The Dog-Human Bond: A Two-Way Street

Writer finds that it’s not all about training the dog.

Outdoorsman and writer Ted Kerasote was looking for a puppy he could “shape into a companion.” He found the pup, and so much more.

Adopting a stray whom he named Merle, Kerasote found that the young dog did his own shaping – of Kerasote’s opinion of dogs’ intelligence.

Kerasote chronicles their journey in “Merle’s Door,” published by Harcourt.

The book’s scope is revealed just by its chapter titles: The First Dog, In the Genes, Building the Door, Top Dog, The Problem of Me, and The Alpha Pair, to name a few.

In A Looser Leash, he writes, “The ultimate truth of living with a dog is the same as that of living with a person you care about: It takes time. And in this respect, many urban dogs may have more fulfilling lives than their suburban counterparts. Their humans, being urban people and not so wedded to automobiles, walk, and when they walk they take their dogs with them. If they have access to a park with hours devoted to off-leash recreation, both person and dog get what most of us need, if not every day, then close to every day: access to a reasonable amount of green space, safety from cars, exercise, and good conversation with our own kind.”

After chronicling Merle’s changing likes and dislikes in What Do Dogs Want? Kerasote concludes, “They want what they want when they want it. Just like us.”

The author’s lessons go beyond dog knowledge. He writes of Merle’s love of elk hunting and apparent distaste for bird hunting. “I accepted his decision about the place bird hunting would have in our lives. Actually, I did a little better than that. I respected it. Perhaps, had I been a smarter and more caring man, I might have learned this lesson from a human partner. But I learned it from my dog: At a certain point you need to acknowledge that your partner knows more about what makes him or her happy than you do. Stepping back, you let that partner be.”

If you still have doubts about whether this non-dog person has written a “dog book,” listen to what Stanley Coren, perhaps one of the most well-known dog writers around has to say about “Merle’s Door:” “To be entertained and educated at the same time is rare in dog books, which makes this one definitely worth reading.” And Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of “The Hidden Life of Dogs,” says, “It is no exaggeration to say that Merle’s Door could be the best book ever written about dogs.”

Now, go fetch.

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