Mr. Millan's fame has grown to the point where he was recently parodied on an episode of "South Park," the Comedy Central staple.
Working with Americans and their dogs, he said, "I was surprised and a little confused by what I saw." Where he grew up, in Culiacan, Sinaloa, in Northwest Mexico, "everybody walks dogs," Mr. Millan said during a recent visit to New York. "But where I am from, the dog is always behind. Here the dog is always in front. I thought maybe you guys were doing it right and we were doing it wrong. Because to me America is the country where everybody is always doing it right. I thought you knew and we were wrong."
He quickly discovered: no. Americans were letting the dogs, rather than the humans, be the pack leaders, in almost every respect. "Americans work against Mother Nature, and that's why dogs don't listen to the general population of America," he said. "Why are dogs growing up on a farm much happier than a dog living in the city? Because on a farm, it gets to be a dog. And in the city they become a child, they become a husband, they become a soul mate. They become something the human wants before they are willing to do what is best for them."
That, in turn, translates to dogs behaving badly. At Mr. Millan's Dog Psychology Center in Los Angeles, he works with dozens of dogs at a time. He first drew attention for his walks through Los Angeles with his packs — he on in-line skates, the dogs on leashes — or his runs along the beach or through the Santa Monica Mountains with them. Always, Mr. Millan is at the head of the pack.
"It's like cowboys," he said. "They grow up around the horse and the cow; they are not afraid of them. You can be a huge dog lover, you can have a passion for it, but that doesn't mean you can develop the strong assertive state of mind that is required to be around hard-core cases. These cases I work with, they are coming after me. But I don't develop fear. Like the people who work around cobras — they don't have fear in their mind. What makes you become a pack leader is being in a calm, assertive state 100 percent of the time."
"It's a ripple effect," he said. "I believe in the golden rule — do good things and good things will happen to you. I know I help dogs all the time. And because you help Mother Nature, Mother Nature is going to help you back. There's no other way around. It's the law of the universe."