore Miami Beach. The appearance will include an audience Q&A and live demos with his 3-year-old pit bull, Junior, and a variety of shelter breeds. Tickets cost $42-$100. Call 305-673-7300 or go to

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