Every now and then I get a call from a production company that’s looking for a trainer or behavior person for a new television project. Some require knowledge of species other than dogs, such as cats and birds. Since I couldn’t tell you whether a bird is saying, “Polly wants a cracker” or, “Polly wants to peck your nose off,” that lets me out of the running for those. I’m also not the right person for shows that are looking for an “edgy” host with piercings and tattoos. Sure, I’ve got a tattoo or two, but I’m not that character you’re looking for.
I get it: reality television is all about edgy. It seems the best we can hope for in a training show is that some education gets across in the midst of all the drama. You’ve got to give the viewers what they want, and Americans want to be entertained. But the truth is, ending up with a well-behaved dog has nothing to do with entertainment or drama. I only wish Sierra’s rock-solid recall could have been honed during thirty commercial-free minutes, or that Bodhi’s dog reactivity could have been solved in one episode of training. But it just ain’t so.
I’ve been working a lot lately on Sierra’s proclivity to stalk other dogs as we walk along. She’s expected to make eye contact with me when I call her name, which I normally do once she’s spotted a dog. Although all I’m asking for is eye contact, when I call her name Sierra immediately turns, looks, and returns to sit in front of me. That’s fine. At other times, I expect her to give me her attention and then walk alongside me so we can pass the other dog. This morning we met a woman at the park with a young pit bull pup. The dog was very sweet, and the woman was wonderful. It was her son’s dog, but as he was at work, she was trying to do everything right to socialize and train the dog. I had Sierra walk next to me as we neared them, and then sit. After speaking with the woman for a few minutes, I allowed Sierra to greet the pup. The woman mentioned that she wanted her dog to be as well trained as Sierra. The first thought that came to my mind was, You wouldn’t have said that if you saw her two years ago! Again, sometimes all that’s visible is the end result.
Training isn’t magic; it’s simply a matter of knowledge, effort, patience, and consistency. And sure, there’s a bit of an art to it as well. I don’t envision a television show debuting anytime soon that takes viewers through multiple training sessions or long behavior modification protocols. But it sure would be nice to see a show that entertains, and yet still lets owners know that training is not a quick fix, but a process. We do have some good shows out there, like It’s Me or the Dog. And we need more shows that manage to be entertaining while offering substance and concrete help for owners, in a realistic way. I know it can be done.