It's Me or the Dog's Victoria Stilwell on Why Breed-Specific Legislation Is Bad

victoria stillwell .jpg
For many of us, our dogs are like our kids. We love them, we care for them, and they can torture us with the same kind of behavior issues: barking, chewing, aggression. It's like the canine version of crying, drawing on the walls and temper tantrums.

Luckily, you can teach an old dog, young dog, or in-between dog new tricks, as proven by Animal Planet's Victoria Stilwell, host of It's Me or the Dog.

Stilwell is known for her positive, reward-based pooch training, and she recently released a new book, Train Your Dog Positively. She'll also be passing through Sunny Isles on Friday, April 26, hosting a Dog Bite Prevention & Awareness Conference. We caught up with Stilwell and chatted about breed-specific legislation (BSL), how relationships are affected by pets, and dogs as eternal optimists.

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What's the deal with your your new book, Train Your Dog Positively?
Victoria Stilwell: It's my third book and it's the one I think I'm the most excited about because it really is a sort of amazing sort of exploration into the dog's mind. I wanted people to have sort of an easy access or easy read into really understanding their dogs and to really understand what made their dogs tick. I think that's kind of a major issue, that dog owners don't know how to really understand their dogs and there's so much confusion and so much inconsistency that it causes issues and miscommunication and that causes behavior issues. This kind of offers a great insight in the dog's mind, it helps people understand the dog's perception of the world and gives really great solutions to behavior issues, but also helps people teach their dogs and helps foster the relationship. So that's why I wrote the book and also obviously concludes on the fact that you don't have to use force and punish to get your dog to learn.

You talk so much about positivity. Do you think dogs are optimists or pessimists?
I think they're optimists, absolutely, I really do. Dogs just want to please, they want to do well, they want to have fun, they want to play, they want to be with you. The other style dog training is based so much on punishing the dog and so much on forcing the dog to do things which totally destroys the relationship and breaks the bond. The modern day dog training methods of positive reinforcement are so beautiful. In Britain and the U.S. we really need to change the way that people are teaching their dogs and it's happening. Change is happening.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
Yes you can. The first part of the book is talking about the huge debate. There's a battle raging between people who teach using positive reinforcement and those who teach using force methods, hitting, jerking, kicking and all of those physical punishments which are so counterproductive. So there is a big battle going on between the two camps and the book talks about why positive training is better and why it's more effective and why it's safer and it's backed up with scientific research so it really is the future of dog training.

Miami still has breed-specific legislation (BSL), like the pit bull ban. What do you say to that?
Well, part of the reason why we do our bite prevention conferences is that we want to give out the real information to people. I want to tell people, don't think that you are safe because there's a breed ban. It lulls people into a false sense of security. Just because one dog is a golden retriever and another is a pit bull doesn't mean one is dangerous. I work with all kinds of breeds and there are great dogs of all breeds and there are some compromised dogs too.

BSL does not address the reason behind it and it does not lessen the number of dog bites out there. I'm in Britain right now and they've had BSL for 23 years. The last statistics show an incidence of people going to the ER for dog bites have increased by 50%. BSL does not work. What we have to do is concentrate on the other end of the leash. I do agree there are reckless, irresponsible people who shouldn't be owning dogs at all. Unfortunately these are the kind of people that get a big, powerful, large dog and don't socialize it, they use it for protection and the dog hurts someone and every pit bull now is a bad dog and that's so sad, it's a tragedy.

I do bite investigations with Jim Crosby who will be speaking at bite prevention conference. I deal with behavior and I deal with all kinds of breeds of dogs involved in fatalities and they're all across the board. Because a Weimeraner killed a child in a tragic accident, that means we're all going to ban Weineramers? Now it gets crazy, I don't agree with it. I do agree with responsible ownership though. There has to be some kind of law that protects people from people that own dangerous [animals]. It can happen with dogs of all kinds of breeds, we need to have rights for victims and protect our children and that needs to be done. That's a lot of what the bite conference is about, as well as teaching people about how to be safe around dogs, how to prevent bites, what to do if a dog does bite, how to recognize aggression, why dogs are aggressive. I really think knowledge is real empowerment. When you know it, you empower yourself.

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Oh dear. First of all, there is a world of difference between a dog BITE and a dog MAUL. Since Pit Bulls and Pit types and x-breeds were banned in the UK, we may WELL have had an increase in dog bites. The UK has been slow to catch on to a NEW and dangerous problem with dogs; namely THE IRISH STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER. The RSPCA warned long ago, that these dogs would be used to plug the gap created by the ban on Pit Bulls, and they were right. IRISH STAFFORDS ARE PIT BULLS. The foolish British dog-buying public have not understood that the dog they bought or adopted IS A PIT BULL, as they acquired it as a mere 'Stafford'. Until the British Government outlaws IRISH STAFFORDS, attacks will continue. Irish Staffords are the dog of choice for the low-lifes in our country; weapon dogs. Our dogs homes are FULL of them; it is a right royal mess. The TRUE English/British Stafford, a smallish and merry little dog, is now seldom seen. The huge and hot-blooded creatures being passed off as Staffords, ARE PIT BULLS. I cannot understand ANY so-called dog-trainer or enthusiast, citing other breeds of dogs as being as dangerous and likely to maim or kill you, as the Bull family. There have been ELEVEN CHILDREN KILLED IN THE U.S.A SO FAR THIS YEAR, all by Pit Bulls. There have been 18 deaths so far. ONE death, and one only, by another breed of dog; a GSD. Trainers MUST understand the genetics and the history of olde worlde fighting Bull dogges; to avoid the issue or deflect from it, COSTS LIVES. They are known for sudden violence, and they do not need a catalyst. They are NOT suitable pets for people who refuse to acknowledge or understand their history and their genetics. They can and they DO maul and kill children. MORE THAN ANY OTHER DOG BREED; MORE THAN ALL THE OTHER BREEDS PUT TOGETHER. This is not a case of 'teaching old dogs new tricks', this is about understanding that love, training, socialisation, the reading of books etc CANNOT outwit, outsmart, outdo GENETICS. To promote the idea that training and love can suppress genetics, 200+ YEARS of them, is arrogant, irresponsible and dishonest. This is NOT a case of looking at one Weimaraner kill and mumbling about 'how unfair if we ban all Weimaraners'; it is about looking at MULTIPLE KILLS from Pit Bulls and starting to see, clear headed and honestly, that this is a BREED SPECIFIC PROBLEM. I urge the lady to wake up and stop trying to sell her books or anything else by jumping on the anti-BSL wagon - she must not turn away from the dead and the maimed. Also to be remembered are the hundreds of  'normal' family pet cats and dogs, livestock and wildlife that are killed and horribly maimed by these olde worlde fighting Bull Dogges. Wake up, lady. Honesty is better than obfuscation and clutching at straws.

anmlpepl 3 Like

It is false and misleading to claim that Britain has had breed-specific legislation to curb pit bull proliferation for 23 years,  because the Dangerous Dogs Act exempted Staffordshires.  Since all Staffordshires are pit bulls,  the Dangerous Dogs Act in effect prohibited only the use of the words "pit bull" to describe pit bulls.  Meanwhile,  here in the U.S.,  we have gone from having 611,000 reported bites in 1960, including one fatality, when we had about 30 million dogs, most of whom roamed free, with a sterilization rate of only 1%, to having about 4.8 million reported bites today, with 38 bite fatalities last year. We now have about 70 million dogs, almost none of whom are allowed to roam free, with a 70%-plus sterilization rate among all breed categories except pit bulls. Why is more confinement and more sterilization coinciding with more bites & more fatalities? Simple: pit bulls have risen from under 1% of the U.S. dog population in 1960 to about 5% today, and the rest of the molosser breed category has risen proportionately.  Of the 4,098 dogs involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks on humans occurring in the past 30.5 years, 2,540 (62%) were pit bulls; 530 were Rottweilers; 3,295 were of related molosser breeds, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, Cane Corsos, mastiffs, boxers, and their mixes. Of the 507 human fatalities, 256 were killed by pit bulls; 84 were killed by Rottweilers; 378 (69%) were killed by molosser breeds. Of the 2,264 people who were disfigured, 1,455 (61%) were disfigured by pit bulls; 304 were disfigured by Rottweilers; 1,861 (82%) were disfigured by molosser breeds. Pit bulls, incidentally, inflict about 10 times as many fatal and disfiguring injuries on other pets and livestock as on humans, a pattern unique to the pit bull class. Surveys of dogs offered for sale or adoption indicate that pit bulls are less than 5% of the U.S. dog population; molosser breeds, all combined, are 9%. Just 81 large retrievers, by comparison, including all Labs, goldens, and mixes exclusive of pit mixes, have been involved in fatal or disfiguring attacks over these same 30.5 years, resulting in 8 fatalities and 26 disfigurements. Large retrievers are 7.4% of the U.S. dog population.

crvndesires 2 Like

what we need is a reverse class action lawsuit. we need the grieving parents of beau rutledge to sue every last internet pit bull advocacy group promoting the nanny dog lie. they need to be regulated by the FDA and the FCC. shut them down.

baker1017 3 Like

How can We keep Our Children safe ? I think all parents have spent time baby proofing. The latches on the cabinets , swimming pool security, buying the best car seat and learning how to properly secure it. The list goes on and should include dog danger. When You choose a play pen would You choose the one that has the highest death rate of all ? If You choose to have dogs around Your Children be aware of breed danger . When visiting be aware of breed danger. When Children are playing be aware of the neighbors dogs and breed danger. Support regulation that helps You keep Your Children safe.

baker1017 3 Like

When pit bulls maul humans, the damage they do is horrific. Yet, people just keep mouthing the platitude of “no bad dogs, only bad owners.” Platitudes are not solving the problem.

Calling the debate outdated,, a public education website based in Austin, Texas, which tracks dog bite statistics, says the idea that “it’s the owner, not the breed, has caused the pit bull problem to grow into a 30-year-old problem. Designed to protect pit bull breeders and owners, the slogan ignores the genetic history of the breed and blames these horrific maulings — inflicted by the pit bull’s genetic ‘hold and shake’ bite style — on environmental factors. While environment plays a role in a pit bull’s behaviour, it is genetics that leaves pit bull victims with permanent and disfiguring injuries.”

baker1017 3 Like

While anti BSL, pro pit advocates celebrate what they consider victories. We mourn another death . Thus far this year there have been 11 fatal dog attacks in the U.S. In every one of these deaths only one breed (type) of dog has been the killer .The pit bull has been the only type of dog to take human life so far this year. Please Pray for the families and loved ones of the following .(Beau Rutledge, 2 years old)(Jordyn Arndt 4 years old )( Claudia Gallardo, 38 years old ) (Tyler Jett, 7 years old ) (Monica Renee Laminack, 21 months old) (Daxton Borchardt, 14 months old ) ( Ryan Maxwell, 7 years old ) (Isaiah Aguilar, 2 years old ) ( Esile Grace, 91 years old ) (Christian Gormanous, 4 years old ) (Betty Todd, 65 years old ) What kind of people find celebration while lives are lost. At this rate within the next 10 to 20 days We will be adding another innocent victim to this list. Please join Us to bring regulation that will reduce the mauling and killing.

crvndesires 3 Like

reckless, irresponsible people and i might add JUDGEMENT PROOF people, tend to gravitate towards dangerous dogs.

crvndesires 3 Like

"Because a Weimeraner killed a child in a tragic accident, that means we're all going to ban Weineramers?"

IF A weimeraner killed A child it would be A tragic accident.

ELEVEN mutant gripping dogs have killed ELEVEN people this year, TWELVE if you count the man who was hit by a car running away from a mutant gripping dog.


@crvndesires A Weimeraner did kill a child- she was referencing an actual event.  You just don't hear about other breeds- the media only reports on bully breeds because of the sensationalism surrounding them.  Often times, they'll even misidentify a breed to call it a pit bull because those stories get more attention.  And when a golden retriever attacks someone, it doesn't say "Golden Retriever Attack."  It says "Dog Attack."

macawluver topcommenter 4 Like  Here's the company you are keeping, Victoria. And he says just the opposite of what you say about pit bulls. I suggest you vet your friends better. 

Jim Crosby, the director of Bay County Animal Control in Florida, has resigned following an investigation that determined he had "condoned" the actions of employee Ivan Rogers, who, on June 17 took home a pig in the facility's care nicknamed "Fluffy," butchered, cooked, and ate it.

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