If you’re a dog lover, you’ve probably seen “Useful Dog Tricks performed by Jesse.” The YouTube video has clocked more than 9-and-a-half million hits to date—so someone is watching the wirehaired Terrier with Cleopatra eyes chew the scenery (metaphorically, only).
With an always-wagging tail, the tri-colored Jack Russell merrily opens and closes drawers, turns a lamp off and on, cleans countertops and windows, pull off his booties, opens a wallet, closes a door, helps someone off with her sweatshirt, shoes and socks and retrieves her sandals, and on and on.
Who is the wise and seasoned pro behind the scenes? How many years of study and practice went into helping Jesse discover his inner superstar? Well, there’s no pro and not a lot of years either. The woman behind the clicker is 21-year-old Heather Brook of Litchfield Park, Ariz., who before Jesse came into her life had never trained a dog. Clearly, what she lacked in experience, she made up for with patience and love.
Heather got the 8-week-old puppy when she was 16, and discovered early on, he needed an outlet for his boundless energy. So she turned to trick books and Karen Pryor’s clicker-training website. Always relying on positive reinforcement, she helped Jesse master an impressive variety of tricks that she captured in videos that went viral and eventually landed the duo appearances on The Rachael Ray Show (“Amazing Animal Tricks”), The Late Show with David Letterman (“Stupid Pet Tricks”) and in several commercials. While the attention has been exciting, Heather says, “the time spent together is what made it worthwhile.”
What’s her advice to would-be trainers?
Bond with your dog. “We have a relationship first,” she says. “We’re best friends, so the training comes naturally.”
Dedicate time and be patient. Brook says she doesn’t set a specific time to train but works on tricks for about five or ten minutes, twice a day. She also mixes it up. “He’s better not always doing the same thing,” she says.
Find a reward your dog LOVES—whether it’s a toy, treats or praise from you.
Finally, and most important, Heather says, “Just do it. If you have a dream, you will succeed.
Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.