Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the internationally acclaimed TV series, It’s Me or the Dog. A bestselling author, she frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the field of animal behavior.
As we embark on a new series with Victoria and the Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training team, we've taken time out of her busy schedule to find out all about her own dogs.
Tell us about your dog, Sadie, we'd like to know everything about her and if you have any new dogs since we last spoke?
Actually, I have two dogs now – a chocolate Labrador named Sadie and a Chihuahua, Terrier, Dachshund mix called Jasmine.
They’re both rescues – we got Sadie about 5 years ago and Jasmine chose us almost 2 years ago now. They’re both total lovebuckets, though they’re completely different dogs. Sadie is pretty chilled, stable and low key (except when she’s on our long, mountain walks – then she’s a true hound), and Jasmine is a frenetic little bundle of nerves and energy.
Before we got her, Jasmine had been kept in a crate 24 hours a day for the first 6 months of her life. She was forced to pee and poop where she slept and ate, and her teeth are misformed due to her constant gnawing on the metal wires. She’s come such a long way since we got her – far more confident and self-assured, though there’s still plenty of work to be done to undo the horrors of her early start.
When did your interest in pets/animals begin and how long have you been a pet owner?
I’ve always loved animals – especially dogs – but my parents never let me have a dog of our own. We owned cats. My grandmother raised beagles, though, and ran one of the first dog grooming salons in London when she was younger, so I got my early ‘dog fixes’ from time spent with her and her dogs.
Once I was older, I was fortunately aware enough that my lifestyle was not conducive to being a responsible pet owner – I travelled too much in my work as an actress – but I fostered hundreds of dogs from local shelters wherever I lived. Finally, my personal and professional lives allowed me the time to provide a proper home for dogs about five years ago when we found Sadie.
You were drawn into dog training inadvertently while trying to forge a career in acting. Can you pinpoint the moment you decided working with dogs and understanding their behaviour was something you could and would dedicate your life to?
I had been training dogs professionally for many years because it was my ‘survival job’ as an actress. I’d spent many happy hours learning from the best positive trainers in Britain while also running a dog-walking business to help pay my way through drama school.
But throughout my acting career, I was constantly aware that I was deriving more satisfaction and enjoyment out of my work as a dog trainer than in the theatre. I would come out of auditions feeling drained and downtrodden, only to go to a dog training client that evening and feel fulfilled. So once I recognized that I loved dog training more than the business of acting (and trying to find acting work!), it was an easy, natural choice to move to dog training full-time.
Here in the UK and across the point in the USA, we know your for 'pull no punches' role on 'It's Me or the Dog' and you've developed your work to spread the word about better understanding of dog behaviour and responsible ownership through Positively.com. Tell us about the site and team you've built around the ethos.
I’m proud of It’s Me or the Dog and the other TV platforms I’ve been blessed with, but what I’m most proud of and excited about is that I’m in a position to help spread the word that the way we’ve been approaching our relationships with our dogs (and other pets) for decades doesn’t have to stay in the dark ages. There’s a better way!
Modern behavioural science has shown us that it’s more effective, longer-lasting and safer to train using positive reinforcement, while common sense and our innate sensitivities tell us that it’s also more humane. I want my dogs to follow me because they choose to, not because they’re scared of what will happen if they don’t. Positively.com is all about providing information to dog owners that the outdated concepts of ‘pack leaders’ and being the ‘top dog’ are not only less effective – they’re also downright dangerous.[premiumcontent] Many Thanks Victoria!
Victoria Stilwell Was Speaking With Kim O'Meara