“The loneliness and solitude of man can be dispersed by spiritual intercourse, but man is of the earth, too, and Nature lives in him and holds him fast. She is his mother, and just as in all young things that stray from home there is a yearning after associations which recall the color and the atmosphere of the old home now lost, so does the solitary man seek Nature, a life in Nature; Nature’s answer, the animal that understands his voice and respond to it.”
I was excited to read this book for a few reasons. First, my husband is very interested in German shepherds. The Monks of New Skete have been conscientiously breeding German shepherds for decades now and their breeding and training program is quite renowned. Second, I was looking forward to reading this book because, as a Christian myself, I was curious if the New Skete monks provided any links between the love of dogs and the love of God.
Their book opens with a sweet and poignant sentiment from one of the Desert Fathers, hermits and monks who lived in the Egyptian wilderness in the third century A.D.:
Abbot Xanthios said, “A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.”
I think it’s such a beautiful statement. And quite true. It goes without saying that we could learn a lot from the unconditional love of dogs.
Overall, I liked the holistic and spiritual approach that the monks have for dog raising and training. I found myself envying their idyllic life raising beautiful German shepherds at their peaceful monastery in upstate New York. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? This book tells you everything you wanted to know (or didn’t want to know!) about a puppy’s earliest days of life. The authors get right down there and describe the birth of a litter in intense, specific detail. The early chapters of the book chart the developmental stages of a puppy’s first ten weeks of life. If you’re interested in what happens to a puppy in its earliest days of life, this is a great introduction for you.
I liked the monks’ careful emphasis on their “puppy aptitude test,” which they apply to all of their puppies before placing them with their new owners. If Guion and I decide to go the puppy route, I hope to put some of these techniques into practice before picking out our puppy. The look of a puppy matters far less than its temperament, which can be somewhat accurately discerned from a young age. The temperament test isn’t definitive, however, and it’s worth noting that it’s not foolproof.
The book is somewhat old (published in 1991). Not that old books are bad, but I was a bit off-put by some of the monks’ recommended training techniques, which definitely smack of dominance-based training regimens. The monks recommend popping the leash to correct dogs, clamping their muzzles, and physically dominating them “if necessary.” Personally, I’m far more in favor of the techniques recommended by Pat Miller and other positive reinforcement trainers. In the wrong hands, these dominance-based methods could do a lot of damage to some puppies.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who was looking for a sound guide on dog training. The monks’ perspective on the entire physical and spiritual life of the dog is very beautiful and grounding, and I have deep respect for their puppy placement attempts, but I do carry some hesitation about their recommended training techniques.