Recently a follower of Keep the Tail Wagging shared that she felt that Justin Silver and Dogs in the City did more harm than good. I believe she said that the show was an insult to dog trainers. Personally, I believe that these types of shows are For Entertainment Purposes Only, but I started to wonder if I’m alone.
It was a challenge for us to find a reputable dog trainer
When we adopted Rodrigo and Sydney, it took me more than a month to find a reputable dog trainer who taught positive, rewards based training. We wanted a private trainer, because we had two puppies and felt that (1) a puppy class would be too much for them and (2) they weren’t fully vaccinated yet, but we wanted to get started right away. Many trainers didn’t return my calls, many people who did yelled at me for adopting litter mates (one even said that I would probably have them euthanized). The dog trainers that I did meet didn’t have any real training education or experience beyond “I grew up with dogs.”
We started watching the television programs of Celebrity Dog Trainer Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Milan to get tips. I read books by Ian Dunbar to learn more. But I understood that none of this would replace working with a professional dog trainer. The dog trainer who was the meanest to me recommended Shannon Finch and I’m so thankful that I was able to set aside my ego and hurt feelings to contact her, because Shannon is amazing. But if other dog owners had half the trouble finding a trainer that I did, I can understand why they would think that someone on television must know what they’re doing. If you’re one of those people, read on…
Are TV dog trainers helpful or harmful?
Today, I know that I could have asked my vet for a recommendation. And today, I’m surrounded by wonderful dog trainers (the benefit of writing this blog). I sent out a few emails asking dog trainers to share their thoughts on TV dog trainers and I found the responses interesting and helpful.
Keep the Tail Wagging Endorsed Trainers
There are a few trainers I go to with questions and I asked them to weigh in on this topic…
Joan Hunt, Inquisitive Canine
Some of the methods I’ve seen used [on shows about dog training] are wonderful – they are simple, easy to replicate, and do not risk harming the dog. On the flip-side, some of the methods I’ve seen I would consider to be aversive to the dogs, and possibly difficult for the dog parents to replicate. Using punishment training methods can result in behaviors getting worse – because improper timing can actually reward the behavior – or they can create additional problems such as fear and aggression.
All I would ask an audience is to please keep in mind that this is television and the intentions are to entertain the audience and for the audience to buy the sponsored products, not for people to train their own dog. If an audience member needs dog training, search for a certified trainer whose philosophy is based on using humane, reward-based training techniques.
And, BTW, if I had my own TV show it would be something like “How to Stuff a Kong Food Toy”
Amy Robinson, DroolSchool.com Dog Training
I think dog owners can benefit from the broad concepts presented by TV trainers, like the need for human leadership in the canine/human relationship. The bond is greater once the owner embraces his or her role as instructor and guide. Dogs thrive on a sense of accomplishment, and owners feel good once they can enjoy time with their dog. Another benefit is the trainer showing people that they can get out in the world and open social doors accompanied by their well-behaved dog.
The only downside I can see is that dog owners may think trainers are working miracles that the owner can’t pull off. Otherwise, bring on the dog trainers!
Jennifer Shryock, Founder of Family Paws Parent Education
The popular TV trainers do bring some positive to the dog community in that it does encourage families to seek help and support with their companion dogs.
What concerns me most is the techniques used and the misrepresentation that many complex dog behaviors are solved with a quick fix method in a 1/2 hrs time. This is often what leads people to turn down science based methods as they take time and patience.
I am also concerned at the methods involving children. I have seen many examples of what NOT to do. From tying a leash to a baby stroller to teaching a child to push a dog as a method of teaching “leave it.” This is concerning to me on so many levels. Many children watch these shows as they are on primetime. I am very concerned at what I hear when I go to schools and hear from children what they observe. I am also really concerned when I hear that a baby is to be seen as “pack leader.” This is dangerous and not appropriate on any level. Again, when i see these things and hear of people following them…it concerns me and leads to more harm to dogs and more frustration for owners.
Promoting a quick fix when dog training is about time and patience
Grey Stafford, PhD, Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, shared that “most credible trainers understand lasting solutions are based on focusing on building greater behavior success and deliberately rewarding that success with positive reinforcement again and again. Perhaps the worst message of such shows is the false promise of a quick (and permanent) fix to behavior issues that have taken weeks, months or even years to develop.”
What was left on the cutting room floor?
Lori Cooper, Owner of Call-Away Canine Control shared an interesting point. ”The serious harm has to do with information put out after the editing process.” Dog owners copying the dog training tips on a 30 or 60 minute show may not have a clear grasp on the steps the TV dog trainer used. I see people rolling their dogs on their side all the time and listening to a dog cry breaks my heart. Although I don’t roll my dog, I’ve spoken with dog trainers who use this technique and assure me that it doesn’t cause pain. I’ve only seen it cause pain by novice dog owners.
Lori goes on to share that “you cannot get proper information about this subject in an hour show, especially with severe behavior issues.” And she admits that her business had increased due these types of shows.
But there are positives…
Rachel Sentes, a publicist with a back ground in dog training and agility training, brought up the solid point that these a show like Dogs in the City or Dog Whisperer “unites dog owners and gives them a feeling that they aren’t the only ones who have issues with their dogs.” I know that I’ve had that feeling having watched Victoria Stilwell’s show. In fact, we incorporated a time out to teach Rodrigo not to bark in the house. Here are the steps we used that a local dog trainer helped us refine.
- Rodrigo starts barking at Sydney
- We say “oops” – calmly (we never yell)
- We then say “time out”
- And we walk Rodrigo to the laundry room and he has to sit inside for 15-30 seconds (lights on / door closed)
- We open the door, ask him to sit, then he can join us again
- We repeat this as often as necessary until he stopped barking
It didn’t take long for him to learn and one day he barked and walked to the laundry room and sat down. We sat their shocked. I guess that bark was worth it.
Rachel Friedman, A Better Pet LLC, believes that when it comes to TV dog trainers, a “positive would be that training a dog is actually relevant.” Although I love reality television, I’m enough of a skeptic to understand that no problem is resolved in a short time and watching these shows in preparation of adopting puppies convinced us that we needed to hire a professional.
Do you have a favorite celebrity dog trainer? If so, share the show and something you’ve learned in the comments below