The man known as the Dog Whisperer gets a lot of mileage out of poking fun at the inordinate amount of affection Americans show their canines, compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world.
Apparently that affection spills over to their favorite animal trainers/TV reality celebs as well, judging from the love showered on Cesar Millan by the 1,549 people who packed the State Theatre in Easton Friday night for his two-part, two-hour-plus multi-media, multi- species show.
Calmness is at the core of Millan's philosophy -- "The hardest thing is to teach Americans to be calm ... without cigarettes and alcohol," he observed wryly. And while communicating this calmness to canines has made him rich and famous, there is a difference between calm and becalmed, which Millan's show was in some spots.
Millan's favorite trick when things threatened to slow down during his generally amusing seminar on human and pet behavior was to turn up the volume. Yes, the Dog Whisperer sometimes took to shouting -- which was like being on the receiving end of a shock collar -- when he was mimicking hapless dog owners being pulled along by a pomeranian, or trying to stop a lhasa apso from attacking a visitor at the front door.
Millan stressed the importance of an owner giving a dog direction, so it can feel secure. He instructed the crowd on the best way to meet a dog, by letting it come to you. "Dogs that correct humans are called biters," he said pointedly.
One of the more impressive segments of his show ended the first half, when he showed two video clips demonstrating what he called "the big problem dogs have in the modern world ... separation anxiety," and how best to handle it.
The second part of Millan's presentation opened with a hilarious three-minute clip of a "South Park" episode that satirized his training methods, showing Millan's tutoring Cartman's mother in the use of small, sharp slaps and KFC to correct the behavior of her bratty child.
That led into Millan discussing one of his methods that has aroused controversy in some quarters. Using quick jabs during training "is not to hurt the dog, but to snap him out" of unwanted behavior so the animal can learn. "The whole point of physical touch is to use it to slow the [dog's] brain down," he said.
Near the end of the show, Millan worked on stage with two local dogs and their owners, helping one who had trouble controlling her canine during walks and another who was fixated on a toy.
He finished up by answering four questions put to him by the audience.
The most unusual came from Bill from Flemington, N.J., who wanted to know why his dog ate his dirty socks and underwear.
Millan said such behavior happens when "dogs don't have a challenge -- they want a life." He suggested that Bill create a challenge for the dog by hiding his socks and underwear for the dog to find.
The final questioner wanted to know how Millan remains calm with aggressive dogs, and he answered in a roundabout way.
Millan said training a dog is about "achieving harmony and balance.
The dog did not decide to be unstable."
He noted that exercise and discipline are needed by dogs as much as affection. "Dogs in America never miss affection. They go to birthday parties, and their pictures are all over the walls of [their owners'] homes. ... [But] dogs in America don't have a job. They're unemployed, so they turn to destructive behavior."
Finally, he said, "Fear never overtakes [my] passion of helping a dog," which brought a big round of warm applause.