There are a ridiculous number of books on dog training and in my neurotic quest to get it right with my puppy, I’ve read most of them, to my own detriment.  There are dog listeners, dog whisperers and dog channelers; all of them claim to know the one right way to train your dog.  There are those who sit on their dogs, those who blitz them with “leadership signals” (whatever these are), those who believe you shouldn’t greet your dog when you get home, and those who think you should eat a cracker before serving your dog its food, just to show him whose boss.   Consequently, my head is brimming with conflicting facts and theories, ideology and philosophy.  It’s giving me a migraine.

The major fare that each of these authors (I’ll purposefully leave them unnamed, though you know who they are) is selling is that they have the GOSPEL – the holy word of dog.  In order that to find nirvana with your canine friend (to mix religious metaphors) you have to follow their way and no other.

Unfortunately this doesn’t work in the real world where owners are impatient, nervous, overeager or just plain ignorant.  Like so many alleged experts, some dog trainer/authors forget that most dog owners are not dog professionals.   In the majority of cases, the dog is one facet of their lives, not the central part.  And though it may well be argued (I would argue so myself) that dog training should take priority, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. 

Well intentioned dog owners read dog training books.  They want to do what is right and what is best for their dog.  It is not only unproductive but dangerous to confuse and muddle their understanding of dogs.  If this dedicated group gives up, there is no hope for the rest.  It’s no wonder that even the most well intentioned owners throw their hands up in frustration.  I know I almost did.  Common sense is severely lacking in most of these books (Patricia McConnell being one of the major exceptions).

Fortunately I was an avid reader of dog training books before I even owned a dog. I read Katz on Dogs years ago. As with all his books, I admired Katz’ thoughtfulness, his no nonsense, practical philosphy.  Because it didn’t immediately apply to my life, I shelved the book, thinking about it fondly but not quite remembering what I’d read.

A few weeks ago, after reading yet another confusing, bewildering, and frustrating training book, I sorely needed to cleanse my palate.  I pulled Katz’s book off the shelf and read it in two big gulps.

Trust your instincts, he says.  You know your dog better than anyone, he (rightly) insists.  Be patient, keeping searching and you’ll find what you need to make it work, he promises.  But unlike his counterparts, he doesn’t have the magic antidote.  He doesn’t have the quick fix.  Moreover he offers no illusions about the perfect dog or the perfect owner or the perfect training program.  Trying and failing is ok, he assures his readers, your dog will forgive your shortcomings if you give him enough reason to.  Respect his innate dogness and work with it, not against it. 

I put down the book, glowing with divine-canine forgiveness and set to work ridding my brain of everything I’d been reading about theory and rigid training rules.  With a smile, I turned to my four legged friend, because he’s the one who will teach me what I need to know.