July 24, 2011

Raising a puppy ~ Training a dog

Posted in dog ownership, dog training tagged , at 1:47 pm by Angie Hilbert

What do Cesar Millan, Tamar Geller, the Monks of New Skete, and John Bradshaw all have in common?

Not as much as you’d expect!

If you think raising and educating children is a complex and divisive subject, just look at the diversity of advice on raising and training a dog! It is very easy to get confused, not know who to trust, and throw it all away in frustration and just try to muddle through on your own.

But don’t.

There is a story about an unusually thoughtful, remarkably intelligent, and uniquely compassionate young American college student. He spent a summer seeking enlightenment in a zen temple in Japan, living, working, and meditating with the monks there. After a few months, he went home depressed and even suicidal.

When the abbot was asked about it, he said simply that the young man had become depressed when he discovered that he was actually quite ordinary. He left his study in confusion and discouragement, deciding he was too far from enlightenment to ever reach it in this lifetime.

He had stayed long enough to realize there was nothing unusual, remarkable, or unique about him at all. But he didn’t stay long enough to discover that was an important step bringing him closer to enlightenment.

So what has this to do with preparing for the arrival of my furry bundle of joy? If you have read more than one book on dog ownership, you already know.

There are as many philosophies on raising a puppy as there are puppies. There are as many training methods as there are dogs. Finding good advice is both incredibly easy and profoundly difficult.

Cesar is all about dominance and leadership. Tamar Geller is the queen of anthropomorphism. The monks profess to follow the natural order, and John Bradshaw offers scientific information that raises more questions than it answers! Yet I have learned much from each of them.

Sometimes they contradict one another, other times they simply organize the same philosophies in different ways. Like the young American college student in the zen temple, if I had stopped too soon, I would have been depressed. If you read enough dog books, you will quickly arrive at the realization that none of them are ultimately “right.” (some will even directly or indirectly disparage one another.)

But it is in the persistence of learning and reading that each author starts to make their own sense within their own interpretation of the dog’s world. Each under the influence of their personal experience as dog handlers and as human beings.

Cesar raised himself up from his boot straps to a successful and respected “alpha-dog” in his profession against incredible odds. Tamar’s insight to the hearts of her dogs comes from her personal experience walking in a dog’s paw-steps as an abused second-class citizen. The monks find meaning and purpose in their own trusting and obedient relationship to God and find their dogs also experience love in a relationship based on trust and obedience. And John, as a man of science, has tirelessly explored everything science can tell us or explain to us about how our beloved dogs perceive and interpret the home environment we share.

I have studied them all long enough to be confused by the contradictory advice and competing philosophies.  But unlike the discouraged college student despairing of ever finding enlightenment, I have stayed with them to make sense of their separate wisdoms and hope to apply it appropriately and compassionately to my relationship with Paka.

Don’t blindly follow a single philosophy of puppy-rearing and dog training. Fill your well of knowledge with everything you find. The more you learn, the more discerning you will be and the more information you will have to draw from in meeting the needs of your new family member.