Daily Video: Tamar Geller, the anti-Dog Whisperer

Today’s New York Times magazine has an interview with the Israeli-intelligence- officer-turned-dog-trainer, Tamar Geller. Her book, The Loved Dog has stolen the top dog book spot on the bestseller list from Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan, who I have a mega-crush on.

The interview has Geller coming off like a bit of a flake, but her videos make much more sense. I watched the one about getting your dog to come because it’s a problem I’m currently having with 11-month-old Bridget and Geller’s techniques seem to make sense. We’ll try out her dog obedience methods this week and report back.

Feel free to add your tips or opinions in the comments section.

5 thoughts on “Daily Video: Tamar Geller, the anti-Dog Whisperer

  1. I just surfed in, but as a dog trainer, I was curious about the recall training at the link provided. So I watched it.

    Wow. That kind of training would take forever, and seems more than a bit confusing for the dog.

    Personally, I recommend playing the hide and seek game for real, in the yard, where there are more distractions.

    It’s terrific if you have an “easy” dog to train (one that is treat or toy motivated), as they can also be “lured” using the treat or toy. Praise motivated dogs are more difficult to “inspire”. On the plus side, with these kinds of dogs, you’re never caught without the desired reward – verbal and physical praise.

    Very young dogs typically learn a very reliable recall. They usually lose a bit of that reliability around the time of sexual maturity, then regain it with continued practice.

    A reliable recall needs an owner who is genuinely thrilled the dog comes when called, and doesn’t disappoint by being either indifferent to the dog coming, or god forbid, creating a negative association with coming.

    Granted, I’m new to the dog, and thus much more interesting than the familiar owner. But it’s quite telling when owners call their dogs to no avail, and I simply call the dog’s name in a sing-song, happy voice, and the dog races over to me right away.

    Ironically, this just happened to me last night. A woman’s dog somehow got into my yard. Curious about the interloper, my dog and I went out to “play”. By the time we got outside, the dog had gotten around the end of my fence, and into the neighbour’s yard.

    Then came the owner. She called and called her dog, who completely ignored her. I walked towards her, and confirmed the dog’s name. With that, I called the dog, as I would any dog I was training. She ran directly to me, and into the fence. (I eventually got her to understand she’d have to find a way back into my yard.) When she did, again she ran right to me.

    I wanted to allow the two dogs to play a bit, so I just giggled and watched. But the owner desperately wanted to get a leash onto her dog. Try as she might, she couldn’t get close to her dog. I just called the dog to me, and snuck a finger under her collar. The owner thanked me and I sent them off with a, “Have a good walk!”

    I’m now retired from my work with dogs, but I recently ran into a man walking his dog on a long training lead, at a leash-free park. He obviously felt a bit embarrassed about it, since he volunteered that he uses the leash because his dog wouldn’t come when called. I certainly didn’t coerce him into letting his dog off-lead, but eventually he did, anyway.

    Knowing this was an issue, I did the practicing this guy obviously doesn’t. I called the dog to me, then praised like crazy when she arrived. Then I sent her on her way again. A little while later, I called the dog again, and praised her like she’d just saved my life. …And sent her on her way. We practiced this a few times.

    Then, the dog ran off to greet a new arrival. I guess the man didn’t want her to do that, so he called her (quite sternly, I might add). She ignored him. I called her, and she spun around and ran directly to me. And yes…I praised her like my life depended on it.

    The next time the man tried calling his dog, she turn around and came back, but she ran to me and sat. I ignored her, giving her owner a chance at success. She realized she wasn’t getting anywhere with me, so she ran to him. Maybe because of my example, he praised her vehemently. I even recall he made his voice higher when he was calling her.

    It’s just practice, and giving the dog a reason to come to you. Recall is best perfected by giving the dog clear praise for coming, and also making yourself fun to be around when the dog does come.

    …Well, dog training should be fun, and your dog should never have a reason not to want to be with you.

    I could see this guy was doing what so many dog owners do wrong. They get frustrated. They scold. They are boring. They don’t practice. No wonder their dogs don’t come to them. πŸ˜‰

  2. Marjorie,

    Thanks for your long, informative post. I started trying your techniques last night.

    I am always careful not to call my dog’s name in a harsh voice except for if it’s a dangerous situation. And I also make sure that when I call her to come, I don’t always do something undesirable like leash her, but despite all this, it’s terribly hard to get her to come when I call.

    Treats didn’t work either as she preferred her freedom to the treats!

  3. Also, wondering if you might have any tips specific to Scotties?


    Scottie News

  4. Hey, hey!! πŸ™‚

    It’s great that you “[tried my] techniques”, but I actually didn’t post any specific techniques. …Just a general overview.

    Even though I have decades of experience training dogs (specializing in rehabilitating aggressive dogs, for the last decade), and as much as I want to ask what difficulties you’re having, so I can try to help out, I find it is next to impossible to write effective dog training instructions. …So I simply don’t try to “teach” dog training through written words.

    I think it’s terrific that some trainers do try. I’ve just found that there are far too many variables to attempt to cover even the majority that might occur. I think dog training manuals are good, general, overviews. But they can’t possibly address the unique circumstances of each dog and owner.

    I guarantee every dog training manual has readers who attempt the techniques, and fail. Not because they’re incompetent, or because the techniques don’t work. There are just too many variables that need to be addressed by someone who knows what they’re doing and is there to see what is actually going on.

    Personally, I really need to see the dog, in person, in order to guarantee success.

    Yes…I know I’m rambling… πŸ˜‰

    Now, if I were the kind of dog trainer who is paid by clients, then I’d want to see how the owner interacts with the dog as well, of course. But you know, “professional” dog trainers don’t really train dogs. They train people to train their own dogs. It’s a whole different skill-set…working with people, and keeping them happy enough to keep you as their trainer, and making the training understandable to them.

    I’m afraid others will have to accomplish that task. I’m just not very good at it.

    Myself, I have worked almost exclusively with shelter/rescue dogs who are about to be euthanized, due to behaviour problems. Since it is my view that it is the owners who muck up the job in the first place, my task is actually fairly easy.

    I have absolutely no difficulty re-training just about any behaviour problem that comes my way. But that training happens in my home, where I know what I’m doing, and the environment is positive, consistent, and rewarding. As such, that turnaround happens fairly quickly. Most of the aggressive dogs are off to new homes in a matter of weeks; barking ends within a couple of days; and dogs learn to heel within 24 hrs, for example. (The sad part for me is the knowledge that many of those new owners will, again, muck up the dog.)

    I don’t (very often) get frustrated training dogs. They’re all perfectly trainable. But I do get frustrated when I’m working with people who’ve asked me to help them train their own dogs. I just don’t have the patience, I guess.

    (I’ve recently seen a few episodes of ‘The Dog Whisperer’ show. Every time Mr. Millan makes small talk about some idiosyncrasy the owner exhibits, I cringe. I know I wouldn’t encourage them. One of his strengths is he finds a way to use those idiosyncrasies in a way that is encouraging to the owner. Which is great…for him. Not for me.)

    It is precisely this self-knowledge that kept me from becoming a so-called “professional dog trainer” as has been suggested (and begged, even) so many times. (What I mean by “begged” is, it’s rare I’ll agree to work with a privately-owned dog.) Well…that…and everything that comes with trying to build a commercial dog training operation, including the rather sad income.

    …Can I ramble anymore than I have already? Apparently, the answer is, “Yes!” πŸ˜‰ (blushing)

    One dog walker I often ran into at a local, off-leash park asked why I didn’t become a professional dog trainer. I gave her all the usual reasons, including the low income. To that she said her dog’s trainer charges $75/hr, and ‘what’s wrong with that?’ Sure, I was talking to a dog walker he probably makes, like, what? $20/dog? With maybe 2-3 group walks per day? What’s that? 8 dogs x $20 = $160 x 3 times per day = $540/day…probably on a good day? Uh, huh.

    I remember saying something like, ‘but how many of those $75/hr clients does that trainer have? I’ll bet it’s not 8 per day, 7 days a week.’ (Of course she couldn’t possibly know I’m “comfortable”, and that I’d recently retired from my own consulting firm, where I charged significantly more than $75/hr. But obviously that might explain why the pay cut wouldn’t be especially attractive to me.)

    There’s just not a lot of money in dog training, save a few people who seek out publicity, write books, wrangle a television show, etc. I just don’t have the drive to be famous, either. And I doubt I’d ever fully endorse another trainer, as I find a lot of them are too harsh or just not professional or knowledgeable enough, in my books. (There don’t seem to be a lot of MENSA candidates in the dog training ranks. …Some, but not many.)

    I’ll be honest. I find it difficult to train people. Dogs are super-easy, and I’ve been wildly successful. (Even though I’m retired from this kind of philanthropy, I’m still contacted regularly, and asked to work with dogs that some shelter worker or rescue group believes deserves a second chance.) But when a person fails to get results after the first five demonstrations, I’ll admit I’m starting to think, ‘Just give me your dog. It’ll be trained by the end of the week.’

    I am sorry for any confusion. I wasn’t trying to post actual training instructions. Just an overview of the simple strategies (or variations of them) that have worked on countless dogs I’ve successfully trained over the past 30 years.

    I’ve realized I have a “way” with dogs. But I honestly believe that ability is within reach of anyone willing to put in the time to understand what motivates an individual dog. I just wish I could be better at relaying that information to people. I find that most dog owners really want to do the right thing. They just don’t know how.

  5. Uh…what was I smoking? Darn I wish I could edit. How embarrassing! Make that $480.

    Me actually very good with math. (blushing)

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