Dining and Drinking
Secrets of Dog Training, from One of Hollywood's Best
Joel Silverman Says It Starts With Understanding Your Pet
As a young teen visiting marine parks many times with his family, Joel Silverman says he was focused on the trainers interacting with the animals. Back home, he mimicked some of their methods with his family dog, Shadow. The initially timid dog took a liking to Silverman, eagerly following him around and learning different cues.
At 16, he inquired at SeaWorld about a job working with animals.
"They suggested I start in park operations, so I took the job collecting trash. But I kept asking for a chance to get involved with training," he says.
Four years after signing on, he was finally working with the marine animals. He soon excelled, earning accolades from the International Marine Trainers Association for a trick he developed called the "Triple Bow," in which two dolphins push him around the pool, then rocket him from the bottom to 15 feet out of the water. He also became a trainer of the killer whales.
He eventually moved on to training dogs and birds at Universal Studios, where he would prepare animals for TV and film appearances. One of the best-known TV dogs under Joel's tutelage was Bear, who played Dreyfuss on series Empty Nest.
Silverman's Approach to Dog Training
Silverman says that what he discovered working with Shadow has proved to be the foundation of his training philosophy: successful training is all about the relationship between student and trainer. In teaching his methods, he suggests taking a three-step approach to nurturing that bond.
"First, get to know your dog. Understand what he likes and doesn't like. Use that to develop a solid relationship. Incorporate the dog's likes into his day, and avoid what he doesn't like," he says, "Finally, build trust. Once the animal trusts you, he's going to do anything to please you. Training is so much easier after that."
Also crucial is recognizing that each dog is unique; what succeeds with one dog may not work on the next. Silverman devised a color-based method to help owners identify a dog's temperament, then steer their efforts accordingly. Described in his book What Color is your Dog?, he classifies dogs as red, orange, yellow, green or blue.
"Yellow dogs are in the middle, mellow," he explains, adding that on the far ends of the spectrum are red: higher strung, always on the go, and blue: timid and afraid.
With dogs on the warmer-colored end – reds and oranges – Silverman tells owners to find a safe, non-threatening way to correct unwanted behavior, and to calm the dog down. For those on the cooler end – blues and greens – the key is finding out what motivates them, and using that as encouragement.
Silverman says all dogs can change their color. He recalls a pit bull that came to one of his classes at the Nevada Humane Society. "She arrived scared, afraid of training class," he says. "We needed to encourage her, take her in the opposite direction. Now she's on her fifth class with me. Loves it. She waits for her cues, and jumps to it."
Having successfully trained creatures from celebrity dogs to killer whales, today Silverman shares his methods, whether it's with an owner teaching the family dog better behavior, another trainer helping a shelter dog tone down a zealous personality, or a prospective adopter trying to make the best match.
"I've been fortunate. I've been involved in movies, TV, books and DVDs. Now I feel my legacy is helping people to understand dog training and responsible pet ownership," he says. "My style is very duplicable, and I want to teach it to as many people as I can."
Debbie Swanson is a freelance journalist who has written for Reuters, Forbes, USA Today and other publications. She frequently covers pets, personal profiles, and business topics.