Let Dogs Be Dogs

Understanding Canine Nature and Mastering the Art of Living with Your Dog


By Monks of New Skete

By Marc Goldberg

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$19.99 CAD

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America’s foremost authorities on dog care and training distill decades of experience in a comprehensive “foundational” guide for dog owners.

No matter what training method or techniques you use with your dog, the training is unlikely to be optimally successful unless it is predicated on an understanding of the dog’s true nature. Dogs need food, water, exercise and play, rest, veterinary care — the basics. But since dogs naturally want to be led, they also need focused and compassionate guidance.

Through abundant stories and case studies, the authors reveal how canine nature manifests itself in various behaviors, some potentially disruptive to domestic accord, and show how in addressing these behaviors you can strengthen the bond with your dog as well as keep the peace. The promise of this book is that, especially in an ever-accelerating world filled with digital distractions, you can learn from your dog’s example how to live in the moment, thereby enriching your life immeasurably.


Authors' Note

There is a corollary between our second training book, The Art of Raising a Puppy, and Let Dogs Be Dogs. The idea for the puppy book came to me eleven years after our first book was published. I'd been at New Skete for about six years and had begun to see the same things over and over: adolescent canines that were undersocialized and ill-adjusted. I also became aware that there wasn't a comprehensive puppy manual to guide new owners. With our experience raising puppies, I thought we could help. I remember being out driving with the abbot, Father Laurence, and saying, "There's a new book and here's what it is." And he simply replied, "Fine, you write it."

Now, twenty-three years later, I've found myself experiencing feelings similar to those I had leading up to the puppy book.

In the intervening years, I'd turned toward writing that was more spiritual. As I look back, I realize that I needed to fully mine this spiritual vein for this new project to happen. One way to describe this book is that it's a training guide wrapped in a spiritual philosophy.

The next step in the journey toward this project was attending Marc Goldberg's workshop. Quite frankly, his work with dogs took my breath away. He and I began to collaborate then on myriad dog-training projects. Marc, who is based in Chicago, came east to the monastery frequently. His outsized personality—and mastery with dogs—ingratiated him with my fellow monks.

Soon, we began to fashion an outline for a weekend dog-training seminar at New Skete that would focus on the art of living with a dog. Within twenty-four hours of announcing the workshop to a select list of dog owners and dog professionals, every available ticket was sold. The demand was so great that we needed to add another workshop just to handle the overflow. It was at this point that I knew we needed to write a book that would speak directly and effectively to the problems today's dog owners experience. Marc was thinking the same thing, and as we went back and forth together on ever-deepening levels, what began to take shape was a different kind of training book. It would be less concerned with the technical step-by-step instructions characteristic of most dog-training manuals, more foundational in nature, a book that would provide the key to a relationship with a dog regardless of the particular training approach one followed. We envisioned a book that would take into account the real needs of the dog based on its nature and that would then show readers how to use that information to radically improve their dog's behavior. We also believed we could help many people deepen their relationships with their dogs so they could enjoy the friendship more. We could feel something magical occurring.

With Marc, I share a common view about the state of the dog-human relationship, and the overwhelming need for a new way of seeing it. Cumulatively, we've trained tens of thousands of dogs. Marc is a celebrated trainer with thirty years of experience, a past president of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and inductee into its Members Hall of Fame, and a talented contributor to many canine journals. We know you will be just as thrilled as we are that Marc has joined us to write this book. He brings a fresh voice, an enormous insight into dogs, and some of the best training methods we've ever come across.

Blessings to you in your life with your dog(s).

—Brother Christopher, Prior, Monks of New Skete

Like so many of you, I read the Monks of New Skete's books and was fascinated with the backstory of monks who breed and train dogs. Their work with dogs was and is so wonderfully sensible, especially in a world where common sense in dog training and dog care is far from common. Yet I never expected to meet the men behind those books.

That changed nearly ten years ago when the Monks of New Skete were inducted into the International Hall of Fame organized by the International Association of Canine Professionals. Brother Christopher traveled to the IACP conference to accept the award, an honor conferred upon such notables as Captain Max von Stephanitz, who originated the German shepherd breed, and Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian ethologist who wrote extensively about dogs and won a Nobel Prize in 1973.

I found it remarkable that this bestselling author, whose books I had devoured, was not only a modest man but also deeply interested in meeting and exchanging ideas with his fellow canine professionals. It was in those first meetings that our friendship began.

The idea to write a book together, however, never would have formulated had I not later seen a television series called Divine Canine. The show featured the monks, primarily Brother Christopher, working with interesting clients and their somewhat spoiled dogs. What really struck me while watching Brother Chris work was how similar his movements were to my own. It truly seemed as though I were watching myself train dogs. I knew then that we shared the same dog-training philosophies. Not long after, Brother Christopher and I began a series of conversations about ways to improve our training, especially taking the needs of today's clients and their dogs into account.

The dog universe has changed enormously in the past twenty years, and Brother Christopher and I both believed that we had an important message for today's dog owner, a philosophy that could help both dog lovers and, just as important, dogs be happier. So we brainstormed, we talked, and we outlined.

About that time, I spent a week visiting New Skete and had the chance to help Brother Christopher work with some of the dogs he was training. It was an ideal opportunity to collaborate, to exchange ideas, and simply to get to know each other better. I remember one of the dogs we trained that week was an energetic golden retriever named Annie that was owned by a retired couple. The couple loved Annie dearly, but had brought her to New Skete because she was proving too wild for them, constantly pulling and jumping. They needed help.

In working with Annie those few days, Brother Christopher and I recognized she had a profile similar to that of so many of the dogs we work with: energetic, full of fun, and totally doted on and spoiled by her owners. We laughed as we trained her: Annie was charming yet totally used to having her own way, and we could only imagine the fits she had been giving her owners. That said, both of us were pleased with how quickly Annie began responding to our training. With a little structure and some basic instruction, discipline, and exercise, Annie started to shine as a student. By the time her owners came to pick her up, she was ready to go home and was able and willing to follow a new program.

I vividly remember that concluding interview with amusement. It was a carbon copy of many of the interviews I've had through the years. Before bringing out Annie, Brother Christopher began giving a full report on how she had done, explaining her progress and the various skills she had learned. After about ten minutes, the wife broke in and demanded, "Where's Annie?" Brother Christopher replied that she was in the kennel, but before they saw her he needed to coach them on how to follow up on the training. That kept the woman quiet for another ten minutes, after which she said again, "Where's Annie?" Brother Christopher explained that there were still a number of points that had to be covered, but it was becoming evident that the woman was losing her patience. I smiled as Brother Christopher picked up the pace, trying to keep the couple's attention while providing them with important information that they were going to need to continue at home. Finally, after another five minutes, the woman shook her head and practically yelled, "Where's Annie?"

We had a good laugh together, and Brother Christopher said, "Okay, I get it. I'll get Annie and do the demonstration, but then I'll spend as much time as we need working together." Then the husband broke in and said with a smile, "I think what you're seeing is that we both love the dog, but I'm the one who is going to have to keep up the training. My wife simply wants to love Annie without Annie knocking her over."

Well, Brother Christopher did his best with the couple, and fortunately Annie did quite well in the return session. The husband listened attentively to Brother Christopher's coaching, and by the time they left, he seemed to be handling Annie nicely. But it was also clear that his wife wasn't interested in the technical details of the training. She simply wanted to be able to love Annie and have Annie behave. She just didn't understand how her own behavior impacted Annie's.

After the session I couldn't resist teasing Brother Christopher. I looked at him and said, "Where's Annie???" and we burst out laughing. We both knew that we've had many clients with a similar profile. But the episode with Annie triggered a serious conversation in which we acknowledged the need for a new type of dog book, one that would lay a foundation for understanding dogs as they are and would help owners understand and use certain basic principles, regardless of what type of formal obedience training they practiced. After all, your behavior will always have an impact on your dog.

—Marc Goldberg, ChicagoDogTrainer.com


The Promise

In a fractured world of broken relationships dogs can teach us the meaning of devotion and fidelity.

—Dogs & Devotion

There is an art to living with a dog that combines grace and elegance with understanding and realism, that fosters compassion and a spiritual connection without doting and pampering. Such an art is based on respect for the true nature of the dog and the vital role we have in helping the dog to fulfill its highest potential. What's even more remarkable is that, as we nurture this relationship, we become increasingly sensitive to the wondrous interconnectedness of life and, for the lucky ones who believe, more connected to a universal spirit.

Unfortunately, too many dog owners today don't experience the gifts that this type of relationship offers. Instead, they carry dogs in purses and lavish them with outrageous gifts like Gucci collars and mink booties. They place demands on their dogs for comfort and emotional support, forcing the dogs to become agents of therapy rather than recognizing them as sovereign beings with needs of their own. They spend less and less time with their dogs. The leisure time today's dog owners have is often devoted to events and activities deemed more important than creating a healthy relationship with their pets. Owners feel forced to isolate and marginalize dogs that can't be trusted around other dogs or people. There is no relief in sight. Puppy mills churn out dogs by the tens of thousands, shelters fill with dogs that are victims of not only physical neglect but also ineffective training methods that have hoodwinked a swath of the dog world. Too many of today's basic obedience classes are dumbed down and truncated, more concerned with being politically correct than with offering dog owners effective solutions.

Something needs to be done, and that's why we've written this book.

Let Dogs Be Dogs is a bit of a departure from the Monks of New Skete's previous training volumes, How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend and The Art of Raising a Puppy. It is also different in the way it is presented. Throughout this volume, you will occasionally hear from both Marc and Brother Christopher in their own voices. These vignettes are intended to make the experience of reading this book as personal as possible, as if you were sitting across from us as we share anecdotes from our decades of experience in both working and living with dogs.

MARC GOLDBERG I grew up with dogs, and my first was a sheltie pup that I raised named Gus. In some sense, Gus also raised me from the age of eleven to twenty-nine. During those eighteen years, Gus taught me so much. He taught me to value the relationship first.

Perhaps the first serious lesson Gus taught me was that merely being your dog's pal is not enough to qualify you as a "best friend." To be your dog's best friend, the first thing you must do is teach him how to be safe. Gus, untrained, ran into the street and was hit by a car in his fifth month of life. Luckily, it wasn't his last. When Gus's broken bone healed, my mother enrolled us both in a local dog-training class, and within a few short weeks I was hooked on training—and so was Gus.

We went on to learn and train at the highest levels of obedience, winning a few prizes along the way. Decades later, I still cherish the silver trays and bowls Gus and I won in the obedience ring.

What shines brightest in my memory, however, is the recollection of the day when, as a young teenager, I ran home from school, eager to practice a dog-training routine with Gus in preparation for a dog show that weekend. Since we had already won some ribbons, and I had developed a taste for the winner's circle, I wanted a repeat performance. So when I arrived home, I snapped a leash on Gus and took him outside for a quick training session.

Marc Goldberg and Gus circa 1972. They guided each other through life for nearly eighteen years.

But Gus behaved oddly. I was telling him to heel in order to practice the heeling pattern common at obedience trials. This was a routine that Gus knew well and excelled at, yet on this day, he wouldn't do it. My dog refused to obey the simple heel command that I knew for sure he completely understood. So I corrected Gus for disobeying. And he took that leash correction, in the form of a pop toward me, without protest. Yet Gus still did not obey. Shamefacedly, I admit that I corrected Gus again, and that again he refused.

This was very unusual, and for a long moment it confounded me. Thankfully, I stopped bullying Gus and began to reflect.

"What's different? Every day I come home from school, I play with my dog, and then I train him." That's when it hit me square in the face. I was so eager to practice that when I got home I snapped a leash on Gus without actually acknowledging him, and then I began to make demands, demands that Gus was usually happy to comply with out of friendship. But this time I hadn't greeted or played with Gus. I had simply ordered him around, and he communicated his displeasure with passive resistance.

I sat down on the ground. I invited Gus up into my lap, and then I played with him for a few minutes. I collected myself, stood up, and began the training session again. It went beautifully. That weekend we brought home more silver, which I still have. But the real prize was what I learned.

In these pages, we promise to unveil for you a pathway to a life with your dog that might once have seemed unimaginable. We will explain how to use the time you already spend training—or simply living with your dog—more wisely, and provide specific goals to meet your dog's needs. Much more than a training manual, this book will show you how to have a life with your canine companion in an intentional, purposeful, and satisfying way. Most dog-training books focus on the one hour a day the average dog owner should spend training and exercising her dog. Here, we'll show you not only how to get the most out of that hour but also how to build and strengthen the relationship during the other twenty-three hours.

We identified the central concept of this book as "the art of living with your dog" for good reason. Ask any good artist and he'll tell you his work is drawn not only from inspiration but also from years of education and application. Violinists such as Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn, for example, demonstrate a remarkable technical proficiency honed by many years of dedicated practice but also a creative, intuitive sense of expression that transcends pure technique. It is what makes listening to them such a delight. They've reached a point at which technique becomes an avenue of freedom and personal expression—an art. A similar dynamic can take place in a relationship with a dog: Technique can become art, where the various movements and commands between human and dog seem to flow effortlessly, in a relaxed rhythm of attention and respect. How different an ordinary walk looks under those circumstances from the more familiar daily drama of dog pulling owner down the street. To witness the harmony and connection between a well-behaved dog and its owner is a thing of beauty, and deeply inspiring.

But there is an important caveat to note here. In a healthy relationship with a dog, training technique needs to be balanced with a sound understanding of the nature of the dog. Too great an emphasis on technique alone can make the relationship seem artificial and stilted, inserting a level of pressure on both dog and owner that causes it to fall short of reaching the level of art. In our technology-driven world it is easy to see how this can happen. Good technique is never an end in itself, but needs to serve the broader relationship, and when that happens you observe the relaxed give-and-take between owner and dog. Ultimately, this involves putting time, understanding, and practice into a well-thought-out plan for daily life with your dog. That is where the magic happens.

At least, that is where it happens in our relationship with our dogs. Admittedly, there are many dog-training books that reflect a number of training methods. Some of these books are quite good. We'd like to think that we've written a few. But there remains the challenge of writing a book that grounds the reader's understanding of the nature of the dog in reality, providing a sure foundation that can then support and complement any particular training method one chooses to follow. The more you understand how you influence your dog's behavior and thinking, the easier it will be for you to move toward an artful relationship with your own dog.

With this book, we seek to help just about every dog owner, from those whose relationship with their dogs is healthy and who want to keep it that way, to the once conscientious owners whose commitment to their canines has begun to lapse, to those owners whose relationship with their dogs is in need of critical care. This book is written especially for those who suspect that there is something missing in the relationship they have with their dog. Here's our promise: When you master the art of living with your dog in an intentional and purposeful way, you can have a beautiful and easy relationship where training occurs organically and the need for psychotropic drugs or quick obedience fixes is rare or nonexistent. What is even more remarkable is this: In the process, you will become more aware of the critical role you play in your dog's life and behavior, and how the quality of your guidance affects his happiness and helps him be a better dog.

Simply put, by considering and prioritizing his needs, you'll become more human. But first, a bit of a reality check. For this ideal to be realized, we need to set out in a clear and orderly way, laying a solid foundation from which to live the dream. Dreams are essential if we are to become fully alive, but unless you have a road map to follow, you risk not fulfilling them. This applies to your relationship with your dog. For your relationship to flourish and grow into something artful, there are certain elements that absolutely need to be present and that go beyond the nonnegotiables any healthy relationship presumes: good exercise, good diet, and conscientious socialization. These are givens. You also need to understand that dogs read your body language in the subtlest of ways, and that you can positively capitalize on this by being transparent with your dog, quietly praising her with genuine warmth and appreciation, for example, when she follows your lead. Or being patient when you are teaching her how to respond to a particular command. Your dog will perceive the sincerity present when it comes from your heart. By being attentive to how your dog is responding to you, you'll become more conscious of yourself and more in control of your emotions, putting yourself in a better position to communicate clearly with her. She will literally help you be a better companion.

Below is a brief outline of the map we will be following.

Your intention. Any potential or current dog owners need to weigh whether they are truly committed to giving their dog the time and attention it needs to become a good companion. In these pages we will provide you with a brief "examination of conscience" to help you discern how serious you are about acquiring or caring for a dog.

Understanding the basic nature of the dog. Part of providing a dog what it needs to be a good companion involves understanding its basic nature, how it evolved, and what lessons you can learn from its historical development. We will touch on the basic drives present in the dog and explain why, being a highly social pack animal, it needs a benevolent leader in order to flourish. We will then show you practical ways to reinforce your dog's perception of you as leader.

Common traps. Sometimes people's expectations of what they hope to get from their dogs stem more from Hollywood's depiction of dogs than from the real world. Further, people can allow the pressures and demands of modern life to curtail the amount of time they devote to cultivating the relationship. We will discuss these traps and provide you with a realistic picture of caring for your dog that respects her nature, builds the relationship, and then sets the stage for providing her the things she really cares about. The commitment to training is imperative, but there is much that isn't covered by training—the critical teachable moments that you can use as they happen, rather than letting them pass.

Whether you take advantage of and benefit from teachable moments depends not only on your determination to do so but also on your awareness of what they are. If you don't recognize opportunities when they knock, you will miss many or most of the critical chances you have to show your dog right from wrong. Even children are not born knowing right from wrong or how to fit the societal norms in which they will have to live. Of course, since we are human, it comes intuitively to us to remind a small child to say please when he surprises you by demanding something. You don't have to prepare for or even think about that moment with a two-year-old. That's because you just know it's coming. When it does, you have the necessary guidance ready and dispense it as needed. Although a two-year-old may try parental patience from time to time, the child's behavior is rarely a surprise. Simply put, it's a big job to educate a child, whether she's your own, a friend's, or a relative's. But you have serious advantages in that arena. First, you're of the same species. And, second, we have all been children.

That's not the case with dogs. When raising dogs, we unwittingly come to the job with one of three basic approaches:

1. The "he'll figure it out" method, in which we don't offer the dog a lot of information. Of course we love him, so we pet and play with him and care for him. And as he chews or potties on something inappropriate, we scold and hope he figures it out.

2. The "research it as we go" method, in which we try to respond intelligently, but only after encountering a problem. This usually involves turning to Google or YouTube, typing words in a box, and sifting through thousands of conflicting suggestions. Often this causes an owner to throw up her hands and revert back to approach number one: he'll figure it out.

3. We plan ahead. We learn what challenges are coming from puppies and adult dogs either through untold years of experience, as the authors have done, or through well-thought-out plans, such as those we will explain in this book. We mentally prepare to partner up with a different species by studying its psychology and its needs. We give our dog what his species requires to function well within the societal norms we have set up for him. This method might be called the "do it right and the dog won't know he's being trained" method. And it's important. The dog, left to his own devices, wouldn't know it's wrong to pee on the curtains and eat the woodwork, because that is exactly what he would do if not otherwise coached.

We remind the two-year-old child to say please when she demands the ice cream we're dishing out. She says please and we hand over the bowl. (Of course, then we have the thank-you lesson to teach.) Ideally, we'll only have to remind a few times, and the point is not only made but set. That's because we intuitively understand how to motivate the child, using the treat as both motivator and reward. In other words, because we are people too, and because we were once children, we know what children care about and thus how to exploit a teachable moment.

But what do dogs care about… really care about on the deepest levels? What do they crave enough that they will sacrifice perfectly good dog behaviors such as eating whatever food they can reach? In this book we will go into great detail about multiple things dogs want and need on a deeply fundamental level. We call these things "resources." In our childhood example, the resource was ice cream. With dogs, food is a resource, but there are many other things that dogs want: for example, affection, exercise, or rest.

If a resource is something a dog needs to be healthy and psychologically well-tuned, then shouldn't we just give it to the dog? Ultimately, yes, we should, and indeed we will. But the how, when, and where of that giving will determine whether our dog says please and thank you or snarls, "Gimme more."

We will give you very specific advice on how to provide—not deprive but provide—resources.

Relationship. In an earlier book, we described the desired relationship to your dog as pack leader, and we'll talk more about that soon. This is the deeply devoted relationship your dog craves from his best friend, and we will show you how to assume that role in a benevolent way. If you're conscious of what you want the relationship to ultimately look like, you can shape it to that effect and then enjoy the outcome.

Food and treats. Will your dog say gimme? Or will he say please and thank you? That all depends on how you set the expectations—so we'll analyze it. In the animal world, food is a primary motivator. Wild canines have to hunt for food, expending enormous energy to find sustenance. We make it easy for our domesticated pets, and so we should. But we do not think of nourishment in the same way our dog does. Learn to use food well and your dog will be not only physically nourished but also psychologically satisfied.

Holly encourages Charlie to sit for his treat. (Photo by Jim Darow)

Space. People don't usually think about space until they're hunting for a new home and they look for more (or less) space. Most people only think about space when someone stands too close to them at a party, or when another driver drifts into their lane… or steals their parking spot. But dogs think about space constantly, consciously and otherwise. We can use this to our advantage. An example of using space correctly is to teach a dog to respect a small child (and vice versa). Another is using space to teach dogs not to jump on guests or bolt out an open door.

Time. "What do you want to do?" "I don't know… what do you


On Sale
Sep 12, 2017
Page Count
288 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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Marc Goldberg

About the Author

Marc Goldberg is a nationally renowned dog trainer based in Chicago.

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