Given the popularity of “reality TV” programs and the large number of pet owners in the world, it’s not really surprising that dog training reality shows exist. First there was the Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. Then came Victoria Stillwell’s It’s Me or the Dog, aka “Supernanny for dogs.” More recently, CBS began airing episodes of Dogs in the City with Justin Silver.
I’ve watched that show, but since I just have cats it was purely for entertainment purposes rather than learning about dog training or getting tips to solve a dog behavior problem. From that perspective, it’s amusing to watch; however, I’m aware that many dog owners and dog trainers have major issues with the methods and scenarios portrayed on the show, and I think they have valid concerns.
I do believe it’s possible for a dog owner to glean some helpful information from Dogs in the City or any other dog training reality show, and in that respect these shows could be helpful. Still, they might just as easily be detrimental…to the dog as well as their family.
The main concerns I have with owners taking tips from a dog training reality show are 1) unrealistic expectations, 2) the “one size fits all” misconception and 3) unsafe training techniques. I’ll cover each of those briefly.
Most people understand that reality shows are scripted just like every other TV program. Scenarios are meticulously planned, executed and edited until there is little, if any, resemblance to real life. No network would ever take the chance that “good TV” just magically happened while the cameras rolled, and dog training reality shows are no exception.
Nevertheless, some people mistakenly believe that a behavior problem presented on the show can actually be resolved as quickly and easily as they make it seem. People buy into the show’s concept that you can make a few minor adjustments and voila, your misbehaving dog becomes an angel and everyone lives happily ever after. Sadly, that’s not going to happen in real life, because good dog training takes patience, consistency, commitment, practice and time.
Yesterday I was awakened from a catnap by a loud sound. Naturally curious about this cacophony that had so rudely interrupted my peaceful slumber – I went in search of it. I found the Warden sitting at her computer, cackling loud enough to wake the dead. She was watching a YouTube video of a commercial for Cravendale Milk which posed the question, “What if cats had thumbs?” The commercial features a polydactyl feline named Bertram, a social media ‘celebricat’ famous for plotting world domination with the help of his Facebook and Twitter minions. The ad also features the voice of Rocky Horror Picture Show star Tim Curry, who asks “Why do cats stare when you’re pouring milk?
Cats with opposable thumbs are shown bouncing a ball, filing their nails, doing needlepoint and reading a book. “Imagine that. Cats with thumbs. And what if they got together? Gangs of cats with thumbs! Organized crime, with one thing on their mind,” says the voiceover. The cat gang opens the door and stares at the man eating his cereal. Terrified, he grabs his carton of milk to make a run for it.
Yeah, okay…it was really funny, but I still wasn’t amused that the Warden interrupted my beauty sleep. It did, however, make me think about all the things I’d do if I had thumbs. Top of the list, of course, would be to end the rationing of my FELIDAE cat food. Yep. I would get that bag of kibble down from the cupboard straight away. Feeding frenzy for all! The TidNips treats would flow freely, too. But I wouldn’t stop there. I love all food, and if I had thumbs I would raid the fridge and pantry every day. The Warden uses her microwave oven as a bread drawer, to stop me from carbo loading in the dark of night…but if I had thumbs, the bread buffet would be open 24/7.
If I had thumbs, no more ‘indoor life’ for me! Out I would go, as I pleased, to snoopervise the neighborhood and visit that cute ladycat down the block. If I had thumbs, I would watch Animal Planet on the Telly all day long. And in the middle of the night, I’d give the Warden a fright – I’d crank up the volume so she wakes up thinking there’s an introoder in the house. Hee hee! No, tis’ only me, watching Jackson Galaxy whip unruly felines into shape on My Cat From Hell.
Let’s face it. Today’s world is a noisy place for us and our pets. Unfortunately, the sensory input our pets experience on a day-to-day basis can be causing them stress. All of the noises, smells and sights we encounter are usually taken in stride by us, but can be a bit much for our furry friends.
A cat’s sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than ours, and a dog surpasses our sense of smell by 1,000 to 10,000 times, depending on the dog’s breed. When it comes to hearing, dogs can hear sounds at around 80 feet while our ears only hear effectively at 20 feet. Dogs can pinpoint direction in just six-hundredths of a second and calculate the distance of sounds much better than we can.
Dogs and cats hear more frequencies, with cats capable of hearing high frequency sounds dogs can’t hear. A cat’s hearing is so precise they can hear a mouse three feet away and knows where it’s at just by sound. Felines hear sounds about five times farther away than we can. In short, pets are more aware of all of the sounds around them and their nose also keeps them well informed. It’s no wonder they can hear you opening that bag of CANIDAE treats!
Too Much Noise
We don’t think about the everyday sounds we encounter. We’re so used to hearing them that we don’t notice how noisy the world is until we shut everything down for the night. If our pets had their way, they would ask us to tone it down a couple of notches. We tune out a lot of noise, but pets can’t do that.
Most homes have at least one TV on when someone is home. Radios, stereos, videos on the computer, video games and cellphone ringtones all produce noise pollution inside the home. The dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and microwave seem innocent enough to us, but it’s what we can’t hear that can be annoying to pets. To them, the lower the volume, the easier it is on their sensitive ears. Pets are listening to outside sounds as well. That’s a lot of noise for them to contend with. If your pet gets up and leaves the room, it could be because they need to find a quiet place where they can relax and unwind.
The second season of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell began a few weeks ago. Naturally, I’ve been watching. Even though I don’t have a “difficult” cat, I still like this show because it’s spreading some very important messages to pet owners – namely, that problem behaviors can be corrected, that there are reasons behind every cat’s demeanor and actions, and that even the meanest cat can become loving, happy, playful, friendly and well-adjusted. All it takes to turn a misbehaving cat into a model feline citizen are some very simple changes – but not from the cat, from the owner!
My Cat From Hell features Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, who shows desperate owners how to save their relationships with each other and their cat. Just by making a few changes in their own behavior and/or their living space, the cat owners can create harmony out of chaos, and keep the cat out of the shelter and in the family where it belongs. Jackson proves to the owners (and the viewers) that these cats are not mean, they’re just misunderstood.
To the casual observer, the name of this show implies that devilish behavior problems are the fault of a “hellish cat.” If you watch the show, however, you quickly learn that Jackson believes most bad behaviors stem from things the owners are either doing, or not doing. I wholeheartedly agree. It is true there are instances where the cat’s behavior is not a direct correlation to the owner’s behavior and/or the living environment, but this is usually a reaction to trauma or a negative association from its past. No cat is “bad to the bone” or incapable of rehabilitation. All it takes is a little knowledge and insight.
All creatures have needs, and cats are no exception. If their needs aren’t being met, they’ll let you know one way or another. It’s foolish to think you can just bring a cat into any living environment without considering what it needs to be happy, and expect life to be hunky dory. Responsible pet owners understand that the onus falls on them to provide the right living space and stimuli in order to have a happy cat. That may mean providing vertical spaces for a cat that likes to be up high, providing enough exercise and play sessions for a high-energy breed, giving a timid cat a safe place to retreat from the pesky family dog, or teaching the cat how to redirect its hunting instinct from your ankle to an interactive toy that mimics a bird. Each cat is different, and thus, each solution to problem behavior will be, too.
Have you ever looked at your dog and thought he was watching television? Better yet, have you had music playing and thought for sure that he was listening intently while his tail wagged in time to the beat? Well, you may not be far off base with that thought, but Rover is probably paying attention to the visual and auditory stimulation in a way that is different than the way a human watches TV and listens to music.
Dogs have eyesight that is different from that of humans, so when your dog appears to be watching television, he isn’t exactly seeing the action and the story unfold, but he is seeing the flickering light and hearing the sounds. You’ve probably seen your dog get excited when a dog barks on the television, or whine when there is a high pitched sound.
Many responsible pet owners who have to leave their dog home alone will leave a television on to provide the dog with “entertainment.” Whether the dog is entertained or not, the television provides the lights and sounds that he is used to when his owners are at home. This may keep the dog from becoming anxious or acting out when he is left alone for a few hours.
In the wintertime, my cats stay indoors 24/7. I prefer it that way; it’s safer for them and less costly for me. They don’t engage in cat fights that require surgery, or get foxtail stickers stuck up their nose (trust me, removing one of those nasty quill-like stickers from a cat’s nose is a feat best left to the professionals). When it’s cold outside and the ground is covered with snow, my cats curl up on their faux-fur pad by the heater, and snooze the day away. Although they don’t seem to mind doing nothing all day, I worry about them being bored.
While browsing a pet mail-order catalog one day, I came across PetSitter DVDs – videos designed to stimulate and entertain pets while the humans are away from home. They had both Cat Sitter DVDs and Dog Sitter DVDs, each with a variety of sights and scenes that play in a continuous loop for all-day amusement. I was intrigued, but also skeptical that my cats would be mesmerized by the television no matter what it was playing. They’d never shown much interest in the TV, nor had they ever looked at my computer screen when I tried to get them to watch lolcats videos.
So I did what I always do when I want more information about something – I googled it, and then went to Amazon.com to read the reviews. It turns out there are a lot more DVDs for cats and dogs than just the four volumes I saw in the pet catalog. Hmmm. Perhaps I was on to a good thing, i.e., something that could perk up those Rip Van Winkle-like cat forms I occasionally have to poke to make sure they’re still breathing? With so many pet-sitter DVDs available, I thought they must surely provide a modicum of entertainment for cats and dogs. Then too, all those glowing five-star reviews couldn’t be wrong, could they?
I wanted to order a few books anyway, so I decided to throw in one of these DVDs for my cats. They were reasonably priced (from $9.95 to $19.95) and I’d get free shipping if my order was over $25. I settled on DVD For Cats: While You Are Gone for $12.49. My cats could take a virtual walk in the woods chasing butterflies, birds, ducks, squirrels, mice, fish, kittens and more. Then they could engage in fun games with dancing strings and ribbons. In addition to the enticing imagery, the video included soothing nature sounds and peaceful music.
DVD For Cats: While You Are Gone had 18 five star reviews, a smattering of three and four star reviews, and three reviews each with one and two stars. A common denominator for the bad reviews was that the cats were “bored” and that the video looked homemade. But plenty of people claimed their felines were totally engrossed by this Cat Sitter DVD and highly recommended it. The only real way to know what would happen at my house was to try it.
When the package arrived I raced home, eager to show the kitties their special surprise. I roused their furry comatose forms and plopped them by the TV. As the Cat DVD began to play, they briefly glanced up at the television and promptly fell back to sleep. I turned the sound up and jostled them a bit to try to get them more awake and interested in all the fun they were missing on the screen. Alas, my cats were completely indifferent.
I tried again several times over the space of a month, with near identical results. My cats were just not interested in virtual fluttering butterflies and scampering creatures. In fact, I actually enjoyed this Pet Sitter DVD more than they did! Perhaps my cats are just über-intelligent creatures who know they wouldn’t be able to catch those birds no matter how hard they tried. More likely, they just prefer their sleep-induced dreams, where they can be “master hunter of their domain” for hours on end.
If you want to see whether your cat or dog would be entertained by one of these Pet Sitter DVDs, you might check with your local library first. Many large municipal libraries carry a good selection of DVDs you can borrow for free. If they don’t have them, they can often get them for you through their inter-library loan system. Or, just order one online and give it to your pet for Christmas. Who knows – they might actually love it!
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.