Victoria Stilwell email exchange with K9-1

Mass email sent to all her “professional” trainers:

From Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training, LLC:

Hello guys! There’s been a lot of heated discussion swirling around the internet about the inclusion of trainers from a facility that has been known to employ compulsion methods historically, and we thought it was appropriate to set the record straight to VSPDT members. It’s Me or the Dog did include two trainers from a facility that in retrospect were less than ideal, however the only option available at the time to serve the needs of the show.

Keep in mind this letter is after Victoria praised me and Earl for “saving her ass, she doesn’t know what she would have done”, asking us to help with another episode, AND asking if she could refer to me as a VSPDT trainer, AND she wouldn’t even charge me for the membership! (I obviously declined)

After more backlash, instead of telling the obvious truth that if this job needed only “positive reinforcement” she could have done it herself or easily called  one of the hundreds of “positive only trainers” in New York, she instead requests that this letter to a follower be posted on all public internet forums:

Dear XXXXX,

Thanks for your message (we did not receive any email from you other than the one below). We’re sorry that the recent episode of It’s Me or the Dog which included trainers from K9-1 upset you so much. As you know, Victoria is dedicated to promoting force-free, positive reinforcement methods through all of her various media platforms, the most visible of which is It’s Me or the Dog. As I’m sure you can also imagine, she has quite a tall task every week in managing the content of what goes into the show, making sure the training methods she discusses and displays are portrayed accurately in the final version, and actually doing the training work with the dogs and families.

Obviously the majority of dog trainers working in the field today are not televised and only have the last of those three concerns to deal with on a daily basis, and while Victoria feels blessed to be able to have such a unique platform from which to help move the needle in a positive direction in the debate over training methods, she also realizes and accepts the fact that by putting her work on such public display she opens herself to criticism from all corners. We appreciate your feedback and value your input, but at the same time we do not agree that the airing of the episodes in question resulted in the level of tragic consequences that you detail below. Very, very few of the viewers of the show will know the background of who the various 3rd parties are that Victoria works with on the show, and even fewer will go out of their way to investigate them to the point where they’ll become confused by the message of the show. In fact, a closer watching of the actual episodes will reveal that despite whatever methods the trainers in question may promote privately, all of the methods and tools used on the shows only serve to support Victoria’s vocal promotion of positive reinforcement methods. So while the inclusion of the trainers may be questioned, the integrity of the message delivered by the shows including those trainers cannot.

Victoria is proud to be a part of the growing movement of positive reinforcement trainers in the world and in the U.S., and we feel confident that the overwhelming majority of the impact she and her show have had and continue to have on the average dog-owning public are true to her ideals and accurately reflect her passion for advocating force-free methods at the expense of compulsion training. She has filmed over 100 episodes of the show which is aired in over 50 countries, and though she is the first to admit that no trainer (including herself) is free from having made mistakes, we don’t feel it’s a fair statement to suggest that she or her show have ‘undermined’ all positive trainers. More than most, Victoria is acutely aware on a daily basis of the uphill battle faced by those trainers who practice force-free, science-based methods, especially since she is in the position of fighting that uphill battle on a very public scale.

As for the use of the trainers from K9-1, there are several factors that went into their inclusion on the show, the most visible of which were unavoidable. Victoria is sometimes only notified at the last moment who has been brought in as a 3rd party, as was the case here. While she knew they had historically promoted more compulsion methods, Victoria was under the impression that they were changing their overall philosophies, and she did not have the benefit of your apparently local knowledge about the full background of the trainers in question. Her primary focus while filming each episode is on managing the well-being and progress of the dog(s) while maintaining a safe, positive and productive working environment for the family, crew, children and dogs involved. The show is watched by millions of people, and apart from trainers like yourself who are well-versed in the debate over training methods and those who are local to wherever certain episodes are being shot, the vast majority of viewers will not take away anything other than responsible dog ownership and positive reinforcement techniques from the show. While it may be true that the trainers in question may now have relatively limited ‘bragging rights’, we feel it is irresponsible to suggest that Victoria herself is complicit in setting back the movement towards positive reinforcement methods. For the above mentioned reasons, we also feel it’s irresponsible to suggest that dog owners should no longer watch the show, as the message relayed by the show has been consistently positive (including the episodes including the trainers in question).

Again, we thank you for your passion and your interest in Victoria’s efforts to promote +R globally, and hope that this has helped to assuage any concerns you may have going forward. Please feel free to repost this email (only in its entirety) on any message boards/email lists you feel would benefit from hearing from Victoria directly.

Best wishes,
Victoria Stilwell Enterprises, LLC

After finding both of these emails floating around on industry forums I wrote Victoria an email:

Hi Victoria,

This is Mike D’Abruzzo from K9-1 Specialized Dog Training LLC. You worked with me and Earl last season in two of your episodes.

I would like to say that I had a great experience working with you and the production staff , but I have been troubled by your company advocating the spread over the internet with your endorsement of the following statements found here (and also other forums across the internet): http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=166134176780969&comments#!/notes/k9-partnership/k9-1-victoria-controversy/166134176780969

Obviously I find this very insulting and not what I would have expected after helping out with your show. I am very good at turning the other cheek when I am insulted but what is particularly bothersome is that I am primarily an internet based business and to have your company (with its large influence) suggest to spread information that I somehow an inferior trainer that should be avoided and was basically a mistake to have on the show can cause prejudice against my company and have a negative impact on my image in a way that is not warranted.

Just for the record:

I do not promote compulsion now or in the past (as the statement is suggesting) as a primary way to train. I have always from day one of my company’s existence promoted training with “knowledge, respect, and patience” You saw for yourself that I am well educated in the use of positive reinforcement and ALWAYS start all my clients in those techniques. The fact that I have also spent thousands of dollars and hours on college courses and formal schools to master ALSO using positive punishment and negative reinforcement does not somehow make me someone to be avoided or someone that is going to harm someone’s dog in some way (as is being suggested by some of your handpicked trainers on different forums). If anything it helps protect the dogs when owners are searching for that option – but I don’t force any dog owner in that direction.

Because I also work heavily with dangerous aggression cases – many that make Casper look like a walk in the park (ones that no one would be able to walk in the house of without protective equipment) and working aggression on command dogs for the public and government AND I am a dog lover I have spent my life mastering ways to use positive punishment and negative reinforcement that are as gentle as possible and TEACH those techniques to other trainers for FREE at my facility so that dogs do not have to be abused at the hands of trainers that are using World War 2 style training or watch Cesar or learn under another heavy handed trainer.

Me or any trainer that learns from me is NOT allowed to raise their voice, use intimidation, make a dog cry, or cause any type of distress in any way on a dog. Every tool that I use including Ecollars are not allowed to be used in a way that causes any more distress than the positive punishment/negative reinforcement tools your own trainers use – such as no pull harnesses. Even prong collars are not allowed to be used with anymore than gentle pulses from the fingers or wrist (never the arm or hard jerks). Ecollars corrections are generally used at such low levels that the owner can’t detect the level on their fingers! I have done the demo a hundred times in public and you can see for yourself.

I make my trainers work with me for at least a year before I will endorse them since it is not an easy thing to master – and they work VERY hard. I take it very seriously, and I am very honest to the public. I do not claim to be purely positive but claim to be very professional, educated, and HUMANE. I have a youtube channel and website that teaches from a non-biased point of view exactly what certain techniques are so that they may choose to use or not use those methods the right way, with the proper prerequisites, and without abuse. I am often slandered by APDT endorsed trainers that have no idea what I am doing and APDT never even responds to my complaints about them breaking their supposed policy on professionalism. Meanwhile many of their trainers never even formally attended a school and only passes a computer test with a measly 60% qualifying score. Of course this can make a hard working trainer bitter. They promote “friendly dog training” as “primarily positive reinforcement and rarely and as last resort anything involving correction” thereby making all their trainers assume that I am “less friendly” somehow and cause prejudice. Abuse or unfriendly is not the same thing as +P/-R.

My business has suffered in the past on a local level from an unethical CPDT trainer that publicly posted that I was going to torture and abuse dogs when I got involved with the local humane society that I was and am still helping for free just because I care. Some of my youtube videos demoing some of the more contoversial techniques on dogs,that this same trainer suggested should be euthanized, were made to show the public that I have nothing to hide and that certain techniques done under a true professional are not as scary as they seem and do not have to involve fear, pain, or abuse.

I had to spend a lot of time “proving myself” and taking away from my business because of that particular trainer on a local level and I hope you understand that I have a family and business and can not tolerate similar assumptions about me being projected on an international level.

I am writing you as a professional and friend so that you know my point of view so you understand why I am hoping you diffuse your statement running through cyberspace. I am not asking you to promote me, or agree with my training, but I am asking that your company is respectful and professional toward mine. I have been well established, and have had my own following, have been on TV before, radio, print etc. I have my own newsletter with several thousand fans BEFORE i was on the show. For me to be projected as an error that may have “bragging rights” for being on the show that you would have never endorsed yourself – was never the impression I got from you when we worked together.

If anything I would think I would be one of your best allies, because at least if there was a training situation that warranted the use of +P/-R you had someone who can at least show the humane way to do it. I spend on average 12 hours a day/6 days a week doing hands on training and making the world a better place for many dogs. I have been a full time student to dog training since 1993 and have been doing this as humanely as I could possibly find full time since 1998. I am an A+ BBB rated company and have never had a client complain about me or ever accuse me of not being a gentle trainer. They come to me because my reputation IS that of a very gentle trainer and NOT what your company statement is implying.

I really do not want to publicly write my version of my experience with IMOTD to defend my business and name and ultimately family. But, unfortuntly now that anyone googles “k9-1 and Victoria or It’s Me or the DoG” or anything similar I am primarily being dismissed as a mistake and if read between the lines an unfriendly dog trainer.

I am finding it hard to believe that you would do that to make a few extreme fans or trainers happy – and hoping/assuming it is the work of those that rep you.

I know you are busy, but would really appreciate if you can do something about this or talk.

Warmly,

Mike


Her response: 

Dear Mike,
Thanks for your email, and I’m so sorry that all of this controversy has exploded in the way that it has. I hope it will be a relatively short-lived issue, but I certainly understand why you would feel insulted and I also share your frustration with how the internet can sometimes create more problems than solutions. As you know all too well, those of us that put ourselves in the public domain open ourselves up to criticism from both rational well-meaning people with differing views and also from more extreme ‘fringe’ components of the dog world. Sometimes it is hard to discern which criticisms warrant a response and which don’t as we try to balance our ideals, businesses, and time it in such a way as to stay true to what it is we’ve set out to accomplish.

I really enjoyed working with you and Earl. The work you do with dog safety education in particular is fantastic. As you know from our discussions, I disagree completely with the use of aversive apparatus such as shock, prong or choke collars, and I have made it my primary focus to promote positive reinforcement methods at the exclusion of more aversive techniques. Even though I disagree with you on their use, just as you state that reward based training has its limitations, I respect you and your right to the opinion that you feel in certain cases the use of more aversive apparatus is warranted. I personally don’t feel that shock collars, prong collars, or any other approach which causes a dog to modify behavior primarily out of fear of negative consequences, is as effective or fair to the dog as the alternative. That said, I recognize that despite my efforts to promote positive reinforcement, there are still those who will choose to employ these tools, and insofar as that is guaranteed to take place despite what I say, I cannot think of anyone I would rather have them learn from, than you. The sad fact is, other high profile trainers have given such misinformation to the general public and used shock, prong and choke collars in such an irresponsible and abusive way, that now despite the education you are trying to give out, you and anyone like you who use these tools, albeit in the most humane way possible, are and will continue to be tarred with the same brush, however much you may try to dissociate yourselves with it. In a way you are in a difficult position, because though you are against compulsion as a rule, you use tools that marry well with compulsion techniques. And again despite all our best intentions there will be people out there, trainers as well as owners, who will not employ any method as diligently as we do. There is so much scope for abuse with the shock collar especially, that if I had my wish I would see them banned altogether, so that the majority of people who have no idea what they are doing and therefore use them irresponsibly, would not have the chance to use them at all.

I do not want to be the cause of any adverse effects on your business or your family’s well being. Unfortunately I am also in the sometimes unenviable position of having to bridge certain divides and make difficult decisions, especially given that my public profile, businesses and charitable work are all centered around the concept that positive reinforcement is the most effective, humane way to build relationships with our dogs. I have had a massive amount of backlash from all kinds of people as a result of having you on my show, but as I explained to all of my trainers and others, (which you did not see) you were going to be Caspar’s last chance and Eric was very lucky to have you and Earl take him on. I thought of Caspar’s well-being first and knew that the four days I had with him and his potential issues was not going to be enough to set him on the path of success, judging by who he was living with and the environment he was in. Caspar is not the most aggressive dog I have worked with either by a long shot, but in the home he was becoming very suspicious and getting to the point where he was showing worrying signs of instability. After everything, even though I was worried about filming with you, I was pleasantly surprised at how professional you were and what a valuable resource you would have been for Eric, if he taken you up on your offer.

I really liked working with you and respect you as a trainer, a man and a business owner. I regret any implication that may have resulted from the VSE statement that you and Earl are not good people with best intentions for dogs and their owners. While I cannot endorse trainers who use tools and methods contrary to those I have chosen to promote so passionately, I am certainly willing to attempt to more clearly define my overall opinion of you and your company. I am open to suggestions as to how to best accomplish that while remaining true to my core principles.

Again, I sincerely regret any ill effects on you and hope that we can do what is needed to reverse the negative attention you have been getting.

Best wishes,
Victoria


If you understood how different the person in the letter is to the person i worked with, helped, and trusted, it would be easy to understand how I found no use in responding.

It suddenly made sense to me why she would not care what was going on off-camera (or in private) as long as the viewers saw a fluffy ideological ending to each episode.  It was about the sponsors and the money, not about the truth or doing the right thing for people or dogs. Her whole personality is a lie, the whole show is a lie, and her whole brand is a lie.

She has been part of creating a divide that shouldn’t exist.  There is only the truth when it comes to training.

Ultimately the truth will catch up with her.  The truth is always inevitable.  Now she is doing things that will get people and dog’s hurt on a large scale. That is why I can’t keep quiet about this.