Tamar Geller is a self-proclaimed dog life coach, as well as the author of the New York Times bestseller, “The Loved Dog.” The book title shares the name of Geller’s doggie coaching method, which has been featured on “Oprah.”
i Love Dogs had the privilege of getting to know Geller through an exclusive interview where she described her coaching techniques, and she even gave us a few tips on how to work with our own pups. We are convinced that getting to know The Loved Dog method is truly taking a step toward becoming a better pet parent, and even toward improving the relationship between humans and dogs everywhere.
Geller’s story starts in her native Israel, where she fulfilled her obligation to join the service by becoming an intelligence officer. During her time in the service, she witnessed how the military dogs were sometimes forced to endure harsh training techniques that left them broken and exhausted. This experience left Geller feeling like there must be a more constructive way to communicate with the dogs, and a more positive way to teach them how to behave.
After her time in the service, Geller partook in an animal observation study and set out for the wilderness.
It was during this time observing animals in the Israeli desert that Geller became interested in the behavior of wild pack wolves. She took notice of the different ways that the wolves communicated with their young. She spent months observing the wolves interacting with each other and coaching each other on how to hunt and play. This experience of watching wolves in their natural habitat would become a pivotal element of Geller’s “Loved Dog” philosophy.
It is difficult to dispute Geller’s coaching techniques because there is simply no denying the power of their results. Her idea became rooted in celebrating the mind of a dog, and teaching it in a way that would be fun. She felt that dog-training tactics that aggressively handle a dog wind up “breaking the spirit of a dog.” Geller knew that this was not the way to educate a dog and that by following the cues of the wolves she could change the way that humans and dogs interact.
Geller’s coaching uses tools such as voice, facial expression, body language and different levels of treats (a cookie is “silver” and a piece of meat is “gold”). She has run into some difficulties, though.
“People are afraid to use their voices. They are too shy,” she says of working in the United States. Despite some people’s reservations, your voice is “one of the most powerful tools you have to work with,” Geller insists.
Her coaching uses voice in three key ways. The one most often heard in her interviews and television segments is very cheerful and encouraging. But she is also very precise in what she says to her dogs when using this happy tone. She points out that you should only say your dog’s name if necessary so your dog doesn’t become desensitized to it and will still come upon hearing it. She also explains that saying “good sit” or “good fetch” is a better option than using the generic “good girl” (or boy) because then the action is more closely associated with the word.
Geller also uses a “nonchalant” tone of voice. She used this tone when her own dog, a rescued pup named Duke, would act up. “He was used for fighting and is very sensitive to any noises,” she explained. When Duke would cower from the sound of street noises, Geller would use the nonchalant tone as a way of making these sounds no big deal.
“It’s sort of like saying ‘Oh puh-leeze,’” Geller said, and pointed out that when she does this as a means of ignoring unacceptable behavior, “it extinguishes.”
Geller only uses this tone when there is something urgent to convey, as she did with Oprah’s dog, Luke, when he would dash out into the street. She says that it is important to use this tone rarely, and to not go through the levels 1-7 before getting to 8, which would ultimately desensitize your dog.
“Show the dog that you are really unhappy – your voice needs to convey urgency,” Geller said. “Make your voice go from level 1 to 8. Breathe in and make an expression like you are about to explode.”
This is as aggressive as it gets for The Loved Dog coaching method, which views the mentality of dogs as a combination of “wolves and toddlers.” Geller says that dogs really “need to be shown the proper behavior; just telling them ‘no’ is not doing a good coaching job.”
She puts the responsibility on pet parents to recreate scenarios in controlled atmospheres, like she did with Oprah’s dog Luke, to educate them on how to handle a situation. She even takes it a step further by considering her coaching a means of raising a dog with “manners,” and not simply training them to obey commands.
Part of Geller’s journey is spreading her Loved Dog teachings beyond the Hollywood crowd to everyday pet parents. In doing so, she founded two nonprofit organizations that practice her Loved Dog coaching techniques on shelter dogs, and at the same time help juvenile detention inmates or wounded Marines: Another Chance for Love and Operation Heroes and Hounds.
Are you a fan of Tamar’s coaching method? We’d love to hear about it. Tell us about the coaching techniques that your dog responds to.