Sunday, February 20, 2011


Ranger now recognizes the human sign for water but he hasn't made any effort to make the K9 sign. It's interesting how quickly he caught on that brushing my left hand against my cheek twice meant water. Our philosophy in teaching sign language has been to use the signs in everyday context. When hiking and running on the beach he gets thirsty. I'll sign water and then produce the water bottle. At first he would sit politely once he saw the bottle. Now he sits politely as soon as I sign water. Next step is to teach him to make the sign for water.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One of the Books "Ranger Recommends"

Adopting a dog was, for me, rather like having a baby; I stared lovingly at this new being in my life and wondered “now what.” And just as I did with my children I began to read everything I could find that would help me answer that question. I’ve taken away something that has improved the life of my dog from nearly every book I’ve read but some have been especially valuable. Those are the books that “Ranger Recommends” a tribute to my dog Ranger’s appreciation of how much better I’ve become as a dog parent thanks to these books. Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote is one of the first books I read about living with a dog and it had a profound impact on the types of questions that I asked myself.  It is a very well done book that mixes factual scientific information with personal observation. I did not always agree with Kerasote’s conclusions or choices but I valued the thought-provoking perspectives provided.

On a camping trip along the San Juan River Ted Kerasote meets a Lab mix living wild. The two develop a relationship and the dog named Merle accompanied Kerasote to his home. Kerasote and Merle established an enviable life together.  Where Kerasote lived dogs were allowed to roam free, as a writer his schedule was flexible, he'd made a lifestyle choice available where he lived to eat only what he'd hunted himself. He and Merle had an idyllic life together, hiking, skiing, hunting and when Kerasote was writing Merle was free to roam the town and surrounding countryside and/or to visit the other free roaming dogs in town. Having read about this idyllic life my question became how could I create a similarly idyllic life for my suburban dog.

Merle was free to come and go as he pleased and to make his own choices. Merle and Kerasote formed a partnership rather than a relationship based on dominance or assigned roles. There was mutual respect and love. Beautifully written and deeply moving dog lovers will appreciate this glimpse of how dogs and people are meant to work together and compliment one another's skills and abilities.

Years have passed since I first read this book and when I look at the relationship we have established with our dog Ranger I realize that I took away quite a bit from the idyllic relationship between Merle and his person. Ranger is a suburban dog and won't be roaming free establishing his own friendships and visitation schedule but he's living a pretty idyllic life for a suburban dog. We've partnered with Ranger to provide him with a minimum of three enriching activities per day. These include walks, car rides, dog park visits, play dates and training time. In return Ranger has shown us changes in our neighborhood that we'd never paid attention to before and taught us how to observe dogs. He's learned to fit himself into our lifestyle and we've found ways to accommodate his needs. He's made friends in the neighborhood and we respect that, even if we're in a hurry we still allow a few minutes for him to say hello to his friends. Even in a suburban setting it's still possible to form a partnership. I find that encouraging.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine for Ranger

On Patricia McConnell's blog Other End of the Leash she's written a valentine for her dog and asked those who follow her blog for their valentines to their dogs. Here, in expanded form is mine to Ranger. 

I love you Ranger.
I love how you communicate so effectively even though you don’t speak any human language
I love how readily you have embraced the ideas that humans have sounds that attach to actions and objects and how you are learning that humans can understand gestures you use to tell them what you want.
I love your willingness to accept “human weirdness” such as regular baths and sometimes being allowed on the furniture and sometimes not. You don’t understand why things aren’t always consistent but simply accept that “humans are weird.”
I love how beautiful you are; it makes me laugh that you recognize beautiful as one of your names because you’ve heard it so often.
I love all the people you’ve brought into my life. I hadn’t realized how lonely I was before you.
I love how much you love people. It gives me hope for my species; if someone as wonderful as you are thinks we’re marvelous then maybe we aren’t as bad as I’ve sometimes thought.
I love that we can go together to libraries and nursing homes and other places where you can share your love of people to brighten days and encourage. It made my heart swell near to bursting the day we visited the nursing home and you sat near a woman who was in her own world. She sat there with her head thrown back and slack mouth hanging open. Then the attendant placed her hand on your back and slowly her mouth transformed into a smile. It is amazing to me that somehow you could reach her in whatever internal landscape she was lost and bring her a bit of joy. 
I love how smart you are. You make me stretch and re-evaluate my assumptions about what you can and can’t do or understand. In trying to do right by you I’ve learned so much and as a result we’ve been able to do some good for other dogs. I love that we're able to make a difference in the lives of both our species.
I love how much you have brought into the lives of my children and how when a cat or child is yelling about something you run toward it to see if you can help. Your respect for the elder cat delights me. He’s old and grumpy and much much smaller than you but you still give up your bed for him or cede him the couch.
I love that you listen to me, at least when it really matters. I have never been so proud as the day you stopped your joyful run toward a group of small children when I asked you to. You were a great ambassador for your species that day and rather than being frightened by a large dog running at them the children were delighted with their new big fluffy playmate.
I love how you are noble and dignified http://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/3759243814/in/set-72157621312676230/ and how you are a demented nut http://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/5426796560/. I love your great big feet http://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/5426798028/in/photostream/ and your happy smilehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/33350160@N02/5226913659/in/set-72157625357059325/
But most of all I love how we are two parts that make a whole. Together we are more than either of us alone; you are my other self my entry into a world not my own and I am yours. You are my Ranger, my love, my canine companion, my other self. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Signing Food and learning cheese

Ranger has been seen at the dog park walking up to people with treats in their pockets, sitting politely and signing food. He certainly understands there is a sign he can make indicating he wants a treat. Fortunately for him he has me to interpret as most people have no idea that he is communicating with gestures. Most of his targets do recognize that he's begging. And most of them when I explain what he's doing respond by giving him treats.

I've begun teaching him the sign for cheese. I had a few Cheetos left in a bowl and he was hanging out and I'm too tired to exercise with him (remind me that I'm not 25 anymore and really do need to get my eight hours) so I took advantage of the circumstances. I haven't shaped his signs before but for cheese (left paw lift wrist bent) I'd push on the back of his wrist to get the proper bend. It didn't take long before he was understanding that to get the Cheeto he had to lift his paw and bend the wrist. He's a pretty smart dog.