Sunday, May 27, 2007

Israeli Makes Good in U.S. Making Money Off of Dogs (Their Owners)

Intelligence Officer?

The Dogged Approach

Q: Although you’re a former intelligence officer with the Israeli Army, your new book, “The Loved Dog,” which has zipped to the top of best-seller lists, advocates a nonmilitary, totally indulgent approach to dog training.

A. Why do you say indulgent? Indulgence sounds a little bit L.A., and I am not about painting your dog’s toenails pink. I am more about connecting with your dog and respecting your dog.

Yet you recommend letting your dog beat you occasionally at a game of tug-of-war, which seems like coddling to me.

You have to give the dog the feeling of victory every once in a while. How much interest would you have in meeting me for tennis on Sunday mornings if I beat you every time?

Your positive-reinforcement methods include what you call “making a party” when the dog does something right.

How do you make a party, exactly? You clap your hands and you have a big smile and you say, in a happy singsong voice, “sit” or “come.” You make the dog feel special.

Your approach seems a little mothering-meets-Vegas, not least because you recommend that dogs occasionally be showered with “a jackpot of treats,” meaning four or five cookies simultaneously.

Exactly. People give treats all the time, and then they gradually stop giving the treat. The way to do it is the Las Vegas way. B. F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist, realized that random rewards give a more reliable and consistent response.

All this strikes me as a pointed critique of Cesar Millan, the TV-show dog behaviorist who prides himself on his leader-of-the-pack virility and toughness.

He wants a dog to be a “calm submissive.” I do not. I do not want anybody in a relationship with me to be submissive.

For all your differences, you and Cesar are emblematic of America’s glamorization of pets. You each live in Los Angeles, run day care centers for dogs and boast of having helped train Oprah’s dogs.

To say that we are both her trainers — that’s not really true. It’s really only me. As far as I know, he worked with Sophie, the cocker spaniel, twice. I train her three golden retrievers — Luke, Layla and Gracie. Oprah is a very good mom. She loves to “make a party” for her dogs; when they come to her, she shows her joy.

Why do we need personal trainers for dogs when you can socialize a dog in an obedience class?

When you go to a class, you become the nagging force when your dog has nine other dogs to play with. To teach manners to a dog, and have him be part of the family — that should be done at the home. But puppy socialization should be done in a group.

How much do you charge for a session?

$300 an hour.

About the same as an Upper East Side psychiatrist.

But with a psychiatrist you go on and on; with me it rarely exceeds five lessons. When you think about it, it’s not expensive.

Why all this high-priced attention, when dogs have traditionally developed first-rate personalities by running around farms with kids, as in “Lassie”?

Lassie was at least five different dogs. She was portrayed as just living on the ranch and running around, but that dog was trained very professionally.

I read somewhere that modern dog training began during World War I, when German shepherds were enlisted to carry messages and were expected to follow orders.

Exactly. The dog is a four-legged soldier, and he walks on your left side because on your right side you have your weapon. But why do we even need a dog to heel? I don’t say “heel” to my dogs.

You’re referring to the two rescue dogs with whom you live, Clyde and Duke, both of whom are mutts.

They’re my family. They’re my sons.

I hope they don’t play video games.

No, they’re still fixated on their tennis balls.

This was today's ridiculous post.

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