Sunday, 29 January 2012

Celebrity trainer says we need to understand our dog

Victoria Stilwell, star of US TV series It's Me or the Dog, blames poor ownership over inherent aggression in animals

Stilwell says if dogs don't get enough stilumation they can be like a 'ticking bomb'. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Responsible ownership, positive training and a better understanding of man's supposed best friend is the key to reducing the rising number of dog attacks in the UK, according to a celebrity dog trainer.
Victoria Stilwell, the star of hit US TV series It's Me or the Dog, supports a change in the dangerous dogs law to punish irresponsible owners whose pets bite victims on private property.
The current law, which prevents the prosecution of dog owners when the attack takes place on private property, is insufficient and changing it will "show irresponsible owners they have to pull their socks up", Stilwell said.
Stilwell, who is originally from Wimbledon but now lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter, also supports compulsory microchipping of dogs and education programmes in schools.
"We've had this relationship with dogs for 15,000 years now and yet we still know so little about them and so much of our learning about them has been treating these animals with force and through fear and punishment," said Stilwell, who also served as a judge on Greatest American Dog.
"Now, we are seeing how detrimental that can be for the human-animal relationship and how dangerous it can be too."
Stilwell, who has two dogs herself, promotes a more positive, reward-based approach to dog training and believes this significantly reduces the risk of unpredictable, potentially dangerous, behaviour. "One of the really big contributing factors, in nine times out of 10 cases, the dog is raised without being socialised, abused in some way, neglected and a lot of them chained," she said.
"Not giving a dog enough exercise or mental stimulation can turn a dog towards such frustration and anger – it's like a bomb waiting to explode. It would be exactly the same if you chained a person up, I think that's the very, very root of absolute cruelty and has caused so much horror."
The proliferation of puppy farms is another big contributing factor to the rising number of dog bite cases, Stilwell thinks. "Puppy farms breed with no concern for health and temperament. The formation of your dog's character, how it really sees the world, takes place during the first 16 to 18 weeks of life."
• This article was amended on 20 January 2012. The original said that Victoria Stilwell lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. This has been corrected.
 
By for The Guardian 

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