Brandon McMillan, professional dog trainer and Emmy Award-winning host of CBS's Lucky Dog, shares how he got involved in the training of service dogs for returning veterans.
Hi Guideposts! I'm Brandon McMillan, Emmy Award-winning host of the Emmy Award-winning series Lucky Dog on CBS, and in my arms I have my trusty little sidekick, Lulu, who I rescued from a shelter seven years ago. She was on death row, it was her final day, and guess what—I said, "Not so fast."
How did I get involved with pairing rescue dogs with disabled veterans? I was training animals for film and television; I did that for about 15 years. By chance of luck, someone asked me if I could train a service dog for a disabled veteran who took an IED hit in Afghanistan; it took off both of his legs.
I thought to myself, "You know what? Service dogs are just like the movies I've been training for the movies all these years. All it is is high-level tasks. You train the dog to be the best of the best. So once I did my first service dog, I quit the industry the next day; I did not train animals for the movies anymore. Suddenly I founded a foundation where we rescue dogs from shelters and we train them to become service dogs for disabled veterans.
The training is tailor-made to the handler, so, for example, if the handler sustained an IED blast where both of his legs are severed off, we train these dogs to physically assist them in all walks of life. So I can train them to pick up things off the ground, retrieve objects, pull wheelchairs, open doors for them. When they're learning to rewalk on their prosthetics, they're off-balance constantly so I can teach the dogs a brace command.
I have a list of seven commands that I always recommend people train on their dogs. These are the seven most common commands you'll tell your dog to do on a daily basis, and these commands are Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Off, Heel and No. And if you really think about it, these commands cover pretty much all the basics that you say to your dog on a daily basis. Past that, it's all tricks; I always say, tricks are fun to teach a dog, but trick are for kids. If you want to teach your dog manners and obedience, you have to stick to the commands that you use every single day.
One thing I love doing is pulling special-needs dogs, dogs that are disabled themselves, because these are the first dogs at the shelters to get euthanized. People have to understand that these dogs are not damaged goods; they're actually hidden treasures. They have the same love to offer as any other dog that's fully abled. It's just they might have a little condition; they need a little help in life. And that's where I come in.
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