DOG WHISPERER: CESAR GOES DOWN UNDER. 8 tonight, National Geographic Channel.

NEVER GOT around to sending out holiday cards?

There's still time if you want to mark "Dog Whisperer Week," which kicks off tonight on National Geographic Channel with "Cesar Goes Down Under," the first of two episodes in which celebrity trainer Cesar Millan travels to Australia to work his pack-leader magic in a whole new hemisphere.

Cable television's been going to the dogs for a while now, and between "Dog Whisperer" and "DogTown," the National Geographic Channel might be vying with Animal Planet to become Canine Central.

Certainly it is this week, as "Dog Whisperer" reruns dominate National Geo's prime-time schedule and may even point up some distinctions between American and Australian dog-lovers.

Turns out the Aussies are pretty submissive, at least when it comes to Millan, whose show airs Down Under, too.

Where many of the show's U.S.-based episodes follow what I like to think of as the "Supernanny" model - unruly children, parents in denial, smug outsider who has to force parents to confront their own shortcomings - both "Cesar Goes Down Under" and next week's "Cesar in Oz" feature dog owners who already assume it's their fault.

"Absolutely, I know, it's me," agrees the owner of Jack, a 150-pound French mastiff that seems likely to swallow one of her friends whole, as Millan assures her that whatever's going on with Jack, she's the one causing it.

And then there's Astro, an Australian red cattle dog in next week's episode, whose owner describes him as "enthusiastic."

Which is a nice way of saying that the dog pretty much never stops barking (and has even encouraged her placid other dog, George, a border collie mix, to kick up a fuss, too).

"I'd like to know what I'm doing wrong to promote this behavior," she tells us at one point. "I know it has to be me, but I do believe Astro's special."

Not, of course, too special for Millan.

Millan's preaching to the converted when he meets with Paul, a fitness trainer with four dogs, one of them an excitable Great Dane named Willow.

Though Paul's clearly a devoted student of the "Dog Whisperer's" techniques, he is, of course, doing them all wrong, as Millan quickly demonstrates.

But then every episode of the show does warn viewers not to "attempt these techniques yourself without consulting a professional."

For those who might occasionally tire of the "Dog Whisperer's" unending smugness, there's a nice scene in which Paul runs him up and down a steep sand dune that for some reason has been dubbed "The Mexican," briefly rendering him too exhausted to say much of anything.

Some dogs, though, suffer with owners much, much worse than those who tend to seek Millan's counsel.

Starting Friday, a new season of "DogTown" (10 p.m., National Geographic Channel) revisits some of the dogs rescued from now-Eagle Michael Vick's notorious Bad Newz Kennels and other survivors of the underworld of dog fighting.

The sad-eyed Cherry, thought to have possibly been used as a "bait dog" in Vick's operation, can't be adopted until he overcomes his fear of people, while Georgia, a former dogfighting champion, has a chance to become a "spokesdog" for rehabilitated fight dogs, but only if she can overcome a tendency to go into attack mode whenever another dog enters her sight line.

It turns out to be a hopeful way to begin the new year. *

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