Posts Tagged ‘Merle’s Door’

Miley is a good example of a generalist dog.

Even those of us who have breeds that have been bred for a particular specialized behavior know of individuals within the breed that are much more generalist in their behavior than one might expect.

Miley is a very good example of a generalist dog whose ancestors were definitely bred to be specialists. She has very weak retrieving instinct, usually only picking up toys as a greeting behavior. She is very different from some retrievers that live to retrieve. It becomes their live-long obsession that is relished to such an extent that one shouldn’t call it a mere métier. It becomes part of their being. Indeed, a big part their very existence becomes retrieving objects.  They can be so long as they are able to retrieve.

Certainly, similar things can be said about dogs who herd, point, flush, course, and trail.  Selective breeding produces these animals, which are then refined through training.

However, really specialized dogs are not common outside of the West. Although it is certainly true that many peoples of Asian and Africa have sighthounds, many of these sighthounds, like the aboriginal Afghan hound and the Azawakh, also are useful as camp and livestock guard dogs. Western greyhounds aren’t particularly useful for that purpose.

Although it is certainly true that East Asians and Native Americans in both North and South America have produced dog breeds with specialized abilities, most non-Western dogs are generalists.

The history of the generalist dog is much longer than that of the specialists or those whose ancestors were bred to be specialists.

This was even true in America. From the colonial period until about the middle of the twentieth century, the most common dogs about were curs, shepherds, and feists. All of these dogs were multipurpose, with both shepherds and cur doing herding and droving work and hunting varmints.

The feist joined its larger brethren in guard work, but its primary purpose was to hunt small game, including game birds.  A large dog would flush a grouse or bobwhite, and the bird would fly away. But a small dog could make the bird take refuge in the trees, which it could easily be taken by the gun. The dog would alert its human companion to the location of the bird in the same way it would alert the location of a treed squirrel– by barking very loudly. Such shots of treed birds are deemed unsportsmanlike in our modern world, but in those days, it was important to make a kill as easily and efficiently as possible. One had access to only so much ammunition, and it could not be wasted on attempting to shoot birds on the wing.

All of these dogs still exist, but they are now in the minority. The vast majority of dogs in the US are either improved breeds that have been registered with a kennel club or they are imported working and hunting breeds, like Deutsch-Drahthaar and border collies. The rise of these breeds over the native multipurpose dogs has to do with the rapid social changes and increased wealth that happened in the United States after the Second World War. The vast majority of people are no longer rural. Dogs are no longer an economic necessity in most cases, and because people have more disposable incomes, they can afford pet dogs and working dogs whose utility is more or less that of a hobby animal. Although one can find shepherds and stockmen who rely upon their herding dogs, most herding dogs in America are owned by hobbyists.  Very few hunting dogs hunt marketable species– the best case I know around these parts is of some hounds that are used to hunt bobcats. The dogs trail and tree the bobcat. The bobcat is shot, and its pelt is sold to a taxidermist, who makes a marketable specimen that some people like to display in their homes.

There are plenty of examples of dogs that have an economic utility, and I know that there are far more examples than I have posited here. But it doesn’t change the fundamental reason why the native multipurpose breeds have given way to the kennel club and imported working and hunting dog horde.  The vast majority of people can afford to have dogs that are not as multipurpose. Owning a kennel club breed or a working breed with its own registry also imparts upon the owner a certain level of status.  No longer does this person live out in the woods with his curs. He has a kennel club dog now.

The perspectives one has on generalist versus dogs changes how experts view dogs. In Merle’s Door, Ted Kerasote write about how differently Raymond Coppinger and Michael Fox view dogs. Coppinger prefers the specialized behaviors of many different breeds of domestic dog, claiming that “Any breed of dog behaves with greater complexity than any wolf.” Michael Fox prefers the more generalist behaviors of the wild wolf to those of specialized dog breeds, pointing the beautifully efficient movement that wolves have compared when compared to domestic dogs.

Kerasote is more in favor of the generalist dog, perhaps in part because Merle, the dog whose biography is the subject of the book, is a generalist dog. Although predominantly Labrador, Merle has no interest in retrieving or hunting birds in the way that retrievers do. Several people tell Kerasote that he just needs to send Merle off to a professional retriever trainer, who’ll turn him into a great working retriever. However, Kerasote refuses to do so. He feels that specialist dogs are a bit limited:

Specialist dogs can be brilliant at their jobs or sports, but, as is the case with some human athletes, mathematicians, or artists, their highly specialized skills can leave them unobservant. Data outside their purview doesn’t register. And the more proficient they become, the harder it becomes for them to think outside the box. They become idiot savants (pg. 140).

He continues:

Merle never followed this narrow career path, and friends thought this was a loss for him and for me. By allowing Merle to do what he wanted, they argued, I had wasted his life as a potentially good bird dog and squandered the enjoyment, I would have gotten watching him flush and retrieve.

On the other hand, I never tired of watching him scent elk, chase chiselers [ground squirrels], and delicately pick currantswith his incisors– all pastimes he chose for himself (pg. 140).

Merle was interested in all sorts of different wildlife, and he was interested in birds– but only in catching them and consuming them. Major faults for any retriever, but great assets for a dog who had grown up a nearly feral dog in the wild environs of the San Juan River in Utah. He had no interesting retrieving objects or shot birds, despite his obvious Labrador ancestry:

No matter how much you would try to cajole him, employing the usual kissing noises that attract dogs so well (they mimic the high-pitched squeaks of rodents), he remained unshaken in his belief that such games [retrieving] were exactly that– games. Instead he applied himself to the real– the real, somehow, always being connected to filling his stomach. Why should he respond to a person ersatz rodent noise, he logic seemed to go, when he could chase and kill real ground squirrels?  Why should he fetch a retriever dummy when could flush and kill a real ruffed grouse?

I admire his integrity, though some friends found it disconcerting. One young couple, longing for some doggy energy in their lives, borrowed Merle for a day hike. A few hours later they returned with him at arm’s length. “He caught a grouse,” the woman said, a little shocked, “and ate it whole, right in front of our own eyes” (pg. 138).

That woman’s reaction to Merle’s predatory behavior notwithstanding, a retriever that knows how to catch, kill, pluck, and eat birds isn’t exactly what most working retriever people want. If Kerasote had been operating in the usual paradigm in which working retriever people operate, Merle would have had to have undergone some intense retraining, but because the author was operating from a different perspective, he is able to appreciate him for what he is.

Later in the book, Merle actually does show that he can learn to retrieve. He is taken on a pheasant hunt in Montana with working goldens and Labs, and he shows that he can retrieve a shot pheasant, simply by watching the other dogs do it, but when he retrieves the bird, the author is a bit overwhelmed with the realization that Merle just doesn’t like retriever work:

I was thrilled and overwhelmed. Without any reinforcement– except seeing his peers hunt–he had learned every detail of flushing and retrieving and hadn’t been spooked in the least by the report of the gun.[Merle had a fear of guns that probably stemmed from the fact that he was shot while chasing cattle during his feral existence in Utah]. Bursting with pride, I held out my hand to receive this, his first bird.

But instead of presenting the pheasant to my hand as the other dogs had done for their humans, he spit it at my feet.

There was no mistaking the scorn in his gesture. He held himself erect and looked at me with enormous defiance.

I reached down and tried to pet him, but he pulled back his head from my hand, his posture not softening in the least. Ramrod straight and every muscle tense, he fixed me with blazing eyes.

“See,” they said, “I can do this, I just don’t want to.”

Up until this point in my life, virtually all the dogs I had run into had pleased me. A very few–two, in fact–had frightened me. Many had made me laugh. A couple had made me cry. One– this one sitting before me–had made me feel ashamed on the day I hit him for chasing cattle. Dozens of dogs had filled me with love. No dog, until today, had managed to humble me.

“I understand,” I told him.

He stared at me hard.

“I get it,” I said. “You really hate bird hunting” (pg. 267-268).

Perhaps Kerasote’s pronouncements would have been different had he purchased Merle from a breeder of trial quality Labradors, but because he was open to Merle being a different dog from what his pedigree suggested, he was able to see Merle develop his own senses and live his own life. From that experience, the Kerasote and Merle were able to develop a real relationship– not between master and servant dog but between two partners who can experience the world together. On their long hikes in the wilds of the West, they sense the world as a team– primate seeing, canid scenting.

Miley shares many of Merle’s traits. Although her litter brother was retrieving to hand at 12 weeks, she has no interest in doing so. She might retrieve for a bit, but it’s not her primary interest. I think that deep down she wishes she had been born a sighthound, for she loves to course rabbits that have the stupidity to sit out in the open. She has caught rabbits and one fox squirrel that she has managed to run down in the open. She has brought the rabbits home alive without leaving a mark on them, and she would have done the same with the fox squirrel had it not decided to fight back. She has made only one kill on her excursions– a meat chicken that its owners abandoned in the woods. She caught three of them, carrying two home alive before realizing that she could stop the flapping if she killed it first. I have no idea what the purpose of turning those chickens loose on the property of others was, particularly when the woods are full of coyotes, foxes, and raccoons that would make shorter work of them than a young retriever dog could.

The generalist dog is as well-received in our society as it once was.  Ted Kerasote’s book challenges us to look beyond our expectation and look to see what our dogs’ interests actually are. If Miley had been like her brother, her life might have been a bit different– well, there is no “might” about it.

But because she is not, she is still appreciated for what she is. She may be genetically a retriever, but her instincts, drives, and interests just aren’t in it.

And I’m okay with that.

She’s a generalist dog, who, like Merle, smells the tracks of the wild animals. Deer tracks get very careful consideration, because I think she would really like to be a deer hunter. They fascinate her to no end, but when she once came upon a doe nursing her fawn, she discovered exactly how protective such animals are of their offspring. The was lucky that the deer just chased her away. Some dogs don’t get off so easy.

As a puppy, I remember she once tore open the nest of some species of ground nesting song bird. The chicks ran in all directions, and she tried to catch them. But because she was at the awkward “all legs” stage of golden retriever puppy development, she couldn’t run any of them down before the parent birds began dive-bombing her. She never did that again.

I also remember the day she dug up a yellowjacket nest, and they piled her. If she  ran to me for comfort, and the yellowjackets caught her scent on me. I got a few stings, but I have been stung so many times, that it is just a minor inconvenience. It hurts for about a minute. But it apparently bothered Miley a bit more– because she never did that again.

I also remember the day she came face to face with a gray fox. We were walking up a sandy knoll with the ancient golden retriever named in tow behind us. Suddenly, a rabbit on the side of the trail bolted away from us, charging up the hill to a thicket of multiflora rose. But just as suddenly as it bolted the rabbit stopped, and then shot off to the left for an even more distant thicket of multiflora rose. Loping down the hill before us came the reason why the rabbit had bolted, my eyes did not register at first what it was. Gray foxes are more cat-like in their movements than other dogs are, and the first thing that came to my mind was that I was looking at cougar. When my rational mind finally registered what it was, I realized that I had come across a gray fox that had come to do some daylight rabbiting. The fox came to screeching halt, and it stopped.  It had not yet notice me coming up the trail and focused its attention on the small blond thing that had been trotting several yards ahead of me. Perhaps in all of its travels it had never come across such an unusual creature as a four-month-old golden retriever puppy. And this golden retriever puppy had not seen anything like a gray fox before. The two creatures studied each other from a distance for a few seconds. I stopped my progress down the trail to watch for a bit. I could see Miley’s black nostrils quivering, and I could see the fox staring hard with its wild eyes. It was then the fox noticed me and charged away. It may not have known what a golden retriever puppy was, but it knew that people are nothing but trouble.

Like Merle, Miley has grown up experiencing nature. She has not had to live as a feral animal, but she know about the animals that live near her. Like Merle, she hates coyotes with venomous passion and loves to go out in the yard at night and shit talk the wild dogs for a couple of hours before she goes to bed.

Her brain has developed in this experience rich environment, and her intelligence has become keener and keener as she has matured. She is a very well socialized dogs, and although her nature is to be a little shy and retiring, she has become more confident.

A few months ago, I was walking her in a park on a leash, and two women who were walking very shy dogs asked how she got to be so confident. I didn’t realize it at the time but her upbringing as a free range rural dog that also lives in the house and goes on trips may have had some role in developing her confidence.

And it is through that confidence that one can see that her intelligence is more generalist than specialized. She communicates very nicely with other dogs. She appreciates the scent of deer tracks in the sandy mud and the sight of flushing some wild turkeys in a snow covered woods.

It is through her that I have fully realized one of the main parts of Merle’s Door— appreciate the dog with a generalist intelligence. I still like dogs that have natural retrieving instinct, but just because a dog doen’t have it, doesn’t mean the animal is useless.

A dog with a more generalist intelligence can take you places the specialized animal cannot. It can take the sail out of an inflated ego. It can humble you.

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Ted Kerasote’s website has been updated. Well, I got the e-mail a while ago, but I’m only now getting around to tell you about it.

He has a new book out about his new Labrador named Pukka.


The narrative is told from Pukka’s perspective, and the photos are stunning!


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention again that Merle’s Door is my favorite dog book. Not only do I love the story about a wild retriever living in the Wyoming wilderness, but I often reference the science in the book whenever I am looking into such diverse topics as dog domestication and dominance theory.

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This is my favorite dog book.

It is probably the most important dog book to come out since Lorenz’s (very flawed) Man Meets Dog.

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What I am about to write is something quite heretical, but it’s something that I found that virtually all the literature seems to miss in dog behavior.

We tend to get focused on this hierarchy stuff. It’s mind numbing in how all dog behavior gets reduced to bosses and underlings, but if you ask the average person about dog or wolf social behavior, you get the same answer. Dogs are pack animals, and one animal leads.

However, I’ve found in my own experiences with groups of dogs that no all dogs relate to each other in this fashion. I know of two pairs of dogs in which status issues didn’t seem to exist at all.

The first of these were two dogs belonging to my grandpa. One was a JRTCA Jack Russell and the other a beagle cross rescued from a dumpster in Myrtle Beach. Both dogs were dog aggressive, but both dogs also loved to go on hunting excursions.

This love of hunting changed their relationship. The JRT would bolt the rabbits and groundhogs that went underground or in pipe, while the beagle’s superior nose would find their trails. After this relationship formed, I never saw the two dogs show any aggression or dominance displays to each other.

Both were bitches, and both would fight another bitch if they had the opportunity. However, they never fought each other.

The other two dogs that I saw develop this sort of relationship were my oldest golden retriever and the golden boxer.  The golden boxer could be aggressive towards other strange dogs. She was aggressive toward her own mother at times, but she was never aggressive to the older golden retriever. When the golden boxer was younger, the older golden retriever had the upper hand, but as the boxer cross got bigger, the golden began to allow the golden boxer more liberties. By the time the golden boxer was three or four, the social differences between the two were nonexistent.

The only time I remember the golden boxer acting aggressively or showing dominance displays over this golden retriever was when the golden retriever developed brain cancer. When that happened, her behavior totally changed. She wasn’t a normal dog anymore. She did not have the full communication skills that she once had, and this greatly perturbed the golden boxer.

But while they were healthy, these two dogs were a partnership.

That whole concept is very foreign to the dog literature. I’ve not seen it discussed anywhere.

However, I did find a hint of it in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s  The Hidden Life of Dogs:

Suessi and Windigo were almost equal in height and weight, and the social differences between the two were almost imperceptible [They may not have existed at all]. They spent their lives together, always in perfect friendship. They never fought each other… (66-67).

Thomas goes into a discussion about dominance issues in that part of the book, but that little relationship between two husky brothers should cause us to pause and think for a minute.

I remember reading in Jim and Jamie Dutcher’s book The Wolves at Our Door that there were two wolves that had relatively equal rank. These wolves did nothing but fight each other.

But these domestic dogs I discussed seemed to develop relatively egalitarian relationships, so dogs may be capable of developing relationships that wolves are not.

Now, I had never heard of anyone developing a partnership with a dog in this fashion until I read Merle’s Door. Merle and his owner develop a very interesting relationship. Merle is given freedom once he’s learned the rules of the neighborhood, and through this freedom, the man and dog develop a partnership that is not unlike the ones I’ve seen between domestic dogs. Merle is not 100 percent obedient, but he  is allowed to develop his skills and talents as a dog to their fullest extent. Even though Merle is a Labrador cross, he is not required to be a bird dog. Bird dog activities don’t interest him. He’s far more interested tracking elk and going cross country skiing.

Man and dog are partners. The dog makes some decisions. The man makes some decisions. It’s give and take.

That’s a concept that I don’t see discussed very much, but it is a relationship that we could have.

But in order to do so, we’re going to have to leave our egos at the door.

And unfortunately, dog culture is about about ego. If your dog isn’t 100 percent obedient, then the dog is stupid, and you’re a failure as a trainer.

Yes, dogs have to learn rules. We all do. However, we also have to allow them to be dogs. Finding the balance is the key toward taking this relationship forward– as partners, not underlings.

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As I’ve said before, this is my favorite dog book.

It’s a wonderful mix of science and narrative.

And Merle is a retriever, an animal whose essence I’ve experienced through three separate individuals. Many of Merle’s characteristics I have seen in the dogs I have lived with. He is very friendly, but he’s also very smart and imitative. He is allowed free range over a small rural community in Wyoming, and it is through his freedom that Merle develops a lot of his social graces and intellect.

It is a pretty good book. I don’t know if many dogs in this country could experience the freedom that made Merle’s life so interesting. Most dogs live in the suburbs and in urban areas. Freedom is where the dog parks are.

Dogs have been living as Merle did for thousands of years. It has only been in relatively recent centuries that they have been forced to spend most of their lives locked in houses and fenced yards. It is not that we should let our dogs roam in all areas. It is that we have forgotten that dogs need off-leash time. They need time to be dogs.

Because that’s what they are.

No matter how much we train and selectively breed them, they will still have parts of their natures that we can’t control and that maybe we shouldn’t control.

For those of us who really love dogs, it is this part of their characters that makes them so interesting.

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As I have mentioned on Retrieverman, I absolutely love this book. It is the best book I’ve ever read on dogs, and I also love it that the main dog subjects in the book are breeds with which I have some familiarity– Labs, goldens, and border collies. The author’s dog is a stray retriever of one of the following permuations: Lab/golden cross, Lab/redbone hound cross, or golden/redbone hound cross (which is what I think he was).

“Merle” was discovered on the San Juan River in Utah. He was a feral dog that lived on  the game he killed and what food he could cajole out of tourists. When he discovers the author’s rafting party, he decides that he wants to stay with the author. He almost says to the author “You need a dog, and I’m it.”

The dog is taken to the author’s residence in the wilds of Wyoming. The small of Kelly allows the dogs to roam off-leash, provided they learn to leave livestock alone.

Because of this freedom, the dogs are given a lot of opportunities to socialize with each other and with people. Further, the dogs develop an understanding of the natural world around them, which is very useful for a nature writer.

The author is brought to many interesting insights because of Merle. He notices that Merle tends to sniff the front tracks of the pronghorn more intensely than the hind tracks. When the author shoots a pronghorn, he sniffs the front hooves and back hooves to see if he can discern a difference in their odors. He discovers that the front hooves smell more strongly of sage than the back ones.

Later, while on a long hike in the mountains, Merle stops and looks into a stand of pines. When the author stops and does looks in the same direction that Merle does, he sees a grizzly bear lumbering out of the trees.

Because Merle grew up in such a rich environment and then was allowed to use his intelligence and instincts as a “free-thinking dog,” that Merle develops very good manners with people. His innate people reading skills, which all dogs possess, have been heightened because of his freedom.

Merle’s intelligence begins to reach another level, though, and this finding is one of the most controversial in the book. Merle is taken to the chiropracter regularly. The chiropracter has a full-length mirror that covers an entire wall. One day, the author sees Merle look at the mirror and then look back at him. Then the dog drops to the floor and begins doing behaviors that look like he can tell that the mirror is his reflection, wriggling his paws from side to side and rolling over. He does this with his eyes focused on the mirror. Now, dogs have never officially passed the mirror test for self awareness, but if this finding were true, then we can say that dogs are self-aware.

Today we think dogs ought to be under our control all the time. They must obey us at all times, or they will become “dominant.” Either that, or we believe that they are stupid animals that are controlled entirely by conditioned responses. Thus, we keep them under our controll all the time in order to better control their environments. Both of these theories are depriving dogs of their innate natures, which partially that of the wolf and partially that of a very strongly humanized animal.

I wish we all could live in places where we could give our dogs some modicum of freedom and allow them to interact with their own kind and us in more natural ways. But lacking such liberal dog laws in most areas, we need to ensure that off-leash areas still exist. Because of all the animals we live with, the dog is one of the most complex.  New research is showing how much domestication has turned the dog’s mind into something more like  of people. They have evolved advanced cognitive abilities that we have not seen any other non-human species, including the great apes. It is only now that we have really started to appreciate how amazingly intelligent dogs are. It is time that we kept them with a deep appreciation for this intelligence.

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This one:

It is isn’t just a story about a dog. It is more like an intellectual and emotional exploration of all things canine.

 Ted Kerasote is quite an author. There are very few authors who can weave engaging narrative with analysis of complex scientific studies. He is a master.

And although you can find things to quibble about in this book, it is a very good piece of science and nature writing.

And if you’re a retriever person, he so aptly describes the mannerisms of our dogs that you know this man has experienced retrieverdom in all its glory.

The main theme of this book is that we should sometimes let our dogs be dogs. It’s quite a novel concept in this age where the trend is to have dogs as regimented as soldiers.

Of course, we’d all like to live in a little isolated hamlet, where the author raised Merle.  In the wilds of Wyoming, the dogs got to experience nature, people, and other dogs as they have for thousands of years. Today, giving a dog that sort of freedom is something not advised or even legal.

But I really liked the book. I wish we could all give our dogs the life that Merle had, but I know that’s not realistic.

The author’s website can be found here.

I think Merle was a golden retriever/Redbone cross, although the author thinks he was  either Lab/Golden cross or a Lab/Redbone cross. He had no retrieving instinct (as we know it), but he could be coaxed into retrieving at one point in the book. He also bays like a hound, which makes us understand that he does have hound in him. However, he looks almost exactly like my first golden retriever, except she had the golden retriever coat, a very strong retrieving instinct, and a sharp retriever bark. I would have expected Merle to have a very short coat if he were Lab/Rebone, but his coat is about as long as we see in most Labradors. I think you are more likely to see that in a golden/hound cross than a Lab/hound cross.

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The Marley and Me film is coming out on Christmas Day. I’ve read the book. It’s a cute book. And if you just like dogs, well, it’s a good cuddly dog book. I’m sure the movie will be like that, too.

However, the subtitle of this book calls Marley the world’s worst dog. He was not.

Marley was a field line Lab that was kept in non-working home in the suburbs. That’s a recipe for a dog that is going to act out at some point. Marley actually adapted the best he could to this environment, which is about as natural for a working retriever as the zoo is for a tiger.

The person who posted this video on youtube called it his or her “favorite book.” It is a good book, but my favorite book is Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych.  My favorite dog book is Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Free-thinking Dog.  It is about a similar dog, a Lab-golden mix, a Lab-rebone mix, or a rebone-golden mix, but Merle’s owner doesn’t try to bend him into an idealized version of what dogs are supposed to be. Merle is allowed lots exercise. He is allowed to socialize with other dogs, and he is trained using more scientific  and more effective methods than the ones that Marley was subjected to.

Really, I’d like to see a movie about Merle, but Marley is more relatable to the average American, who lives in the suburbs and cannot fathom a dog running around in the great outdoors.  The book has lots of biological and behavioral science in it, which is why they’ll never make a movie out of it. However, I love it, but then I’m a dog nerd.

In the end, I wish Marley’s owner had done a bit more research on the breed before selecting one. I know that everyone wants a Lab, but if you get a performance line (field-bred) Lab, you’d better give him lots of exercise and training.

If you just want a dog, why not rescue one?

And if you don’t have lots of time to train and exercise a dog, I’d seriously suggest two breeds: the pug and the Boston terrier. They may have genetic problems. They may be unnatural in their conformation. But they aren’t as driving and wild as working dogs can be.

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This is one of the best books I’ve ever read about dogs. It’s both a heart-warming story about a Lab-Redbone hound cross and wonderful piece of science and nature writing about dogs and their behavior.

Here’s the youtube interview with the author:

The website for the book can be found here, and you can link up to Merle’s photo album here.

Merle is given freedom to socialize with other dogs and experience nature, and he develops into an intelligent, but free-thinking dog. It’s a really itneresting idea that dogs should be given some freedom to make choices in their lives.  Last weekend, The National Geographic Channel carried a program about the San Franscico zoo tiger that attacked last the visitors on Christmas Day last year. The program talked a lot about new findings about carnivore husbandry.  Using mink as a study species, researchers found that if mink were allowed to make choices about their environment and given mental and physical stimulation, they were healthier than those who lived in confined cages with little choices or stimulation. Studies on mink and ferrets suggest that they are more intelligent than cats and more on par with dogs and primates in intelligence. These findings are certainly applicable to other species of carnivore, especially the social ones, such as dogs. Today, most dogs live in confined spaces for days and days on end. We can only imagine how much this is hurting their mental and physical health. Perhaps we ought to ban keeping dogs (especially large dogs) in cities and suburbs, unless they are given off leash excercise several times a week.  I know this is controversial, and it flies in the face of the current trend in dog ownership.

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