"Dogs in the City": A Trainer ReviewPublished June 6, 2012
French Bulldog: Getty Images
Did you watch the new dog training show with Justin Silver, “Dogs in the City” last week?
You can bet I tuned in.
The first thing I did when I heard about the show was to research the show’s “dog guru,” Justin Silver. (Yes, I had a twinge of jealousy … “Why not meeee? When will I get a show??”)
Nowadays any reputable dog trainer should have a wealth of biographical information available online. Look up your favorite local dog trainer – I can guarantee that you’ll find the trainer’s web site detailing his or her credentials, training philosophy, and maybe even a blurb or two about them in the local press. Justin Silver’s web site was just created in 2010, and there’s really no information about how he got his dog trainer training, or his specific methodology. (When I was training full time my website was very clear about my philosophy, credentials, appearances and awards – I wanted potential clients to know what they were getting into!)
I was dubious about this telegenic TV trainer. (And yes, a little sour grapes. You don’t have to point that out to me.) The show turned out to be better than I expected, but I do have some quibbles.
1. Justin Silver's timing was off in many of the training scenarios. In some instances this could just be a matter of editing – I’ve been in a few TV productions where I cringe at the way the set ups were pieced together, but that’s the unfortunate reality of reality TV. Specifically, his advice to Beefy the English Bulldog’s owner about his barking would actually encourage the barking, not discourage it; he told the owner to come into view from around the corner while the dog was barking “to let him know you’re here. ” Dogs do what works, and if barking works to makes his beloved person come back, Beefy will keep doing it. Additionally, when Justin Silver was teaching Beefy to walk politely on leash he missed numerous opportunities to reward the dog’s good behavior. In dog training, timing is everything.
2. He was too physical when he didn’t have to be. Justin showed a young girl how to teach her Bernese Mountain dog to “leave it” when they passed food on the street. There are numerous ways to teach this behavior, but he opted to shove the dog's chest in the early stages, a maneuver this tiny girl could never replicate on her behemoth of a dog! Plus, why resort to physical means when you can teach it completely hands-free? (Hmmm, I think I just found the subject of my next Petside training video!)
3. He used a positive dog training term incorrectly numerous times. In the world of positive dog training, the word “cue” takes the place the more militaristic term “command. ” Justin used the word “cue” to describe a collar correction, or a jerk to the dog’s collar when the dog wasn't reacting properly, which turns his use of the word into a misappropriation. Call the collar jerks what they were and don't use a euphemism to make it look less aversive. They were corrections, which is a dirty word - and technique – to positive trainers.
4. He let a client bully him. Again, this was probably for the show. I applauded Justin Silver when he told a dog owner that her aggressive dog with a bite history shouldn’t go to the office with her. The owner pushed him to offer a solution, and he wound up showing her a management technique where Charlotte the dog was tethered a distance away from the door. Magically, suddenly, the dog became calm! The dog’s demeanor on the tether was probably another trick of editing. It’s unusual for a dog with that type of reactivity to settle so blissfully just because a leash was clipped to her collar … a behavioral shift that dramatic typically takes time and systematic desensitization, but that doesn’t make for good TV. Fights with dog owners? Good TV.
Believe it or not, I did find a lot to like about the show. Justin has great energy and presence – he’s very natural with both the people and the dogs. I enjoyed his in-depth Q&A with the dog owners. His use of a baby gate and activity toy for Beefy the over-bonded dog was excellent. In another training scenario he muttered the word, “Distance, distance” to himself after Charlotte the office dog attacked a visiting dog, which led me to believe that he understood the importance of keeping a comfortable buffer between the dog and the stimulus when dealing with reactivity. (This is a core component of systematic desensitization.) And most importantly, Justin Silver leans toward the positive side of the dog training world, unlike a certain male trainer on a different channel.
Overall, it’s not a bad addition to the TV dog training world, though I still prefer Victoria Stillwell’s “It’s Me or the Dog.” (Of course, a show of my own would be best of all.)
What did you think of "Dogs in the City"?
- See our 2010 profile of Justin Silver
- Does your dog watch DogTV?
- Read our review of "American Stuffers"