Last year, in a fit of a parental stupidity, we got our children a puppy. We had a dog already, but our five-year-old had never had the experience of a puppy and he was at a time in his life where we thought it would be good for him. There is a resounding principal that is at the core of our universe:
Puppies grow up to become dogs.
The closest approximation to describe this dog is a beagle. She’s built low to the ground. But she doesn’t like to stay on the ground. To our surprise, we found out that she is able to jump our four-foot fence.
This began an arms race between me and the dog. I worked on the fence to keep her in and she worked on breaking through or over whatever I did. I’m not proud to say that the dog, so far, has won.
After my last fence modification (chicken wire across the top) failed, we decided to buy one of those “invisible fences”. For a couple hundred bucks you get a wire that you string around the area that the dog should stay in and a collar that detects when the dog is near the wire. It makes a sound when the dog approaches and then sends a shock if the dog gets closer or tries to cross.
After spending the better part of a day laying the wire (some along the fence, some buried), I had to test the system to see if it worked. One possible method of testing was to follow the directions and use a supplied testing tool that lights up to tell you when the collar is delivering a shock.
I didn’t use this method.
I figured it couldn’t be that bad, so I put my finger on the contact points on the collar and walked toward the wire. The collar let out a small chirping to tell me I was approaching the boundary. Like a stupid dog, I, the stupid owner, kept going.
The manual refers to it as a “Static Correction”. I refer to it as a “Cattle Prod”. We had it set on level 3 of 5. I assume the next levels are “Tazer” and “Electric Chair”.
I screamed and jerked my hand away. Over the years I’ve accumulated quite of bit of evidence that confirms that my wife loves me. I did not add to that collection that day. My wife starting laughing.
Not a quick, little laugh. Not a laugh of surprise. But a deep, sustained, belly laugh. I don’t know which amused her more, my pain or my stupidity. As the feeling returned to my arm I waited for her to get control of herself.
The only good outcome was that I now knew that this would certainly keep the dog contained. After all, what animal would want freedom so much that she would endure jolting pain?
The answer to that question is our dog.
We’re working with her everyday to get her used to the collar and the boundary. We’ve followed the training manual and started on level 1 (sound, no shock), but of course a mere beep would not contain her. It just lets her learn the boundary. I thought level 2 (mild shock) would do it, but she was barely fazed.
Now we have it on level 3 (Cattle Prod) and she’s still getting out. She will bark at the boundary for quite a while. I think she’s either trying to scare away the invisible monster that bites her or just steeling herself for the jump and shock.
I’m reluctant to go to level 4, but we may have to if the training at level 3 doesn’t work. I don’t want to hurt her (that’s mostly true, except when I have to chase her through the neighborhood).
The thing that fascinates me is the utterly different perspectives that the dog and I have. From her point of view she just wants freedom. She wants to experience the amazing world outside her fence. To smell the fascinating smells: trash cans, dead birds, and best of all, another dog’s poop. We take her on regular walks, but it must not be the same as being unleashed (literally) on the world. She thinks I’m a cruel master bent on taking her joy.
From my perspective, I’m trying to keep her from a world of death. A couple of years ago our other dog ran out the front door, when a kid left it open, and was hit by a car. She lived and has fully recovered, but she no longer tries to get away. She knows what’s out there. It was a year or more before we could even take her on walks, without her running in terror at the sound of a car.
I have no way to communicate to our newer dog that what I’m doing is for her best. I don’t want her to learn that lesson the hard way (and maybe the final way).
Not every pain is trying to harm you. Not every boundary is restricting your freedom.