Victoria Stilwell will not forget this serious bite.
Will she learn from it? If she does, will that be ironic?
Victoria Stilwell has been seriously bitten by a Malinois, and I hope she recovers soon.
Who is Victoria Stilwell? She's a British dog walker who managed to convince the folks at Animal Planet that she was a "famous dog trainer" in the U.K., even as she told folks in the U.K. that she was a big deal in the U.S.
The reality here is actually more interesting than the lie.
It seems following the success of the Dog Whisperer television show, Animal Planet was desperate to come up with its own competitor. Victoria Stilwell showed up and put herself out to them as someone who could fill the bill, even though she herself had little on-the-ground experience. Her actual claim to fame was not that she was an actual dog trainer, but that she walked 20 dogs a day (10 in the morning, and 10 in the afternoon!) in New York City -- the kind of experience that might get you hired as a part-time employee at PetSmart if you are lucky.
Stilwell eventually took a correspondence school dog training course, but she did not even own a dog herself, much less have any real world experience, when she showed up on Animal Planet's door.
What Ms. Stilwell lacked in knowledge, training, or experience, however, she made up for in intuitive marketing skills. Recognizing that Americans loved British accents, she coupled that accidental gift with a wardrobe of tight black jackets and pants. When paired with high heels and a sports car, she appeared to American audiences to be a kind of racy doggie dominatrix, albeit more feather than leather.
From the beginning, Stilwell's dog training advice has been weak, bordering on disaster. She screened canine clients, looking for relatively simple cases where commonsense advice could be paired with carefully edited video in order to make herself look at least marginally competent. She never did followups.
Things went well for a while, but then her screening failed, and she accidentally got a tough dog that she could not train. Did she suggest another trainer, or try another method? She did not. Instead, she said the dog needed to be put down. After all, if she could not train the dog, no one could!
When folks began to note that Victoria Stilwell was no Barbara Woodhouse or Cesar Millan, she went ballistic, demonizing other trainers as "coercive" and "outdated" while presenting her own methods as new, science-based, and positive.
She, literally, screamed that she was the world's best dog trainer, and never mind if she had just arrived on the scene, and still did not own a dog.
So what has happened now?
It seems Ms. Stilwell has gotten herself into trouble while putting together a show on police dogs.
The show has yet to premier, so I'm not sure if the police were supposed to show her how to train dogs, or the other way around.
But would it really matter either way?
This was reality TV, to be made on the cheap with just one camera. However it went in the field, the video tape would be cut to make her look brilliant and brave, and the best anyone else could hope for was to look marginally competent.
Video tape of dogs and chases, bites and darkness, paired with emotional pathos and a shaky handheld camera would pass for entertainment.
How could the show not make a profit? It couldn't!
And then Victoria Stilwell, got seriously bitten.
She posted the following on Facebook yesterday:
The post is all self-pity and moaning misery due to the error of others.
But, of course, other people were there, and they tell a different story.
It seems Ms. Stilwell was more interested in getting a dramatic shot of a dog loading into a helicopter than she was in being safe. Or at least that's what's being said by others who were there.
Of course, bad things happen to good people and to good dogs all the time.
Such is life.
To be clear, I am not happy Victoria Stilwell got seriously bitten. I hope she heals up well and without complications.
This is, apparently, her first real dog bite, and no doubt a light bulb has gone off in her head: This is what serious prey drive actually looks like.
These are the kinds of dogs that many real dog trainers work with every day -- not the neurotic Beagles, pampered Papillons, and adolescent Great Danes Ms. Stilwell lures into sit-stays with a piece of kibble.
For a Malinois, biting is self-rewarding behavior and food is a great deal less rewarding than a good grip on a struggling subject.
Though I take no joy in Victoria Stilwell's injuries, I am also reminded that hundreds of thousands of dogs have been needlessly sent to their death by the cult of click-and-treat dog trainers that she has crowned herself to lead.
Has she ever given a nod to the fact that balanced trainers, using methods she does not employ, save thousands of these canine lives every day? She does not.
Victoria Stilwell will survive her bite.
While she is recuperating, perhaps Ms. Stilwell will give some thought to the fact that the TV show she was putting together sought to glamorize police dogs.
Featured at its core is the Gwinnett County, Georgia Sheriff's Department canine unit. They are not being featured because they are the world's best canine unit, but because they are convenient to Ms. Stilwell's Atlanta home, and never mind the fact that the sheriff's office is under a federal investigation for excessive use of force and civil liberties violations.
Ms. Stilwell is a foreigner to our shores, so perhaps she should be forgiven for not being familiar with America's dogs of oppression, and their particularly nasty history in states like Georgia.
As I have noted in the past, a lot of police dogs are so poorly trained and managed that they are a jaw-dropping liability to most departments.
The whole idea of police dogs is from another era when we didn't have night vision, helicopters, or bean bag rounds.
Police dogs are waaay over sold and waaay under-trained. That is true all over. Throwing Victoria Stilwell into that mix, on both ends, is liking giving a Glock to a chimp.
So, while Ms. Stilwell recovers, I hope she wonders how many Americans are going to get seriously bitten by police dogs when some some fool wanna-be dog trainer ends up believing a cookie is going to be a bigger reward for a Malinois than a bite and a take down?
While she is recuperating, I hope she will wonder how many dogs will be needlessly killed at the pound because some fool watching her TV show has been lead to think that "death before discomfort" is a better trade-off than admitting that all the dog training tools need to be left on the table for competent professionals to use?
Finally, while she is at home recuperating, I hope she will come to terms with the fact that she will never forget the day that she was seriously bitten.
For the next few months, she will play the scenario over and over, in her head.
She will want to learn from this experience what not to do.
She will want to monumentalize how it happened, and what she must do to make sure it never happens again.
Yep, that's what adverse consequences do: they teach.
Will Victoria Stilwell, learn that lesson?
Time will tell.