Peeling Carrots Like Grandma: Lessons in Efficiency For Dog Training

Every dog is an individual, but dog training is more efficient when there’s a recipe to follow.

A Parsons Jack Russell Terrier eating a carrot on the lawn. Peeling carrots like Grandma: Lessons in efficiency in dog training
Photo: Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

By Kristi Benson CTC PCBC-A, Special Correspondent

This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

Get Companion Animal Psychology in your inbox.

My grandma was one half of a farm couple who got married just after the Great Depression ended, starting a family on a small spread on the Canadian prairies. My memories of her are almost all tied up with sharing food as an extended family. We would pile into our station wagon and take the half-hour drive from our small, wide-road prairie town, to her small, wide-road prairie town. The incessant wind grabbed the car doors as we flung them open almost before the car had coasted to a stop in her narrow driveway, so eager were we to see if our cousins had arrived. 

Grandma was usually in the kitchen, wearing an apron, overseeing the creation of the meal (an operation that I now understand was as complex as a minor military endeavour, perhaps say WWII). There was roast chicken, there was stuffing, there were steamed carrots, and oh boy there were mashed potatoes. Scads of mashed potatoes, buckets of mashed potatoes, mountains of ’em. There were other dishes too, like yams with marshmallows on top, but those can be, and really should be, lost to the mists of time. 

I sometimes think of my grandma when it’s my day to pull together our evening spread. Now that I’m one half of a farm couple myself, I feel like there were lessons I must have tucked away as I blithely/youthfully ignored her culinary efforts, because sometimes I’ll have a revelation that feels quite a bit more retrospective than fresh and clever. One of these revelations came hard and fast a few years ago, and it was all about carrots. 

A bunch of carrots on a chopping board with onions on the counter. Lessons in efficiency in dog training from peeling carrots like Grandma
Photo: mali maeder/Pexels

Our farm is small, mixed, and regenerative in orientation, and provides the majority of the food we eat. When we began gardening in a more systematic and intensive way, I was—naively—happy to grow seeds that scratched a certain itch: artisanal, heritage, unique. As the days shortened and frost loomed each fall, we carefully packed root vegetables into clean damp sand, to be pulled out throughout the winter to make whatever tickled our frost-nipped fancy. In early years, the carrots we saved ranged in size and shape, and included (it now pains me to admit) carrots that branched or were otherwise misshapen. I actually felt no small amount of condescending pride that we grew, and preserved, these carrots and that we didn’t buy into the capitalist myth that all carrots should follow the straight and narrow. 

One day as I broke apart yet another strangled, misshapen carrot to scrub it with a vegetable brush and try my hand at peeling the gnarled bits I’d separated off, I said to myself, portentously, “Grandma Benson would not have put up with this shit.” Grandma Benson would have tossed that carrot to the pigs or chickens and picked up a nice, big, easy-to-peel carrot. Grandma Benson had other stuff to do. The outcome-to-effort ratio had to be heavily weighted towards buttery steamed carrots and not scrubbing and peeling carrots. Grandma Benson was efficient

There was, I came to see, some beautiful symmetry (and probably co-evolution) between the handy carrot peeler in the drawer and the size and shape of a standard, Grandma-Benson-approved carrot. I wanted, right then, to be more like my Grandma Benson and less like a wide-eyed rookie farm type, so I determinedly tossed the misshapen carrot (and each of its legs) into the compost. In more recent years, while still maintaining a desire to grow vegetables bred for taste and local vigour over the modern focus on “does well being moved over vast distances in a truck”, we began selecting varieties that weren’t a pain to prepare and storing only carrots that met some basic size and shape metrics (and we also started using giant, loamy raised beds for growing vegetables, but that must surely be set aside for yet another slightly strained dog training allegory). 

A cute dog eats a carrot from their owner's hand. Lessons in efficiency in dog training from peeling carrots like Grandma
Photo: Samson Katt/Pexels

One of the things that surprised me when I learned how to train dogs professionally was the focus on efficiency, planning, and standardization. Isn’t each dog a beautiful and singular flower?, I wondered, finding this new dog training stuff interestingly robotic and distinctly non-artisanal. In the way dog professionals train, getting a dog from point A (“won’t sit on cue”) to point B (“sits on cue”) follows a pattern, a recipe of sorts. It’s pretty much always on the straight and narrow, if you see what I mean, and you likely do, because the central metaphor of this narrative doesn’t even dip a toe into minor abstraction. 

Another thing I learned as I went from an interested beginner to a certified Capital D Dog Capital T Trainer was that efficiency was something that has to be learned, nay hammered home through repetition, triangulation, and brute force, because it is simply not a human tendency to approach dog training as an exercise in efficiency. In fact, our shared instinct is to take the “every carrot deserves a chance” route: trying every method, every tool, and all of them at once, no matter how much effort is expended in so doing. And although contorted carrot storage was a low-stakes endeavour for me, dog training that doesn’t focus on efficiency of results is very much a high-stakes undertaking: the freedom, and even continued existence, of our clients’ dogs can hang in the balance. 

People who take dog classes or hire dog trainers do not need to waste time and effort. People who take dog classes or hire dog trainers need Grandma Benson: smart, efficient, knowledgeable; marching up and down the kitchen counter like a smiling, carrot-peeling, be-aproned culinary corporal. 

Writer and dog trainer Kristi Benson in a field with two dogs

Kristi Benson is an honours graduate of the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC).  She lives and works in the Parkland Region of central Manitoba Canada, where she teaches dog obedience classes and helps dog owners in private consultations – both in-person and via video chat – for a full range of dog problems, from basic obedience to aggressive behaviour. Kristi is on staff at the Academy for Dog Trainers, helping to shape the next generation of canine professionals. Kristi’s dogs are rescue sled dogs, and for fun she runs them with a dog-powered scooter and on skis.

Contact her through her website and check out her blog, Facebook page, or Twitter for training tips, articles about dogs and training, and more.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. As an Etsy affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Follow me!

Support me