This is not a book that I’d heard of before one of my students mentioned it in one of my first group classes. It was not (and is still not) a book recommended by positive reinforcement trainers. But many of my students have mentioned they have read/are reading this book so I wanted to assess it for myself.
Let me start by saying that there are (limited) parts of this book which I will endorse – namely taking the time to build an incredible relationship with your new dog, and the many practical considerations to think about before deciding to bring a dog/what dog into your life. The chapters on the developmental stages of a puppy are fascinating and there is an inspiring “interlude” in which the spiritual bond a person can have with their pup is explored.
But there are so many references to old fashioned, outdated and renounced ideas like dominance as a character trait, being a “pack leader”, leash corrections, and forcing your dog into physical positions that I am left thinking that too many monks wanted a piece of this particular pie. While, the more educated/more recently educated Monks have been able to provide some great training advice, this book is let down by the older Monks who insisted on having their say and, disappointingly, they have entrenched views on old fashioned training methods. The suggestion that the only way to deal with an unruly dog is with harsh corrections is counter-productive. Advising not to soothe a frightened dog so that you don’t make their fear more exaggerated is unkind (and scientifically unfounded). And please, forcing your puppy onto its back is not going to encourage it to focus on you, but rather for your new “friend” to be cautious of what you, that scary human, might do next. Do not, I repeat, do not try and address biting by squeezing lemon into your dog’s mouth or by sticking your finger down its throat in an attempt to make it gag. Such methods aren’t just ill-advised they are also cruel.
While I admit I’m not a regular attendee at church, I do find it incredibly unsettling that anyone committed to a religious lifestyle openly encourages using devices (like the prong, choke and shock collar) which are designed specifically to inflict pain. The objective with these devices is to change an unwanted behavior. The reason they have an effect is because the dog learns that not complying results in the human hurting them. I just don’t see how this is consistent with the belief that all life is sacred and the Golden Rule to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Unfortunately, too many readers of this book remember the use of harsh handling “techniques” and not the importance of taking the time to understand their (particular) dog, training really reliable behaviors and above all having fun with their pup and enjoying the wonderment of another species wanting to share its life with us.
This post was written by Als