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Saturday, February 15th, 2003


 

How To Be Your Dogs Best Friend: The Classic Training Manual for Dog Owners

by The Monks of New Skete

A review by C. P. Farley

Traditional dog training is based on the assumption that dogs are essentially domesticated wolves and are therefore hardwired to live by the rules of the pack. The best way to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with your dog, so the theory goes, is to act like a dog and assert yourself as the alpha. In this view, either you are in control or the dog is; for dogs, there is no in between. These traditionalists see no problem including "discipline" in their list of dog-training tools. It's only natural; that's what alpha dogs do.

But a rift has grown in the world of dog training. Born out of recent advances in behavioral psychology, a new school argues that "punishing" your pet (they consider "discipline" a euphemism) is not only ineffective and cruel, it's also unnecessary. These "positive dog trainers" promote a method that eschews negative deterrents and focuses exclusively on positive reinforcement.

One of the best known, most influential proponents of traditional methods are a group of monks who have been breeding, raising, and training German shepherds in upstate New York since the late sixties. Their classic How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend has sold a half million copies since it was first published in 1978, and their second book, The Art of Raising a Puppy, and their award-wining video series have been equally successful.

Now the Monks of New Skete have completely revised and updated their original work to include "the most current ideas about training and dog care" while remaining "faithful to what we have learned through our experience." Given the changes in the dog-training world since the original edition was first published, it's interesting to see how much their thinking has changed. The answer is, not much.

Which is interesting. The Monks of New Skete have received a great deal of harsh criticism from the more ideologically proponents of "positive dog training." After reading the book, though, one wonders if these critics have. The monks' love for their animals is apparent in every chapter, from the one about the spiritual aspects of the dog-human relationship to, yes, the one where they discuss "discipline."

Whether or not you agree or choose to use their methods yourself, these are clearly men who have one goal in mind — healthy, happy relationships between humans and dogs — and have approached their craft with practicality, compassion, and an open mind. Any dog owner will find a great deal of helpful information in this book, including the single best piece of advice I've yet encountered:

"Get at least three…training books…and one video series….[at least] one by a woman trainer and one by a man….the subtle (or not so subtle!) nuances in training techniques will broaden your perspective and help you be more flexible toward the specific needs of your dog."
Conscientious dog owners, eager to develop the best possible relationship with their pet, may be confused by the various, sometime contradictory methodologies now available. So why not read widely and then choose what method you think best fits your situation. I would make a further suggestion. Include in your research a careful reading of this excellent book.


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