What books should you read before you get a dog?

You can read a hundred books or zero and your dog will probably be fine. If you love him, feed him and throw the ball sometimes you’ll definitely be on solid ground. People have pretty much had dogs since the stone ages and I don’t think they were etching pictograms onto cave walls about how puppies need three meals a day until they’re six months old and should be taken to the Neanderthal dog park twice a week but only after getting their rabies shots.

That being said, you can get a dog and try everything until you find some tactics that work, or you can read about other people’s trial and error and at least take it under consideration. So while you don’t need to read any books, you might as well use your resources. Even if cavemen weren’t sitting down to write Marley and Me, they probably chatted about how CaveLady with ChinWhiskers down in number four smacks her dog when he’s bad and CaveMan with TinyEyes over in cave eleven gives his dog pieces of wooly mammoth liver for good behavior and TinyEyes has significantly less urine mud in his cave than ChinWhiskers does. I figure cave ladies had some serious whiskers, they can’t all be Wilma.

Wilma puts a bonnet on Dino

Reading book after book calmed me. I didn’t think it would, I thought I knew how to handle a dog, but once I started (Nate forced me to before agreeing to letting a slobbery mongrel into our hearts) I couldn’t stop. It just helped me feel prepared, like I knew what I was getting into. I totally had no idea what I was getting into, but reading and re-reading the books made the weeks leading up to Bender’s arrival much more manageable.

I loved the The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. These monks live in a monastery in New York state and do monk things like make bread and pray and contemplate stuff. They also breed german shepherds. Really, really awesome german shepherds. They keep them for a long time to do some preliminary training to make sure their obedience is started off right. Their dogs just lie down at their feet at dinner, even the puppies! Bender is not so polite…but, before we got him, this book gave me a lot of hope. Now that I’m thumbing through it again I still think there’s a chance.

dog and monk

The monks say “obedient” comes from the Latin root meaning “to listen wholeheartedly’.

The monks, as you might imagine, are more philosophical than other dog training books, this one is less of a manual and more of an education. They go into a lot of detail about your puppy’s life before she comes to live with you, the meaning behind behaviors, and wolves and their pack mannerisms that have been passed down to dogs. It helped me understand Bender despite the whole language/species barrier thing.

They don’t get too pushy about the religious agenda, they mention grace and meditation and throw in a few “divines”, but that’s about it. They say dogs are fundamental and necessary building blocks of the human experience. I don’t know about all that. But I highly recommend the book.

Bender the Golden Retriever on a bed full of clean laundry.

Don’t mind me, I’m a necessary part of the human experience.

I read a few other books too, Good Owners Great Dogs (a little dated), How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, and 14 Days to a Well Behaved Dog (short and sweet, slightly misleading). These were all manuals on training and care. My favorite was How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With but generally they were all helpful.

There is really only so much you can do to prepare and then you kind of just have to cope. I definitely recommend reading the monk book, but, because it’s very philosophical and not really a manual I’d recommend a second “bringing a puppy home” book as well. There are lots of great options out there and I’m sure they are all full of good advice. I say read the books, then see what works for you and go with it. I also can’t say enough good things about training classes. Books are all well and good but a real live trainer can’t be beat.


By their very make up and need, dogs draw us out of ourselves: they root us in nature, making us more conscious of the mystery inherent in all things. We become more compassionate and less arrogant, more willing to share our lives with another life…..Think of a dog greeting her owner after several hours of separation, her body showing effusive yet controlled signals of joy….Could we ever merit such affection? Its sincerity draws the best out of us, encouraging us to respond by trying to live up to such love.

– The Monks of New Skete

Golden Retriever Versus the Balloon

Today Bender was being his angelic little self – bounding from the windowsill, to the couch, to his bed, throwing his rawhide around the house like there was no way it could scratch our floors, and whining as he did these things. It’s my fault. I didn’t walk him and Leo has been gone all day. So he’s been bored. But I’ve got a lot of work on my plate this week, plus the six inches of snow outside really makes me want to hunker down under a comforter and avoid the outdoors. So I kept telling myself I’d walk him soon, or that he’d finally fall asleep.

As Bender ran inside for the millionth time, the heat came on and the balloons we have leftover from a birthday moved. It was slight but it caught his eye and gave me an idea. Bender was terrified of balloons when he was a puppy. I figured I should see if he was clinging to the fear now that he is older and wiser.

ballons adn bender

“Bender weighs his options now that the dreaded balloons have captured his food dish…in the end he decides the threat is too great and, embarrassingly, retreats” – September 2013

I cut one down and tied it to his collar. He was still terrified. I had just gotten it double knotted when he took off at a run out the dog door, balloon hot on his tail. After realizing that the balloon would not give up its chase Bender summoned his courage and decided to face his fears. The next twenty minutes were priceless.

Bender the golden retriever jumps for the balloon Bender the golden retriever gives the balloon a dirty look Bender the golden retriever stares longingly at the balloon the balloon attempts to cross the fence and Bender hops up to chase it IMG_20140128_112548 IMG_20140128_112601 IMG_20140128_112604 IMG_20140128_112607 IMG_20140128_112617 IMG_20140128_112623 IMG_20140128_112643

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