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

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