I had just decided that I could survive without buying any more books for a while, making do with my numerous trips to the public library to satisfy my craving, when I checked out Katz on Dogs – A Commonsense Guide to Training and Living With Dogs, by Jon Katz. When I found myself renewing it for the third time, I knew I had a keeper.
For those of us who are already well-versed in dogspeak, reading this book will be like settling down in a comfortable chair with your feet up, knowing that there will be nuggets of truth to mine from its pages; enjoying the conversational quality of Katz’ prose.
For the first-time dog owner, this book is a good place to start because you’re at a place where you don’t know what you don’t know. Katz is a good story-teller and given his lifetime of experience with dogs, he carefully weaves stories around his own hard-won knowledge with the insights of recognized dog experts.
The end result is a book that will send you to still more books that can only deepen your own knowledge about how to live well and happily with your dog.
There is a lot that Katz wants to discuss in this book which he explains early on by posing a lot of questions. “What kind of dog should I have? …Can people work and have dogs? How often and for how long can they be left alone? Is it heartless to put a dog in a kennel? Should she come along on vacation? Will she miss us? Will she get lonely? Do dogs get lonely? Is it okay to have only one dog, or should he have company? But if he does, how can we handle a multi-dog household?” (pg xiv)
And these are just a few of the questions Katz asks. One of the underlying themes of his book is the compelling bond between dogs and people – and, given this, I believe that one of the most important questions he asks is how we address that? “How can we manage the dog love that many of us feel – a powerful and cultural force – yet keep our human lives in balance?” (pg xv)
The practical aspects of living with a dog are broken down into 10 minute training sessions and you’ll be well advised as to what to do in these sessions as you and your dog begin to define your relationship. Training is on-going. As Katz writes, it’s never-ending and can take years. If that seems a daunting prospect, don’t feel intimidated. The rewards are many for the dogs and their humans who “…don’t quit on each other.” (pg xv.)
One of the points that Katz returns to throughout the book is that there is no right or wrong way to train your dog; there is what works for you and your dog. What this requires is a commitment on your part to explore the various positive methods available to you and your dog.
What I would add to this, especially, if you’re a brand new dog owner, is that you consider working with a trainer, especially at the beginning of this journey. To his credit, Katz raises this issue as well, cautioning that formal obedience classes can be filled with “…too many people, too many dogs, not enough individual attention, too short a time period.” (pg.43)
And, in some respects, he’s right. There are a diverse group of dog trainers with varying teaching styles and philosophies. That said, if you find the right trainer for you and your dog, you’re that much farther along.
Classes don’t have to be large. Ask if you can come and observe. Find out for yourself. I’m fortunate because the trainer I go to deliberately keeps her class sizes at 10 dog/handlers or under. She’s gone through formal certification training programs that allow her to offer Canine Good Citizen certifications to the general public, as well as the more in-depth Therapy Dog certification; and, she herself does pet therapy with her dogs.
Ask the trainer you’re interested in what they’ve done to augment their dog handling experience. And, watch how they interact with dogs and handlers. If you’re not comfortable with what you see or how you feel as you observe, you can always leave.
Yet another option can be to hire a trainer to come to your home, which Katz also talks about.
He presents these training options always with the caveat to be careful to do what’s best for you and your dog. When you’re new to dogs, it’s too easy to give your dog over to someone else for direction. Sometimes, there’s harm in this. There is a deep bond that grows between a dog and its handler and I believe that it’s this understanding that Katz wants to safeguard when he maintains that “…training a dog is something that many people can do themselves.” (pg 54.)
More than basic obedience, the value of this book lies in the broad brushstrokes Katz takes on what it’s like to live with dogs, including stories of dogs not his, and what happened to them. There are people who never get beyond what I call a “surface-level” understanding of their dog and there are people who, like Katz, commit to the work of building a relationship with their dog; each represents a life lesson and one of those nuggets of information that you may find a use for at a later time.
This is a book that by design, will give you much food for thought. Living well with dogs doesn’t just happen, it takes commitment and work. The work can be a joyous celebration of friendship between you and your dog. And Jon Katz has opened that door for you.