Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ranger Recommends: "If a dog's Prayers Were Answered Bones Would Rain from the Sky Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs" by Suzanne Clothier

Ranger Heartily Recommends "If a dog's Prayers Were Answered Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs" by Suzanne Clothier. It's one of the best things I've read in a long time. Clothier has a real gift for words and for presenting her points in easily absorbed but thought provoking ways. I was laughing, crying, learning, thinking and growing on every page. She shares heartbreaking anecdotes about the price dogs pay for our inability to listen to them or to understand what they are telling us and hysterically funny stories about her own adventures with dogs.

For Clothier it's all about communication. How do we tell our dogs what we need them to do and how do we listen to what they are telling us they need. When she talks about dogs that are labeled aggressive simply for making their point in the only way they have left when all their other communications have been ignored it brought tears to my eyes. It's hard to believe that humans who truly love their dogs can be so clueless when it comes to listening to the dog. When Ranger collected a lot of burrs in his coat where he couldn't reach them he wasn't thrilled with me digging them out with my fingers. Because it was something that needed to be done I ignored his head turns, tongue flicks, and pulling away. He was patient for a long time but eventually he growled to let me know he was really tired of me pulling his hair. If I'd been as clueless as some people I would have claimed that the growl came out of nowhere and feared that Ranger was becoming aggressive. Instead, I knew he was telling me more plainly that he'd had enough because he wasn't convinced that I'd understood his earlier communication. I told him there were just a few more and when I'd finished I told him at length what a wonderful patient and beautiful dog he is.

Clothier's analogies with dancing and cooking really resonated with me. I often describe my relationship with Ranger in terms of dancing. When you're dancing as a couple only one partner gets to lead but if that partner is doing it right no one can tell that they're leading. Another explanation I use is riding a tandem bicycle. Only one rider gets to steer but they'd be a real fool not to take into account their co-rider's preference as to destination. Her cooking analogy resonated because I like to cook. I know what it is to follow a recipe precisely, what it means to use the recipe as a starting point and what it is like to create something entirely my own. When Clothier talks about going beyond the exact recipes of many training books I know what she means. This isn't a book of recipes it's a book about the art of cooking and I found it a perfect counterpart to the training books I've been reading that address specific problems with detailed descriptions of the precise steps to be taken. If all I want from my relationship with Finna is for her behavior to change I can follow those recipes exactly but as Clothier might say if I want my relationship with her to go beyond the change in her behavior to a change in our relationship I need to bring all of myself to the exercises. I once watched my grandmother make a pumpkin pie. My cousins had been raving about how marvelous her pumpkin pie tasted and I wanted to see what she did differently than what I did. Grandma took a ready made pie crust from the store, folded it into a pie pan. She opened a can of pumpkin and followed the recipe on the label. On the face of it she didn't do anything differently except for one thing Grandma kept in mind that this pie was for her loved ones and brought her whole self to the making of it. It took me a long time to figure out what Grandma did that I didn't but I suspect Clothier would have seen it immediately.

I appreciate Clothier's honesty in writing this book. It's easy to share the triumphs it's much harder to look honestly at your failures and mistakes, to acknowledge them and to accept the hard lessons they taught you. There have been times when Ranger and I have been one being it isn't a condition we inhabit all the time or all that frequently but it's a condition Clothier understand and one she makes real throughout her book. It's not something you arrive at by being perfect you get there by being willing to recognize and learn from your mistakes and to know that you'll be making plenty more. You get there by loving your dog and recognizing and appreciating them as the unique and special individual they are. You get there by bringing your whole self to your relationship, after all that's what your dog does.

I'm very glad I read this book and I'm sure Ranger and Finna would be delighted to echo this sentiment.  I'm more aware of my communications with my dogs for having read this book and more attuned to what Ranger is telling me. I still have trouble communicating with Finna. Her previous experiences have resulted in her concluding that humans only hear you if you shout and sadly the more she shouts the harder it is for me to understand what she is saying. I know one thing though, no matter how hard it is to understand what she's trying to tell me I'm not going to stop trying to hear her and trying to show her that there are better ways to communicate.

I'll end with this photo by my son. It's a bit symbolic; Ranger and I walking into the light together.

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