The slot I saw from Friday’s show (16 September) was certainly alarming. From what I can make out, Shelley has no formal dog-training qualifications. He said on the show that he agrees with all approaches to dog training and that Cesar Millan is ‘an idol’ of his. Now, Millan can be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ issue in the World of Dog, although I don’t think it's necessarily as clear cut as all that. On Friday's show, Shelley said that he embraces a range of approaches to dog training, including those of Millan. But what he did told me something quite different.
Unfortunately, what I saw on The One Show was a clumsy adaptation of Millan’s methods by somebody who didn’t seem to have thought it through – exactly the sort of thing that viewers should be warned against. There was a lot of physical contact, mainly between Shelley’s foot and the mouth of Roxy, a Jack Russell Terrier who was aggressively guarding her food. And in the bedroom scene (where Roxy wasn't allowing anyone to approach her owner's bed) there was a lot of shouting at Roxy when it seemed to me that a firm, calm command might have done the trick. From what I saw, the dog seemed quite biddable in terms of going to its bed, waiting and staying when it was told to. I’m not a qualified dog trainer, but I can’t help wondering whether these and other commands could have been used to change the routine at feeding time and address Roxy’s guarding behaviour in a positive way. Was there really a reason to suggest to the TV audience that physical confrontation and intimidation was the best way to address this dog’s behaviour issues?
An issue of responsibility
What I find most alarming is the issue of responsibility which seems to have been cast aside in favour of a young, enthusiastic lad who, looks-wise, the TV audience can warm to. Let’s start with the title of the slot, ‘Fix my dog’. This suggests that the dog’s unwanted behaviour is not really anything to do with its owners, and is something that can be quickly put right by someone else. I know that from time to time any of us might find ourselves struggling with the behaviour of our dogs, and I have a great respect for expert dog trainers who work with dog-owners to help them resolve behavioural issues. Those trainers don’t 'fix' your dog for you; they work with you to help you to understand why your dog is behaving the way it is and what you need to do to improve your relationship and change that behaviour.
Moving past the title, if you’re going to produce an ‘expert’ on a TV show then surely it’s important to make sure that:
· They are actually an expert, with the knowledge, experience and training that status suggests
· The audience is warned not to try these methods themselves without consulting an expert like the one they’ve seen.
Neither of these were part of the One Show dog training experience. Shelley’s expertise seems to lie in having been 'good' with dogs in the past and having watched The Dog Whisperer. Whether through attitude or editing, he seemed simply to jump in and ‘correct’ Roxy’s behaviour - or rather to subdue it without investigating its causes. And when he was shoving his foot into the terrier’s mouth as she tried to guard her food, there was no warning to viewers not to try this at home.
If the BBC is intent on including this type of slot on The One Show, it really needs to consult with experienced professionals and establish best practice. I shudder at the thought of dog-owners across the country who, faced with a similar behavioural issue to Roxy's, start intimidating their dogs in this way, possibly encouraging fear reactions and other problems that can be just as harmful as any perceived 'dominance aggression'.
Want to know more? The Cold Wet Nose blog by Dogs Today editor Beverley Cuddy includes a great discussion of Shelley’s training methods along with the BBC’s response to the complaints they’ve received.