Wednesday, 19 January 2022
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COMMENTARY: Dog’s elation should not cause heart attacks

We have a number of aging animals, some of which have chronic conditions that have to be managed with various drugs. Others have restrictions on their food — being allowed, or not allowed, certain amounts of pasture and grain.

One horse needs to eat more. One horse needs to eat less. Some become irritated if their hay is too stalky. Others, most notably the goats, like their food more coarse.

Twice a day, we head to the barn to give them their meds and see to their dietary needs. The overriding conclusion is that we don’t run a farm — we run an assisted living community.

Due to all of this, sometimes, the dogs get ignored or, more accurately, are left to their own devices for long periods.

Addie can handle this — not particularly because she wants to be good, but because being bad is beneath her dignity.

Pete, on the other hand, has nothing even approaching dignity, and thus no reason to control his own behavior.

He’s been pretty well trained as a pup, but without routine refresher courses, he finds it too easy to slide into undesirable behaviors. It’s not out of any maliciousness, but because his moral compass is always pointing toward whatever happens to be the most fun at any given time.

We figured it was time to give him a renewed round of instruction, using what they call an e-collar. The collar allows you to hit a button on a remote-control mechanism, which buzzes a couple of nodes on the animal’s neck.

It’s more of a shock in terms of surprise than of pain. Trainers make people shock themselves before putting it on the dog, so they know what kind of discipline they are administering. Unless you are the type who hangs out in dungeons wearing nothing but a leather vest, you would not find it pleasant, but you would not say it is in any way cruel.

The problem with Pete is defining what really constituted bad behavior. He lives life with the momentum of a steam locomotive on the down side of the Rockies. Sometimes he stays on the tracks, sometimes he doesn’t, but it’s all the product of an unrestrainable joie de vivre.

His barks, for example, are not barks of malice; they are barks of ecstasy. When someone shows up on the doorstep, he is truly overjoyed to see them, so he barks madly and leaps to heights normally associated with the International Space Station.

Oddly, not everyone interprets this in the welcoming spirit with which Pete intends. All they see is an 80-pound canine with teeth the size of parsnips, howling his lungs out.

But it is difficult to convey nuance to a dog. The message “Yes, Petie, we want you to be happy when greeting someone, but we do not want you to do so in a way that will give our guest five simultaneous heart attacks” is nothing you can impart through electrons running through a collar.

Pete is a Bouvier, a breed we chose in part because of its laid-back behavior and judiciousness. They are used as police dogs in some places, because unlike a German shepherd that will leap into the fray at the first sign of conflict, a Bouvier will study the situation before committing to further action. Of course, by the time the dog has sorted out the facts, the bear will have already ripped you limb from limb, but so far, at least, this hasn’t been an issue.

Pete breaks this mold, of course. He is the original “Ready. Fire. Aim.”

Renewed training has slowed him down a bit, but not much. His problem is that he can’t understand why anyone could find fault with his enthusiasm. Our problem is that it’s hard to punish an animal for the sin of being happy.


The Bark Box

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