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I’m ambivalent about The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonagressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior, by Tamar Geller. I am not a dog trainer or expert on dog psychology, therefore I cannot say whether she (or her apparent nemesis, Cesar Millan) is right about what dogs are thinking or why they’re behaving or what they need most. It makes sense that they need exercise, affection, discipline, a sense of security, socialization. Here, Geller’s 7-item list of needs seems more comprehensive than Millan’s 3-items (that focuses on discipline).

What I do know about dog training is that neither Geller nor Millan says anything new. They have been packaged, they have gifts, and they were in the right place at the right time. Millan does have an extraordinary gift that makes him able to deal with aggressive and fearful dogs who have gone through multiple trainers, and has saved the lives of dogs who would have been euthanized for their behavior.

I haven’t seen enough of Geller in action–with dogs who have serious problems–to believe that she’d be the go-to person for anything more than teaching dogs good manners. With that said, my observation tells me that the problems most dogs have fall under the category of good manners, anyway, so her book would probably be fine for most people.

Here are my concerns:

  • She uses treats. Loads of them. When you have a diabetic dog, you can’t be doling out treats all day without constantly adjusting insulin and pricking your poor pooch to test her blood glucose level. Also, I have two large dogs, and I’m not sure where I’d be putting my gold, silver and bronze treats or how quickly I could get to them (they must be administered immediately).
  • Her system is based on the sit. My greyhounds don’t sit. Ever. Some greyhounds do, or so I’ve read and been told, but I’ve never seen it. So I’m wondering what I’m supposed to do if the sit is the foundation of everything. Can I use the stay as a substitute?
  • She believes in giving bones as treats but says they must be cooked. Meanwhile, the opposite is true.

I’m interested to hear how dogs and their people are doing with Geller’s techniques (I know, I know, they’re not hers, and they’re not revolutionary, which is how they’re billed). I’m going to contact her and ask her advice about dogs who don’t sit. Maybe, between visits to Oprah, Courtney Cox, Olivia Newton John, and all of her other celebrity clients, she’ll take a minute to respond to a regular person. I’ll let you know.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Geller’s The Loved Dog services are wonderful, and she certainly adores dogs and is deeply committed to educating people about what she believes their dogs need. And her approach is a gentle one (I don’t think I’d call a spritz of water on the back of the head abusive–maybe a low-level harrassment).

I’m going to buy a couple of toys and do some of the play exercises she recommends (including tug-of-war, which many trainers don’t recommend), and report back. Wish me luck.

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