Greatest American Dog

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Dog Trainer to the Stars Reveals Show's Secrets to Training Your Own Greatest American Dog

My schedule is so full that I had to turn down training with Hillary Duff and her dogs!

Playful Presley, the tiger-striped boxer K9 and winner of the CBS series Greatest American Dog is clearly "Man's New Best Friend." Paired against eleven driven dogs and their owners, the crowned champion of the show scored a whopping $250,000 cash prize for himself and his loyal owner and teammate, Travis, a Los Angeles area bartender -- but the secret to the duo's success is LA-based rocker turned celebrity dog training guru, Steve Brooks -- whose expertise keeps him booked months in advance and sought after by Hollywood insiders and pooch-loving stars like Robert Downey Jr., Sheryl Crow, music producer Rick Rubin, William Petersen of CSI and Cheryl Tiegs. As Brooks states, "My schedule is so full that I had to turn down training with Hillary Duff and her dogs!"

According to Brooks, "One of the key aspects to properly training Presley (or your own dog) is teaching the dog how to work, and teaching the owner how to influence his dog's behavior -- not the other way around. Your dog should listen because he wants to, not because he has to. This dynamic helps establish your position as the 'Alpha,' always in control, but this doesn't require using physical domination, intimidation or punishment. That is the mistake most people make when it comes to training their dogs."

Brooks feels that training should be creative, fun, consistent, and trust-building. "Being the alpha is really about providing resources -- things your dog wants, like food, water, exercise, rest, attention and toys -- to reward and reinforce good behaviors like waiting patiently to be fed, making eye contact and not charging wildly out the door before a walk. Your dog's listening skills and behavior are essential to survival in an urban atmosphere. Your dog should never be deprived of the basics, (food, water, attention, affection), but positively encouraged by pairing these rewards at times your dog shows self-control. This teaches your dog to have a mutually respectful bond and relationship with you as person he obeys and trusts, not just a food dispenser. "

To train Presley for The Greatest American Dog, Brooks worked first with his handler, Travis, teaching him how to be the alpha with Presley. Brooks believes that dogs follow our energy and behavior, and that we should be their role models. "Your body language and tone is what influences your dog. He needs to learn to read your energy just as you should learn his. My early sessions with Presley were mostly silent, without the use of verbal commands."

When Presley would bark, jump, run off or just be generally unruly, Brooks showed Travis how to communicate his disapproval non-verbally by simply ignoring the behavior, by turning his back, flashing a dirty look and withholding rewards. "The key to your dog's understanding of your behavior, is to react immediately, within two seconds, otherwise the lesson is lost," says Brooks. "The same principle applies when you're teaching your dog good behaviors. Praise or rewards should come immediately so the cause and effect is clear."

To prepare Presley for competition on Greatest American Dog, Brooks followed three main strategies that all dog owners can learn. He used food and treats as fun, reward-based incentives, game control and always made sure that Presley had a job. "Dogs are scavengers by nature so I fed Presley throughout the day by hand, pairing these rewards with his good behavior. When it came time for games, he had to follow my instructions to continue his exercise and have access to toys. I also gave him little jobs like sitting, being quiet or not pulling his leash while we walked. By Brooks' account, Presley first learned the foundations of his training -- to come, sit, stay, lay-down, return and retrieve -- and that Presley learned to stand on two legs, walk, wave, walk backwards, sing, dance, shake, sneeze and even play dead in one week, perfecting his talents with continuous training from Travis and Brooks. Brooks says that good training starts with the basics.

"Every dog I train learns my Four Commandments:

Come: To come when called quickly and on demand, even if distracted.
Walk: To walk on a leash without pulling (heel).
Stay: To sit down and be still until released.
No or a dirty look: To stop whatever is being done right then.

These very simple tasks provide clear motivation for your dog to behave, and set the stage to combat more advanced behavioral problems such as house soiling, separation issues or making your couch into a meal."

About Steve Brooks
SteveBrooksK9U,, offers canines and their human companions reward-based, private training and customized techniques to transform all breeds into well-mannered members of the family. Steve is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT), a credential granted by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Steve's inspiration is his dog Sven, who has passed on. Two young girls had witnessed Sven as a puppy being thrown from a moving car, and gave Sven to Steve while he was working as professional drummer in Nashville in 1993.

Brooks has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, XM Radio,, Inside Edition and in programs for Animal Planet, TBS, CBS Network, Los Angeles television news and international press. Brooks can currently be seen in programming for National Geographic Channel.

Steve and his wife, Yasmine, currently live in Los Angeles with their dog, Legali, and their cat, Fuego Caliente.

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Kelila Shapiro
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