Tamar Geller and dog
Photo: Courtesy of Tamar Geller
Like many 13-year-olds, Josh was a handful. Bursting with energy and boundless enthusiasm, Josh could not get enough of people, and throughout his life greeted everyone he met with a hearty jump onto their laps. 

The difference between Josh and other 13-year-olds, however, is that Josh was a dog, a standard poodle. And though dogs of Josh's breed can be rambunctious, his 70-year-old owners had reached their breaking point.
"Josh only knew what I call the 'dark ages' of dog training," says dog trainer Tamar Geller. "You can't just give a dog a command and a correction and then praise, because it's not fun for the dog. No one wants orders barked at them, not even a dog."

After one session with Geller, Josh learned to stop jumping on people. Whether a dog hogs the bed, jumps on guests or uses the dining room rug as its bathroom, Geller says you'll see results if you exercise patience, consistency and a respect for nature.

Geller's top tip to teach your dog anything
Geller insists that teaching a dog anything is a matter of behavior modification. A dog needs a good reason from its owner to engage in a behavior that goes against its instincts.

"We all evaluate between doing things that bring us pleasure or bring us pain," she says. "You want to teach a dog that doing what you want would be a more pleasurable experience for him."

To illustrate, Geller explains how to fix a common problem: getting a dog to sleep in its own bed.

First, place a towel on your bed, and instruct the dog to lie on the towel with a friendly, "Go to bed!" As soon as it reaches the towel, give it a small treat, such as a biscuit or small bone. Next, move the towel to another location on the bed and repeat the process. As soon as he associates the towel with a treat, Geller suggests moving the towel to the floor or onto a dog bed. 

Instruct the dog to "go to bed," and if the initial training worked, it should associate the towel with the command, "go to bed," no matter where you place the towel. Continue to work with your dog until it makes the connection. Once it does, reward it with what Geller calls a "gold-level treat," such as a bite-size piece of chicken.

"Now the dog understands what you want him to do," Geller says. "He knows that when you tell him to go to bed, he's going to get a treat. You're just working with the concept of pain versus pleasure. You don't need to yell or get choke chains to teach your dog what you want him to do."

Dog training is an opportunity, not a chore
Dog owners need to view training their dogs as an opportunity, not a chore, Geller says.

"People forget that dog training is about nature," she says. "You're given this chance to connect to a higher self. How your dog behaves is a barometer for how in tune with nature you are. People who aren't resourceful use power and force. They don't realize it's about working in harmony to meet their needs and the dog's needs."

To modify a dog's behavior, Geller says an owner must rethink her relationship with her dog. "Whenever you're in a relationship and someone is doing something you don't like, you work together to find a solution and resolve conflict," she says. "With dogs, it's no different. You have to work together to meet each other's needs."

Geller suggests that dog owners use the following techniques when training their dogs:
  • Use a calm, friendly tone. "You want to sound like you're celebrating," she says.
  • Use specifics to let the dog know you're pleased or displeased with his behavior. Geller discourages people from using "good boy" or "good girl" as a reward for doing something like sitting. Instead, respond with "Good sit!" or saying "sit" in a cheerful tone.
  • Choose three different levels or qualities of treats—bronze, silver and gold—to reward your dog. By doing this, you reinforce behavior with a treat that is compensatory to what the dog has accomplished. "No one does anything for nothing, even dogs," Geller says. "People who say it's not fair to reward with treats, I tell them, 'You get paid for your work, don't you?'"
  • Be consistent and patient. "You don't get a plant, water it for three weeks and think you're done," Geller says. "When you're inconsistent and you lose interest because it's hard, you've lost your gratitude for the gift you have in your dog." 
Though some people become discouraged at the prospect of training an older dog, Geller says older dogs are actually much easier to train because they're more interested in connecting with their owners. 

"You don't have to get a puppy," she says. "[Older dogs] are always willing. You wouldn't give up on someone just because they're 50, would you? No! When you're training an older dog, you're finding new ways to have fun with them." 

Watch Geller use her step-by-step approach on Oprah's golden retrievers!

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