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Brandon McMillan Vouches for Shelter Dogs
Wednesday, October 20, 2021


Brandon McMillan got his start training tigers and lions.

But his attention shifted to smaller animals—the poodles, Rottweilers and German shepherds of the world—when he met a veteran who had lost both legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan.

“He asked if I knew how to train service dogs. And in that moment I found a new passion—to rescue dogs and train them,” McMillan told a crowd at The Argyros.

The vet’s friends donated a Doberman pinscher and McMillan taught it an array of skills, such as how to pick up keys and sunglasses, open doors for him and stiffen its shoulders, becoming a cane when the veterans needs assistance getting up.

“When we delivered the dog to Walter Reed Hospital, I was surrounded by vets--all of whom had disabilities and all of whom needed service dogs,” he recounted.

McMillan, former host of the TV series “Lucky Dog,” spoke this fall at The Argyros in an engaging presentation organized by Mountain Humane. He spent the first hour telling stories, and the second hour demonstrating training techniques for dogs that Mountain Humane supporters brought on stage.

It was clear he was speaking to the choir as he told of his quest to find forever homes one dog at a time.

About 347,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in 2020, down from 625,000 in 2019, according to Best Friends.

“They’re not bad animals. They’re merely untrained,” McMillan said.

McMillan recently began rescuing stray dogs—his efforts depicted on StrayRecon on YouTube. His rescues have included:

  • A 4-year-old rescue poodle named Olive, who was emaciated and in terrible shape when he found her. She was eager to learn, “and, no matter where I went, she was by my side, like my personal 12-pound bodyguard,” he said.

    Deciding she would make a perfect dog to stand alongside children testifying in abuse cases, he performed a battery of tests on her, such as pushing and pulling her paws to see if she had the potential to bite kids if they treated her roughly.

    “I gave her rewards as I did that, and nothing fazed her,” he said. “Now she goes to work as a CASA therapy dog—she even has her own chair in the courtroom.”

  • A dog that was lost in the desert for months. She’d lost all faith in humans and kept alive only by drinking from a puddle. McMillan camped out overnight, setting a trap for her with food. When he finally had her in hand, she was so fatigued that she spent days sleeping 23 hours in the safety he provided.

    “One of the most important things to do with a dog like this is to spoil the hell out of them,” he said.

  • A dog in a puppy mill who’d been tasked with producing lots of puppies. Penned up and surrounded by her own feces, she had never seen grass before. Fearful, she burrowed underground, leaving McMillan no option but to pull her out of the hole with a grippy pole.

“She’d been betrayed by humans and had zero tolerance for being handled by them. A lot of people thought there was no hope for this dog, but I love to prove people wrong,” he said, describing how he   put a long leash on her and got closer an inch at a time over six days.

“I’m on a mission to prove to the world that shelter dogs are just as trainable as purebred dogs, if not more trainable,” he said. “Right now, there are 40,000 dogs wandering the streets of Los Angeles alone. There are tons of dogs in the desert, particularly the Mojave. And that keeps me doing this work.”

One woman took the stage of The Argyros with her dog.

“She comes to me and I know exactly what she wants and I do it,” she quipped, her dog taking note of the audience as people laughed.

McMillan responded that he uses seven common commands: Sit. Stay. Down. Come. Off. Heel. No.

When a dog that tends to jump on people ascended the stage, McMillan showed the owner how to step on its leash to prevent it from jumping. In a week, he said, the jumping behavior should cease

To teach a dog to heel, he said, he starts it off with a short leash, gradually lengthening the leash as the dog gets the hang of it. He rewards the dog with a treat every time it focuses on him for five seconds.

 “Now, say ‘Heel’ and start walking, making sure the leash has some slack. If I take a step, the dog takes a step. Stop, say ‘Stay,’ count to 10 and give a treat. If she’s working with me, she gets treats. If not, she doesn’t.”

McMillan cautioned the audience that they should research the breed before choosing a dog to be their forever companion. Blue heelers, for instance, are one of the more dominant dogs and can be  aggressive, he said.

“Most aggression is not based on learning. It’s genetic. So, if you’re having a problem with a dog, you may need to have a specialist assess what’s going on. I don’t recommend a shock collar to train it—it may add more fire in the belly. But if you do, unscrew the shock prongs on the collar and just train with the vibration.”

Annie McCauley, the executive director of Mountain Humane, honed in on McMillan’s statement that “we don’t need more dog lovers—we need more dog trainers.”

“His point, of course, is that when you adopt a shelter dog you need to see your role as a trainer. You are committing to giving that dog the best life and training is the path to their best life,” she said. “Consistency is key to successfully training a dog. Everyone in the household needs to be on the same page when it comes to training and use the same commands.”

Mountain Humane Board President Sally Onetto said the presentation emphasized to her that pets need daily training when they arrive in their new home, whether they’re puppies or adult dogs.

“Consistent simple commands with 10-minute training sessions works amazingly well,” she said. “And often it isn’t the dog that needs the training!”


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