Dog trainers on TV are not a new thing. Good dog trainers on TV though are an uncommon sight. For some reason, TV seems to attract trainers who are firmly in the negative reinforcement camp. Perhaps seeing men dominate dogs until they submit makes for better ratings. Belittling the dog owners also seems to be a ratings juggernaut as many of us like to watch the train wrecks.

There is a new trainer on TV these days: Justin Silver. His show, Dogs in the City, features New Yorkers and their problem dogs. These are not the typical problems you see in other cities. New Yorkers seem to take ‘quirk’ to a whole other level. But I digress.

The show generally features the story of 4 families and their dogs. After the initial assessment, Justin returns with a plan to help the family manage their dog’s behavior. Invariably, his methods are based on positive reinforcement and leadership. For Justin, leadership seems to be one of the most important facets of his methods. As we know many negative dog behaviors stem from a lack of leadership. Basically the dog feels like it is her job to protect you from whatever is going on. In doing this the dog then becomes anxious and may develop aggression. Instead he asks people to provide leadership to their dog; let the dog know that they are not in charge and that you will manage the situation. One great example of this was a dog that was owned by 2 gay men. The dog hated other men. New men would come into their apartment and the dog was growl aggressively beside one of his humans. Clearly what needed to happen here was the dog had to know that his humans would manage this situation. At Justin’s suggestion, they determined a behavior they wanted the dog to exhibit[1] when new people came into the apartment. Once the person was in the apartment and the dog had a chance to investigate within parameters everything was fine.

Justin is also a friend to rescue. The last episode featured him with Edie Falco supporting a local New York rescue. He also assisted with some training tips for some of their more difficult dogs. Particularly a beagle named Conan who barked non-stop when he was over-stimulated. This behavior was getting in the way of him being adopting. Again with a little leadership and telling the dog what he wanted it to do, Conan was able to calm down enough. He also used clicker training and treats to work with this dog.

Some in the local rescue community seem to be quite down on this show. However, I would much rather have the public watching Dogs in the City than those other shows. If nothing else they will learn that there are positive ways to get results for their dogs. Another great point, highlighted by Deb, is who would hire a trainer after watching Brad Pattison pin a dog until it peed? Or after watching Cesar Milan pick a dog up by its collar and leash? They give trainers a bad name. Justin Silver is a positive trainer who really seems to speak dog.


[1] Most often, we are very sure what we *don’t * want our dogs to do. By giving them something to do in a certain situation they know who is in control. Dogs want to please.


3 thoughts on “Dogs in the City

  1. It’s not just rescue folks down on him. This lengthy article tackles the first episode very thoroughly.
    & FWIW, I think the whole leadership is mostly baloney. I think he gets it wrong from the get go.

    I’m also not convinced about dogs wanting to please or us having to be in control. I especially like Jean Donaldson’s illustration of Virtuosness-O-Meter – this concept that dogs should want to please us can lead people astray very fast when faced with a dog who doesn’t want to please us. Combined with an emphasis on ‘control’ I think it frequently leads people away from building relationships, exploring what’s rewarding for the dog, & staying in the +R zone.

  2. Clearly once cannot expect to fix the problems presented in a 10-minute tv segment. However, given the alternatives I don’t think Silver is a bad choice. I didn’t see the first episode that the article references – so I can’t really comment on it. My point here is that I would much rather have Jane Q. Public watch Dogs in the City than Cesar or Brad.

    There are some dogs who are not interested in pleasing humans. In my experience these are generally dogs who have been abused and/or severely neglected. Dogs coming from puppy mills also have this characteristic. However with some patience and love they usually come around. I have yet to foster a dog who has not eventually wanted to please us. We have fostered countless dogs from all different types of situations over the years including feral. We have had dogs who no one could toilet-train and we have been successful. It takes a lot of patience, work and positive reinforcement.

    Most importantly we provide leadership for our dogs. Our rules are few – the main one being no aggression.

  3. I agree Justin Silver really does speak dog, there is no hostile aggressive training with him. I like the fact that he works with the owners and determines the owners’ issues. I think the clicker training is really effective and I like how he gave owners actual tools that we saw put to use that worked! I was pleased when my coworker at Dish suggested this show. My Hopper recorded every episode and I didn’t have to worry about missing it. This is thanks to the Prime Time Anytime feature which records all shows on major networks during prime time automatically.

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