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There’s an old saying among dog trainers: Lead or be led. When Keith and I adopted a shelter dog a few years ago, I questioned my ability to lead Heathcliff, who weighs almost as much as I do. Even with some good basic training, thanks to the shelter’s Charm School program and our follow-up efforts, our puppy was a handful. We persevered because if we didn’t lead, Heathcliff could pull all of us into very dangerous situations. Now that we’re spending more time on the mountain, we’re finding the need to move training to the next level.

This past weekend, I finished reading a couple of books by the Monks of New Skete, an Eastern Orthodox order founded in the mid-60’s and dedicated to training dogs and raising German Shepherds. What does it take to be a better leader? I wanted to know. Confidence, Growth and Practice answered the monks.

Since dogs read emotions, attitudes and body language, the monks recommend that one take a little quiet time to focus and cultivate a positive, confident mindset before each training session. Growth in training for both dog and owner, the monks stated, requires study and discipline, from the word disciple (one who follows), which is from the Latin word discere (to learn). Leadership also means obedience (to listen) and regular practice: a lifetime commitment to a routine of daily walks, training and playtime.

There is another saying at the monastery: You can’t become a better trainer without becoming a better human being.* I look forward to building confidence and growing my relationship with Heathcliff through daily practice. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Who leads you?

*How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend: The Classic Training Manual for Dog Owners. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.

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