Monday, April 6, 2015

Book Review: My Boy, Ben (labrador retriever, tennis, Minnesota, hunting, Christian radio)

My Boy, Ben: A Story of Love, Loss and Grace, by David Wheaton (Tristan, 2014, 254 pages, $18.99)

Ben was a serious self-trained gentleman of a self-cleaning Labrador retriever who loved hunting and lakes and his person, David Wheaton. This is the story of his life and of his person’s life pre-Ben and post-Ben.

“Not Over, But Through”

How does one get over the sudden death of one’s dog who had nearly been a one’s fifth appendage for years? Wheaton writes that one never gets ‘over’ it but gets ‘through’ it with the help of friends, family, God, work and a puppy.

Like many dog books, this ‘dog’ book is mostly about the author, who writes about his dog, how he feels about his dog, and what he does with his dog. Though many people do not like books written as if by dogs, I believe readers glean more insight into the man’s best friend that way and feel as if they really get to know the dog in those dog-centric books.

However, this book has so much more than just dogs: love, tennis, training, family, Minnesota (Lake Minnetonka and Lake Superior), the weather and the land and the seasons, and God. It also has a keepable  ‘gold’ marbleized hard cover!

Both of Wheaton’s dogs were from excellent, responsible breeders so it came as a surprise to me that he was able to select his dog: he got his pick of the litter. Usually a responsible breeder (especially one whose dogs have won at Westminster) interviews the prospective dog people for their lifestyle, energy level, living quarters, and work schedule, and then selects the puppy that will fit in best, since the breeder knows his puppies so well.

From Wimbledon to Radio: Training a field lab

Rearing and training, loving and caring, feeding and exercising, paying and praying are the activities when one has a dog.

Wheaton was a world-ranked tennis player who came to have a radio show after defeating Michel Chang, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, and others, so it comes as no surprise when he reads up on dog training before he even has his pup, Ben. Wheaton vowed to make training fun and positive for his best friend – and he did. But he also used a remote collar (page 237) and wrote about housebreaking rather than housetraining (page 224).

Dog trainers in the crowd will be heartened to read about two of the three Ds (distance, duration and distractions), the recommendation to end a training session on a high note when the dog wants more and is doing well, but, on the other hand, because Ben came from such a responsible breeder, he came with nearly a sit, a stay, a come and an OK built-in already, even in off-leash environments. Wheaton still had to ‘enforce the commands’ on occasion (a phrase that makes reward-based trainers cringe). But a redeeming note is the emphasis on sequence training and building blocks. Not bad lessons from a non-dogtrainer!

You will learn the difference between grouse hunting and pheasant hunting, and between pointers (setters) and flushers (springers), pointers being the sports cars of the field dog world and flushers being the SUVs.

You will ponder whether you are an Egalitarian or Utilitarian dog owner. A utilitarian believes a dog should have a job while an egalitarian’s dog is just another family member. Some people are a bit of both and Wheaton gradually changed into an egalitarian dog person.

You will learn that there are show labs and there are hunting (field) labs and even pet labs but, of course Ben could have been all three in the eyes of his family. The three photos are simply stunning, but then, I , too, am a yellow lab person so, of course, I wish there were more photos in My Boy, Ben!

But most of all, you will go on a journey of love for a dog and the choices made and the joy of living with all that Minnesota has to offer (Minnesota is actually the third character in the book)

For more information, see the trailer here.

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