Thursday, June 23, 2011

HT Be Your Dog's Best Friend - Book Review

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend/The Monks of New Skete
Little Brown/2002/2nd edition
Hardback bought from Amazon
Why?  my new puppy Layla
What Now? glass cabinet where my favorites live

Golden Lines

Your dog can provide you with a unique access to the natural world, helping you to expand your capacity for aesthetic appreciation, warmth, and enjoyment, thus rooting you in deeper realities.  In a world grown increasingly artificial and plastic, we are dangerously out of touch with the natural environment that sustains us, and the effect of this detachment has been to create a wasteland of spiritual aridity and alienation.  

The throngs of unwanted animals, with no possibilities of homes or owners, represent an abominable waste of life.  They are a shocking indication of our lack of reverence for life.


The Monks of New Skete have been raising dogs for over 30 years.  Their interests began with one German Shepherd, a pet of of one of the monks.  When the dog disappeared as they were moving to a new monestary, the monks realized just how much the dog had meant to their lives and their existence as spiritual human beings.  They decided to get two more German Shepherds, a male and female, and began their own breeding and training of German Shepherds as well as other dogs in the community who needed help learning the basics of obedience.  Through their work with all of the dogs, the monks have seen first hand how a dog can change a person's life.  With the right training in the beginning a dog can even make a person a better person.

What I Liked
The focus on dogs as they are...learning about their instincts, their backgrounds, the family as a pack.

 This book is not just a "training" book, with tips and tricks for making your dog do everything you ask it to...the book covers the history of dogs, psychology, pack dynamics (whether in the wild or in your home), and overall the owner's relationship with his/her dog. 

The spiritual aspect of the book...the monks don't preach but they do talk about honoring the life of other living creatures making us better creatures ourselves.  When we give so much of ourselves to another living being (which is vital when training a dog), we become better humans, more atune to the natural world around us, and those feelings/actions even sometime spill over into our other human relationships.  The word "obedience" literally means to "listen," something we all need more practice in doing. 

What I Didn't Like

The section on "correction."  While the monks stress that the least amount of force necessary prevails always, there are a couple of examples I don't think should be used except by the most experienced handlers.  One of these is called the shakedown.  I actually took my pen and X'd out this whole section. 
The section on puppies is later on in the the first chapters actually cover some material on training that is not appropriate until a dog is 6 months old.  I wasn't clear on all of this until I finally got to the puppy section.  Basic obedience training begins from birth, but the more focused, even job related training begins after 6 months and also after the basics (come, sit, heel, stay, down) have been mastered.

My Personal Response
I've had personal experience with a "bad dog"...who wasn't really a bad dog at all.  Instead, I was a bad owner (actually, it wasn't me personally).  I was 6 months pregnant with our youngest when my husband brought home a Rottweiler puppy.  She was so cute!!!! We babied her, played tug of war with her, teased her, let her sleep in our bed when she cried...all the good things owners do when they love their puppies, right? Wrong.  Our cute little Rottweiler puppy grew to be a 150lb chunk of a dog who could knock a grown man to the ground just playing.  She minded no one but my husband and that was only when she felt like it.  The girls and I quickly became afraid of her and she was sentenced to the fenced in backyard on a chain.  Even as I type this I'm ashamed.  She tore our backyard up, running the fence and digging.  She owned the backyard...none of the rest of us would go back there except my husband on the riding lawn mower.  She chewed on everything and loved my youngest's rubber boots.  One afternoon the Rottweiler decided she wanted my youngest's rubber boots...problem was my youngest was still IN the boots.  I've never been so scared in my life.  I grabbed the dog with everything in me...adrenaline pumping, of course and held on for dear life.  While the dog turned her focus on me, my youngest ran for her life into the house.  Now, let me be clear here.  The dog was just playing when she grabbed my youngest's boots.  She did not intentionally throw my youngest to the ground.  If the Rottweiler had wanted to rip my youngest's throat out, she could have done it and there would have been nothing I could have done to prevent it.  The dog was not playing, however, when I grabbed her from behind with all my this day I have no idea how in the world that episode ended without me being harmed.  When my youngest was safe in the house, I let go of the dog; she grabbed the rubber boots and ran off.  She was not a bad dog.  We were bad owners.  We failed her and we had to find her a new home where someone could spend loads of time training her to break the bad behavior we had created.  I will never let that happen again.   I love and honor animal life too much for that.

The Monks of Skete were right up my alley so to speak with the commitment to training and training early as well as honoring dogs for what they are...dogs.

My overall recommendation:

If your idea of having a dog is to purchase it and tie it up in your backyard, this isn't the book for you.  Actually, you probably don't need a dog to begin with if that's your idea of pet ownership :/ Just sayin'


  1. Our "bad" dog experience had to do with a beagle not being an apartment dog. People really have to do their research before they get a dog. Though it's very hard when they're just so cute.

  2. We had a "bad dog" experience and it was our fault as well. I didn't learn that though until years later.

    With Chloe, we thought long and hard about why we wanted a dog. Prior to that, we were die hard cat folks! We knew what we wanted this time, what we could handle and what would be fair to a dog and we went in search of her. It took awhile and many rescues kept telling us we needed a larger dog. That a larger dog would solve a lot of our yard issues, but we knew deep down, that we wanted the dog to be with us, indoors.

    Now we have Chloe and although she is not perfect... we got her at a very young age (6 mo) and have been working with her and she is just a doll. She wants to do well all the time and that helps with the training as she is not a food focused dog.

    Training and consistency make all the difference!

  3. I have heard a lot about this book, and think that it sounds like it would be really helpful for those who are hoping to train a new dog. Like you, I tend to spoil my dogs, but in our case the dogs being spoiled are very mild mannered and obedient, so I've not had the kinds of problems that you have had. The big dog that we have is rather a sensitive soul and can't stand it when we even look at him angrily, so it's been rather easy to keep him in control, but we do let him get in the bed and feed him from the table. Hearing the kinds of problems that we could have had if he had a different temperament is frightening.