Whole Dog Journal's Blog September 2, 2014

Dog Doors: Conduits for Good … or Not-So-Good

Posted at 08:25AM - Comments: (9)

I think my favorite dog book published in the past decade is Merle’s Door, by Ted Kerasote. The book is, in part, a memoir of one special dog’s life shared with the author. But Kerasote weaves meditations and essays about the greater philosophical dimensions of our collective human lives with dogs into the story. (This essay on the author’s own website gives a good example of the type of  content you’d find in the book: http://www.kerasote.com/essays/ted-kerasote-merle-essay.pdf)

The title of the book references a struggle that Kerasote experienced with Merle, a former “stray” dog,  regarding Merle’s desire to come and go from Kerasote’s house (located near a small village in rural Wyoming) as he pleased. The author discusses his fears for his dog’s safety outdoors, as well as the dog’s frustration with being locked in – or sometimes, being locked out and having no way to get back in (for example, when Kerasote  had to go somewhere while the dog was out roaming). The discussion touches on every aspect of what it means to take full responsibility for a dog’s life – and movingly describes how the installation of a dog door in Kerasote’s house fundamentally changed his relationship with Merle. Kerasote had observed that Merle was an exceptionally intelligent survivor, capable of handling just about anything that his rugged Western environment might throw at him without violating human rules about livestock or other dogs or humans, so he gave his dog the means to leave (and return) whenever he wanted – and the arrangement made both of them much happier.

I don’t have a dog door in my house, but I do have a curtain-style screen that hangs over the open doorway of a wide sliding glass door that goes from our kitchen to a large deck and our backyard. Thanks to a Mediterranean climate, we leave that door open at night from around March through October, so the dogs and cats can come in and go out as they please – without waking us up to open the door for them. Until we got the curtain-style screen, they would open the door, but of course none of them know how to close it, so we had mosquitoes in the house, which I can’t abide. With the curtain, they just push their way through, and its weighted bottom edge swings it back into place. The arrangement works perfectly for all of our adult dogs, who don’t sleep in our room; less so for my son’s adolescent dog, Cole, who usually does sleep with my son.

I’m afraid Cole doesn’t yet have the maturity or judgment to know what to do with the freedom to go inside and out all night, and this past week, with me dog-sitting again while my son was again traveling with his sports team, he found increasingly novel things to do each night. One night, I was awakened by odd thumping sounds, followed by chewing sounds; he had taken a piece of firewood off the woodpile, dragged it across the lawn, deck, through the house and into my bedroom, where he proceeded to chew it like a rawhide. Another time he removed a small and highly specific part – a pressure valve – from a plastic pressure sprayer that I had recently used to stain a deck (and I’ve been unable to find it anywhere…including his stool). This morning, when I looked out my kitchen window as I prepared a pot of coffee, I was surprised – and then horrified – to see a dozen or more apples and a bunch of leaves and twigs from one of our apple trees spread all over the lawn. He basically picked every apple within reach of his tiptoes, and chewed on some of the branches. Fortunately, I’m the first one up each morning, and was able to clean up all of the evidence before my husband saw, although I’m sure he’s wondering why I picked so many apples a tad too early.

Thank goodness, my son came back from his travels today, and Cole can sleep with him in a closed bedroom. I think it will be wiser to wait at least until next spring to try an open-door policy with him again. 

Comments (9)

I just read Merle's Door last week, it was a wonderful book and made me yearn to live in a place where my dogs could safely have freedom to roam. Unfortunately we are city dwellers with leash laws and many hazards. They do have a dog door into the garage, so they can go inside in bad weather if I am away and they are in the back yard. I just got two new dog doors for the back porch, so they can get from the back door across the porch into the yard without me having to let them in and out every time. It's a dogs' world, I am just happy to have two to share my life with at this moment.

Posted by: Bobbi* | September 8, 2014 12:34 PM    Report this comment

Love having dog doors but my CorgiX has assigned herself the gate keeper of the doors and will not let other dogs (I foster) pass. My current foster, an un-adoptable ACD occasionally will suffer the gauntlet if he really needs to get to the backyard but he usually waits for me to go into the backyard or he waits until my Corgi is lying at my feet before he attempts the dog door. Does anyone else have a dog door guarder?

Posted by: Alison.FW | September 3, 2014 2:35 PM    Report this comment

I use one of those inexpensive, magnetic screens that allows our old Airedale Eloise to come in and out of screened patio at will. Love it for keeping most bugs out though chipmunks seem to find their way in at bottom but unable to get out! Luckily Ellie's cataracts prevent her from seeing these critters because in her youth, she killed a skunk and brought it to my front door 30 minutes before I met my husband at a restaurant! Thank heavens for skunk off.
Forgive me for digressing but this is the first time I've added comments and I've been dying to ask others this question. Has anyone else realized that they can get their dog to answer questions once they teach the word: speak? It works beautifully and I discovered all kinds of things about my old girl. Question always is: do you want to know what your dog thinks?! Ellie hates going out in the car for example. Had no idea. Now teaching concept of pain. No end to what we can do with the noble beasts.

Posted by: Vyse | September 3, 2014 12:48 AM    Report this comment

Both dog doors are such a success I want a third. Main dog door goes outside to dog pen, but it is closed at night. We have poisonous cane toads and can't risk our terrier's life by giving her outdoor access at night. However my big old dog ignored the toads and the dog door was always open for him to relieve himself. Second dog door goes to top floor lanai where dogs love to watch the world. Dogs go in and out without letting mosquitos inside. A potential third dog door would give access to the front porch. Before getting a dog door I worried about a burglar crawling through. So I considered building a dog house around the outside of the dog door. I figured a burglar would have to be out of his mind to crawl inside a dog house in order to find the hidden dog door. Never built it, but still like the idea.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | September 2, 2014 4:43 PM    Report this comment

While dog doors might work for some, I've never liked the noise most of the plastic or sturdy types make, when the dogs go in & out; Bam-Bam! I also worry about someone deciding they can CRAWL thru one (big enough for my 90 lb dog). In addition, having been brought several late-night catches on an over-night potty run, I do NOT want a rabbit or opposum brought into, or dropped LOOSE in my home. I just had a LIVE opposum brought into my home at 2 AM by my Weimaraner who was let out to potty & returned with said very LIVE & hissing animal in the minute or so it took ME (to also potty) while they were out. He dropped it totally unhurt In my kichen floor for ME to deal with!

Posted by: Betsy | September 2, 2014 1:39 PM    Report this comment

We've had a doggy door for a long time. It goes to a securely fenced back yard so I don't worry about it being open all day and night. An older dog will "train" a new one to use it. I didn't appreciate how complacent I had been about that until I realized that our newest (well, 6 years old) dog was trained to the doggy door rather than to let me know if she needed out. Our dogs are huge and so is the door. When people point out that someone could crawl in, I respond that someone should also expect that two very large dogs will be on the other side, barking very loudly to let me know someone is here. We also have sliding doors that we can leave open for much of the year, and they prefer that. If the slider is shut and they can see me through it, they think there's no reason to go around to the doggy door - look! she's right there. And, of course I get up and open it. The only downside to the doggy door is that I can't have a cat.

Posted by: MJC | September 2, 2014 11:56 AM    Report this comment

Another book which I am sure you would love is "Following Atticus: Forty-eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship", by Tom Ryan. It tells the story of Tom Ryan and his Miniature Schnauzer, Atticus M. Finch and is wonderful! He also has a very uplifting Facebook page. BTW, I loved "Merle's Door", one of my all-time favorite books!

Posted by: Susi | September 2, 2014 11:37 AM    Report this comment

We are on our second "Bug Out" screen after totally wearing out the first one. I love not having to slide open the door everytime I go in and out especially when carrying things. We use ours all year round. Nothing more refreshing then having Chaos (15 month old lab) leaving at night when the sprinklers go on then running back in, jumping on my bed to share the joy. VBG.

Posted by: addictedtolabs | September 2, 2014 11:31 AM    Report this comment

We did install a dog door at our previous house in NJ. Our property was in the woods (lots of wildlife) and we had 2 very large securely fenced yards. My husband and I still worked then so the dog door was very handy when I could not come home for lunch to let the dogs out (we also had a dog sitter as back up). I did come home to a branch or a dead vole or mouse or bird or something from the clothesline in the living room every now and then. The dog door was huge....my 6'2" husband could crawl through it....and he always said it would be handy for a thief to use but it worked out great for the dogs they loved it. We have always fostered dogs and they all learned to use the door in a few minutes!

Posted by: Olivia | September 2, 2014 10:14 AM    Report this comment

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