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 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.
 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.