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.

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