Monday, March 22, 2010

The dogs in my life

The Monks say to make room for your dog in space and mind. I think raising a dog expands your mind or bends it, if not taken seriously. As a child I have owned "mutts." In high school my grandparents gave me a Miniature Dachshund that I named Yahtzee after a favorite game.

I was "dogless" for about ten years while living in apartments. I bought my first home with a yard that needed filling. Indiana, mostly an indoor dog, came into my life and enjoyed the backyard no matter her "indoor" status.

Dog training or wolf training?

Do we ever look at the dog's two inch teeth and think wolf? We should. that seems to be at the heart of the Monks' approach. Wolves and dogs are similar in the need for social interaction and to be part of a pack.

I thank Indiana for being part of my pack. She was a comfort in all realms. Want to watch TV? She was there. A walk? She got the leash. A threat? She growled or barked a protective warning. Indy seemed to get most of the Monks' dog training techniques from gentle eye contact to the fact that we listened to each other's needs.

Pack training needed support

At one stage in her life, she went to doggie boot camp because her pack leader--me--failed the leadership test. She was gone for about three weeks to Matthew Margolis' center, now called Uncle Matty's Dog Training Center. I think there was separation anxiety for Indy and me.

New pack member joins the dog training team

I married a few years after Indy's boot camp experience. She accepted Galen, the new pack member, along with his Calico cat, Hannover. Indy died about 20 years ago at the age of nearly 11. Her sweet disposition taught me to strive to be kinder.

Since then my husband and I brought two Basenjis, a humorous and challenging breed, into our pack. They wanted nothing to do with dog training. Galen, who had never owned a dog, wanted a canine that didn't bark, barely shed and was like a cat. Careful what you ask for.

The Basenjis--a female named Vogue and a male named Sirius--were truly as independent as cats. They had three things they did best: ignore you, make you laugh and ignore you.

Monk dog training tip

The one Monk dog training trick that worked best for them was when we avoided eye contact when they acted up. Basenjis do not like to be ignored. After 16 years, Sirius died. His sister mourned him so much, never having been separated from her litter mate, that we adopted a nearly four-month old Bull Terrier to keep her company. Vogue will be 18 in April.

I've had eight dogs in my life, including Jeep, the Bull Terrier. I'm still learning how to be my dog's best friend.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dog training with Monks meant I'm not alone

It's best to start at the beginning. I came across the Monks of New Skete when I received a three-month-old German Shepherd for my birthday. I named her Indiana after my home state and Indiana Jones, an appropriate action hero even for a female dog. This was the biggest dog I'd ever owned. Not that Indy was huge. She was just big compared to my smaller dogs such as a minature dachshund.

I knew serious help should be sought. That's when I found the Monks of New Skete, a relatively obscure monastery in upper New York, thousands of miles from my home in California. There was an immediate affinity to the Monks since the name "Skete" is Greek for a small, family-style monastic community. Plus, in the fourth century A.D., Skete was a remote desert settlement southwest of Alexandria, Egypt. My point: I love Greece and Alexandria. It was a sign that the Monks were for me and Indiana when it came to dog training.

The dog training, not religion was key

I wasn't drawn to the Monks Orthodox religion. The draw was their philosophy in dog training: "Understanding is the key to communication, compassion and community" with your dog. I bought their book, How to be Your dog's Best Friend, originally published in 1978, long before the Dog Wishiperer Cesar Millan came on to the scene. I got my hands on a copy in the 1980s.

It wouldn't be the Monks' only book. What followed: The Monks of New Skete--The Art of Raising a Puppy in 1991, Divine Canine: The Monk's Way to a Happy Obedient Dog in 2007 (probably limited copies) and Dogs and Devotion in November 2009.

Dog-eared pages marked training favorites

The first book is still bears yellow highlighted key phrases. "Animals can make us more human--that is, more humane, patient, responsible and compassionate," Michael W. Fox wrote in the Foreword. He was then Director, Institute for the Study of Animal Problems, Division of the Humane Society of the United States.

The Monks write, "A Better insight into your dog may give you a glimpse of your own humanity..."

The Monks were my first line of defense, but not my last.