Acclaimed TV dog trainer to highlight Aspen benefit

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Contributed photoBritish dog trainer Victoria Stilwell will be in Aspen Saturday with her Animal Planet show, "It's Me or the Dog," to help raise funds for the Aspen Animal Shelter.

ASPEN – Victoria Stilwell, star of the Animal Planet show “It’s Me or the Dog,” will be in the area Saturday to help raise money for Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter.

There will be a VIP luncheon featuring Stilwell and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the shelter. At 5:30 p.m., Stilwell will provide a hands-on presentation on positive dog training at the shelter, with Pacelle as special guest. On Saturday night, there will be a dinner with recording artist and Aspen resident John Oates.

For details and ticket prices, contact Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter at 927-1771, or email

In a brief interview Thursday, Stilwell said this will be her first trip to Aspen. She plans to touch upon many of the topics she covers in her show, which emphasizes positive training methods relating to shelter dogs as well as canines raised from newborns.

“There are obviously challenges,” she said. “A lot of shelter dogs, you don’t know their past history. You’re picking out a dog with unknown baggage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean to say that every dog is compromised in some way behaviorally.”

Most shelter dogs adjust very well to their new homes and become great family pets, Stilwell said. Typically, shelter dogs have to overcome abandonment issues and the stress of being in a shelter, she said.

“However lovely the shelter is, it’s still stressful, and then having to transition into a new home [is usually difficult],” Stilwell said. “I teach people how to understand those challenges and how to help their dogs if any behavioral problems or other challenges come their way.”

Stilwell, who is British, originally trained to be an actress. To supplement her income in the early 1990s, her sister recommended that she start a dog-walking agency. From that, she reportedly recognized a need for more qualified professionals to assist her clients with the training process. She learned advanced training methods and later moved with her husband to the United States, where she established dog-training companies along the East Coast.

Stilwell emphasizes positive reinforcement over punitive methods.

“Part of my day in Aspen will be spent helping people and answering their questions,” she said. “My whole focus is to enable people to live in harmony with their pets and for their pets to have fulfilling lives with their people.”

Stilwell said Great Britain generally is more advanced than the United States in terms of modern dog training. For instance, the swat on the nose with the rolled-up newspaper is just about history there.

“They’ve embraced the positive-reinforcement methods much more because they see that it works, that it’s much more humane, for any kind of behavioral problem with any kind of dog. I think that that has spread quicker in Britain, while here in the States there is still an emphasis on more punitive-based training,” Stilwell said.

And that’s what makes her TV show so necessary, she said. “There is a much more effective and humane way to train your dog. Both countries are very passionate about their animals – that’s the similarity.”

She has created the Victoria Stilwell Foundation, which provides financial support and expertise to animal-rescue shelters and other organizations that assist canines. Her 6-year-old television show, in which she works with extremely unruly dogs, airs in more than 40 counties.