Rowena Wildin Dehanke
Culture: Reviews
The Loved Dog
Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 223 pp., 2007; $24.95

Everyone wants a well-behaved dog—one who comes when called, doesn’t jump on people, sits and stays, walks without pulling, and is a joy to be around. The problem is that most of us, especially first-timers, don’t know how to turn our much-loved, sometimes frustrating animal into a joyful companion. In this easy-reading training guide, Tamar Geller, owner and operator of The Loved Dog, Southern California’s first cage-free dog boarding and day care center, describes her playful approach to making dogs true members of the family.

When she was an Israeli intelligence officer, Geller observed dogs being trained using physical exhaustion, choke collars and dominance rollovers. Her childhood experience of physical abuse gave her empathy for the dogs, and the conviction that there must be a better way to achieve desired behaviors. While observing wolves in the wild, she saw that the wolves related to pack members and educated their young through games and body language rather than brutal, physical means. This combination of personal experience and observation led Geller to develop her kind and playful training method.

Geller says, “if it’s not about love, I’m not interested,” and this outlook is evident in the space she devotes to relating her life experiences and philosophy before she begins explaining her methods. She refers to herself as a life coach for dogs and their owners instead of as a trainer, and she speaks of “well-mannered” rather than “obedient” dogs. Although Geller offers specific play-training methods to help dogs learn to sit, stay, walk and come, she is primarily interested in teaching an approach to working with dogs that is based on understanding the dogs’ needs, and on teaching them to want to do the things that make them well-mannered.

Dogs, she says, have seven basic needs—security, companionship, hierarchy, surprise/excitement, food and exercise, mental stimulation, and love and connection—all of which are essential elements in play-training techniques. People need to meet their dogs’ needs in order to meet their own need for a well-behaved dog.

Geller offers simple techniques that involve showing the dog that pleasure results from performing the desired behavior. In keeping with her emphasis on play-training, she suggests that tug-of-war is a good game and provides ground rules that make this a positive experience for both people and dogs. Though many of the techniques have basic, intermediate and advanced levels, Geller provides few alternatives if the basic approach does not work.

The easy-to-follow training methods make this book an especially good choice for those new to dogs and who want to teach their dogs basic obedience. However, those with more experience may also benefit from Geller’s play-training techniques, which, taken as a whole, are complete expressions of her basic philosophy. Geller does not claim to have all the answers, but she does provide kind, playful techniques and a loving approach to building a relationship with dogs.