But it is when he lost everything including that show and brand that Cesar proved his worth not only as a trainer but as an inspiration. He’s back in “Cesar Millan: Leader of the Pack”—wiser and fiercer.
Early Biography: El Perrero of Mexico
On 27 August 1969, Felipe Millán Guillen and María Teresa Favela de Millán of Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico became proud parents to César Millán Favela. The couple had an older child, a daughter. The boy grew up spending most of his childhood days in his grandfather’s farm in Sinaloa. They lived in that farm until Cesar was five years old. The shack doesn’t have electricity and their life was poor as poor can be.
It is his grandfather, Teodoro, who taught him the basics of dealing with dogs. As Teodoro has observed, for some reason, the fiercest dogs do not attack Cesar and would follow his young grandson around. According to Cesar:
"When I started reading all the scientific books, I realized that most of those things my grandfather knew from experience, from trial and error. For example, he didn't know a dog's nose was 10,000 times more powerful than a human's nose. He just knew this is the way dogs experience the world – nose first. He never had training, but he was very instinctual, a natural pack leader, and I think he saw that same gift in me." (Source: Men's Journal)
It was their dire poverty that nurtured Cesar’s dream of becoming the best at something. Knowing his gift with dogs, Cesar knew he’s meant to become a great trainer. The family soon moved to Mazatlán where he was raised and educated. Cesar was an energetic kid who hungered for attention. He loves dancing and finds it a joy to perform on stage. Academically, however, Cesar was not that keen in excelling. Studying doesn’t interest him at all and would choose being with his dogs rather than reading books.
Because of his affinity with man’s best friend, he earned the moniker “el perrero” which means “the dog boy” in English. It was more of a derogatory term rather than an endearment. In their language, el perrero means someone who has fleas and is hairy and all, resembling a dog in the real sense of the word. This is probably the reason why Cesar would eventually have trouble affiliating with humans and becoming more comfortable around dogs.
César grew up feeling insecure because of the way other kids saw him. He was ostracized and was treated as the odd kid. Wanting to be accepted and to get out of poverty, Cesar dreamt of becoming one of the three: a soccer player, a drug dealer, or a movie actor. He thought those were the coolest jobs and the ones that make the most money.
All that changed when his father bought them a TV set when he was 13. By then, Cesar had two more siblings. After dinner, they would usually gather around the television set. Then Cesar saw the film “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin.” He was mesmerized and amazed at the endless possibilities of training dogs. From then on, he wouldn’t dream of anything else but becoming the best dog trainer in the world. Life became much better for Cesar and his family when Felipe left his job as a cameraman and newspaper delivery man to work for the governor of Sinaloa. The family moved into a two-story apartment where Cesar first experienced having his own room. There in the four corners of his room, he nurtured his dream of creating a Cesar Millan brand.
At first, he wanted to make a name in his own country. However, he didn’t get lucky to get a job as a dog trainer at Guadalajara. But he did not lose heart. Two days before Christmas in 1990, he went to Tijuana in an attempt to cross the border. At 21, Cesar braved to leave his home country for the United States where he believed he would become the best trainer there is.
Life as an Illegal Immigrant
Cesar left Mexico with only 100 dollars in his pocket. He will be living in the United States as an illegal alien. If caught, he runs the risk of being imprisoned, fine, and deported to Mexico. Worse, it would be the end of his dream. The first couple of weeks were torture because he couldn’t seem to sneak to get to the US soil. The perfect opportunity came when he met a coyote who was willing to help him get to the US for only 100 dollars. It was raining hard and they had to cross flooded ditches and filthy drainage just to get to the other side undetected. Finally after seemingly endless hours of walking, he emerged at a Shell station, slimy but free! The “agent” was kind enough to pay for the cab because Cesar had no money left. It would have been easier if he knew how to speak English, but he doesn’t. He set foot on the American soil with no money, no passport, no English—a perfect recipe for disaster.
But Cesar did not lose heart. For almost two months, Cesar slept on freeway underpasses. He was homeless and only has “OK” for English vocabulary. Finally, he learned how to say, “Do you have application for work?” One day, he found himself at a pet shop. He came in the right place at the right time. The two female attendants couldn’t get one dog to behave and they gladly relegated the work to Cesar who did not have to try very hard to pacify the dog. Without having to be interviewed, Cesar got the job. He also worked as a dishwasher at the Sizzler and was eventually promoted to the salad bar.
Although far from becoming the best trainer, Cesar knew that it was just a matter of time. And things got even better when he met Ilusion.
Ilusion and Cesar met at a skating rink. She was a 17-year-old Mexican-American girl, while Cesar was 23 years old. Upon meeting Cesar, Ilusion knew that he’s the one she’d like to marry. Young as she was, Ilusion finds Cesar the kind of man she’d like to spend the rest of her life with. Although feeling the same way for Ilusion, Cesar’s alien status in the US held him back. He decided not to see Ilusion anymore after being warned by a friend that he might get arrested for dating a minor.
But Ilusion wouldn’t have any of that. As soon as she turned 18, she presented herself to Cesar and the two began a serious relationship. Cesar proposed when Ilusion got pregnant and they were married in 1994. As in any marriage, it was difficult for Ilusion to live with someone who’d rather be in the company of dogs than being with humans. They named their first son, Andre, who would soon become big brother to Calvin.
The Dog Psychology Center: Training Puppies, Dogs, and Owners
When the couple settled in Los Angeles, Cesar decided to start peddling his services as a dog caretaker. He went from door to door asking if people in their neighborhood were willing to leave their dogs to him. They happened to live in a notorious area where dogs were used to protect the owners. They were the fiercest bunch, but they behaved around Cesar which impressed his clients.
As people began to trust him, he started charging 10 dollars per dog and his clientele soon grew. He transformed an unused space filled with graffiti and made it the first headquarters of the Dog Psychology Center in 1999. By word of mouth, clients started pouring in and celebrities on their limousine were seen dropping their dogs in his center. One of his first elite clients was the wife of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith. After hearing about Cesar’s desire to become the best dog trainer in the world, Jada was kind enough to shoulder his English lesson for one whole year. She saw Cesar’s potential and she wanted to help him out.
Cesar believes that not only dogs need training. He recreated the practice of having dogs for a pet by training owners how to respect their dog’s space and how to deal with the animals based on their state of mind. He believes that training starts as soon as possible so even puppies days old could be trained how to properly breakout. The result is a more disciplined dog and a more effective pack leader in the person of the owner.
Daddy and Cesar, the Trainer on Rollerblades, become Celebrities
The rapper Redman became one of Cesar’s first clients. He left his 4-month-old pit-bull named Daddy to Cesar because he didn’t have time to care for the dog. Daddy became Cesar’s right-hand man. It was Daddy’s cool temperament and amazing instinct that made him a perfect partner for Cesar.
Whenever he walks a dozen of dogs, he always has Daddy around to help him discipline other pets. Cesar would go around the neighborhood on his rollerblades with a bunch of dogs. They soon attracted the attention of the public until L.A. Times featured him in an article where he mentioned his interest in doing a TV show. The story came out on a Sunday and by Monday he was surprised to see a bunch of people in his center wanting to talk to him about producing a show.
Kay Sumner and Sheila Emery won his yes because they were the only pair the dogs weren’t so belligerent with. Cesar puts so much weight on how his dogs view people. He would always say that dogs are better judges of character than human beings.
Cesar became a US citizen in 2009.
The National Geographic Show: Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan
The initial episode of Dog Whisperer was low-budget and Cesar had to wear Costco clothes and donated boots. He also earned 2,500 dollars per episode. But Cesar was not in that business for money. He saw it as a stepping stone to achieving his dreams of becoming the world’s best dog trainer.
Soon, the Dog Whisperer Show became the leading animal-oriented reality show, followed by around 11 million people in the world and shown in 80 countries. It went on from 2004 to 2012. Cesar had to say goodbye to the show after going through a difficult time.
Daddy’s Death and Cesar’s Divorce
The Cesar Millan Inc. was soon born with Cesar and Ilusion as business partners. Ilusion was at first hesitant to join her husband’s business but was convinced after she saw the need to jump in. After Cesar’s books became bestsellers, Ilusion knew that the brand has great potential. MPH Entertainment along with Ilusion managed the Dog Whisperer brand.
In 2010, Cesar’s most loyal partner, Daddy, died of cancer at 16 years old. It devastated Cesar who was heavily attached to the dog. It was one of Cesar’s lowest points and it did not help that Ilusion called him while he was in England for business to announce that she wants a divorce. The couple’s marriage has been problematic from the beginning and their joint business venture made matters worse. Trusting his wife and MPH Entertainment proved to be a wrong decision. In that same year, he found out that he had no money left. The successful Dog Whisperer brand does not give him any profit except for speaking engagements. He also found out about the questionable business ethics MPH gets into just for profit.
The divorce was finalized in June of 2012 and it has been agreed that Ilusion would receive a lifetime allowance of 23,000 dollars per month from Cesar. Andre, Cesar’s firstborn, is yet to reconcile with him. Unlike Calvin, Andre is yet to forgive Cesar for the divorce.
Cesar’s Attempted Suicide in 2010
Reaching the heights of success, Cesar couldn’t ask for anything more. But he soon realized that it takes more than financial success to make relationships work. When Ilusion filed for divorce just months after Daddy died, Cesar’s world came crashing in. Add to that his falling out with MPH Entertainment that did irreparable damage to the Dog Whisperer brand—Cesar was left with nothing. He slept on his brother’s couch and began sinking deeper into depression.
While visiting his sons one day in Ilusion’s home, Cesar decided to end his suffering by ingesting assorted pills. He was found by his boys and was rushed to the hospital. Cesar woke up surrounded by psychiatric patients who were thrilled to see him there. Going back to his old self was hard for Cesar. But he knew he has to start somewhere. He went back to the ranch where he plans to build his upscale Dog Psychology Center.
He tells Men’s Journal how he started to piece his life back:
"I was crying. I noticed the dogs started coming over, and they surrounded me. There were, like, 11 dogs all around, and they started to lick my face. Normally I don't like to be licked. I'm afraid of germs, but this was different. I had the sense that these dogs were healing me. From that night, I began to get stronger." (Source: Men's Journal)
Cesar Millan: Leader of the Pack
The first thing he did was get the Cesar Millan Inc. in order. He went to Spain and did a show called El “Líder de la Manada,” which was adapted into American television as “Leader of the Pack.” It started airing in January 2013. Cesar is currently living with his protégé and son, Calvin, who he says is another amazing “dog whisperer.” He is currently more stable and is in love with Jahira Dar, a former staff at Dolce & Gabbana where they met.
Cesar’s Way magazine now has Cesarsway.com. Both are doing well business-wise. He has learned his lesson about handling business and he won’t ever make the same mistake again. About moving on, Cesar is more than ready to take another shot at life.
"What makes you wise in life is not the successes...It's when you go down and come back."
And we are glad to welcome you back, Cesar!
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Millan Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 1999: Founded the Dog Psychology Center
- 2004-2012: Hosted the Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan
- 2005: Received Special Commendation from the Humane Society of the United States Genesis Award Committee
- 2006, 2007, 2009: Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program
- 2006: Awarded honorary membership of the International Association of Canine Professionals
- 2007: Founded the Millan Foundation
- 2007: Awarded the Michael Landon Award for Inspiration to Youth Through Television
- 2008: Won the award for TV Best Variety or Reality Show at the 23rd Annual Imagine Awards
- 2008: Recognized as a "Treasure of Los Angeles"
- 2009: Started publishing the Cesar's Way magazine
- 2010: Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Animal Show
- 2012: Cesar’s Way South African edition was launched
- 2013: Started hosting Leader of the Pack
- His three books became New York Times bestsellers
- Partners with Yale University for Mutt-i-grees to train kids how to care for dogs
- Created the Pacific Point Canine Academy and developing
- Oprah Winfrey, Nicolas Cage, Will Smith, and Vin Diesel are just some of his clients
- Cesar’s Way is the number one selling dog magazine at newsstand in North America
- 2007: Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems
- 2007: Be the Pack Leader: Use Cesar's Way to Transform Your Dog ... and Your Life
- 2008: A Member of the Family: Cesar Millan's Guide to a Lifetime of Fulfillment with Your Dog
- 2009: How to Raise the Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond
- 2010: Cesar's Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog
- 2013: Cesar Millan's Short Guide to a Happy Dog: 98 Essential Tips and Techniques
Wikipedia (Cesar Millan)
People (Dog Whisperer Star Cesar Millan and Wife Split)
Facebook (Cesar Millan page)
Huffington Post (Cesar Millan)
Cesar's Way (Daddy)
Ryan Seacrest (Cesar Millan Talks About His Life After ‘The Dog Whisperer’)
NBC News (Bitten by tragedy, Cesar Millan returns wiser as 'Leader of the Pack')
Elle (Cesar Millan: The Dog Whisperer)
Us Magazine (Cesar Millan, Dog Whisperer, Opens Up About Suicide Attempt)
Daily Mail ('I felt defeated': Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan reveals he attempted suicide in 2010 after death of pit bull and divorce)
Men's Journal (Rescuing Cesar Millan)
eHarmony (Cesar Millan: What I’ve Learned About Love)