Dogs listen to Cesar Millan. People worship him.
Saturday night at the National Stadium in western San José’s La Sabana Park, about 6,000 fans showed up for the spectacle that is “The Dog Whisperer,” on his international speaking tour. Any chance that the Mexican dog behavior specialist would disappointwas extinguished upon his is entrance.
“Pura vida!” he announced from the stage in a red Costa Rican national soccer jersey.
To help tell his stories, Millan brought along his own dog, a pit bull named Junior, as well as a large red door and some living room furniture. As he’s done in other cities on the tour, he opened his act with the highly entertaining story of how he snuck into the United States and quickly noticed that people harbored many misconceptions about their canine friends. For instance, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is happy. Also, putting your hand in a dog’s face: not a good idea.
Using the door and living room props, he demonstrated how dogs were ruling households and preventing people from, say, opening doors or sitting on their own couches. If you’ve ever seen Millan’s show on the Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet,” now in its seventh season, you know that his philosophy of effective training involves convincing dogs that the owner is boss, or “pack leader.”
When a dog believes it is the pack leader, Millan says, it tends to walk its owner, and not the other way around. He demonstrated this Saturday night in his characteristically dramatic fashion, pretending to be dragged across the stage by what turned out to be an imaginary Pomeranian.
Throughout the show, Millan gave props to Costa Ricans for their love of nature, wildlife, and peace, and he made continual references to the country’s mantra of pura vida. Pura vida, to Millan, is the intersection of the three attributes that define a successful human-dog relationship: trust, respect, and love. To achieve these, he says, a dog needs discipline, exercise and affection. Too often, people instead give affection, affection, and affection.
Although Millan declared his love for Costa Rica, he also poked fun at it. When his props weren’t cleared on schedule, he referred to it as a “Costa Rica time” issue. The comment drew plenty of laughter, as did many of his impersonations of doting dog owners, which echoed throughout the vast, clam-shaped stadium.
Later in the show, Millan embraced an elaborate joke made at his own expense by Comedy Central’s cartoon “South Park.” During a break for a performer, part of the episode, “Tsst,” in which Millan trains Cartmen’s mother on how to control her son, aired on the two giant screens behind the stage. “Tsst,” is named for the distinct sound Millan makes as he shoves two fingers into disobedient animals’ necks. Supposedly, pack leaders nip at more submissive dogs necks in a similar fashion.
Toward the end of the show, when several people were invited to bring out their dogs, the tone of the show waxed serious. A rescue dog name Frankie came on stage, and Frankie’s owner told a story about how the dog was found in the streets of Heredia, north of San José, near death. The dog’s collar, which was too small, had been cutting into its neck.
“Listen Costa Rica,” Millan said. “This happened in your country.”
Dog enthusiasts, rescue center associates and animal rights’ activists around Costa Rica were hoping that Millan’s visit would deliver such a message. “César’s appearance is an incredible opportunity to both entertain and educate people about animal rights,” said a spokesman for the animal rights group Stop Animal Suffering, Yes!, or SASY. The international fundraising group for animal welfare is the official charity of the show, and a portion of the proceeds for every ticket sold will go to SASY and organizations it supports.
As Millan wrapped things up, he declared “pura vida” one last time. Attendants began spilling out of the stadium, and though it was a particularly windy night, one fan was willing to stop for a brief interview. César Benavides, 24, said he attended the show because he enjoys watching Millan on “Animal Planet.”
“Did you learn anything you will take home to your dog?” The Tico Times wondered. Benavides’s answer reiterated Millan’s place as not just a top-notch dog trainer, but also a world-famous entertainer of humans.
“I don’t have [a dog],” he said.