Pet Tales: Saying 'no' positively

Animal Planet star promotes nonconfrontational training for your dog


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Victoria Stilwell is the famous face of "positive" dog training and the star of Animal Planet's show "It's Me or the Dog." For two hours last Sunday, Ms. Stilwell charmed, entertained and informed 200 people who paid $40 to $125 to learn the tricks of her trade.

I think we also learned why Ms. Stilwell is a star. She is pretty, with long brown hair swept up atop her head. She speaks calmly with one of those English accents that enchant so many of us. She's a lot smaller than she appears to be on her TV shows, and she is oh so enviably thin. Her bio mentions a background in acting, and that shows. She is not only at ease in front of an audience, but also she is very funny.

Ms. Stilwell believes that children and dogs "should be raised in a force-free way." Positive training "does not mean we do not say 'no' to a dog. It does not mean there are no boundaries," she said at Duquesne University's Union Ballroom, Uptown.

"If you like a dog's behavior, reward it. Positive training is about motivating a dog to love learning. Whatever your dog likes, use it -- food, toys," praise and petting, she said. "When you go to work, do you get paid? Food is not bribery. It's powerful. Just don't use it all the time. Use it sometimes."

Confrontational methods and abusive handling don't work in the long run, she believes, and they may make dogs behave aggressively. Training tools she dislikes include prong and shock collars, electric fences, long hours on a chain or tie-out and the "alpha roll," in which trainers force a dog down onto the ground and hold it there to prove they are in charge.

"I am skinny," she said. "I can't overpower an aggressive 120-pound dog, but I can train that dog."

Snarling dogs biting other dogs and threatening to bite people were featured on clips from her TV show, which she showed to the audience. Also featured were a bunch of Chihuahuas peeing all over their house and little pet dogs that barked nonstop day and night. By the end of each episode, all of the dogs were behaving nicely and wagging their tails.

"It's important to know you do not cure a dog in 42 minutes," she said.

She generally spends four days with families and their misbehaving canines, and 50 hours of footage is edited down to an episode of "It's Me or the Dog."

What we see on the show "is just the beginning" of the training process, she said. Ms. Stilwell gives "homework" and comes back to see if dog owners took her advice. "Most of them did it. Some did not."

Here are some of her tips from Sunday's lecture:

▪ "In most of the homes I go to, the dogs have not had enough exercise." She recommends a daily one-hour walk, but "some need more."

▪ Spending long hours home alone is not good for dogs, but she said two products are "revolutionary" and "sound therapy for dogs": DOGTV on DirectTV (she's on the board) and music CDs available at www.throughadogsear.com. Both were designed especially for dogs. She said classical music that is soothing to people "has too many instruments and the frequency is too high" for dog ears.

Other fun facts:

▪ "I love pit bulls!" she said, showing multiple pictures of her with representatives of the oft-maligned breed.

▪ "Dogs aren't color-blind" but most colors are gray to them. "They really only see blue and yellow, and yet so many dog toys are red," which is why they may have trouble finding a red dog toy thrown into green grass. The grass and the toy are both gray in the eyes of a dog.

Her website, which includes a Q and A forum, is http://positively.com. She has written multiple books, including the newest one, "Train Your Dog Positively."

Ms. Stilwell devotes lots of time to helping rescues and shelters, where many dogs ended up because their owners could not deal with their behavioral problems. Her local visit was sponsored by the Duquesne University Animal Law Society and presented by the local Coalition to Adopt, Rehome and Match Abandoned Animals.

A native of Wimbledon, England, she moved to the U.S. with her American husband in 1999. They have one daughter. Their personal pets are dogs she rescued: a chocolate Labrador retriever named Sadie and a Chihuahua mix named Jasmine.

Clothes for rabbits

Local rescue group Rabbit Wranglers isn't collecting clothes for bunnies to wear. They want the shirts off your back to benefit abused, neglected and abandoned rabbits.

WearWoof, an upscale women's resale shop in the North Hills, will take in donated clothes designated for RW, and the rescue group will get 50 percent of the final sales price. The Fall Fashion Drive runs through Nov. 30.

Donated clothes can be taken to WearWoof, 1105 Rochester Road, Suite 103, Ross, (15237); the Animal Nature store, 7610 Forbes Ave., Regent Square (15221); or any Rabbit Wrangler event listed on the events section of its Facebook page. In the past 31/2 years, Rabbit Wranglers has cared for 282 rabbits and boarded 159.

Pet shop for sale

The Animal Nature store in Regent Square is open for business, as usual, while the owners have the business up for sale.

"We are not planning on closing. We are just hoping to see if someone else wants to take the helm," said Rachel Lamory, who has co-owned and operated the 3-year-old store with Nina Wolf. Both women want to spend more time with their families, Ms. Lamory said.

The business is "thriving" she said. It specializes in safe and nutritious food and supplies for cats, dogs, chickens and small animals including guinea pigs. Pets are always welcome in the store, which has held many fundraisers for local rescue groups. The next event is a bunny photo party, a benefit for Rabbit Wranglers, from 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 16.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to petpoints@post-gazette.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.


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