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'Dog whisperer' calms pets of rich and famous

If you think Hollywood celebrities and sports superstars are a neurotic and difficult bunch, try treating the personality disorders of their pets.
/ Source: Reuters

If you think Hollywood celebrities and sports superstars are a neurotic and difficult bunch, try treating the personality disorders of their pets.

Meet Princess Cujo, an cute Maltese owned by high-ranking Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeanie Buss and given to fits of ankle-biting, eye-rolling fury.

Exasperated, Buss -- the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss -- has turned to “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan, who offers cryptic wisdom as the cameras roll for his TV show.

“A dog is a window to see the person from the inside out,” says Millan, who has become canine psychologist to the stars and a celebrity himself. “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” began its second season on the National Geographic Network this month.

Millan, who grew up surrounded by animals on a farm in Mexico, tells his human clients it’s essential to project a calm and assertive energy while setting rules and boundaries for their wayward dogs. As he puts it: “I rehabilitate dogs; I train people.”

It seems a lot of celebrities need training. Millan has a track record for tackling the canine woes of the rich and famous, including Will Smith, Michael Eisner and Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey, according to Millan, owned an “unbalanced” dog unsettled by her coddling, but Sophie is now rehabilitated.

Buss’ problem, says Millan, is that she is too much of a dog lover and not enough of a pack leader. At a recent taping of his television show, he watches, slightly amused, as Buss vainly tries to stop Princess Cujo as she barks, growls and eyes the ankles of the dog whisperer himself.

Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, Buss’ boyfriend and sometimes victim of her malevolent Maltese, agrees that Buss needs to stand her ground. “That’s basically a lot of the belief I have,” Jackson says. “Establishing dominance and taking responsibility for it.”

Jackson, famed for handling the outsized egos of the NBA, began calling the dog Cujo after the Saint Bernard who goes on a killing spree in the Stephen King novel of the same name.

“She comes to attack you every time you come through the door,” Jackson said of the diminutive Maltese.

Problem pooches with problem owners
The fascination with pets and their celebrity owners has reached dizzying heights in America, where Paris Hilton and her chihuahua Tinkerbell grace magazine covers and the latest issue of celebrity pet magazine Animal Fair features Jennifer Aniston posing with her terrier.

But whether their owners are famous or not, pooches become problems usually because of the quirks of their humans, who don’t understand the workings of the canine mind, Millan claims. Buss, for example, is hung up over an episode when Cujo was a puppy. At the time, two larger dogs attacked the Maltese and the dog ran away, terrified.

Now, Millan says, Buss is projecting nervousness around her dog instead of trust and respect. Buss, who says she is fascinated by leadership and wants to take charge of her dog, admits it’s hard to make Princess Cujo obey her when the dog looks so cute in that little purple-and-gold Laker jersey.

It doesn’t help that Princess Cujo doesn’t like the sound of bouncing basketballs -- not a great trait for a dog on a team that has won eight NBA championships. Buss likes to bring her dog to the office but worries about the potential liability in letting an ankle-biter loose at work.

There are a quite few dog lovers on the Lakers team -- Kobe Bryant and wife Vanessa have Pomeranians, while forward Brian Cook recently adopted a dog named “Brick” rescued from Hurricane Katrina.

For the Lakers 2006 calendar, the players posed with dogs needing homes from The Amanda Foundation, a Los Angeles-based dog rescue that helps place abandoned animals. Jackson posed with Princess Cujo.

After a day spent with Millan, the Maltese’s future as a Laker mascot seems more possible. Princess Cujo is calmer and quieter and even able to socialize with other dogs, her owner says.