'I'm a Celebrity Dog Trainer in Hollywood'

I actually became solely focused on dog training a little later in my career. My entire family were animal trainers so I was born into that environment, and when I was 19 I moved to California and started training animals.

I spent about 10 years training all sorts of animals for movies and TV, including the tiger in The Hangover. One of the companies I worked for mainly used breeder dogs. I lived next to a shelter and I started saying we should use more shelter dogs.

I convinced my boss and the first rescue dog was successfully trained, and then the next dog. Eventually all the dogs they worked with were rescue dogs. At that time, there were about 2 million dogs a year being euthanized because they weren't able to be re-homed. That number has gone down substantially, but it's still almost 700,000 per year.

When I realized the huge problem we have here in the U.S, I decided to quit the wild animal industry and started working only with dogs.

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My first celebrity client was James Caan. Funnily enough, I often don't recognize the famous people whose dogs I train. I'd been talking with James Caan for an hour and a half discussing martial arts, which we're both interested in. Next thing I know, I'm leaving and he's arranging for me to start training his dog the following week. Only after I left did I realize who he was! I did the same thing with Ellen Degeneres, Rod Stewart and Don Cheadle, the list goes on really.

Whenever I train anyones dog I make sure it gets 100 percent of my focus. The first time I met Andy Cohen was when I appeared on Watch What Happens Live.

Andy talked with me afterwards and told me he had just adopted a great dog and wanted to make sure he received the best training possible. I worked with Wacha for about five years, every time I was in New York City.

Dogs, Celebrities, Dog trainer
Brandon McMillan (right) and Andy Cohen. Brandon McMillan

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I also trained Hugh Hefner's dogs at the Playboy Mansion. Hef's assistants called me up and said that his King Charles Spaniel, Charlie, was not coming when they called.
I went to the Playboy Mansion and they told me that the dog wasn't listening to a word they said. I checked Charlie and realized something was a little off. Charlie wandered off and I started calling him, but he wasn't listening. He'd been trained for recall so I decided to have a pause and let him sleep.

He took a nap and in the meantime, I asked where their music room was. They pulled me out some cymbals and I told them we would do a little test. Charlie was fast asleep, so I took the cymbals and I softly struck them together. He didn't wake up—their dog was deaf. So they then wanted me to test if their other puppy, Lady, was deaf too. I took the cymbals to where she was sleeping and tried the same trick, but even softer. Well, the puppy woke up!

When it comes to breeds celebrities like; French Bulldogs are very popular. But they are very difficult to train. I always say there are four variables when you train a dog: breed, age, history and imprinted DNA.

Border Collies and German Shepherds are really easy to train, but French Bulldogs and Pekingese dogs are extremely difficult to train. Because the first two types were bred for some type of work, and the latter two were not. Age is a big thing too, you can't train a dog too young. Five to six months is the sweet spot for training.

History is important, even if you have a rescue, because history has carved out your dog's personality. Finally, every animal has imprinted DNA. Some are born very high energy and some are born very calm. Some are outgoing and some are shy. And they are born like that, these are imprinted genetics.

What I find when it comes to celebrities and breeds is that celebrities are divided pretty much right down the middle. They either love their breeds, such as French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas, or they really believe in the shelter and rescue system.

Dogs, Celebrities, Dog trainer
Brandon McMillan is an Emmy award-winning dog trainer. He has worked with the celebrities including Ellen Degeneres and Andy Cohen, training their dogs. Courtesy of MasterClass

But every dog can be trained to the same level of obedience with my "7 Common Commands", the response time will just be different. Whether it's the difference between breeds and even with rescue dogs.

I teach the "7 Common Commands"—such as sit, stay and down—because they are commands you will be using on a daily basis, but also because less is more in the dog world.

But if I could take one command of all the "7 Common Commands" I teach, the most vital would be "down". Control is the cornerstone of training and the "down" command is one of the most important control commands. It works because with "down" you don't need "sit". Your dog is already staying, it's controlled, you don't have to say "no" because it's already lying down. If you can teach your dog "down" then in a situation where someone comes to the door and you have a high energy dog, you just need to say "down."

It's the first command I really focus on with all my celebrity client's dogs.

Whether you are a celebrity or not, the reason people still hire me is because I have a reputation of restoring peace and order in a house that's chaotic. They might have people coming in and out. If their dogs are really high energy or untrained, the dogs need to learn that every time a new person comes into the house they have to be controlled.

The first step for training any dog is trust. I can gain the trust of some dogs in one session, and I've had other dogs that have taken weeks and months. It took my own Chihuahua years to trust me because she'd come from an abusive situation, but we got there.

I always say, dog training happens at the speed of life not the speed of light.

Brandon McMillan is an Emmy Award-winning master animal trainer and host of the CBS show "Lucky Dog". Brandon has collaborated with MasterClass for a new class on dog training, which covers skills from obedience to house training skills, building trust and executing common commands. His MasterClass joins the 85+ classes taught by world-renowned instructors on culinary arts, photography, writing, performance, and much more. Learn more about his class at MasterClass.com.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

Correction 8/6/2020: this piece has been updated to reflect that Brandon had always trained dogs but shifted focus soley on dogs later in his career.

'I'm a Celebrity Dog Trainer in Hollywood' | My Turn