Shelby Marlo is a professional dog trainer and an animal behavioral specialist who has been featured in magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles, Vanity Fair, and Dog World. Her clients include many celebrities.
Shelby Marlo's New Art of Dog Training: Balancing Love and Disciplineby Shelby Marlo, Taura S. Mizrahi
Shelby Marlo's advice, which has graced the pages of Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly, has also helped celebrities like Bridget Fonda, Dionne Warwick, and Halle Berry. No one -- least of all Hollywood's elite -- can argue with the woman who can teach a dog to "sit," "stay," "come," and "roll over," using positive reinforcement instead of punitive and inhumane methods. barnesandnoble.com contributing writer Sharon Goldman Edry recently had the opportunity to catch up with Marlo, author of Shelby Marlo's New Art of Dog Training , and find out more about her life as a dog trainer to the stars.
barnesandnoble.com: What inspired you to move from dog trainer to author?
Shelby Marlo: Well, there are dog training books out there that are popular but have so much misinformation. Things have progressed so quickly in the last ten years from where a lot of these books are coming from that I was just compelled to make a stab at stopping the misinformation.
bn: What kind of misinformation?
SM: Oh, that you should use a choke chain, that you shouldn't use food in training, the fallacy that dogs have a desire to please. Now we know better -- that the way animals learn is through reinforcement. You get a whole lot further by using a treat than by getting a dog to work by trying to avoid a correction on a choke chain or a loud no. There are still books out there that tell you to put a dog's nose in its mess to punish him.
bn: What inspired you to get into dog training?
SM: I was born an animal person -- I loved every kind of animal. There was a dog named Pearl that I was in love with when I was a teenager, and I trained her myself. I wasn't aware then of anything known as dog training; it was just something that came naturally to me. When she was aging, I knew I'd be devastated by her loss so I started to find another dog. When Pearl started to fail, I turned all my attention to the puppy, Lotte. One day, I was driving down the street and saw a sign for a dog training class, the first time I had heard of such a thing. But I was horrified with what the man told us to do. He wanted me to push the dog, pull it, coerce it, force it. I survived the class by ignoring things he told me to do. I became obsessed with dog training and read everything on the subject I could get my hands on. I sought out information about the other world of dog training, the people that use food as a motivator. It's amazing what happened when I started to go in that direction.
bn: In Shelby Marlo's New Art of Dog Training you talk a great deal about the importance of rank. Can you explain what you mean by that?
SM: In the culture of dogs, you have to have a leader. [Dogs] are predators, and historically dogs had to kill their prey. To prevent anarchy, they had to respect each other's place. The leader dictates what they do and where they go, and the hierarchy goes down from there. The whole point is that when dogs feed, they defer to each other rather than kill each other. The rank issue also comes into play because dogs are very social and hunt in packs. The leader is the highest-ranking animal and has access to the best resources, such as the best resting areas and food. Now, the human being has to be the leader in the household, but this doesn't mean -- and this is where other books fail -- that you have to roll the dog over, stare in its face, and say, "I'm the boss." That's dangerous, and if you do that wrong, the dog may bite you. There are more effective ways to show that you're the leader -- you can have the dog sleep on the floor, for example.
bn: But what if you want your dog to sleep with you?
SM: Well, I sleep with my latest puppy, Fanny, because I'm not having any problems with her. My puppy understands that I'm above her because of the way I live with her on a day-to-day basis. But if you have an aggressive or pushy dog, the animal has to come to an understanding where he feels the owner is the leader. You have to regain control over the situation, and not allowing access to high resting places like the couch or bed -- even if it's just for a while -- may help. When you get a new puppy, it's good to establish these rules right off the bat, and then you can start to loosen up.
bn: One of the interesting things you say in your book is to begin socializing your dog as early as seven weeks, even though the conventional wisdom is to keep puppies entirely indoors until their shots are completed.
SM: It's a sad problem, because there's never going to be no risk of disease, but there becomes a larger risk of having fearful, aggressive, antisocial dogs. You can socialize with prudence until the puppy finishes its shots. For example, you can carry the puppy in your arms. With Fanny, I hiked with her at eight weeks. This way, the puppy isn't on the ground getting into contact with other dogs, but she still sees sights and sounds. You can also take the dog in the car on errands -- not on a hot day, of course -- or have a puppy party by inviting healthy dogs you know over for the day.
bn: In the book, you talk about the idea of "letting a dog be a dog." What do you mean by that?
SM: You have to respect that dogs are very different than we are. They have a completely different set of values and codes. When they do things like bark at a door, sniff a dog's butt, chew, or dig, these are things that are innate to them. You have to know what they're about and respect that. We've taken a creature who is very different from us, like a little alien, and brought him into our homes, expecting [him] to be like us. But it's unfair for people to have unrealistic expectations.
bn: You have a lot of celebrity clients. How did that start?
SM: Well, I live in Los Angeles, so obviously a lot of celebrities are out here. Bridget Fonda was my first celebrity client, and then I [was] referred by vets with celebrity clients in the area. Then the whole thing just grew by word of mouth. I have never done any advertising. I think that celebrities tend to be on the cutting edge of things and are open to new ways of thinking.
bn: Do you have any favorite celebrity dogs?
SM: I have a lot of favorites, usually just the current one I'm working on. But I do love Buddy Love, Laura Dern's dog, as well as Rio, Dionne Warwick's dog, who lives with me when she travels. I'm also mad for Brooke Shields's American bulldog, and Minnie Driver has a new Lab puppy named Bubba.
bn: Do you have any plans for other books?
SM: I have so many ideas for other books. I want to write a book just about puppies, and I want to write one just on behavior problems. I also want to do a more extensive book on choosing the right breed, as well as another relationship book, just about people and their relationship to dogs.
bn: So I guess you'll stick with the dog training thing for a while, then?
SM: Oh, yes, I'm such a dog person. My house is full of dog paintings, collections of dog cookie jars, and dog statues -- nothing kitschy, just wonderful and beautiful stuff. People have had to stop giving me dog items because I don't have any more wall space!
- NTC Publishing Group
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