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Dogs in the City – Do No Harm?

June 5, 2012 22 comments

Like so many other dog lovers out there, tomorrow night I will be watching a TV show that features dogs, the big city (New York) and a “dog guru”. However, unlike many of my dog loving friends, I cannot say that I will be watching it with a completely uncritical eye.

That is not to say that I am looking for something to criticize. I’m really not. But two things I saw on the first episode left me wondering what else I would see and whether I could like a show that does some good while possibly doing some harm.

The TV show, called Dogs in the City,  is hosted by “dog guru” (def. Guru: a person with knowledge or expertise ), Justin Silver, and airs on CBS on Wednesday nights.

Justin is a comedian and a passionate animal advocate who has done a lot to help rescued animals, including:

In the first episode, Justin seemed to correctly diagnose some of his client’s issues – separation anxiety, dog aggression and a doggie weight issue.  He was honest and up front with each owner about the issue and what would be needed from them to fix it.

But there were subtle things that were said or done that worried me.

  • In the case of the owner who had an aggressive dog (in her office) – a model who had volunteered to help with the dog aggression issue by bringing in her own dog, was allowed to bring her dog within biting distance of the other, resulting in a bite.
  • In the case of 9-year-old Allie, and her Bernese Mountain dog, Rosie, Justin taught the girl to push against the chest of her dog in a forceful manner and say “leave it” so the dog would learn to not eat food unless given the okay. Later the girl is interviewed by herself and the thing she said she learned was to push the dog in the chest and say “leave it”.

When it comes to dog trainers and doctors I am of one school of mind “do no harm.” That includes both humans and their pets.

In both cases mentioned above, harm was done . One was in the form of physical harm – to the model’s dog, and the other was in the form of bad advice that could lead to potential harm to Allie, or someone else, down the road.

In the case of the model’s dog, the owner’s own self-denial about her dog’s aggression, and the fact that the dog had a history of biting other dogs and people in the office, should have been enough information to know that this situation needed to be managed much more effectively than it was. I could never see Victoria Stilwell letting an aggressive dog close enough to another dog to allow that dog to be bit. Could you?

In the case of Allie and Rosie, Justin’s advice for Allie to shove her dog Rosie in the chest was just bad advice. Coming on the heels of National Bite Prevention week, this seemed like the worst possible advice one could give a child (or adult). The possibility of Rosie biting Allie may have been low in her case, but what if she were to try this with another dog? Would that other dog be so accommodating? And, what if she were to teach her friends what she learned and one of them got bitten? Children are the most likely to get bitten by a dog and Justin just shared a training method that has the potential to harm a child – whether Allie herself, a friend or some child who was watching it that night. Not good.

Maybe it’s the fault of the producer who is looking to make an interesting show that has a bit of drama, or maybe it was the editing that things went wrong or maybe Justin just wasn’t thinking about the repercussions in that particular situation. Who knows? But, what I do know is that when it involves dogs and kids one must be cautious and one must always keep in mind to “do no harm”.

I will be watching Dogs in the City on Wednesday night, but it will be with a much more critical eye than before. My hope is that a guy like Justin, who does so much good for animals, will continue to help owners and their pets while doing no harm. That is my hope. I hope he, and the show, can deliver

Will you watch?

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