Positively Success Story: Dr. Phillips

I love to hear success stories about how positive training has impacted the lives of people and their dogs. Check out this wonderful story I received about how positive training methods truly saved a life.

Dear Ms. Stilwell:


Allow me to explain.  For over 40 years I served as a psychologist, administrator and university professor in the field of developmental disabilities in children.  In 2009, I was abruptly forced to retire from working with children, parents and educators whom I loved as I developed emphysema.

For three years I struggled with feelings of helplessness, insecurity and most of all loneliness.  My wife is deceased and my children are adults.  Though we remain very close, they have lives to live.

In September 2012, my son suggested that we get a dog.  I had grown up with dogs and had several dogs when my children were young.  I was unsure if I wanted the responsibility of a dog at my age and given my health.  He kept insisting, so I finally caved in.  I believe that it was my despondence doing the talking.

We visited the local animal shelter and discovered a two-year old Rat Terrier named Max.  He was charming from the get go.  As a psychologist I can recognize a vibrant personality when I see one.  My son concurred.  We asked to spend time with Max and asked all the pertinent questions about his history.  The assistant told us that he had been surrendered by his previous owners because they had been unable to train him.

I looked at him and something told me that he was no different from the thousands of children with disabilities whom I have met during my lifetime.  Most of them are bright, gifted in other areas and simply approach life to the beat of a different drummer.  Unfortunately, many parents either spoil them until the child becomes a tyrant or they ignore their needs and the child never reaches his full potential.

We took Max home.  The attendant was right, but so was I.  Max was a disaster.  He had no manners.  However, he had personality.  He loved a challenge.  We noticed that he loved to play, enjoyed the company of humans and was eager to please.  Even our two cats, who are very selective about their friends, settled in with Max within a few days.

Since my son has a full-time job and my daughter lives out of state, it was up to me to spend the days with Max.  Little did I know that my son had this in mind from the beginning.   I started reading everything that I could find on dog obedience, personality, behavior, psychology, neuroscience and personal anecdotes.  I ran out and purchased lots of treats and a clicker.  I also discovered two TV programs on dogs.  “It’s Me or The Dog” and another on Nat Geo Wild.

“It’s Me or The Dog” caught my attention.  Your methods are those that I have been teaching to educators and parents of children with disabilities for 40 years.  They’re basic common sense.  I’m not sure why I had to get a PhD to learn common sense, but that’s another story.  The more I watched, the more excited I became.

I started to use your methods with Max and they worked.  Once in a while, I couldn’t find a video or tape for a specific problem and I would ask myself, “How would Victoria Stilwell do this?”  I’d try and it worked.

From September to November Max is housetrained, obeys all the basic commands, no longer pulls on a leash.  He is no longer dog reactive.  He goes to his place when visitors come to the door, rather than tackling them as if he was at the Super Bowl.  He complies with house rules such as “Off the bed.”  He even allows a bath every other week, necessary because of my respiratory problems.

His favorite activity is walking with me.   Because of my emphysema I walk slowly and I take rests.  I take about five or six 10 minute walks.  That’s as much as I can walk in one day.  Max seems to enjoy those short walks.  On some walks he works for me and on others we just enjoy the world around us.  When my son comes home in the evening, they go off on their daily jog, which Max thoroughly enjoys.   He has learned to talk it slow and easy with the old man and give the young man a run for his money, proving again that sometimes, dogs have more common sense than human beings.

I’m no longer depressed, nor do I feel useless.  Max has a safe and loving home and will not be put to sleep at a shelter.  We owe it to your brilliance and your generosity with your online videos, blogs, interviews and your common sense approach.  I’m not sure how to say thank you for saving our lives.  I wish that I could do something for your work.  I’m not wealthy, as I am retired.  But whatever I can do to promote the cause of dogs who are on death row, because someone gave up on them rather than use common sense, I’d like to help.

Thank you for giving Max and me a second chance.


Dr. Phillips*


*Name changed for privacy reasons.

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3 thoughts on “Positively Success Story: Dr. Phillips

  1. Phillip chalker

    I’m a lovely Seeing Eye Dog named Kransky. I’m a lovely pure bred Golden Retriever born in Melbourne on the June 8th 2005. I’m one of eleven puppies with five other canine brothers and five canine sisters. Sadly, one of my sisters did not survive. I was born in Melbourne me and my five other canine brothers was sent to Brisbane at approximately nine to ten weeks of age my other canine brothers names are Kryton, Kaos, Kingston, Kenny and Koda. My brothers Koda and Kingston and I went on to be working Seeing Eye dogs. I was separated from my other brothers and went back to Melbourne for training and Koda and Kingston stayed in Brisbane. We are full-blooded Golden Retrievers with both of my canine parents full blooded Golden Retrievers. My mum’s name is Bella Rose and dad is called Bear.
    My canine brother Kaos and I loved to play together. When my human puppy carer Pat had training days in the city with me, we would always be stopped by Japanese tourists wanting to take photos of us golden coloured puppyies. I really felt like a model.
    I graduated with my human owner, Phillip, on March 18th 2006. I have been to lots of places with my Phillip and his wife, Michelle, who is my human mummy. I have a feline brother named Gary who showed me the back of his paw when I tried to get to know him for the first time. Since then we have kept our distance from one another. I have been to Australia Zoo and other places with Phillip since being brought to Melbourne to be matched up with my blind or vision impaired human owner. When I graduated with Phillip, I was so excited I knew it time to go on a important journey. I have bonded with Phillip since I laid eyes on him.
    Sometimes I can be a cheeky dog by licking people’s legs, especially human girls. Woof, woof! I have worked hard with trainers to get where I am today. As a Golden Retriever my favourite thing is eating but I can't do too much of that with Phillip because he is worried I might become a tubby little puppy. What’s with the human world calling me a puppy all the time? Another thing I like is rolling around on the ground when I’m not working with my legs open to let my Phillip know I want my tummy rubbed.
    As a professional working Seeing Eye dog I feel that I’m a Very Important Dog because I can’t be denied access with Phillip. The life of a working dog can be hard at times, especially when we go on public transport with Phillip and have to lie under a seat which has not much room to swing my tail. At times I wish I can change spots with Phillip by sitting on the seat and put Phillip underneath the seat. Woof, woof! Another thing that’s hard about being a working dog is if I see a nice chunky burger on the ground I just have to walk on by. Sometimes I have tried to pounce on a nice burger or a chip on the ground, but I don’t get very far because Phillip will bring me back in to line. Ah well, at least I tried getting it.
    I think it’s funny when he rings the company where I was trained for food distraction, and then the trainer comes all the way to Phillip’s house for no reason because he calls my owner a liar and to be on his best behaviour.
    There was one time I was laying on the floor near Phillip in a restaurant in Warragul when a human lady came up to my owner and said “can I offer your dog a nice porterhouse steak?” I was disappointed because Phillip said no to the human lady. What a life I have. Another thing I like as a working Seeing Eye dog is seeing people’s heads turning when walking around the streets and hearing human ladies say “what a cute dog”, and kids say “mummy, there is a doggy in the shopping centre” and “mummy says that doggy is allowed, he’s a working dog to help that blind man to see and help to get around”.
    There was one time in my life Phillip was going to school and a teacher always picked on Phillip and said he wasn’t giving me any water. I wished I could talk so I could stick up for Phillip by saying to the nasty human teacher that my daddy is giving me water every time he takes me to the toilet.
    There was another time I was a cheeky dog, when I was at my human nanna and pa’s place. They have a dog named Mate, but I don’t pay much attention to him because
    he is a small dog. Phillip was inside one time talking to his mother and father when I was in the backyard with Mate. The human nanna and pa had Mate’s food in an Esky outside so I thought I would see if I could open it. I scratched the metal handle with my nails and to my surprise the lid popped off. I got stuck into eating the food until I was shocked when my Michelle caught me. I’m not too sure that day if I ate too much but I just wanted to lie down and not move.
    I like going to the beach and digging a big hole in the sand and laying it. As a dog you would think I like the water at the beach but I don’t. Every time I see a wave I run from it. It’s also funny how I’m allowed into some zoos and not into other zoos.
    There was one time Phillip and Michelle took me on a ten kilometre walk to a little town called Porepunkah and Phillip thought I wanted to go toilet because I pulled him off the track we were on when I heard some bikes coming. After they were gone Phillip gave me a big hug and said “good boy”, so we started walking again.

  2. Lorena

    What an amazingly inspirational story! It's so heartening to see how Dr. Phillips, through the use of positive reinforcement and gentle methods was a blue to take an "untrainable" dog and guide him to be such an outstanding and essential canine family member. He was able to get his dog to realize that he was safe, and in the process developed the type of relationship dogs and humans are meant to have. This story has plastered a smile on my face!

  3. Barbara Gifford

    Dr. Phillips* letter is wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I was especially interested in his comment that training Max used the same "tools" that he had taught educators and parents who work with children. I would really like to hear more about this as I work with children and am always thinking, if this child were a dog, how would I address this behavior? I know some non-dog savy people might be horrified by this thought but kind, consistent, and common sense methods work on both species. I hope he thinks about becoming a blogger on this subject and please let me know if he does. Thank you!

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