Byko: The 'dog whisperer' growls - at the dog owner

"Dog whisperer" Cesar Millan, surrounded by (from left) Shih Tzu Chamorro, pug Sugar Plum and pit bull Junior.

SOFTLY BUT firmly, the dog trainer admonished me.

That's what Cesar Millan does, he says: He trains owners, not their dogs. That's how he achieved worldwide fame with his TV series The Dog Whisperer.

Millan and his son Andre were in town getting footage for Dog Nation, his new Nat Geo WILD TV series that will air in 2017. Philadelphia was the first of seven cities to be visited.

The show's publicist had emailed me to ask whether I would like an interview with him.

"No, but my dog would," I replied.

Longtime readers may recall Ashes, the cat I adopted and lived with for a decade. Adopting Ashes was the suggestion of my then-wife, and both she and the cat turned out to be a mistake, but let's move on.

Readers with even more seniority will recall my beloved mutt, Cheech, who actually wrote my column a few times. I am a dog person, and have had others, but none was as smart as Cheech, who was adopted as a puppy from a rescue group.

Following a steep decline in his health, Ashes went to the great cathouse in the sky, and, for a few years, I was without a pet, not counting Half-Pint, who is kind of like my keeper.

Anyway, long story short: Last October, I came across a cute, mostly Shih Tzu who needed a home. He was being held by a rescue group, Saved Me, in Northern Liberties; he had pneumonia, and I made the mistake of letting Half-Pint hold him in her arms. After that, he was our dog.

He's now healthy, 7 years old, happy, very friendly with people, but sometimes stubborn.

His name is Chamorro, and I thought Millan could help him, or vice versa. Not that Chamorro was going to wind up on TV. He values his privacy.

Late Monday afternoon, Chamorro and I arrived at the Sheraton Philadelphia University City Hotel to meet with the dog whisperer and Andre, 21, who co-stars on Dog Nation. You might say Millan, 47, raised him from a pup.

Millan earlier had asked for some background on Chamorro, which I shared, including his utter disdain for small dogs and his tendency to attack larger dogs. Chamorro weighs in at 19 pounds.

Millan arrived in the lobby of the Sheraton with Junior, his 65-pound, muscular pit bull, plus a couple of much smaller accomplices, Sugar Plum the Pug and Mr. Benson the Pomeranian. All four dogs were rescues, and that's the first place to look for a dog. A pet shop is the worst place, because too many sell dogs from puppy mills.

With his eyes fixed on Junior, Chamorro moved forward, stiffened and lifted his head. He didn't lunge at Junior, as expected, so I praised him. "Good boy."

Seconds later, he made a move toward Junior, who is powerful enough to turn Chamorro into black and white confetti - except he is the dog whisperer's dog, and he is calm. Very, very calm. In fact, he soon fell asleep.

Millan then got busy training me.

When I praised Chamorro for not attacking, Millan explained, "You told him he was a good boy when he was staring at another dog" and in an aggressive posture. My praise inadvertently gave him the green light to lunge at Junior.

Before you can train an animal, Millan said, you have to understand animal law, which is to go after weakness. Effective trainers are those who project strength and calm to the dogs. They are the ones who can assess and evaluate their dogs' attitudes. Once you understand what the dog needs, you can become an effective leader.

"What the dog wants to do is make the human happy," said Millan. "There's no dollar amount; happiness is free. To a dog, you are famous."

Let's hold that happy thought.

Millan is famous and is using his firm to good purpose with the new show, said Andre.

I asked how it would be different from the previous TV series.

"We will focus not just on the owner, but the community," said Andre.

In Philadelphia, they focused on the group Throw Away Dogs, which rescues "the worst dog in the shelter," said Millan, and "turns them into police dogs - search and rescue, bomb detection or a canine officer, and gives it to an underfunded police department" that can't afford dogs bred in Europe that sell for $30,000. Cops get a trained dog, the dog gets a home.

As Millan said, "A dog that was going to be put down by the community is now helping the community."

Showing that this can be done, he said, should result in more dogs being saved and repurposed.

Millan used his fame to help find candidates: He said what he was looking for on his numerous social media accounts, and he and Andre received hundreds of responses. After checking them out, they hit the road - the two Millans and the three dogs.

After our meeting, Chamorro and I also hit the road, right after he made a "deposit" on the Sheraton's sidewalk.

Yes, I cleaned it up, as responsible dog people always do.

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky