The Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s (APDT) has declared January National Train your Dog Month. The purpose is to bring awareness to the importance of socialization and training, and most of all, to inform the public that training your dog can be easy and fun! Their goal is to promote the use of training methods that are kind, gentle and have an emphasis on building a relationship with your dog.
I had the pleasure of meeting Victoria Stilwell a year ago at Clicker Expo. She is the dog training star of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog. Recently, I was fortunate to enjoy a telephone phone interview with Victoria:
L.S. What inspired you to first become a dog trainer?
V.S. I have always been fascinated with the ways that dogs learn. How is it that two different species can live together when they don’t speak the same language? I wanted to explore how we can have predators in our home and have a great relationship with them.
L.S. What makes training on television different from real life?
V.S. First of all, training is all about timing. Training on tv is really all about perfect timing, because you can’t do it again. Because once the dog has learned something, you can’t really go back. Over time, I learned how to deal with producers who wanted to go back and re-shoot a scene. I’d say, “Well, we can’t go back. Once the dog has learned it, he isn’t going to unlearn it.” Aggression issues – you are not going to get that again. The dog just reacted to what was in his environment in that moment. I tell the crew to set up and they’ll have one shot at getting it right. Keep your cameras on the dog, because we need the dog’s reaction first, but we can pick up what I want to say later. Make it as normal and natural as possible. I’ve trained so much on tv with cameras on the dog, that it’s now sometimes awkward to train privately.
L.S. What has been one of your most rewarding moments on the tv show?
V.S. Last season I worked with a boy who was in love with his Pit Bull, and he had witnessed a murder at the end of the street while walking him. They both heard the gun shots. Because it was so traumatic for the boy, he couldn’t walk his dog anymore. He had developed PTSD. My job in working with him was to really bring bring the family together again. So much of my training now is about having people open up. I found myself in a situation that a dog trainer shouldn’t be dealing with. But, so much of training is about healing the family as a whole. The dog always picks up the family’s behavior. I’m hoping this boy can walk his dog again, and I’ve heard back since the show that he is doing much better. What I love about my job is the journey of it. We brought in professional help for his PTSD, but I was able to help him bond with his dog again. And, of course, his dog wanted to be there for him to heal.