11 November 2017 Pet Product News International
ADVANCING THE CAUSE
The Argus Service Dog Foundation, founded by Brandon
McMillan and Mike Herstik, is a registered 501(c) 3 nonprofit
organization and is, in large part, about veterans helping veterans and other disabled populations. Whenever possible, Argus
seeks and uses rescued dogs that fit the profile and then pass
the evaluation to make them suitable as service dog candidates.
To this end, it is the foundation’s plan to establish a vocational
program for veterans to recruit and teach other veterans to become certified service dog trainers. As part of this plan, veterans
are taught to train service dogs and work closely with disabled
veteran brethren who receive them. No costs are passed on to
veterans. Visit argusservicedogs.org for more information.
might find the whole process kind of boring.” This was
based on the fact that, for years, he had pitched the idea
to other producers who were uninterested. They watched
and filmed him through his entire process from start to
finish, including his combing animal shelters trying to
identify and rescue the appropriate “lucky dog,” acclimating the dog to its new environment, training it and
then placing it in a new home. As it turned out, it was
anything but boring.
McMillan: I’m a terminator when I work, so I’m not visualizing what other people see. I’m in the moment when
I’m in the act of training. I’m only concerned with what’s
right in front of me, and I’m also thinking of what’s
going to be happening tomorrow with that dog. But
whenever you have a production company approach
you, [it means] they see it as a show they intend to turn
into a work of art, with music and beautiful lighting and
narration behind it. When I watched the finished product, I literally broke down.
PPN: You’ve spoken about the proliferation of dog training shows that all started looking and sounding the same
after awhile, and how once “Lucky Dog” was up and running, the show was thrust into a deep field of competition
within the same genre, all trying to cash in on the Cesar
Millan model of dog training shows. How has “Lucky
Dog” managed to separate itself from the pack?
McMillan: Litton Entertainment did a very smart thing.
Typically, when production companies start a show, they
come up with a concept for a show, and they find someone to host it. But what Litton did was genius; to carve
out a block of time on Saturday mornings and produce
different 30-minute shows focusing on a variety of topics
like a cooking show, a car show or whatever. Then they
got the real experts in their respective fields to produce
the show, develop the concepts and write the stories. This
way, the experts run the show instead of the production
company. The secret to the success of “Lucky Dog” is that
the production company let the dog trainer produce the
dog trainer show.
PPN: “Lucky Dog” seems like the perfect example of art
imitating life, because the actual rescuing, the process of
training these dogs for service and companionship, and
the eventual placement of the dogs in a happy home seem
to be what drives the show.
McMillan: Exactly! And that’s the beauty of this show.
There is no shortage of stories out there as to why people
need a dog; some women have lost their husbands, and
some husbands have lost their wives, some mom has lost
her son, some sons have autism, some son may have lost
his legs in a blast. What I do is provide them with a dog
who now has a purpose, and give whoever receives that
dog a reason to live.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
“Lucky Dog Lessons,” McMillan’s highly acclaimed first
book, is true to its title, but there’s a lot of back story as to
why the training techniques work, and there are even second and third training options should the first option fail
to produce the desired result. The dogs McMillan trains
must learn the seven Common Commands that will help
keep them out of a shelter forever: sit, down, stay, no,
off, come and heel. However, when training soon-to-be
service dogs, inherent qualities such as temperament and
energy level are also critical.
PPN: When we examine the various aspects of training
regarding obedience, agility and service, just to name a
few, exactly what skills do certain dogs possess that are
a benefit to humans?
McMillan: It depends on what the human needs are. For
example, if it’s physical assists for someone in a wheelchair or on prosthetics, they’ll likely need assistance picking something up off the ground, having their wheelchair
pulled, opening a door or turning on a light, perhaps. Size
is one thing because those dogs would need to be a little
bit bigger, so something like a Lab or German shepherd or
golden retriever that can act like a cane or crutch. Certain
breeds like to mouth objects a lot, so those dogs can be
trained to turn on lights, retrieve objects or carry them.
It all depends, but a service dog cannot be high energy.
They need to have a perfect combination of calmness and
energy when needed; a dog with a Zen-like temperament.
Thousands of veterans suffer from post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), and one of their traits is to isolate
themselves in their home and become reclusive. Having a
dog actually gets them out of the house by having to take
the dog on walks, where they often meet and interact with
other people who also have dogs. Believe it or not, a lot
of people have gotten married this way—after meeting
at the dog park.
PPN: Earlier you spoke about training techniques that
are handed down through lineage. What types of tools
are used here at Lucky Dog Ranch that fall into that
category? With your circus background, why aren’t you
using a chair and a whip?
McMillan: Very funny. Circus jokes! We were in the training barn an hour ago. Those pedestals you saw me using were nothing more than a chair and a desk like what
you would have for a kid in kindergarten. You can’t train
a kid, or a dog for that matter, while they’re running
around. Once they’ve been isolated on a platform or pedestal, you have their attention.
By the way, I always say for the record, we humans
domesticated and genetically modified these dogs starting with the wolf. We can’t take credit for the wolf’s aggression because they’re wild animals, but other than that,
it’s on us now. There are a lot of dogs out there that are
aggressive, and there are a lot of breeds that show signs
of aggression. Whose fault is that? Dogs didn’t ask to be
bred that way. We did it! So, we did that, then we turn
our backs on them and dump them off at the shelter? We
have a million and a half dogs a year being euthanized
because we don’t feel like dealing with the problem—the
very problem we started. That’s where I come in and say,
“We started this, so let’s make some efforts to fix it.”
“Lucky Dog” airs on CBS on Saturday mornings, part of
the CBS Dream Team: It’s Epic! program lineup. Check local
listings for times.
The training barn at the Lucky Dog Ranch is equipped with all the
gear McMillan needs to help dogs get on the road to transformation.
With Thumper under his chair and his Daytime Emmy
Awards displayed behind him, McMillan chats with PPN in
his living room after a long day on the set.