Debunking Dogs In The City, III

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I’ve done a little research on the Producers of the new CBS show Dogs In The City on IMDB. Only one of the four producers has experience working with dogs or dog-related TV shows. Jennifer O’Connell worked on Animal Planet’s excellent Victoria Stilwell training show Its Me Or The Dog and should know the difference between a capable well-qualified trainer and an entertainer. Shame on you Jen O’Connell for agreeing to produce this show!

As for the rest of the producers (Julie Weitz, Carol Mendelsohn, Nick Emmerson, Gerry Greengrass and CBS’s Raquel Productions Inc. in association with Shed Media US Inc. and Carol Mendelsohn Productions): you should know enough to do your research and care enough to produce great, entertaining TV that is also informative. Dogs In The City is not Bravo or True TV, it is CBS and this is primetime television. Yes it’s a reality TV show and of course there is editing involved… but the editing should give the viewers more information about proper dog handling, not less. There are plenty of great trainers in this city that are also attractive and witty. There are plenty of real life cases that need to be dealt with. There is no need to provoke sweet dogs into attacking the camera. I know for a fact that this is something the producers have done on the show. Unfortunately I can’t reveal my sources, as I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. Papers were signed. I’m not looking to get anyone sued, but I am interested in pressing powerful networks like CBS to be more careful about what they’re putting on TV. I have seen the contract and know that if you are a dog owner that gets involved with this show it is in your contract to do what the producers ask of you. Unfortunately, they might ask you to let your dog be stressed out and provoked. Think twice before you say yes to that kind of fifteen minutes of fame. It could lead to a dog lifetime of difficulty.

Having seen the participant contract makes me wonder about Justin’s contract and participation as the host. At the beginning of every episode I think that the show is getting better. He always accurately points out what the problems are that need to be resolved. Justin clearly has some knowledge… I just can’t tell if all his solutions are portrayed accurately. It’s his fault when he hits a dog in the chest and uses a choke collar, but are these things he’s being made to do? There are other situations where I wonder: How much information is missing? Have the editors mixed too many shots, screwing up the portrayal of Justin’s timing? (Timing is everything in dog training). What are the editors choosing to leave out?

Justin probably doesn’t have a say in how the show is edited, so it may be unfair of me to blame the show just on him. He was on Law and Order in 2002 and worked in NYC as a stand up comedian. He obviously keeps himself busy and has a ton of interests, but he’s probably just an actor and amateur trainer hired to play the part of a professional dog trainer.

On a side note, in the comments of my last post, a reader brought up Justin’s use of the word “Learned Helplessness”. Learned Helplessness is a real term and Justin used it correctly. It refers to a state in which the human/animal essentially hasn’t learned to do anything for itself or operate independently and is unfortunately pretty common. Charles F. Flaherty defines “Learned Helplessness” in Animal Learning and Cognition as “animals have a deficiency in learning… in learning that their behavior may influence their environment.” So, at least he got that right.

Here is my critique of the third episode. Click here for more on episode one or two.


Client: Hubble Yoda, a blind dog who belongs to Russell Simons’ assistant

Issues: Adopted six weeks ago – “goes crazy around other dogs” – lunges, barks, attacks, never NOT within two feet of owner. Russell thinks his assistant is too obsessed with the dog. Dog has “learned helplessness.”

Justin Silver’s Solution: Justin picks up Hubble Yoda and puts Yoda in another dog’s face. He puts the blind dog on the ground in a chain martingale collar and chokes the dog for walking in the wrong direction.

DEBUNKED: Justin picks up Hubble Yoga and puts him into another dogs face. This is not an appropriate greeting for dogs that can see, much less dogs that have lost their sight. Dogs greet from the side and by sniffing the behind FIRST… a socialized, friendly dog will never approach a dog face first. A head on approach is an aggressive approach in the dog social scene. Additionally, if Justin is working on Yoda’s “learned helplessness” he should not let the dog be in the owners (or his) arms as this is no different than the baby carriage. The owner is creating tension between the two dogs as the dog isn’t able to fend for himself while in the owner’s arms. I am glad that Justin encourages the owner to let Hubble Yoda walk on a leash. However… “A little jerk, a little yank… I let him know it’s just fine” is SOOOOO off the mark. How is a correction on a martingale chain collar going to soothe any dog, let alone a blind one? Rather than directing Yoda with a front attaching harness to guide his body and teach the dog to follow a sound (maybe bells on the owners belt?) or teach the dog direction commands (right/left).

This is what appropriate dog greetings look like:

The Saint is Ozzy (one of my clients), the puppy is my, Grayson

Viewer Question:

“While I was ranting at the screen my boyfriend asked me what the difference was between Justin’s yank on the martingale chain collar and when I do a yank on my puppy’s front attaching harness.”

Good question, honey! First of all, yanking on a chain martingale collar on a tiny dog can damage the dog’s neck. A pull on a harness where the leash attaches to the front of the chest will move the dogs body in a forward motion and cause no physical damage. Justin is harshly correcting a dog for walking in the wrong direction when the dog can’t see where he’s going. And he calls this “guidance.” I will tug slightly on my puppy’s harness to move his body forward when he stops mid-walk. For example, my four-month old puppy does not know the “leave it” command yet and so to prevent him from eating something yucky off the street I will tug him away from the object if he is too close to the object and can get it in his mouth. If he isn’t that close but is indicating interest I will ask him for a “look” (a command he knows well) and reward him as we walk away from the object.

Client: Four Rescue Dogs and a recently divorced woman

Issues: There are three dogs, Ika, Dotty and Crystal. Ika is very aggressive. Dotty is fearful. Crystal is very high energy. There are two to three dog-on-dog fights in the house per week. The dogs redirect stress onto each other. Owner (Christine) going through divorce and the dogs are getting less exercise as a result. Additionally she is moving to a small one bedroom with no yard. Ika is baring teeth just when they approach the crate (did they provoke her or is this extreme guarding?) He is a fear biter. Owner has been bitten several times – visible scars on her arms. He came from a family of fighting dogs. Doesn’t trust people for a reason.

Justin Silver’s Solution:

Session one: Brings his business partner “of 20 years” Justin says Ika has dominance issues. Justin introduces Ika to his own Pit Bulls and Ika immediately lunges. Justin gives him corrections as he is walking – why? Another choke collar comes out. He has the owner “choke up” – choke correcting Ika for just looking at the other dog. He points out that the owner doesn’t have enough resources to rehabilitate three dogs. (I have to say: he’s right) “I don’t have the answer for you today,” he says, but he wants to get rid of Crystal who is “setting off these situations.”

Session two: Ika is at the park with his tail under him, scared. Licking his lips; this is nervousness–licking like this is something dogs do to calm themselves). He removes muzzle at this point – stupid. Thank god they didn’t go into the dog park. He is right about one thing, at least: Weekly socialization is a great idea.

DEBUNKED: First of all, Justin can’t be older than in his mid-30s. Did he start his dog walking/training company at the age of twelve? Where did his business partner come from? The owner corrects Justin when Justin says that Ika is aggressive as it is clear that Ika is fearful. He is a fearful dog and fear often displays as aggression. Justin brings his own pitbull to help socialize Ika to other dogs which is great in theory but the way Justin goes about this is wrong. They approach too close and too quickly and get a lunge from Ika. Justin has Ika on another choke collar and is giving Ika corrections (choking Ika) while walking for no apparent reason. Justin has Ika’s owner choke Ika for just looking at the other dog, even when Ika isn’t showing any signs of fear/stress/anxiety/aggression. Why not reward him for looking at the other dog when he is doing so in an appropriate way rather than instill more fear and discomfort?

In the second session I was very happy to see Ika in a gentle leader head harness! This is a great training tool! However, Justin removes Ika’s muzzle at an inappropriate time. Ika’s tail is tucked and she is licking her lips, again a signal that she is uncomfortable and trying to calm herself. However, I was still happy to see the head harness and to see that Justin encourages weekly one on one socialization for this dog.

Client: Scully Family – Duke and Daisy, both Bloodhounds

Issues: Duke was always in trouble so a friend told them to get a second dog (Daisy, who doesn’t stop barking). No training, no discipline. Begging at the dinner table, drinking out of the faucet. Neighbors say they are the Roosters of the neighborhood.

Justin Silver’s Solution: Justin told them to sit and stay, but we aren’t shown how he teaches this. He blames the family for feeding them from the table and letting them drink from the faucet and then complaining about the dogs wanting to eat when humans are eating and jumping on the sink to drink from the faucet. Like he says: Who is turning on the faucet for them to drink from? He has a point.

DEBUNKED: Bloodhounds are working dogs so they need to be given jobs. They need to be challenged, exercised, and given reinforcement for good behavior. (Justin and I have different definitions of what constitutes appropriate reinforcement.) Working dogs live to please their owners/handlers. Duke and Daisy need more exercise and they need to learn more commands besides “sit” and “stay”. They will get bored quickly if this is the only training they receive… the problems will restart and persist. How about an obedience class and then maybe agility class along with long daily walks? The dogs were so horribly behaved and then immediately so well-behaved which makes me think that their hyper behavior was provoked and that they were well-behaved dogs all along.

This post originally appeared on Laurens Leash.




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