To Be a Duke is the story of a Border Collie cross named Duke. Duke began life being taken away from his mother early, much to his shock. A couple of homes and owners later, and Duke wasn’t really getting the love, training, and attention he needed. His previous owners just didn’t know how to handle him so their reaction was either to pass him on, or tie him up in the yard and ignore him. He developed bad chewing habits, was never house trained, was never properly leash trained and, to the outside person, was a handful. He cowered when threatened, having been beaten in the past. His behaviour didn’t live up to his name, Duke. Life was full of sadness and confusion, and hunger … Until the day a kind lady noticed him, noticed his scabs and thin appearance, and bought him from the man who couldn’t care less about him. But this kind lady was only temporary. Life, miraculously, got even better. From this warm, loving home where Duke found that he was not scolded, beaten or starved, Duke finally went to a Fur-Ever Home, one where everyone seemed to love him, want him, and spent the time and energy to get his behaviour right in a fun and happy way. He ‘unlearned’ fear and confusion, and learned how to be a dog, how to play with a ball, how to catch treats, and how to be confident. He learned that he was needed by every single member of his new family in some way, some mysterious and special way that only he could offer. They were all ‘friends forever.’ Even more mysterious, the spirit of Misty, the previous family dog, still lingered, appearing in his dreams, and Misty was there to guide Duke in his new, happy life. Duke learned to cope with the ups and downs of family life, and discovered he had a very special talent!
Sadly, Duke’s story is nothing new. People get a puppy that starts out cute, and ends up uncontrollable. With the proper chew toys, potty training, leash training, and the ability to respond to obedience commands, a dog knows where it is in life; it knows what the owner expects and everyone is happy. Author Emily-Jane HillsOrford knows dogs and it comes out so clearly in the text. What I really loved about this story is how the author gets right into Duke’s head, showing readers how a young dog can become easily afraid, easily cowed by not being taught properly and thus annoying the owner who doesn’t understand that a dog, like a child, needs to be taught. A dog is not psychic, and it responds badly to what it perceives as anger, violence, and other negative emotions. The author has an amazing gift for being able to portray life from the dog’s perspective and it certainly showed me how my two (much pampered) little pooches could misinterpret my moods and action. The author does not dwell overly long on Duke’s sad past, something that soft hearted animal lovers will prefer, and this makes the book suitable for older children. Instead she focuses on Duke’s new beginnings, his progress of learning how to fit into his new life, and the role he plays in the family’s life. This is also good for new owners and youngsters to read because training is just that—training. A dog does not come with an instruction manual in its head to tell it not to chew something that looks deliciously chewy (shoes, perhaps?). The author subtly highlights how getting a new dog, especially a puppy, involves input and time from the owner. However, the words of warning are there in the beginning of this story, and all too often dogs, so loving, so eager to please, are shuttled around from home to home, finally ending up dumped or at a shelter. Duke is one of the very lucky ones. This is a delightful book for animal lovers, animal owners, and youngsters to enjoy. A heart warming, five-star story for the whole family!