Last night I went to sleep in our tent camp to the soft buzz of Snowy Tree Crickets, and woke up to an ice cream-colored sunrise. And then to the horrific news about Las Vegas, and then to an email that asked me if I knew that my Facebook page was flooded with comments, several of them negative. After reading all of the comments on Facebook and the blog, I feel compelled to answer some of them here.
As background, if you need catching up, last week I wrote a review of the Monks of New Skete’s book, Let Dogs Be Dogs. We posted it on Facebook, and so far it has reached 119,576 people and generated 182 comments. Some of them express disappointment in me for writing a negative review; some go a bit, uh, farther. Rather than answer each comment individually, I’ve responded here to the most critical comments, and added a note about something I wrote that seems to have gotten lost.
1) Yes, I did read the book. I was actually sent a review copy by the publishers several months ago. I read that version, and then bought the kindle version because one can’t quote from a review copy because last minutes edits are often made between versions (as was indeed true in this case). So, I actually have two copies of the book, and have read them both.
2) Several people have criticized me for writing anything negative at all. I understand that inclination; it is less risky and much easier to stay silent. Others have argued that I’ve destroyed my reputation as “leader in the field” by making negative comments about another’s book. I, of course, hope that isn’t true; but after writing a memoir about my life’s darkest secrets, it just feels cowardly to not speak out when I think it’s important. And this does feel important. I’ve worked my entire professional life trying to improve relationships between people and animals, and I simply don’t see this book as doing that. I do wish we lived in a world where we could cheer on what we support and ignore what we don’t. I hate controversy and am as injured by criticism as the next person. There will be a lot of time cuddling with my dogs this afternoon. But although sometimes it is appropriate to stay quiet when in a disagreement with another, at other times it can be harmful to avoid speaking out. The fact is, the publishers sent me the book and asked my opinion about it, in hopes I’d write a rave review for the back cover. I wish I had been able to do so.
3) Most importantly, my criticisms of the book were about the methods described, not the authors. I explicitly stated that I believed Brother Christopher loves dogs, and none of my criticisms of the book were directed toward him or his co-author, dog trainer Marc Goldberg. I have made it a policy for decades to only address methods, never the person who advocates them. Ironically, some of the nastiest comments I’ve gotten attack me as a person for saying something negative about the authors of the book, although I was only criticizing the methods they espouse. Ah, my. (This is when I try to go to my happy place—Bird song! Smiling dogs! Pretty flowers!)
The only thing I said in the review that could relate to the authors themselves was a comment about the photograph on the cover, suggesting that “monkish robes and a kindly face” will sell a lot of books. I did not mean that as an attack of Brother Christopher, which is why I said “I have no doubt that the authors of this book love their dogs, but this is a road I hope few decide to follow.” I wrote that explicitly to separate the authors from the method that I was criticizing. However, I can see that a quick read of what I wrote about the cover might be misinterpreted, which was not my intention in any way. After thinking about it, I deleted that sentence from the review. However, I stand by my comments about the methods described in the book—they are indeed “old fashioned”, sometimes harmful, and based on a misunderstanding of canine social behavior.
4) Last, but very much not least: The second point I made in my review has been lost in the dust. That’s too bad, because I think it’s important. The book talks about leadership, a word that has become polluted with so much baggage that it is almost worthless (or worse) now in many circles. But buried in that concept is the fact that dogs need to feel safe and secure, and it is our job to help them feel that way. How could dogs not need to know they can count on us, when we hold all the cards? The question, which I wish we could have a reasonable discussion about, is how to give them that. As someone who has felt unsafe and insecure for most of her life, this seems to me to be an important issue to discuss. I’d argue that using leash pops and down stays is not the way to do it, but I still believe that dogs need something from us that helps them to feel that they can count on us to have their backs. My guess is that this is part of what Brother Christopher and Goldberg are trying to get at. But how can we provide that for them? Surely it’s a combination of understanding the genetics of personality, early development and training techniques, not to mention our relationship with each of our dogs in real time. There is no doubt that some training methods can undermine a dog’s sense of safety, but this is not so much an argument for or against any method, but more a question of how to we provide that “secure base of attachment” that social creatures like people and dogs seem to need?
Could this be the issue that finds common ground between the two “camps”? I think this concept is important, but like much of the rest of the world, dog training has become so polarized that it’s difficult to have a discussion about it. But I’ll put it out there now, in hopes that we can continue the discussion in a thoughtful, positive way. I’m going to reach out to the Brother Christopher to see if he and I could at least talk about it. I’ll keep you posted.
Now, time to pet some dogs.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: No photos from the farm actually this time. I thought this might be a good time to share some photos of funny signs that I’ve collected over the years. I began taking picture of amusing signs on one of my trips with Jim, on a ferry with a sign that said “Don’t Hug the Exhaust Fan”. Poor fan, no one to give it a hug. Here’s a collection of signs I’ve either taken or that Jim found a few years ago on the inter web. (Click on each one if you can’t read what is written.) I took the one on the bottom right just yesterday. Thank god those posts know where to assemble.
(I’ve selected the flood sign, which I took on a hike out west many years ago, as the photo for today’s post. Somehow it seemed appropriate.)