"I actually took my shirt off on the very first rehearsal to be like, 'Okay girl, we gotta work it! If you want to be in this rehearsal, maybe I can drag you in by taking off my shirt,' " Savchenko tells PEOPLE of working with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and PEOPLE.com blogger). "And she was like, 'I like that! Okay, let's go.' "
With results like that the fresh-faced pro decided to stick with what was working – mostly.
"Every day I still do that," Savchenko says while attending the Los Angeles premiere of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. "I promise her but I actually don't take off my shirt, and as soon as she's in there I lock the door and say, 'You're going to stay here and we're going to concentrate on hard work.' "
Once he had Vanderpump under lock-and-key, Savchenko thought using laughter might soften the physical toll of the practices.
"She's got a great sense of humor, and everything that I tell her she makes a joke out of it," the Moscow native says. "We laugh all of the time, like probably the entire first week, and that's probably why we had very bad scores, because we laugh throughout the whole rehearsal."
Now looking up from the bottom three after just his first week and facing shorter practice times, Savchenko is switching gears a bit.
"I have to be very strict, but not too strict to push her too much," he says with a laugh. "I can be a bad cop ... but sometimes you have to be softer with her and she told me that she can do anything if I ask her nicely."
Craig Sjodin / ABC