Thanks to Dog Training Tips from the Monks of New Skete

On Memorial Day, I tried to sit on the front steps of my parish to watch the town parade. But our 10-month-old puggle, who had just joined our family, wouldn’t sit still. Riley ran all over the stairs, annoying other families, knocking over water bottles, tangling her leash with the leashes of other small dogs calmly watching the parade.
My friend Dan, who witnessed the unfolding drama, said to me: “You’ve got to lose that retractable leash and start reading the monks’ books on dog training.” After the parade, he offered to walk Riley part of the way home  I walked behind them, astonished to see how Dan was able to keep Riley calm and walking right beside him.
I have spent the intervening weeks poring over  “How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend” by the Monks of New Skete. In the process, Riley and I have been transformed.

New Skete, which is in rural New York State, is one of three stavropegial institutions of the Orthodox Church of America. Yeah, I had to look that word up. Stravropegial means churches, monastic communities and theological schools under the direct supervision of a primate.  New Skete is a contemplative monastic community of men and women. It includes the Monks of New Skete, the Nuns of New Skete and the Companions of New Skete. Each group lives in separate houses within three miles of one another.

The monks, originally Byzantine Rite Franciscans,  have been breeding German Shepherd dogs for more than 25 years. While doing so, they have become authorities on how to be your dog’s companion.

How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend,” first published in 1976,  offers step-by-step instructions on obedience training and pet care. But underlying the entire book is an unmistakable philosophy about the role of nature in one’s spirituality. “Genuine monastic living means living a life without division, looking for God in the soil of each and every moment of daily life, not merely when praying or worshiping. Living in close association with our dogs helps us avoid a temptation that is always present in contemplative life – the temptation to live narcissistically in the dreamy world of ideas.”
I am unaware of any other books on being a dog owner that weave in references to the Prophet Isaiah, Odysseus, St. Francis and Dostoyevsky. Reading this book has helped me to recognize what the monks call “the interconnectedness of everything” and to realize that my family can offer Riley love, stewardship, and compassion.
Riley is benefiting from my new approach. I understand she needs we owners to be alphas in the pack and I also understand that she needs love and companionship in addition to clear guidelines and training. What a joy she now is in our lives.

As the monks put it: “The invisible, ineffable current we call life must be the object of our love. Just as we ourselves share in it, so do other creatures, and herein lies the great mystery. We now know that the responsibility for nurturing it falls to us.”

  • Sarah Harkins

    We have this book on our bookshelf! I got if from my parents who have raised German Shepherds for many years. We don't have a dog yet, but someday when we do have a dog, I'll have to read it. I thought it was random that these monks would right a book on dog training, but I'm glad to see it works and it intertwines with their spirituality.

  • Allison

    @Sarah: In all your free time – (ha!) with two babies, one on the way, a household to maintain and a business to run – just check out the last chapter, "Dogs and the New Consciousness." The title sounds a bit newagey- but the writing is not. They have some fascinating insights into the Feast of the Transfiguration etc.

  • Michelle

    Allison,All I can say is Riley is one lucky dog! She landed in the right place. You are an inspiration to me as a mom, a catholic and now as a pet owner! Enjoy.

  • Laura R.

    There was a series on Animal Planet a couple of years ago called (I think) "Divine Canines" or something like that, with Orthodox monks who bred and trained dogs — in each episode they would take on a family's problem dog and transform it. It was fun to watch but hasn't been on for awhile — maybe the monks found that being in a TV series didn't really work with their lives of prayer — just a guess.Anyway, this relates to why I've found myself enjoying dog training shows even though I don't have a dog: it's a pleasure to see creation working the way it was intended to, with humans and animals in the proper relationship. In the better done shows, humans learn to take the authority they were given in Genesis rather than allowing dogs to cause all sorts of problems in their lives. I completely agree with the monks about looking for God in the soil of each moment of everyday life!

  • Allison

    @Michelle: Awww..Thanks!@Laura R. The Monks of New Skete have a book called "Divine Canine," which I own and which reads like a reality-TV series. Sounds like it was. I never have liked watching dog shows, but perhaps with my new perspective I now will.

  • Sandy C.

    I found the Monks of New Skete through my stepdaughter, who loves dogs and has had several very well-trained rescue dogs. When we got a puppy in the summer of 2008, I trained him using the Monks' methods. He was well on his way to being a wonderful dog (Chocolate Lab) when he got parvo and we lost him at six months. (Yes, he had all his shots. We had boarded him at the vets for a short trip and he got the virus there.) Our new dog was almost a year old when we got him but I've been able to use many of the Monks' methods with him as well. I must admit when I last read the book I am not sure I caught all the spiritual interweavings. I do remember thinking I'd love to visit New Skete sometime. I remember the part about all the dogs/puppies in training lying completely quiet at the monks' feet during meals.Best wishes on your new puggle! I love dogs.

  • Adoro

    This book has been on my "I wanna read!" list for a few years. now that I'm done with school I'm gonna track it down. If I do foster another dog, would like some more tools to put to use!(Besides, my dog needs more training!)

  • Maria

    What a find. This may sound ridiculously obvious; however, one very early morning while running my neighor's lab, it occured to me: God gave every living thing a particular nature. Lab were designed for hunting. We were made for love…I miss reading YIMC. Too many hours at my new job.

  • Allison

    @Maria: We have missed you, too! I am so glad about the new job though. The book I mention is really a fun read if you are partial to doggies.Blessings,Allison

  • Frank

    @Maria, yeah stranger…thanks for stopping by! ;)

  • Elaine

    Okay, how do I get this book??

  • Allison can purchase it elsewhere, but my hunch is this way the monks will receive more of the proceeds. Blessings,Allison

  • Anonymous

    Nice story. Ralphie, my dog always comes around to be near when I am praying my breviary, so I know canines have some appreciation for spirituality. However, my cats just try to plop on the pages, and so I wonder about their true motives. They could stand some obedience training. Perhaps the monks have chosen St. Christopher as their patron for the dogs. Being of the Eastern Rite they may be familiar with St Christopher being depicted as "The Dog Headed" saint. Steve

  • Jude

    I loved the Monks' book which I bought years back, and had great success (except with my current Jack Russell Terrier–I would love to bring him to them in NY and see if they are up to the challenge) I love their approach, and the affirmation of those of us who love and appreciate dogs, and who fully acknowledge their place in God's creation.

  • cecilgrass

    Cool post. One of the greatest resources I've been able to find on the net for Dog Training Tips has always been It has a great many guides and tips and an awesome community of users to interact with including vets that pop in from time to time to offer help. Between them and the Monks of New Skete, I imagine you would be off to a great start!

  • low cost pet insurance

    I thing this is really a nice book for the pet owners. They will learn a lot from this one.

  • D. Og

    Owning a Rottweiler is an 8-11 year responsibility, both to the dog and to others whom the dog will come in contact with and is not to be entered into lightly.


    nice articel,thanks Allison,