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If you go down to the woods today.....

I recently read Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote. (www.kerasote.com/) This is an amazing book, that I do recommend you read. Merle is a young dog living wild when he meets Ted, and the book tells the story of how they educated each other. One of the doors that the title refers to is a dog door that Ted installed in his house.

Merle had learned to be independent, and since Ted lived in the middle of a national park where all the dogs are allowed more freedom than most of us could dream of, he let his dog come and go as he chose. The canine mind that this experience produced, and the ability Ted had to interpret his dog make for a fascinating read.

The amount of illuminating research incorporated into the book adds another aspect. Apparently the wolf research on which many training methods are based is flawed, as it involves studies of captive wolves rather than wild ones.

Ted acknowledges that not all dogs can have as free a lifestyle as Merle, but he does advocate giving your dog time off lead, and letting him interact with other dogs. On a recent walk in the woods with our dogs Buddy and Star there were so many other dogs that interaction was impossible to avoid.

It can be fascinating to watch your dog mix and communicate with his own species. Indeed I have been told by an expert (don’t tell anyone else, but it was Roger Mugford www.companyofanimals.co.uk/) that Buddy has excellent social skills. In practical terms this seems to manifest itself as being a wuss – when we encounter a dog Buddy always assumes a passive pose, and is ever ready to roll on his back in surrender. Interestingly, Star who is much smaller approaches others with a lot more confidence, and I am convinced she is under the impression she is a Mastiff rather than a Bichon Frise.

I interview many experts for DogCast Radio, and they all have their own philosophy, which can be confusing, but I like to hear what they all have to say, and then see what works best for my dog. One thing is certain, when we take our dogs out they are going to encounter other dogs, and it’s up to us to ensure they can cope with this. To know that they will benefit and learn from this socialisation is a welcome bonus.

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