Do you want to work with dogs? Here’s the story of how I created a successful dog training career— and a fulfilling life.
I hadn’t been living in Los Angeles long when I landed a job washing limos. There was one big perk—the owner had two dogs, and I got to train them in the yard while I cleaned the fleet of cars. Soon after, my boss asked me to train his friends’ dogs, too.
One day, however, he called me in and told me I was fired! That was difficult because I really needed the money, but it set me off to find my own place where I could start training dogs.
When you have a dream and decide to follow it, you’re going to hit obstacles—but it’s how you react to those obstacles that counts. What’s important is that you stay focused on your dream.
I was blessed because from an early age I knew that I was molded to learn animal psychology and I never lost sight of that. When I asked my mom: ‘Can I be the best dog trainer in the world?’—I knew I had the support of someone I loved, trusted, and respected. My dad wasn’t so enthusiastic, however, about my decision. Having someone who’s less supportive, or even negative, plays a part in your success, because it will test how much you want to make it happen. Just remember that when you decide to follow your dream, some people are going to be negative—it is but one of the challenges.
You’ll also have disappointments. When I was a teenager I met a man who offered to introduce me to two champion dog trainers in Mexico City if I paid him a large sum of money. I gave him all the money I’d saved from working as a kennel boy and other odd jobs, but when I arrived at the address I’d been given, there was no one there. I realized that I had been duped.
But still, I wasn’t deterred and returned home even more determined to make it to the United States.
I’d dreamed of coming to Hollywood and training dogs for movies and TV—like my two favorite shows, Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. But when I did finally make it to Los Angeles, my first job was as a kennel boy at a successful dog-training facility. My own ideas of training were still evolving, but I knew I didn’t like a lot of the methods in use at the time. I was able to use the time to learn by observing everything that was going on around me. And here’s another lesson if you are going to pursue your dream: You can learn from every experience. Everybody is a teacher, not just those who encourage you, but also those who try to pull you down.
Life has a very specific way of challenging you and the setbacks are not failures, they are a test. And through it, you learn how much you want to succeed.
When I was fired from my job washing cars I was living in the hood, and at that time there was a lot of drug-related crime and gang violence. To a lot of people, that might not seem to be the greatest place to set up a business, but I found there was a ready market for training dogs for protection. When you follow your dream you have to be creative and make the most of the opportunities that present themselves.
Another thing I learned is that you don’t need money to be able to pursue your dream, because I definitely didn’t have any! What you do need is to believe in yourself, and it helps to have a pack. Surround yourself with people who support you.
I was soon building a reputation because people would see me walking a large pack of well-behaved Rotties and other big breeds off-leash. Word spread, and that was what brought Jada Pinkett Smith—my first celebrity client—to me. I was on my way to becoming the Dog Whisperer.
If you’re going to chase your dream there are some things I have learned that I want to share with you.
Challenge in life is normal. I have now met a lot of successful people and not one of them has got to where they are without having to overcome some obstacles along the way.
Most of our obstacles are created by our fears and insecurities. I never give time to nurture fear, and you should work to overcome worrying about what other people say. Learn to master uncertainty; it gives you the ability to be clear about your direction.
Working with dogs is a wonderful life—it enables you to become part of a happy pack—and having your passion for animals as the focus of your life brings enormous rewards. It’s a job that’s going to satisfy the intimate space. If your happiness has no price, go for it. Do whatever it takes.
Being in love with what you do generates more energy and attracts more business to you.
But I don’t measure success by the money I’ve made. If you think of success in those terms you’re bound to be disappointed. Success to me is enjoying wherever you are in that moment. I thought success was being able to make it across the border or having enough money to buy a cup of coffee. I’ve had to sleep on park benches, but I never doubted I was going to make it. You have to count the pennies and not worry about the millions.
Being grateful for what you have is part of success, and being able to give is part of success. That is one thing we learn from our dogs. I have always tried to give back, which is why the work we do with the Millan Foundation is so important to me.
I live the philosophy of the pack, and you can learn from that, too. Remember, other people are not your leaders. If anyone is my leader, it’s God.
Working with dogs doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your job. Perhaps you can achieve what you are looking for by volunteering at a shelter for a few hours a week, pet-sitting, or walking dogs. But don’t be surprised if it grows into a life-changing experience.
Whatever you think your path is, don’t doubt yourself and don’t put off your dreams. You can too easily become comfortable with unhappiness.
I’m still dreaming, and I always have more goals that I want to accomplish. I know that I can’t catch my dreams.