How Cesar Millan's Dogs Helped Him Deal With Depression

Photo: Jason Elias / Cesar’s Way.
Anyone who's seen "dog whisperer" Cesar Millan do his thing knows he's all about energy. Specifically, he preaches the importance of projecting the calm and assertive energy of a true pack leader. But even the pack leaders among us have their challenges. In his new book, Lessons from the Pack: Stories of the Dogs Who Changed My Life, Millan recounts difficult experiences from his life, and how dogs consistently taught him skills he needed to deal with those challenges — including with his battle with deep depression.
"All the great things that people look to find in humans you can find in a dog," Millan tells R29. "I learned to be calm because of the animals. I learned to confident. I learned the importance of trust and of respecting myself." Through working with animals (and the humans that love them), Millan says he discovered how helpful it can be to talk through vulnerabilities.
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Below is a condensed version of our conversation with Millan (whose new show Dog Nation premieres next month) about his book, his dogs, and self-acceptance.
Why did you decide to talk about your experience with depression now?
"I find vulnerability extremely masculine, sexy, and helpful. I find that speaking about your weaknesses, your downs, your moments that you don't know how to deal with is very helpful to other people. Especially when I'm in a position where I talk about leadership and confidence, yet I feel vulnerable to situations where I have no control — and I never have that feeling with dogs.
"A lot of people have depression, or anxiety, or resentment, or they feel isolated from a family. And when you don’t know how to deal with things, you can go into being very angry or very sad. Nobody stops you if you don’t stop yourself. You can end up on this roller coaster of depression to the point where you find no happiness, joy, or motivation to continue because you feel so absorbed by [the depression].
"So I wanted to share how I rehabilitated myself, how I opened up to the love of [other] people, to remember what I love the most, and how I came back."
How does it feel to be talking about depression openly?
"You have to show your strengths and your weakness and be proud of both. People will celebrate your accomplishments, but be more inspired by you sharing your weaknesses. That’s what we have to heal. We have to get rid of our negativity, but how [are you supposed to do that] if nobody talks about it?
"For me, because I want to help dogs so much, [that's why it's so important to me]. If the human doesn’t consider healing his emotions, then the dog can never be happy. So how do we help a dog? The human has to talk about his weakness. By talking, healing begins. For me, [using my platform to talk about these issues] is a way to trigger a conversation with people so they see that this guy also has weaknesses. But the difference is I talk about it.
"It's important to celebrate the victories and talk about the weaknesses and support each other. Once you feel alone, that’s the worst place to be. But once you know other people are in the same scenario, you don't feel alone."
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