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Victory, Victoria.

Come meet Victoria in Orlando's Lake Eola Park, February 8 during the 20th Annual Paws in the Park for the SPCA of Central Florida. Photograph by Anna Cooke for The New Barker.
Come meet Victoria in Orlando’s Lake Eola Park, February 8 during the 20th Annual Paws in the Park for the SPCA of Central Florida. Photograph by Anna Cooke for The New Barker.

The variety of dog training options available to humans is about as vast as the abundance of tea varietals. And just like tea, the different training methodologies range from subtle to strong with varying results. A polarizing subject, each training method has its detractors and supporters.

Victoria Stilwell has been described as America’s no-nonsense trainer in press releases. An author and television personality best known as the star of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog, Victoria is, in fact one of the most approachable and forthcoming humans we have encountered in the dog business. She has always made herself available to speak with us, including last year, when she took time out of her busy schedule to meet with us in Orlando.

She is a petite woman with a large, endearing presence. Her megawatt smile engages those around her in easy conversation. As she is listening, she looks directly at the person talking to her, even though a dog is usually competing for her attention. When asked about various dog training methods, Victoria responded, “As a scientist friend of mine is fond of saying, ‘the great thing about scientific fact is that you are free to disagree with it, but you’ll be wrong.’ Well, the argument may be raging on, but the debate is over. The world’s top scientists and behaviorists as well as the most respected veterinary institutions are now warning the public against using compulsion training. They are encouraging dog owners and trainers to use positive reinforcement methods instead.”

Victoria and a colleague, retired police lieutenant Jim Crosby, are often brought in by police departments to help investigate severe maulings or human fatalities by a dog. “I help Jim physically evaluate dogs that have killed people as well as working through crime scene pictures or going to crime scenes to determine what happened. The work can be very distressing but it is needed in order to find out the truth of what happened and why. It also provides data that can be used to educate dog owners everywhere so these preventable tragedies never happen again.”

We put a lot of pressure on our dogs to be friendly and well-mannered with everyone they meet, in and out of the home, even if socializing makes them feel uncomfortable. “Although we have the freedom to choose who we want to greet and who to avoid, our dogs almost never have that luxury,” said Victoria. “Some people just do not understand how threatening and uncomfortable it is for some dogs when their personal space is invaded by a stranger. Of course, because we desire and expect our dogs to be adaptable and emotionally stable at all times (high expectations that even we humans can’t live up to), when dogs react negatively to ‘friendly’ human interaction, they are punished for antisocial behavior,” Victoria added.

Meet Victoria Stilwell on Saturday, February 8 in Orlando’s Lake Eola Park during the 20th Annual Paws in the Park. The event is a benefit for the SPCA of Central Florida and will include vendors, food, entertainment and the Disney Kids & Family Fun Zone. Dock Diving by Splash Dogs will also be featured.

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