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.