How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend

A Training Manual for Dog Owners


By Monks of New Skete

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For more than a quarter century, How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend has been the standard against which all other dog-training books have been measured. This expanded edition preserves the best features of the original classic while bringing the book fully up-to-date. The result: the ultimate training manual for a new generation of dog owners–and, of course, for their canine best friends.

The Monks of New Skete have achieved international renown as breeders of German shepherds and as outstanding trainers of dogs of all breeds. Their unique approach to canine training, developed and refined over four decades, is based on the philosophy that “understanding is the key to communication, compassion, and communion” with your dog.

How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend
covers virtually every aspect of living with and caring for your dog, including:
  • Selecting a dog (what breed? male? female? puppy or older dog?) to fit your lifestyle
  • Where to get–and where not to get–a dog
  • Reading a pedigree
  • Training your dog or puppy–when, where, and how
  • The proper use of praise and discipline
  • Feeding, grooming, and ensuring your dog’s physical fitness
  • Recognizing and correcting canine behavioral problems
  • The particular challenges of raising a dog where you live – in the city, country, or suburb
  • The proper techniques for complete care of your pet at every stage of his or her life
In its scope, its clarity, and its authority, How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend remains unrivaled as a basic training guide for dog owners. Like no other book, this guide can help you understand and appreciate your dog’s nature as well as his or her distinct personality–and in so doing, it can significantly enrich the life you share with your dog.




Discipline: The Taboo Topic
Some dog-training books never mention discipline, whether in the context of training or for outright bad behavior. Yet questions about it are frequent in our consultations. Owners run the gamut of emotions and responses in their attitudes toward correcting their dogs. Here are some sample quotes we've collected over the years when we asked the questions "How do you correct your dog?" and "Do you discipline your dog for bad behavior, and if so, how?"
"I hit him on the rump with a rolled-up newspaper. Sometimes I have to chase him. He knows when he's done wrong."
"I yell and say, 'No, no', and she slinks and hangs her head. But then she messes in the same place the very next day."
"When I disciplined the dog, the children would scream and cry, so I gave up. I didn't want the kids to think I was hurting the dog."
"I tell her to stop it and jerk the leash, but it doesn't seem to make a dent."
"Even if I raise my hand to smack Queenie, she bares her teeth. It's like living with Hitler."
"I never hit my children, and I never hit my dog."
"One dog we had — we beat on him pretty hard. We broke his spirit, and he took off on us. I don't want that to happen again."
"We discipline by hitting the dog over the head with a stick. It works."
"From puppyhood on, I punished my dog by smacking her rear end. Then I went to obedience school when she was about eight months old. The instructor said to give the dog a light tap on the rear end to get her to sit. This didn't work with my dog. She would urinate when I touched her rear end. She thought she was being punished. I had to find another method of teaching the sit, and I fell behind in the class."
"I simply don't believe in discipline, physical or otherwise. Yes, I am my dog's maid. I don't like the arrangement, but I've seen other dogs who were hit, and they always look sad."
"My dog cheats, steals, craps in the house, and has bitten three people. You tell me to discipline him. Okay, where do I start?"
"If I even look at Buffy cross-eyed, that's enough discipline for her."
"I lost control one day and smacked Butch under the chin for stealing a rib roast. He hasn't stolen anything for three months. I think I got through to him."
"On the rear end, with a hair brush."
"A good kick usually does the trick."
"For housebreaking, I rub his nose in it, and for chewing, I cram it down his throat."
"There's a great deal of inconsistency in my family. Some are pacifists who would sooner die than hit the dog. Others are bullies who would torture the thing if they got the chance."
"A good night outside usually shapes them up. Out into the cold!"
"Let me warn you: if a trainer ever hit my dog, I'd kill him."
"I say, 'No', King looks away, and then I end it. I can't do anything else once I look at his face."
"I want to understand when and how to discipline my dog, but the training books talk about everything but that, and I feel I might do something wrong. What exactly do you do?"
"For the life of me, I don't know why Prince won't stop chewing. I beat him every night!"

Perhaps one reason dog discipline is shrouded in mystery is that most owners are simply afraid of discussing the subject. Many find the idea of disciplining their dogs threatening and one that too easily invites feelings of guilt. Since dogs can't talk back to us, it is easy for well-meaning owners to project all sorts of negative, human feelings onto their dogs when occasions of discipline arise. Add to this the periodic flurry of horror stories about dog-beaters, irresponsible trainers, and gross incidents of generally inhumane treatment of dogs, and it is little wonder that simple and effective discipline for disobedience and bad behavior then gets confused with cruelty.
And it doesn't stop there. Further complicating the issue is the division of opinion within the training profession itself. Among dog trainers and animal behaviorists today, perhaps there is no more contentious issue than the place of discipline (and by extension, punishment) in the relationship with a dog. Opinions about its appropriateness run the gamut from harsh, physical corrections, to electronic corrections, to physical corrections of a lesser nature (simple leash corrections or verbal reprimands), to no corrections whatsoever. Owners are understandably perplexed about what exactly to do when a dog misbehaves. Who's right, anyway? Which approach is effective and truly compassionate; which has the dog's best interest at heart?
One current line of thinking suggests never using corrections at all. For example, an increasing number of training methods market themselves on the premise that the only humane way to train a dog is with purely positive reinforcement, that is, rewarding desired behavior with food and praise while ignoring bad behavior. This perspective deems any sort of discipline or correction to be abusive. Yet others wonder how realistic and humane such an approach really is for the majority of dogs.
Though it is understandable that most owners would prefer to use no force whatsoever if they could change an undesirable behavior in their dogs, it is fair to ask whether such an approach is reasonably possible and in harmony with the natural dynamics of pack existence. In a wolf pack, discipline (a penetrating look, a growl, pinning down, or a nip) is given regularly by the alpha, and pack members learn limits and expectations very quickly. The same is true in a litter of puppies: the mother uses just enough discipline to get her point across. She has no scruples about slamming an offending pup to the ground, and (wonder of wonders) the pup learns quickly. We do our dogs a disservice if we do not include as part of our relationships with them equivalent limits and appropriate social training. The question is, how do we do so in a skillful and precise way, using a consistent and fair approach to discipline? Should owners feel guilty for using appropriate discipline when their dogs misbehave? Given the nature of dogs, discipline seems to be as much a part of a relationship as companionship, play, work, and affection.
Though training and prevention are essential tools to raising a dog properly and are always preferable to remedial action, one cannot possibly foresee all the situations that arise with a dog. Your dog's respect for you and his acceptance of your role as leader will shepherd you through many a potential problem if he understands that not paying attention to you in a given situation will have serious, unpleasant consequences. A record of fair discipline makes your role as alpha believable. Let's not mince words: through the years we have seen many, many
The mother teaches pups how to play safely and disciplines them when they cross the bounds of respect.
good dogs become problem dogs simply because owners were unwilling to teach and enforce limits. Part of this means disciplining dogs when they behave inappropriately. If one timely, effective correction is able to teach your young pooch never to growl at a stranger he is being introduced to (and we have seen this happen often), we feel no need to apologize for exercising such authority. It may ultimately save a dog's life.
A Sane Approach
First, let's be clear about exactly what we mean by discipline. People are often uncomfortable with the word discipline because they immediately think exclusively of punishment, which is never emotionally neutral. But discipline has a far broader scope of meanings. The word has a definite positive connotation as well, especially when we look at its etymology. Discipline is related to the word disciple, "one who follows," which in turn comes from the Latin word discere, which means "to learn." This implies that good discipline flows from good teaching and good leadership; responsible owners, like good teachers and leaders, tailor their discipline to the needs of their own dogs.
Good discipline takes place on a number of different levels. In a program of regular obedience training, discipline occurs naturally as you begin to refine, repeat, and reinforce the basic exercises already learned in a general way. In such a context, "serious punishment" is rare. Though any "aversive" (no matter how slight) can be and is technically described as "punishment" in behavioral science, the reality is that such so-called punishment also covers a broad spectrum. There is a vast difference between a clipped "nah" and a sharp cuff under the chin. Strictly speaking, both are positive punishments: they are given so that the dog will not repeat a particular behavior in the future. Situation and context determine which and when such "punishments" are appropriate. The rule we follow is always to use the least amount of force to change the behavior and firmly embed the lesson in the dog's mind.
Unfortunately, the word punishment has such a checkered pedigree that it is difficult to use in a clear, emotionally neutral way. Say "punishment" and most of us wince. We also tend to think of it as a consequence for bad behavior that can happen well after the fact. Criminals are punished for what they did in the past. In a relationship with a dog (a creature that lives almost entirely in the present), punishment after the fact is not only utterly unhelpful but destructive. For these reasons, we prefer to distinguish mild aversive actions from much stronger ones. For example, we use "corrections" to describe the light discipline that occurs in ordinary obedience training and everyday life. "Punishment" describes more forceful verbal and physical discipline associated with various behavioral problems. Not only is such terminology easier for people to accept, but we believe it is faithful to ordinary experience. Hopefully, the number of occasions you will need to take serious action with your dog will be very few, and only for major infractions. More typically, the discipline you rely on involves well-timed verbal and leash corrections that refocus and guide your dog, refining her understanding and reinforcing her perception of your leadership.
Notice that such corrections take place as an organic part of obedience training. Enlightened discipline is never divorced from the context of training. The problem with the approaches listed at the beginning of the chapter is that disciplinary action comes out of the blue; it is unrelated to a dedicated program of obedience training. We cannot count the number of times an owner has said something like "I'm not interested in his heeling or sitting, I just want him to stop growling," expecting us to provide a magic disciplinary technique. This is foolish. It is also ineffective — it doesn't solve the problem, and it hurts the relationship. Unless an owner is actively rearing a pup or older dog in a climate of positive training appropriate to the dog's age, any use of discipline tends to be imbalanced. Training is the way. The Royal Air Force Dog Training School has a saying that any aspiring trainer should keep well in mind: a handler always ends up with the dog he deserves. When divorced from training, corrections are harmful because they do not give the dog an understanding of what you want him to do. Discipline always needs to be followed by some sort of positive training command that reestablishes your leadership while also clarifying your intent to your dog. The traditional exercises themselves are a humane way of reinforcing your leadership and enhancing discipline. Putting a dog on a long down-stay, for example, not only gives you the control you may need at the moment but also reinforces in the dog's mind the fact that you are in charge.

Preliminary Corrections
We discuss verbal and leash corrections in greater depth when we cover the obedience exercises later in this book. Here we will describe some general guidelines to serve as a foundation. Canines in the wild frequently vocalize to communicate with one another. They growl to maintain and exert authority. They also shoot assertive stares at one another. Often the alpha can stop unwanted behavior in the pack simply with a stern growl and piercing stare. The combination says, "Stop what you're doing . . . NOW!" It hardly comes as a surprise that what works so well for a wolf also works well for you. Ordinarily your eye contact communicates friendliness, trust, and love; the occasional piercing stare may well stop unwanted behavior dead in its tracks, even when your dog is not on leash, as does a sharp "no" or "nah." Circumstances govern the intensity and depth of tone you use, but the dog who recognizes your position of authority respects such corrections.
Any time your dog is on leash, a verbal correction should usually accompany a leash correction. Although some trainers recommend eliminating "no" from your vocabulary because it is so easy to overuse, we prefer to be more flexible. "No" or "nah" is a perfectly appropriate accompaniment to a leash correction, especially when followed up immediately with more positive direction and encouragement. Done right, this combination can serve to enhance and direct your dog's spirit and desire to work. Further, because "no" is entirely natural to us, the timing of the correction tends to be more precise: you don't have to think about it. And then there is a final point: though it is clearly different from training a dog, still, would you ever think of raising a child without the word no?
The leash correction, or "pop," is meant to refocus the dog when he is not paying attention. It is a correction used to communicate, not to injure, given to correct the dog's understanding of how he should be behaving at that particular moment. It is attention-getting and surprising, and is executed by giving the leash a quick pop and release, a gesture reminiscent of the motion used to snap a towel at someone at the local pool. The dog should find it mildly unpleasant, but it is not meant to be painful as much as surprising, to focus the dog's distracted attention back on you so that you can remind him what you are asking.
Besides the discipline that takes place in the context of basic obedience training, there may be occasions when more physical techniques are necessary to resolve specific behavioral problems. Our experience has shown that the following situations may merit both physical and verbal discipline:
Aggression with humans — defined as excessive barking, growling, charging, chasing, nipping, or biting a human


House soiling — defecation or urination in the house or in any other improper place


Stealing — theft of food or objects


Persistent destructive behavior — destructive chewing, digging, or house wrecking not the result of puppy antics or accidents


Aggression with other dogs — in-species fighting, usually between two males, but possibly between a male and a female or two females

To repeat, these situations may merit physical discipline. Since no book can pretend to analyze every individual situation, we feel obligated to repeat from the outset that physical discipline or correction is never an arbitrary training technique to be applied to each and every dog for all offenses. We do, however, believe that physical and verbal discipline can be an effective technique when used in conjunction with a broader program of obedience training. The safest policy if you experience serious manifestations of any of the above problems, or if you suspect your dog has serious behavioral problems, is to consult a qualified trainer or veterinarian to evaluate your individual situation (see chapter 8, "Where to Find Training").
If you decide upon discipline as a training technique, it should be the proper kind of discipline. No trainer can provide you with exact, surefire prescriptions for what correction to use and the amount of force needed. That has to be a personal judgment on your part based on knowledge and intuition. We can, however, provide guidelines. The following is our attempt, as responsible trainers, to map out several methods we have found both helpful and humane, methods that depend less on violent physical force than on timing, a flair for the dramatic, and the element of surprise. In considering their use, you should follow the rule of always using the least amount of force necessary to change the behavior. Don't go overboard. Build on your corrections, making them progressively tougher until your dog responds
The wrong way to discipline a dog. Never use an object. Never discipline from above or behind.
appropriately. Above all, watch your dog: his response will tell you whether the correction is too soft or too stern. Once you've obtained a consistent type of response, stick to that level.
As a prelude, keep in mind several general principles: never use your dog's name during a correction, never call a dog to you to discipline her, and never use an object of any kind to discipline your dog. Using your dog's name not only alters the timing of the correction but is apt to communicate something too personal, as if the dog herself, rather than her behavior, is what is objectionable. Calling a dog to you and then disciplining her compromises not only the recall but the relationship as well. The dog who associates coming with discipline not only won't come but will prefer not to be with you. As for using objects, many owners still rely on them when disciplining their dogs. The overwhelming choice seems to be the rolled-up newspaper. The hand that feeds is the hand that teaches and corrects. Do not use objects of any kind to discipline your dog. Just use your hand as described below. Finally, we repeat: physical discipline should be reserved for the heinous canine crimes mentioned earlier, not meted out for every episode of bad behavior. Verbal correction might suffice for many dogs, but you should know more than one method of discipline before the unfortunate necessity of using one arises.

The Shakedown
One way to discipline your dog (and the first physical gesture to try) is the shakedown. It is particularly effective when you have been raising and training your dog (or pup) according to the principles of this book and suddenly are faced with a blatant case of testing or insubordination, such as snapping in a bratty way. The shakedown is a moderate physical correction that asserts your leadership and startles your dog into paying attention. The manner in which it is carried out depends on whether you are using it on a pup (grabbing the back of the neck, as his mother would) or older dog (grabbing both sides of neck fur).
In the shakedown the dog is sitting, anchored in place with tension on the training collar. When you have seated the dog and are sure he will not move, wheel around in front of him and kneel down. Grasp both sides of the dog's neck with both of your hands and lift him right off his front feet into the air. You may need to lean into the dog to do so. (When grasping a dog by his jowls, make sure that you have one or both of your thumbs looped under the training collar, to stop the dog
The shakedown. Grasp both sides of the dog's neck fur as pictured and raise the dog's front slightly. Make eye contact and give a quick shake as you scold.
from breaking away.) Holding the scruff firmly, look directly into the dog's face and shake the dog back and forth in quick, firm motions, gradually lowering the dog. Eye contact is essential. Scold the dog while you look at him, and keep him elevated a good five to ten seconds. It may be difficult to raise some larger breeds, in which case you have to sacrifice this part of the procedure. Most dogs, however, can be lifted up off their front feet with a little effort. Ideally, follow up immediately with a series of obedience commands to get the dog's mind back on your leadership. You want the dog to think, "Whoa, I definitely don't want to repeat that!"
After being disciplined in this fashion, the dog may be shaken up mentally and physically. Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to place him in an extended down-stay or simply heel without a lot of interaction. Keep your mood serious and businesslike until you have a chance to make up.
For young puppies, cut down on the intensity and duration of your correction. A young pup should be disciplined by simply grabbing the scruff of the neck with one hand and giving him one good shake. As we have pointed out, this method approximates the technique a mother uses to keep order in the litter, to stop fighting between litter members, or to help wean her pups away from her to solid food. Disciplinary methods that reflect instinctual canine behavior communicate displeasure in ways a dog can understand. Such corrections as throwing or hitting the dog with objects, spanking him with newspapers, or simple pleading serve only human, not canine, ends and do not communicate displeasure effectively to the dog.

The Verbal Element in Discipline
Some dog owners find it difficult to say anything when disciplining their dogs, intent as they are on the physical manipulation required. Verbal scolding that accompanies the correction is essential. It requires a flair for the dramatic and good timing. The standard vocabulary for canine misbehavior is a growl-like "no, no," "shame, shame," and perhaps "bad dog!" Most of us have a whole speech prepared inside, ready to spill out, whenever we come upon or witness the results of our dog's misbehavior. We refrain from saying anything more than these pat phrases. Why?
One client put it this way: "Loddie does something wrong, and I know exactly what I want to say. I even know the tone of voice I want to use. But something tightens up inside of me." Another client said, "If I yell at the dog, the children think I am hurting her." Another dog owner reflected, "I've always been taught control over my temper. If you get mad, control it. Keep it all in. Although I am having tremendous problems with this dog, I can't see myself disciplining him physically or verbally. I just can't stand the feelings I get inside myself when I get angry."
The first thing we try to explain is that discipline need not be a terrible ordeal and that anger need not be a part of it. Dog discipline, if approached correctly and with a sense of humor, is more playacting than anything else, although the dog must not know it. On the other hand, the element of force is involved. In discipline, the owner puts the dog in a subordinate position and plays the alpha wolf in much the same way the leader of a wolf pack does. By keeping the vocabulary simple and natural, owners communicate more decisively and authoritatively. We encourage drama, timing, and surprise by having clients role-play situations when they might need to discipline their dogs. If an owner can successfully role-play discovering their dog peeing on the Oriental ten minutes before a dinner party, having a fight break out between his or her dog and the neighborhood rival, or any number of other catastrophic canine capers, then the actual occurrence of such events can be approached more naturally. So if you feel ill at ease with discipline, verbalize it ahead of time and role-play.
The tone of your voice is important and should be very sharp, intense, and commanding. Dogs are not deaf, so you need not yell or scream. Some dog owners are naturally verbally dominant, some are not, but a happy medium can be approached by all. Learn to say no, not in a whining, pleading tone, but as if you were throwing a verbal beanbag at the dog. If need be, go to a quiet place where you can be alone and practice belting out "no!"

Physical Discipline Under the Chin
A second method of disciplining the dog, usually reserved for more serious offenses, is the cuff under her chin. This method is for older dogs and presumes a good relationship between owner and dog, in which leadership has been established. Upon the infraction the dog
One way of disciplining an unruly dog is to sit the dog down and use an upward stroke under the chin.
should be anchored in the sitting position. Your fingers meet the underside of the dog's mouth in an upward motion. It is essential first to sit the dog, by pulling up on the training collar or pushing down on the animal's rear end. This also rivets the dog's attention upward toward the owner's eyes, so that eye contact can be made. Eye contact is very important in discipline. Wolves disciplining each other make eye contact. Never hit a dog from above. Your fingers should be closed together, your hand open.
How hard do you hit the dog? A good general rule is that if you did not get a response, a yelp or other sign, after the first hit, it wasn't hard enough. One good correction will put an end to it. We have found this punishment particularly effective with various forms of aggressive behavior, such as when your dog growls at a stranger. The discipline is quick and decisive. A sharp smack under the chin followed by a quick string of obedience commands lets him know just how displeased you are with this behavior.
Keep one hand tightly on the training collar so that the dog remains sitting. Insert your index finger into the leash ring of the training collar, and wrap your fingers around the extension you will have when it is pulled snugly. Keep this tension as you discipline the dog with your other hand. Keep the dog sitting while you discipline and then quickly move into a series of obedience commands that reinforce your leadership.
To ensure that serious problems do not get out of hand, stage set-up situations later on in which the dog has the opportunity to overcome the specific problem. Having established a serious consequence for the inappropriate behavior (for example, growling at your guest), you will be in a position to positively reinforce acceptable responses through praise or treats.

The Alpha-Wolf Rollover
In the original edition of this book, we recommended a technique we termed "the alpha-wolf rollover," to be used in conjunction with one of the disciplinary procedures already described. This disciplinary technique was nicknamed for the type of discipline the lead wolf dishes out to misbehaving members of the pack and involves following up an initial correction (shakedown or under the chin) with a down, then grabbing the scruff of the neck and sharply rolling the dog on her side and scolding her. The aim was to elicit a submissive response on the part of the dog that acknowledged your alpha status. This was a move we had seen have a powerful effect in certain extreme situations.
We no longer recommend this technique and strongly discourage its use to our clients. Though it can be argued that it has a natural basis in pack life, in a dog-human context it is potentially very dangerous and can set up the owner for a serious bite in the face (or worse), particularly with a dominant dog. The conditions in which it might be used effectively are simply too risky and demanding for the average dog owner; there are other ways of dealing with problem behavior that are much safer and, in the long run, just as effective.
Let us repeat: the disciplinary techniques explained in this section should not be applied haphazardly and for a slight misbehavior. There is always the chance that autocratic dog owners, having learned discipline techniques, will misuse them. Watch yourself — owners who are physically or verbally domineering wind up with cringing, neurotic dogs. Discipline, like praise, must be meaningful. It must communicate the owner's displeasure clearly, and on the dog's level of understanding and perception, for unacceptable behavior.


On Sale
May 15, 2001
Page Count
202 pages

Monks of New Skete

About the Author

As a community, the Monks of New Skete have been breeding, raising, and training dogs for more than 40 years. They are the authors of the bestselling classics The Art of Raising a Puppy and How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. New Skete Monastery is located in Cambridge, New York.

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