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Fast Talk: Tamar Geller

Few people have a former Israeli army intelligence officer for a dog trainer, but who better to whip Ozzy Osbourne's pets into shape?Tamar Geller, who did just that, is the owner of the Loved Dog, a Los Angeles-based company that trains and cares for canines. She's come a long way from her early days observing wolf packs in the Arava Desert, but as an avid traveler and pet fanatic she fits perfectly into her current role: counseling the pedigreed pets of Hollywood. Nowadays she spends much of her time offering her clients travel tips to ease Fido's journey and to assuage the master's worries. And with the recent relaxation of quarantine laws for pets heading from the United States to the United Kingdom, transatlantic travel is now a more practical choice for owners who can't bear to be apart from their furry friends. Travel + Leisure recently caught up with Geller and asked her opinion on what to look for in a pet-friendly hotel, how to prep your pup for a plane ride, and how to deal with those inevitable separations when you get to travel but your dog has to remain behind.

1. Where are you right now?Is there anyplace you'd rather be?
I'm at my job at the Loved Dog. It's more than a job—it's a passion, a calling. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

2. What makes your company, the Loved Dog, different from other pet care facilities?
It's a cage-free kennel for dogs, where they're free to roam and play. Before we accept a new dog, he goes through a personality test to make sure he'll be happy with us and the other dogs. Our training methods are based on behavior modification instead of the old army techniques of the choke chain and aggression. We let the dogs play and express themselves. Each dog gets a deluxe private room with a single bed and a dog biscuit on the pillow. But the dogs are free to have a "slumber party" or stay with the night watchperson. It's all very easygoing. We don't try and force the dogs.

3. Before you moved to the States, you spent quite a bit of time traveling through Asia. Where did you go?
I spent a year in Southeast Asia, starting in Sri Lanka. Trust me, traveling from Israel to Sri Lanka was a huge culture shock. I spent time in Cambodia and Burma. I did a trek around Annapurna, through the Himalayas in Nepal. I stayed with tribes in northern Thailand, around Chiang Rai, and really got close to the people. I didn't stay in chichi hotels. It was just my backpack and me—a great trip.

4. When you're away from home, do you have any rituals to help you acclimate to your new environment?Do you bring any special reminders of home?
No, I try to embrace the foreignness of it all. I like to immerse myself in the foreign culture and get close to the people. The only things I always bring are a picture of my dog and some books.

5. You observed wild wolves in Israel while serving as an intelligence officer with the Elite Special Forces in the Israeli army. Can you explain how you ended up working with these animals and how it influenced your decision to open the Loved Dog in Los Angeles?
I really think that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. I finished my four years in the army and I went out to the Arava Desert to pull myself back together. I stumbled upon a study on wolves and their pack behavior, and I just tagged along. Watching the wolves really got to me; I would go home at night and dream about them. I realized that understanding the wolves' communication gave a lot of insight into communicating with dogs. Then I was on a trip visiting California, and I was hanging around waiting for a Pink Floyd concert to start when I met some other animal trainers and we started talking. They were interested in my method and referred me to a celebrity in the music industry. He was so happy with the way I trained his dog that he referred me to other people, and that's how it started 14 years ago.

6. What are your favorite dog-friendly hotels?What are some clues that a hotel will welcome your pet?Are there any questions you should ask before checking in?
I love the Four Seasons hotels and the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara. They always give a big welcome to dogs and have a goody basket waiting. It's important for a hotel to welcome your dog and not make you apologize for having him with you. Little things, like having a bowl of water in the room, are very important. If you plan to stay in a hotel, always ask if they allow dogs, and what size they allow. Some hotels will say that they allow dogs, but they really just mean small ones. When you show up with your medium-sized Labrador, they don't always react with open arms.

7. Any tips for air travel with pets?
The most important thing is to get a nonstop flight. Temperatures in the cargo area of the plane can go from very hot to very cold, so try to make the flight as short as possible. Also, talk to your vet about whether you should sedate your pet or not. Some animals don't react well to sedation; they aren't totally knocked out so they just feel drugged and disoriented, which scares them. Small dogs can travel in Sherpa bags or crates in the main cabin as long as the bag fits under the seat and the animal can comfortably move around inside.

8. How can you keep your pet healthy and happy while traveling?
It's important to take rest stops and let your dog get out and play; let him expend some energy. Train your dog to go to the bathroom on command. When you stop, you want to make sure your dog will actually go to the bathroom instead of walking around sniffing the new surroundings. Be sure to bring water for the dog and train him to drink when you direct him. Also, have chew toys for him to play with. I don't mean plush toys, but things they can really get their teeth into.

9. If you can't take your pet with you on a trip, are there ways you can ensure that it will be okay while you're away?
1. Find a cage-free kennel so your dog can run around and act like a dog during your absence.
2. Visit the kennel before you leave and make sure that you're comfortable with the place and the people.
3. Train your dog to be happy even if you aren't there.
4. Find someone, a friend or a relative, who is comfortable with your dog and will be available in case an emergency arises.
5. Make sure your dog can socialize well with other animals.

10. You recently received a lot of attention for your work on TV with the Osbournes' pets. With seven dogs and a cat, you could say they have a bona fide menagerie. Ozzy even referred to his house as Beverly Hills's most expensive sewer. In a house with so many animals, do you have to take a different approach to train them?And does your approach to the dog vary depending on the personalities of the owners?
You definitely have to take a different approach to a house with so many animals. When you are one on one with one or two dogs, then they are the minority. But when there are more dogs, they are a pack, and suddenly you are the minority. It's hard to override that pack mentality. As for working with owner's personalities, if the owners are very active, I train the dogs to go on trails, catch Frisbees, and run on the beach. I try to mirror the active lifestyle of the owners. But if I'm working with the lap dog of a more sedentary person, then I wouldn't teach that dog how to run through trails. Instead, I would teach him to lie still without being restless. The personalities of the owners are very important in the training process of the dog.

Interviewed by Jennifer V. Cole


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