"Dogs in the City" Host Justin Silver on What Makes New York Pet Owners Different

Justin Silver, the host of the new reality show Dogs in the City (premiering May 30 on CBS), fostered and rehabilitated abused animals for more than a decade before opening his own full-service pet care business, The Language of Dogs, in New York. In 2005, he parlayed his work as a stand-up comic into a popular fundraiser called Funny for Fido. He took a few moments during filming to chat with Crittr.

Justin Silver dogs
Credit: Heather Wines/CBS
Justin Silver, host of the new CBS reality show "Dogs in the City," strolls through the city with a posse of pups.

What are some common issues specific to urban dog owners?

Justin Silver: The fact that their schedule is so busy. And the dogs suffer a little bit because they don’t have backyards. Even something like puppy training becomes a challenge. The environment is so unnatural that trying to simulate little things that are natural might be difficult.

Conversely, because a city like New York is such a social place and you’ll bump into 100 people just walking down the block with your dogs, the dogs tend to be a lot more social. Dogs in the city have to have a very amicable disposition, but just like New Yorkers, the littlest thing can set off a huge explosion. There’s a little heightened anxiety to everyone in New York City, and that certainly trickles down to the animals.

What makes New York dog owners different from dog owners in other cities?

JS: They’re demanding. People have busy schedules, and they’re juggling a lot in small spaces. When it comes to their dogs, they just want it fixed. They want it done.

But dog training is a relationship. I’m not training your dog; you’re training your dog. What I’m trying to do is make adjustments in the relationships people have with their dogs. My goal is to help them create an entire relationship with their dog where the training is consistent.

I try to teach them to incorporate the dog’s training into their everyday lives. It can be as simple as, say the dog needs exercise and you have to bring the kids to school? Take the dog with you when you take the kids to school!

Justin Silver kissing dog
Credit: Heather Wines/CBS
Justin Silver gets up close and personal with a friendly pooch.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve come across in your work?

JS: I deal with dogs who don’t want to walk so they ride around on skateboards [and] dogs who get pushed around in strollers all day because their owners don’t think their paws should get dirty.

But what’s always really crazy is the dichotomy of people’s psychology and how you see that play out in the dogs. For instance, I have the billionaire hedge fund owner who is so stressed out about being the leader at work that he comes home and the dog walks all over him — he doesn’t think he possesses enough leadership skills. I have the supermodel who overcoddles her dog because it’s the only thing that’s not going to reject her if she eats an extra piece of lettuce.

The dog ends up almost being a barometer for what’s going on in the owner’s life. That’s where I see the crazy stuff.

What do you do differently now than you did five or 10 years ago?

JS: I just sort of step back and absorb as much as I can from all the different animal behavior professionals, whether it’s the people who own the shelters or the K-9 cops I’ve worked with ... there’s so much you can take from each type of method.

After doing this so long, I’ve met so many different and talented people in the pet care community that I’ve really just built my arsenal. My methods vary from dog to dog. My tools vary from dog to dog. But when I meet a dog, I try to be as open as possible. I’ve actually become more open as I’ve gone along.

Other than volunteering in a shelter, how can animal lovers help?

JS: I’ve had people working in paper factories ask how they can help. Oh, you work in a paper factory? Guess what! Charities need fliers. If someone’s an accountant, they can volunteer their time and help out with accounting at a shelter. Someone owns a restaurant or a bar, they can hold a night where the proceeds from the night go to an animal shelter.

Funny for Fido started because I’m a comedian and I fell in love with the animal rescue community, and I thought, “What can I do?” So I threw together a comedy benefit.

I always tell people, “Do what’s right in front of you.” There are so many creative ways to help out doing exactly what they do.

Catch Justin Silver and his wacky clients on Dogs in the City, premiering at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 30 on CBS. In the meantime, you can also follow him on Twitter at @IamJustinSilver.

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