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.
L.S. What makes your training methods different than more traditional methods used by some other tv personality dog trainers?
V.S. It is much safer, family friendly, dog friendly and humane. And it follows the latest science. The positive reinforcement training methods I adhere to encourage these animals to learn and problem solve. The old dog training style is about people thinking for the dog by instilling their will on that dog. Problem solving, however, provides security and confidence for dogs. It helps create a happy, healthy, confident dog. The old way is destructive. It gets short term results because it can be scary for the dog to not do what they are told. And it causes all kinds of stress in the long run. If anybody did to children what dominance based trainers do to dogs, they would be put in jail. Dogs are like kids because both rely on us 100%.
L.S. Tell us a little about your dogs at home.
V.S. Sadie is a 10 year old Chocolate Lab that we rescued at age five when her person died. Jasmine is a one year old Chihuahua mix that we recently adopted from a shelter. They are just delightful, lovely companions, to us and to our daughter.
L.S. How do you spend your time helping dogs when you aren’t filming your tv show?
V.S. Recently, I have been speaking at schools in the Atlanta area, on behalf of Homeless Pet Clubs. Started by Veterinarian Dr. Good, school children sponsor a dog or cat in a shelter and they help market that pet until it is adopted. Volunteers speak to school children about safety and love and teach the children what it feels like to be a dog. The mission of The Homeless Pets Foundation is to help homeless pets nationwide get out of shelters and into loving, forever homes.
L.S. What was the inspiration behind your new Canine Noise Phobia series?
V.S. I’m always looking for new training techniques that help dogs. And I wanted to create a product that would give trainers another tool to help dogs with sound anxiety issues. I love sensory education, because there is always so much to learn about dog sense. And it’s our responsibility to teach them the positive side in their learning process. What about their listening ability and finely tuned ears? What about building a positive association with music? Can they recognize music? The clinical tests already showed that the right prescription of music helped calm dogs and relieve their anxiety issues. I teamed up with the creators of Through a Dog’s Ear and, together, we created the Canine Noise Phobia series that helps with both the treatment and prevention of canine noise sensitivities. My job was to create a reward based training protocol that could be applied to the calming music and the progressive sound effects of fireworks, thunderstorms, and city sounds. It’s been a very exciting project!
L.S. Tell us about your positively trainers and how Care2 readers can find them.
V.S. You can search for a Victoria Stilwell licensed trainer in your area here. Since dog training is still unregulated, I started my licensing program to ensure that dog lovers have access to the most accomplished, professional, reward-based training option in their area. Other trainers can say they are all about positive reinforcement, and then actually use dominance training. You can be assured that Victoria Stilwell licensed trainers use the same methods as you see me use on my show, and you will have great long term results. My selection process is pretty rigorous.
L.S. Care2 readers are passionate about making a difference in the world. You are very passionate about making a difference in the dog training world. What helps you make a difference?
V.S. The television is a huge platform. I also have two books out. Being able to reach dog lovers all over the world with my positively message that helps dogs is a very satisfying feeling.
Click here to view episodes of It’s Me or the Dog with Victoria Stilwell. What do you think of reward based training methods vs. dominance based training? Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a comment below.
Have you tried Sound Therapy for your dogs? Through a Dog’s Ear is the first music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system.
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