Book review: Divine Canine

By the Monks of New Skete

When we first got our dog Bridget 16 months ago, the advice on how to train her began flowing within minutes of her arrival. And as advice that relates to the rearing of the young almost always is, the counsel we received was highly questionable and contradictory.

“We’re using the RCMP method,” advised an old friend with a puppy the same age and a copy of an aged dog-training manual used by the Mounties. “Grab the muzzle and hold it shut if they bite.”

“Have you heard of How to be your Dog’s Best Friend by these famous monks in New York state?’ asked a brand new dog walking acquaintance. “They are really against paper training.”

From monks to Mounties, the choices were mind-boggling. And even if the Mounties were looking all around less credible, thanks to their problematic handling of humans, the monks’ line about being your dog’s best friend wasn’t all that appealing either. As a parent, I’ve never wanted to be a human child’s best friend let alone a dog’s. It all sounded just a little too new agey for me.

In the end I threw my hat in with the adorable Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan and his holy trilogy of exercise, discipline, affection.

Alas, Cesar, who has apparently since remedied the problem with his latest book, didn’t provide much in the way of concrete advice to go along with all the inspiration, which is how I came to find myself just over a year later with a dog who still won’t come when I call and who retains her penchant for biting people’s feet just like a little Dachshund mix featured in the book.

What with the Mounties in the headlines again, this time for tazering people, and the monks putting out a new book — Divine Canine, which also has a companion TV show — the moment seemed right to give the brothers of New Skete a try.

Well, I am indeed very glad I did. Divine Canine is one of those books that fill you with the power of possibility, the dog book equivalent of listening to the theme from Rocky or Chariots of Fire. “Yes, yes, yes,” I say to myself as I read, “I can do that.” I can do what Brother Christopher, the trainer featured throughout the book, does because, unlike Cesar Millan, he is telling me exactly how to do it. In fact, Brother Christopher even has photos. I am truly, divinely inspired.

In fact, I am so inspired I put Brother Christopher’s techniques to use almost immediately. Next time we are at the park and Bridget starts biting another dog walker’s feet, instead of ineffectually pulling her away and screaming, “No foot,” I calmly take her aside and look into her eyes as I say “No foot” in a firm, non-screaming way. Progress has already been made thanks to the Monks’ emphasis on the importance of eye contact.

Now, maybe this is un-Monk-like to admit, but I am inspired not only by my own dreams of a delightfully obedient dog but also by the schadenfreudeliciously horrible behaviour of some of the other dogs featured in Divine Canine. These dogs, all adults, are way, way worse behaved than my Bridget. In fact, one of them, Chico, is so bad, he even causes the ever patient Brother Christopher to question himself and his dog training techniques.

In the end, however, both trainer and dog rally for a happy ending. Chico learns the five commands the monks feel all dogs must master: heel, sit, down, stay and come. And thanks to the Divine Canine’s recipe of inspiration, concrete tips, and perspiration, I swear that Bridget is going to follow in his footsteps and learn them too.

In the mean time, the Daily Dachshund and Dog News highly recommends this attractive book to anyone whose adult dog hasn’t yet mastered the five basic commands. We’ll most definitely be passing a copy along to the friend who used the Mounties’ method. Turns out his dog could still use a few tips.

The Monks of New Skete
Divine Canine
The Monks’ Way to a Happy, Obedient Dog