Tamar Geller - A World of Love
by Cindie Farley
Tamar Geller had spent the evening watching a pack of wolves in what she thought would end in a battle to the death. Instead, what she observed was only a fierce game of chase in which the alpha wolf’s behavior taught his young to hunt prey. It also helped to establish who was boss, a critical aspect of the pack’s social structure. From that observation she realized the importance of play in pack-animal communication. That night Geller had a dream, the first in a series that would wake her in the night telling her she must work with dogs.
It was 1987, and she had just completed her service as an intelligence officer in the Israeli Air Force and was working as an assistant at a wilderness research facility in the Arava Desert. While in the service, she had witnessed the type of dog training that was popular at the time, and which bullied animals into submission. It was physically abusive, designed to break a dog’s spirit. It also broke Geller’s heart.
This, combined with her own story as an abused child, has given her a tremendous sense of compassion for innocent animals and people alike, who have no voice to speak for themselves. She also credits her childhood trials, however, along with her training in the Israeli Air Force, for giving her the resolve to be a relentless advocate on their behalf. This advocacy has evolved from the early beginnings of her work with dogs into an all-out “crusade for love.”
Following her experience observing wolves in the wild, and later concluding that dogs possess traits of both wolf and human toddler, Geller developed her innovative approach to dog training, now known as the Loved Dog™ Play-Training Method. “If you use stress-free, game-based behavior training (such as we use with children) to teach dogs to communicate with you,” she says, “you can coach (train) them not only to do what you want, but also to anticipate what you want . . . . a much more successful method than using fear and aggression to force a dog to obey your command or submit to your will.” And one that results in both happy dogs and happy humans.
Everything about Geller’s approach to her work reflects a profound reverence not only for dogs, but for all of life. It follows that she prefers the term “life coach” to “dog trainer,” and the gentler “well-mannered” to “obedient.” Dogs, like toddlers, simply act on instinct that is not wrong, but gets labeled as “bad behavior.” Our job, as benevolent coaches to our dogs, is to teach them to make conscious choices rather than act on instinct that’s not always appropriate. When we do this in a playful and loving way, our dogs look forward to being well-mannered!
Also key to Geller’s philosophy is that we must respect dogs’ natural order in establishing their roles with each other, even when their behavior doesn’t resonate with us—and NOT punish them for it. It’s easy to see how her way of viewing this type of relationship between humans and dogs translates into something on a much bigger scale.
Her hope is that by successfully teaching our dogs using her methods, we can “build muscles of gratitude that help us look for what is good and notice what is working” in other areas and relationships in our lives. She compares it to having “training wheels,” that we get to try out on and practice with our dogs. We can practice being lovingly playful while helping our dogs learn their manners, until it becomes a second-nature way of relating for both.
In 1996, Geller pioneered a major change in dog-boarding practices when she established The Loved Dog™, Southern California’s first cage-free doggie daycare and boarding facility. Both an active humanitarian and “doggytarian,” she as since gone on to create several outreach programs that work with shelter dogs using her Loved Dog method. Another Chance For Love provides resources and tools that will empower at-risk youth and shelter dogs to make better choices. Operation Heroes & Hounds gives injured members of the U.S. military the opportunity to live with and coach shelter dogs, allowing both to learn a new set of skills that will have a positive impact on their future. Both outreach programs create a win-win situation. Shelter dogs needing behavior modification become more adoptable while providing unconditional love. The power of that love helps heal human emotional wounds and promotes personal transformation and social reform.
Today, Tamar Geller herself has become known and loved worldwide, and there’s clearly a good reason for that: She walks her talk—with conviction, sincerity and heartfelt enthusiasm. She candidly states that her success has been the result of following her “calling,” and in doing so, she’s had doors unexpectedly open for her.
In 2007, her client and mentor, Oprah Winfrey, was instrumental in launching Geller’s bestseller, The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonagressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior(Simon and Schuster), forwarded by the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. She has followed that up with a just-released new book, 30 Days to A Well-Mannered Dog. Geller’s books reflect her great love for dogs in a style that is highly engaging and entertaining.
Geller is the resident dog expert on “The Today Show,” and has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (while training Oprah’s three Golden Retriever pups), and numerous other national programs. She has also been featured in USA Today, Newsweek, and The New York Times Magazine. And she is the go-to dog coach for a huge list of celebrities including Ben Affleck, Goldie Hawn, Natalie Portman, and Owen Wilson. Geller sees all of this exposure, as well as her own celebrity status, as one fantastic way of spreading the word about her “crusade for love.”
In the end, the message she hopes to impart is whether you’re a child or a Chihuahua, a teenager or a Terrier, a grown-up or Greyhound, you have a valuable contribution to make—and having a sense of contribution is something we ALL need.
Cindie Farley is a freelance writer, copyeditor and proofreader. She lives in Pacific Grove with her daughter, Morgan Daily, and their dog Gus, who is a freelance gull and crow herder. Her email is address is firstname.lastname@example.org.