First Impressions / Reality Television

Divine Canine / It's Me or the Dog

Aired on: Animal Planet

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Hello, my name is Melissa Minners and I am an Animal Cops-aholic.  Every night, I turn to Animal Planet to get my daily fix of my favorite heroes rescuing the most adorable animals from the most horrifying conditions.  One night, while watching Animal Cops, I was treated to a preview of two new shows coming to Animal Planet – Divine Canine and It’s Me or the Dog.  Both shows deal with dogs that exhibit less than desirable behaviors.  We all know people with out of control pets.  I myself used to live with one.  When that person was gone, it was up to me to retrain the dog and set her on the right path.  Interested in seeing other people’s methods of dog training, I decided to watch both shows.

            Divine Canine premiered at 8:00pm EST on Monday, April 16, 2007.  The show features the dog training methods of The Monks of New Skete, members of a Christian monastery located in Upstate New York.  The Monks of New Skete, in addition to several other lucrative projects, have been breeding German Shepherds for over 35 years.  They also run a training course available to all types of breeds for a nominal fee.  It is this successful training course that the show Divine Canine is centered around. 

            In the premiere episode, a young Syracuse couple, Paul and Dania, are having trouble with one of their two dogs, Stella, a King Charles Spaniel.  Stella has been babied her entire dog life.  Dania regularly dresses Stella up in outfits and places her in a carriage when taking her out for her daily walk.  Stella refuses to walk on a leash.  She is so spoiled that Dania and Paul worry about her future in their family.  They are expecting a child in a few months and worry how Stella’s behavior will be affected in the months to come.  They seek out The Monks of New Skeet and their head trainer Brother Christopher for help.  Brother Christopher, a trainer with over 25 years of experience, first asks to observe Stella and her regular behavior.  He asks Dania to walk the dog, have it sit, etc.  Satisfied that she needs his assistance in training the dog, Brother Christopher agrees to take her on.  Stella must remain with Brother Christopher for four weeks with no contact with her owners.s.

            Viewers watch as Brother Christopher works his magic with Stella.  As we watch, a quote from a book published by The Monks of New Skete is flashed on the screen: “People sometimes cringe at the thought of training, as if its purpose were to quench a dog’s spirit.  Nonsense.” – I & Dog.  Brother Christopher explains that you must first establish who is in charge.  Once you do that, it is a matter of using vocal tones and body signals.  Higher vocal tones raise the dog’s enthusiasm.  Lower tones are for correction.  Throughout the show, other monks from the monastery explain their dog breeding operations, such as how they get their dogs used to human contact from a very young age.  Once the four-week training session is over, Stella’s humans are invited to observe Stella being put through her paces from a secret location.  Satisfied that Brother Christopher has been successful with their spoiled pooch, it is now time for Paul and Dania to undergo training.  It is not enough that Brother Christopher has taught the dog how to walk obediently, sit, heel, etc.  Stella’s owners must be able to continue this training process on their own so Stella’s former behavior does not return.

            It’s Me or the Dog premiered at 8:30pm EST on Monday, April 16, 2007.  The show features the training methods of Victoria Stilwell, a dog trainer with ten years of experience in both the United Kingdom and the United States, who firmly believes that there is no dog that can’t be trained.  Her first televised case involves two Labrador Retrievers, three-year-old Duke and one-year-old Jimmy.  Both dogs exhibit bad behavior: chewing various things, dragging their owners while on the leash, jealousy, jumping on people.  Whenever Jimmy gets excited, he urinates on the floor – inside the house and outside.  Duke and Jimmy’s owners are a family of four living in the United Kingdom. 

            It’s Me or the Dog is somewhat a Supernanny for dogs, following a very similar format without the “Nanny Cam”.  The first stage is to observe the family and their routine with the dogs.  This allows Stilwell to observe the areas in which the dogs need work and areas in which the owners need instruction.  In the second stage, Victoria Stilwell spends some alone time with the dogs.  She stresses that it is important to capture the dogs’ focus in order to show them who is in charge.  In the third stage, Stilwell gives the owners instruction in how to handle the dogs and what behaviors they have to change in order to get the dogs to behave properly.  She teaches the art of vocal correction, visual correction and rewarding good responses.  To instill the lesson in the minds of the family, Stilwell brings the owners to a local animal shelter for abandoned dogs, stressing that this is where their dogs could end up if they lose the training battle.  With help from Victoria Stillwell, the family eagerly sets about the task of retraining Duke and Jimmy and enjoys their success.

            Both Divine Canine and It’s Me or the Dog provide excellent tips for training animals.  The shows are fun to watch and educational.  Like on Supernanny, we get to watch animals and their humans transform from a dysfunctional mess into that of a happy family.  This one hour of Animal Planet is extremely entertaining.  The premiere episodes brushed up against some poor behaviors exhibited by spoiled animals, but I can’t wait to see some of the more extreme behaviors handled by Brother Christopher and Victoria Stillwell.  This hour of Animal Planet is a must watch for dog lovers everywhere!

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