My pal Debbie Jacobs recently tweeted that she had gotten a lot of traffic on her Fearful Dogs site for a post titled Stop Your Dog’s Problem Behaviors Instantly! People were, apparently, taking it seriously, driven by the desire for a quick fix.

No question: Irony is dead.

When it comes to dog training — or any discipline that requires patience — it’s important to be wary of unwarranted claims, such as guaranteeing results within a certain period of time (or guaranteeing results, full stop).

So when I was sent a copy of 30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog: The Loved Dog™ Method by Tamar Geller, I was more than a little dubious.

Along with the promise of success in a limited amount of time, there was:

  • The trademark symbol after “Loved Dog” in the subtitle. Trademarking love seems a little cold.
  • The glamorous photo on the front cover of the attractive young author wearing white –white! — to coach (her preferred term, rather than “train”) dogs
  • The flap copy proclaiming that the author is “a dog coach to the stars — her clients include Oprah Winfrey, Ben Affleck, Courtney Cox Arquette…”

But a statement in the dog-coach-to-the-stars paragraph intrigued me, the note that the author’s approach is

…simple and down to earth. Instead of utilizing the negative and often painful feedback of physical dominance, choke chains, and prong collars, Tamar recommends love, play and mutual respect as the keys to a happy home for dog and human alike.

Nothing wrong with that. So I dipped in.

It turns out that Geller spent a lot of time at a research station in the Israeli desert observing wolves in the wild. She discovered what many scientists who have written on the topic in major universities did: That wolf families weren’t aggressive and hierarchical with each other, but rather, “most of what they did was play.” Their behavior wasn’t “harsh, painful, or scary, and had little to do with our often flawed conception of a dominant alpha,” she observed, but was, rather “more like a dance…that quickly restored peace within a family.”

That’s a good basis for a training, um, coaching technique.

After browsing through the book, I can take issue with a few things: Geller never makes the leap to “dogs aren’t wolves” that most animal science does, so she talks quite a bit about packs. And there’s the annoying name dropping.

But the bottom line is that the advice for dealing with dogs that Geller provides is solid, reasonable — and accessible. She even emphasizes that the “30 days” is just a starting point. Which is reasonable too.

There are always going to be people who want celebrity and glamor in their lives. That is — dare I say it? — one reason that so many advocates of positive training turn to Victoria Stilwell as an antidote to popular advocates of dominance training methods. Sad but true: Stilwell could be as smart and talented at training as all get out, but if she wasn’t also good looking and sexily dressed and have an appealing  English accent, she would not have gotten her own show, “It’s Me or the Dog,” on Animal Planet.

So if you’re looking for a gift for someone who swears by a certain Mexican trainer to the stars who is an advocate for harsh methods, this is a fine alternative.  The cover claims that “Gellar changed the way Americans relate to their dogs” with her earlier book on the topic. Not yet… but one can only hope.

26 thoughts on “Quick fixes & cover judging”

    1. Ha! I was told that I looked like Dustin Hoffman in drag, when he was playing Tootsie. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.

  1. Ah how fantastic. I had some problems with my dogs and cannot get myself together to be as harsh as the Mexican trainer. This Love method is just something that would suit me and my dogs just fine, loving creatures they are. And I hit the jackpot: 30 days !! What a coincidence, it is only 30 days until I have to move to another state and leave them at the shelter. Happy to deliver some really well-behaving “love” dogs to some great new families !

    Just kidding of course. But seriously. Tamar Gellar, if you are a book-author with a message, don’t surrender to the marketing centrifuge. Tells us what you would like to say, and we hear/read you.

    1. Sadly, I’m proof that your last statement isn’t true. Promotion is everything; otherwise you can have a great message (as I like to think I do in my book) and fail to get it out to the public. I admit that some of my initial reaction to Geller’s book was pure jealousy and I hesitated to promote a book that doesn’t need promotion. But I finally decided that at least Geller’s message is a good one so I should let people know that this is a better choice than (equally popular) books advocating harsh methods.

      1. I trust your word that it IS a better choice than the “competetion” that has enjoyed the marketing ride with the popular Mexican dog trainer (although our mexican friend is coming around and is joining forces with, lets say, more dog worthy forces).

        Why should we accept a message that is not in line with the content it is actually about. Tamar Gellar also knows a 30-day quick fix is a hoax. When the first Oprah show glamour has faded and enough books are sold and the white shirt has worn off, owners will start to look anew for quick fixes. True, a handful has gotten more clever and learned those fixes do not exist, but still. The majority will only be disappointed when the promiss is not delivered, and that is not OK. Why raise unrealistic expactations?

        Good promotion is important, but only towards sales numbers is not. You harvest what you sow. We have to stop feeding the hunger for quick fixes and tell it like it is. Lets talk quality and market that, as it has been done already in other industries?

        1. I agree with you in principle — really! — but let’s just say I am more of a pragmatist/cynic while you are more of an optimist/purist. I have always said I was willing to sell out if only someone was buying.

          In theory, the results will be so positive after 30 days that the owners will want to continue the program.

          In fact, the content of the book reveals a challenge that’s even worse than the one of the title: Geller was challenged to provide a two-week fix by the Oprah show. So I suppose we should be grateful that she settled for twice as long in the title…

          1. Can see your point that we need more advocates of positive training in the public eye. I became a little disappointed in Victoria Stillwell when her shows turned too much into a quick fix (answer to competition?). The main public dog figure in Denmark for positive training, the “Danish V.S.”, disappointed me a LOT by being in favor of BSL and speaking out against a number of breeds.

            Maybe I am just weary of following any kind of (public) figure, and want to have focus on the movement instead. But I can see your pragmatic intentions. It is the goal that matters. How we get there is important, but there should be leverage 🙂 I am reluctantly convinced 🙂

          2. That’s terrible that the so-called positive trainer in Denmark is in favor of BSL — not very enlightened!

            Thanks for engaging me in this stimulating conversation. It feels like being back in NYC, except there we all talked at the same time, interrupting each other!

  2. Seems to me we need to, what is the latest jargon, oh yes, ‘decouple’ dogs and wolves and along with that decoupling toss out the use of the word “pack.” It drives me nuts. Yes, technically dogs and wolves are the same species because they can make babies together–and do apparently. But, for our purposes as ordinary dog owners, I think we should send “pack” packing–NOW! Right now! As in “immediately” or “instantly”–30 days is too long to wait.

    1. Oooh, “decouple” — a wonderful jargon word! And we wonder why the popular books are popular (they probably would say “separate” or “dump”). But, to your point, yes, I would abolish the word “pack” from any discussion of dog training if it were possible, but people are so used to it that at least we should be glad that the information that packs are loving, not antagonistic is getting across… Slowly, slowly, one step at a time, right? Sigh.

    2. Completely agree Deborah. I believe they did just that last night on Nova: Dogs Decoded. I was really happy that they pointed that out. In fact, they seemed to emphasize it. Perhaps to counter a famous dog coach? (I would say trainer, but since he’s not a trainer I’ll stick with coach, although I suppose even saying that is too much.)

  3. BTW, I saw Geller interviewed by Oprah (I blush to admit to having watched daytime t.v.) and she not only looks glamorous and sexy, she has a sultry exotic accent. That’s about all I gleaned from her discussion of trademarked love.

    1. The only reason I have a “no TV before 5pm” rule is that I would indulge in waaay too much watching, including Oprah. I trust she had attractive dogs with her too?

  4. Thank you for this review. I admit I saw her book in the store a little while ago and I rolled my eyes. The title and cover were immediately off-putting. But I’m glad to hear there is more to it than I expected and she is not just another name-dropper. It gives me hope.

  5. Tamar is a gem- I’ve followed her career for some time. For a while she had a line of dog treats. PetsMart use to have her book and a bunch of other “Loved Dog” paraphanilia. Tamar has wierd names for things and her learning theory is certanly not at a graduate level- but her methods are pretty straight forward, and she is pretty positive.

    I would say my biggest issue with Tamar is that she has a lot of superstitious behavior entertwined with good science in her training. I mean saying “sit” in a sing songy voice? Yes, dogs respond to high pitched noises better, and yes they may learn the cue faster, but it’s just not necessary! I can pair any cue with the behavior of sitting and eventually get a dog who will sit on that cue. The cue could be a certain eye movement- yeah I just said that, an eye movement as a cue for the dog to sit!

    But over all, Tamar is on our side. She’s one of the good guys!
    Crystal Saling, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

    1. Interesting; I’d never heard of Tamar Geller before her publicist sent me her book. I know how hard line you are about positive training — but in a good way — so if you give her your stamp of approval she must be ok.

      And now I’m going to make you come over and make Frankie sit by winking at him 😉

  6. Enjoyed your review very much,and your convo with Kenzo was great too! And you are right – books that don’t sensationalize don’t sell anywhere near as well as those that do. It’s all about the quick fix and it’s not just our society – it’s a Western world theme. If you lose sight of that and try to tell only the absolute truth in your press release, journalists will ignore you and no one will be the wiser.

    Thanks, Edie, for putting a very entertaining wrapping on a really useful post:)

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Mary. It’s fun for me to try to widen my perspective and look at things in a less insular way than I usually do!

  7. What a thought-provoking review and discussion!

    I’ve read a previous book by Geller and don’t feel the need to read this one. But I think we need to recognize that people progress at different rates. Although I may get death threats for saying this, Mr. Milan is more progressive than old-style compulsion trainers who never talked about exercise or thought there was any purpose in trying to figure out what motivates a dog (even though Mr. Milan is dead wrong, he is making an effort).

    And perhaps someone watching Dog Whisperer on the Nat Geo channel will come across Dogtown (about the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary) and get a whole new perspective.

    So if people who watch Oprah pick up a positive training book by Geller and learn something new that’s a step forward.

    And as I told a friend very depressed after the elections, my study of history shows me that progress is inevitable. It’s just not always a straight path.

    1. And what a thought provoking reply, Pamela! Many people in the training world think of Cesar Milan as going backwards but you’re right, it’s a question of context. To a general public that never thought about exercise and motivation, he *is* an advance. And you’re right about progress — unless we all destroy ourselves before then, it’ll come!

  8. Thanks for your great review. It sounds like the book at least carries a positive message, although wrapped up in glitz and a “30 day” premise. Funny about the book promotion aspect. My agent told me my dog book probably wouldn’t sell unless I was brilliantly famous, but– fortunately I just got a book deal! No, it’s not with a huge name publisher but you’ve got to start somewhere!

  9. Thank you for your review Edie. I actually just saw Gellar’s book this past week and was wondering about it. I think it was a FB ad!

  10. Has anybody on here used a standard poodle for herding? This is not a joke, I own one and I think it can be done, but would appreciate feedback.

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