A Positive Dog Weekend

Working at reception in the office means that I can listen to the radio clearly, unlike when I’m at my usual desk at the opposite end of the room straining to hear. A couple of weeks ago, I sat there while the receptionist went out for fifteen minutes. I happened to catch the end of an interview on Today FM, with dog trainer and behaviourist
Victoria Stilwell.
She was talking about the only Irish seminar she was giving, and it just happened to be in Letterkenny in Donegal on Saturday 7th July.

Victoria Stilwell has been training dogs for the past fifteen years. It all started when she set up her own dog walking business, where she noticed the increasing need for professional trainers to help pet owners manage their dog’s unwanted behaviour. Since then, Victoria has become one of the leading behaviourists in her field, working all over the world, setting up and helping many organisations, and even creating her own TV show ‘its me or the dog’, which is currently showing in fifty countries around the globe. What makes Victoria’s work so popular is her positive reinforcement based dog training, where the dog is never dominated by a human to behave in a particular way. As you can see, attending this positively dog training seminar was an opportunity not to be missed.

Victoria’s seminar was organised by Clare Boyle from
Lupanast Dog Training an organisation in Donegal which I had never heard of but was delighted to have discovered. I hope to learn more about what they do in the future. Nicky and I brought Ralph and O J, and we all couldn’t have been looked after better.

I was a bit concerned that Victoria’s seminar would be quite out of my depth since I’m so new to dog training, but I didn’t get that impression at all. Victoria captured everyone’s attention instantly, and maintained that until she left the stage at half five that evening. Her admiration and respect for dogs was obvious, and her relaxed and often humourous delivery made her a pleasure to listen too. Three dogs were brought on stage during the day to demonstrate different behaviours, and O J barked at the first one. I was so embarrassed! Topics discussed included body language, a dog’s senses, separation anxiety and dog aggression. There was opportunities to ask questions, and footage from ‘its me or the dog’ was used effectively to demonstrate some situations that owners and their dogs find themselves in. Children were made very welcome, and Victoria gave important tips on how they should interact with dogs, especially when meeting them for the first time.

When Nicky and I were returning to our seats after lunch, Victoria came over to introduce herself. It was lovely to meet her and have an oppourtunity to ask her a few questions. I kept mine to a minimum because I would have kept her there all day! We were both interested to hear her opinion on guide dog training and how they are used as working animals. She said that she doesn’t agree with certain aspects of training, but her foundation has worked with, and raised a lot of money for assistance dogs. As long as the dogs get enough free time out of harness to just be dogs, then its all good.

Victoria encouraged her audience to se the world from a dog’s point of view. This will help us all to better understand our dog’s behaviour, and to get the best out of these great animals.She mentioned O J and Ralph briefly, as examples of how dogs can help people so much, which is why we humans should always treat them positively with the respect that they deserve.

I came away after the seminar feeling inspired, and very glad I went. I purposely didn’t look at Victoria’s website
http://www.positively.com
beforehand, but have spent a lot of time on it since. It’s a great resource for any dog lover, with articles, newsletters, a podcast and lots of advice on positive dog training. Victoria is also regularly on facebook and twitter, so you can follow her there. And if, like me, you ever randomly get the opportunity to hear her speak, make sure you go, because its definitely worth it.

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5 thoughts on “A Positive Dog Weekend

  1. Now, that was a most interesting read indeed and glad to know doglovers found it beneficial.

    As a guide dog user myself, currently awaiting my fourth, but this was by choice after the last lad’s retirment and subsequent passing, I’d be curious to learn what Ms Stillswell disagrees with on the training front. Perhaps it has to do with the idea of a working dog, as opposed to a dog being a pet, in the same way as animal rights organisations are against the horseracing and greyhound industry.

    And if I understood correctly, she is more in favour of assistance dogs than guide dogs. Well, to a certain extent, I can see where she’s coming from here, as guide dogs in my view should only go to folk who are animal-minded by nature and who don’t just see him/her as a mobility aid.

    • Thanks for the comment John, and great to hear from you! I hope you get a dog soon.

      She supports the work of both guide and assistance dogs. Her method of training doesn’t use dominance, only positive reinforcement, and most guide dog organisations don’t specifically train this way. For example, she would probably never use a leash correction to discipline a dog, but would redirect its behaviour to make it do what you want, then reward the good behaviour. I don’t know how this would work when training or working with a guide dog, but I didn’t have time to question her in great detail. Its a fascinating method of training, and ideally, its how we would all like to work with our dogs, but we’re just not taught it properly. It definitely was a very interesting day.

      • Many thanks for your prompt response and good wishes, Jenny. I am due an assessment visit within the next couple of weeks, after a few months waiting for same but I’m sure like most things in life, it’s just a matter of time before a suitable dog comes through their training ranks and we’ll be paired off appropriately.

        Yeah, striking the right balance can be very tricky in relation to dog handling and this is where misunderstandings can develop, though we do our best to be professional in our doggy dealings.

        Some years ago, I read an excellent book, The Man Who Listens To Horses, by Monty Roberts, an American horseman, who seemed to know all there was to know about those powerful animals. He maintained in most )though not all) cases, that if horses were treated correctly by means of gentle persuasion, both handler and horsey would build up a mutually wonderful relationship throughout their lifetime.

        There is another dog therapist in the UK, Jan Fednnell by name, who based her ideas around those of Monty Roberts, and as you probably know, there is (or at least was) a guide horse for the blind school in the States. No doubt, googling these names and topics would bring more up-to-date information than I’m giving, but the person who got the inspiration to try the guide horse idea did so mainly due to the short working life a guide dog has, where horses could go on a lot longer. Of course, it’s only very few folk who could accommodate such an animal in their lives and I cannot imagine it catching on over here.

      • John I think I’ve read one of Jan’s books. Not sure if I’d fancy a guide horse. Their long life would be a great advantage, but not sure if I’d fancy having a horse with me everywhere I go.

    • On 7/23/12, Jennifer Doherty wrote: > Thanks for the comment John, and great to hear from you! I hope you > get a dog soon. > > She supports the work of both guide and assistance dogs. Her method of > training doesn’t use dominance, only positive reinforcement, and most > guide dog organisations don’t specifically train this way. For > example, she would probably never use a leash correction to discipline > a dog, but would redirect its behaviour to make it do what you want, > then reward the good behaviour. I don’t know how this would work when > training or working with a guide dog, but I didn’t have time to > question her in great detail. Its a fascinating method of training, > and ideally, its how we would all like to work with our dogs, but > we’re just not taught it properly. > It definitely was a very interesting day. > >

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