by Cheshire Kitten on 7 October 2011
in the Anipal Interest section of The Anipal Times
Victoria Stilwell (bow)wowed the audience at BarkWorld with her blend of positive reinforcement training and social media. Several hundred “petworkers” drank in Stilwell’s passion for positive reinforcement training, and many considered this session the very best in the stellar program.
“Dominating your dog, especially with contraptions,” Stilwell said, “is a show of human weakness.”
Stilwell is especially concerned about the widespread use of dominance training of dogs in the United States, and she wants to replace dominance methods with positive reinforcement as soon as possible.
In her keynote address at BarkWorld, Stilwell recapped her career in animal training and shared the story of how she found an international forum to spread her ideas on the program It’s Me or the Dog, which can be seen in 50 countries. Not content to leave the future of her message in the hands of TV executives, Stilwell is also using the Web to establish a channel for her ideas that can expand her platform even more.
Stilwell knows that television audiences are fickle and her show won’t be around forever. “One day, when the TV show goes away, the brand will still be strong because we built it on a solid foundation.”
At the base of her success is a constantly developing understanding of behavioral science that she shares in a blog, articles and a popular podcast. Her website, Positively, also offers visitors opportunities to discuss positive reinforcement training among themselves.
“It’s very difficult to find a trainer that is going to come and use great methods, especially in this country,” Stilwell said. Stilwell hopes to remedy this by creating an easily accessible network of positive-reinforcement trainers that she has personally assessed.
In addition to sharing the main points in her social media strategy, Stilwell talked about her passion for dogs and opportunities she’s had to direct the attention of millions of people in support of the cause. In particular, she talked about Lennox, a dog whose case has captured the hearts, pens and keyboards of millions of social media users. Tears fell around the room when Stilwell recounted the history of the case and the decision the judge in Belfast made that very day. The court found Lennox, a therapy dog before he was removed from his family in May 2010 under a law that prohibits pit bulls and related breeds, too dangerous to return to his family. Instead, he will be put down, the BBC reported.
She has used her platforms to amplify the voices of thousands who support the release of Lennox on the SaveLennox website, Facebook page and online petition. Because she is an established trainer with a good reputation, she has also had the opportunity to review the case and concluded that the determination that Lennox is dangerous is dubious. “I despise breed-specific legislation,” said Stilwell. “I think it’s a canine witch hunt. I think they’re looking at the wrong end of the leash.”
Stilwell says, in this talk, her two books, her TV series and countless tweets and blog posts, that an aggressive dog is almost always an insecure dog. She has found that whereas dominance-based training can lead to a dangerous escalation of aggression, positive reinforcement gives poorly behaved dogs an opportunity to make choices.
“You can guide them to make good choices,” Stilwell said.