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Book Review: Divine Canine – The Monks’ Way to a Happy, Obedient Dog by The Monks of New Skete

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I was having sushi with a good friend and we were discussing pets and the difference between dogs and cats. Being a cat lover from the time I can remember I was not too interested in hearing about dogs, who I perceived as basically big dirty dumb animals. My friend had a different take; she said, "cats are nature's serial killers, but dogs were put here to teach us how to love."

When my husband and I moved to the Caribbean I brought three cats over with me. One night a local stray dog, a "potcake" as we say, came to visit.  "Don't feed it!", I yelled, "or it will keep coming back!"  Well, he did feed her and she did come back and now we have no cats but are the proud owner of a 65 pound potcake named Smiley (the best dog in the world). Hmmm….

She came housebroken and relatively social, but liked to run off, was overprotective, and did not play well with other dogs.  Luckily I found a great dog trainer and groomer, and Smiley entered doggie day care with training and socialization.  Our trainer, as it turned out, used the principles taught by The Monks of New Skete.  An Eastern Orthodox order based in Cambridge, New York, the monks train dogs as part of their "monastic witness. For example, since we live on land that is steep and rocky, it is totally unsuitable for farming. This reality led us to begin breeding German Shepherd Dogs early on, and boarding and training dogs of all breeds."  The Monks also train dogs and their owners to lead happier, more productive lives together.

Their latest book, Divine Canine: The Monks' Way to a Happy, Obedient Dog, is a clear and easy-to-understand guide to training "difficult" dogs using the examples of actual clients.  This is a beautiful book with color photos of the dogs, owners, and Brother Christopher.  We see the dogs misbehaving and behaving with clear explanations of how they walked the path.  The book is grounded in the monks sense that relationships with dogs help deepen our relationships with God.  "God speaks to us through our dogs — indeed through all life — and woe to us if we're deaf to that voice."

Divine Canine is organized around the five basic obedience commands: Sit, Stay, Heel, Down, and Come.  Each dog story focuses on how teaching the dog these basic commands leads ultimately to a calmer, happier dog and therefore calmer, happier humans.  So we watch as Tessie the mini bull terrier with obedience issues learns that she is not the "alpha" of the family and must listen, as Hugo the bulldog learns to not jump up, and as Boomer the rottweiler mix learns that aggression will not be tolerated and is not necessary.  But what we also learn is what we as humans must give to the dog -human relationship; what our companion dogs should expect from us.

While all of the Monks' dog books are wonderful, I especially enjoyed The Monks' Way to a Happy, Obedient Dog because of the personal stories.  We see the good, bad, and the ugly when it comes to the dogs and their owners and learn about ourselves as much as about our pets.

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About Lynda Lippin