Celebrity Dog Trainers

Celebrity dog trainers Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson give advice on how to train, choose, and treat dogs.

When Brian Kilcommons was 13 he took care of his neighbor's dog. "I put my hand on her stomach and I knew she was pregnant," he recalled. When he told her owners what he had determined, they laughed at him. "That night she had puppies. They didn't even know. They thought she was fat."

That incident taught Kilcommons that he had a gift with dogs. "It's a talent. Some people are good at being lawyers or accountants. I can communicate with dogs," he said during a break from tending to his many duties on his 120-acre farm in Gardner, NY, where he and his wife and partner, Sarah Wilson offer one-on-one and group obedience training.

"We always had dogs when I was a child," said Kilcommons, who grew up in Hauppauge, Long Island, and quickly knew he wanted a life involved professionally with dogs.

By the time he was 15, he started showing dogs, especially his own dog, a vozspa, which is a type of Hungarian hunting dog. The dog's name was T. "I gave her the name of Tara, which means earth in Gaelic, but then I found out it was a girl's name so I changed my dog's name to "T."

Today, Kilcommons and Wilson, who have 45 years combined experience as trainers, have taken their commitment to animals and their welfare far, as authors of six dog training and behavior books on basic training and problem solving as well as a DVD on puppy training. They are also frequence lecturers and work with with numerous animal support organizations.

His passion for animals "has taken me all over the world," said Kilcommons, who specializes in turning dogs around who have extreme behavioral problems, and is currently part time faculty at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. As head of Animal Care and Control of New York City, he is aware of the sadness that occurs when an animal is unwanted and caged and institutionalized.

Kilcommons said that it is the community that must be more responsible to these lost animals.

"Spay and neuter. Early training. Stop pointing at the dog and saying it's their problem," he said.

"People think of dogs as accessories," that's one problem, said Kilcommons. "They aren't. They also think that dogs should respond immediately to their masters. And when that doesn't happen, the puppy ends up in the shelter.

"When you get a puppy, it's a responsibility for his lifetime," Kilcommons counsels.

People should match their habits with the kind of dog they choose. "If you are a couch potato, you don't want a hunting dog," he reminded. And owners should work with their dogs.

"It takes a lot less time to train a dog than to fix bad behavior, a lot less time."

Kilcommons has the same advice for the many celebrities who call on him to help them have a dog that is manageable.

"I tell them if they won't work with the dog, I won't work with them," said Kilcommons who counts Diane Sawyer, Harrison Ford, Mike Nichols, Ashley Judd, Patrick Ewing, and most recently Candice Bergen of "Boston Legal" and Jon Leguizamo of "ER" fame as clients.

But dogs don't make any distinctions about who their masters are, and while, he may travel distances to help a celebrity with little time to spare, "dogs don't look up and say celebrity," said Kilcommons, noting that that celebrities go through the same training process, albeit in their own settings, as other students.

While many a dog owner is frustrated to the point of screaming at their animal, dogs, said Kilcommons, do not respond to yelling or screaming, said Kilcommons, whose video "My Smart Puppy" was recently endorsed by the Pennsylvania Veterinary Association.

"A dog isn't deaf. You will just confuse the dog more," by having a fit about something the dog does.

He also says that a good trainer will give the dog the option of doing the right thing. So when dogs jump up on visitors, a simple well-learned sit may be enough to stop the unwanted behavior. But, he said, if you allow your dog to jump on you when you come through the door, the dog can't be blamed for doing it to visitors as well.

Kilcommons said that dogs respond more to body language than to words. "Eighty-five percent of what a dog understands is body language and the verbal is 15 percent."

Kilcommons stresses that it is important for the dog to know who is the leader and who is the follower. "If you are seeing the butt of your dog when you are walking there's something wrong," he said. He is not a fan of the alpha wolf theory either.

"As soon as I hear alpha wolf, I know there are problems," he said.

On the other hand, if a person takes the time to train his dog well, "there is a special relationship and great rewards."

"All dogs are different and have to be trained in different ways. I always say that a mistake on the part of the dog is an opportunity to teach."