Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Big Puppy Explores His World

Our property is split up a bit, with lots of lawn space in the front and on one side, and then a fenced-in patio space that includes a big pool. The fence also encloses some planting space up on a hill and a flat area we have designated as Baxter the dog's potty. You open the back door for him and say, "Go potty, big puppy," and he trots over to his green area and does his business, unless there is snow on the ground, in which case he makes a deposit wherever.

The problem is when he decides to leave his green space and hike up the hill to dig for moles. It's a mulched hill, so he comes back down thick with mud and black with wet mulch. With his goldendoodle fur, that makes for a real mess that can be difficult to clean up. When the temperatures were warmer, I would hose him off, but in the dead of winter, I can't very well get him soaking wet and then leave him to dry. The poor guy would get pneumonia, if dogs even get pneumonia (hmm, I'll have to look that up). Ah, they do indeed get pneumonia, although just like with humans, it's not actually caused by getting wet in cold air.

So, we decided to open up the big lawn by getting an invisible fence. That way, Baxter can have more space to run and dig and play without terrorizing the neighbors or risking being flattened by a car. If you haven't seen these fences, here's the idea—they (the Invisible Fence company), bury a wire in the ground along the perimeter and then plant little colorful flags two feet inside that fence. The dog wears a collar with a receiver that reacts to this electrified wire. If he gets close to it, his collar emits a series of beeps, and if he doesn't back off after hearing the beeps but persists in crossing the line, he gets a shock. If he's smart, he'll run back into his yard. If he's bull-headed, he'll barrel through, take the shock and keep going to freedom and run like the wind. One could argue that the bull-headed dog is actually the smart one.

It seems harsh, but the trainer explained that the shock isn't actually painful—it just feels weird, and the dog doesn't like it. I'm not sure I believe him now, but at the time, I was willing to except his explanation. I have seen Baxter yelp in pain—there was that one time when I caught his tail in the door—and the yelp he let out upon feeling his first shock was much less dramatic, so who's to say.

We're still in training mode, Big Puppy and I, learning our boundaries and trusting our instincts. The other day, Baxter ran through the driveway to reach the neighbor lady on the other side, and he didn't seem to feel a thing, and I learned his collar needed to be tightened. Then yesterday, another neighbor stopped to help test him on the line, and as much as Baxter wanted to greet the woman, he would not approach the danger zone and waited with tail wagging for her to come to him.

Still, I'm not quite sure I trust him to roam the yard on his own. I go out with him and throw sticks and snow balls for him to chase, and I clean up the little gifts he leaves outside of what used to be his handy potty area. You win some and you lose some, I suppose. You get poop in unexpected places, but in exchange, you don't get a dog covered in mole mud.

Here is Baxter posing like he's king of the hill:

And here he is wondering if he could jump to the level below. He wisely decided he couldn't:

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