Back to school with Cesar Millan: Local trainer learns from Dog Whisperer

Back to school with Cesar Millan: Local trainer learns from Dog Whisperer
Cesar Millan coaches Royse City dog trainer Susan Miley on her pack walking skills as she guides her German Shepherd Dexter, Cesar’s pit bull Junior and other members of Cesar’s pack. Photo courtesy of Neal Tyler.

ROYSE CITY, TX (August 25, 2014) Susan Miley went back to school in dramatic fashion. Unhappy with her job, she submitted her resignation and was on her way to meet her new teacher one day later. Susan had purchased two sets of her instructor’s books and was eager to learn more. “I’ve always adored Cesar,” she said.

Yes, her most recent teacher was the Cesar. Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer.

Cesar Millan and his dogs Junior the pit bull and Alfie the yorkie pose with Susan Miley and her dog Dexter. Photo courtesy of Neal Tyler.

Susan’s inspiring story is one of reinvention, eagerness to learn, positive thinking and giving back to society. It all started when her life took a detour a few years ago in Idaho.

Susan was living a peaceful life in southern Idaho with her husband George. She was making the most of her degree in recreational therapy, and she loved her job. That was before she found out about the Burley,Idahoanimal shelter, the type of antiquated facility that preferred to kill pets instead of caring for them. Disturbed by the high number of deaths, Susan approached the shelter’s manager. “I kind of made nice with her,” Susan said.

The two struck a deal. If the shelter manager called, Susan would have to rush over to rescue every pet in the facility. A new routine began immediately. Susan would leave work early to save the shelter pets. “She called, and we picked up all the dogs,” Susan explained.

She didn’t realize it then, but Susan had made a life-changing decision. In truth, it wasn’t much of a leap to apply her recreational therapy training to her new volunteer work. “I was always into observing behavior and then intervening in those behaviors,” she said. That led her to organize her first pack hikes with the rescued dogs.

One of her first successes was Lilly, a fearful dog who had been rescued from a drug house. “I rehabilitated her with pack hikes,” Susan said. The Magic Valley Canine Social Club, which still meets regularly, grew out of those hikes.

Life was grand. Susan had a job she loved and a volunteer mission that was clearly succeeding. Then George came home to announce he was being transferred to northTexas.

They moved to Royse City, where Susan scarcely missed a beat. She quickly found another job as a recreational therapist and began fostering and training dogs for Rockwall Pets. To continue her education, she purchased a full set of instructional books by Cesar Millan. She felt an immediate connection to his dog whisperer approach.

But her smooth path to self-training soon turned into a bumpy road. Her dogs destroyed her set of Cesar’s books. So she bought a second set. You can guess what happened next. Susan was in a new home in a new community, her dog training was faltering and she hated her new job.

Her husband broke through the frustrating gridlock. George wanted to get Susan out of the mess she was in, so he suggested she go directly to the source for her dog training. With whiplash-inducing speed, Susan quit her job, grabbed her handsome German Shepherd Dexter and took off for Cesar’s Dog Psychology Center in southern California. She enrolled in Training Cesar’s Way Fundamentals of Dog Behavior and Training I.

Cesar Millan does his part to further destroy Susan Miley’s second set of his instructional books. Photo by Susan Miley.

As she arrived for the first day of class, Susan discovered her road still had quite a few bumps. After she showed Cesar her second set of destroyed books, Dexter began acting up. When Cesar’s tiny Chihuahua Taco made an appearance, Dexter took off after the little dog. Another four-pound Chihuahua, Coco, broke up the altercation. So Cesar immediately put Coco to work as Dexter’s training partner. “Cesar was showing me that it’s all about attitude, not the dog’s size,” Susan said.

By the second day, Susan had joined Cesar for one of his famous pack walks. That’s when she learned his approach had more to do with people than pets. “Cesar really does have that ability,” Susan explained. “It’s not video editing. He really is magical because he reads people as well as he reads dogs.”

Susan Miley rounds up the participants for a pack hike behind her home in Royse City. Photo by Michael Kitkoski.

Many people who work in animal rescue tend to dislike other people because of the way they treat their pets. That’s not Cesar’s way. “He’s very compassionate toward people,” Susan said. “He’s people-first. He realizes that people honestly don’t know [how to train their dog]. They just need to be given the tools.”

For instance, Cesar put Dexter to work herding sheep. Dexter’s breed came into play with this lesson, and Cesar was proven correct. Dexter performed like a pro. Susan admired Cesar’s knack for matching the correct method or tool – like herding sheep – to the correct dog and its handler. “I learned that the tool saves the lives of the dogs,” she explained. “If the tool is keeping the dog in its home [instead of ending up in a shelter], the tool is doing its job.”

It was all smiles on graduation day. From left: Colleen Steckloff from LAK9s, Susan Miley, Cesar Millan and Heather Beck, the founder of K9 Lifeline. Photo courtesy of Neal Tyler.

After she and Dexter graduated from Cesar’s class, she returned to Royse City and put her training into action. She leads regular pack hikes to rehabilitate former shelter dogs. She continues to provide a foster home for rescued pets. And she never stops learning and trying to improve herself. “There’s a great network of balance trainers in this area, and we all help each other,” she said. For Susan Miley, school is always in session.

By Blue Ribbon News guest columnist Michael Kitkoski, an award-winning animal shelter reform advocate who speaks at conferences nationwide and is co-founder of Rockwall Pets and No Kill Solutions. Special thanks to photographer Neal Tyler for photo permissions.

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