A Tale of Two Dogs

Bubba and Gabby, First Christmas

When we lost our family’s first dog 15 years ago, it was perfect timing. Youngest daughter is out of the nest, dog’s dead…we’re free! I lasted about 45 days, then went down to the Humane Society and adopted Beelzebub (Bubba for short), a near-pure black Lab and Gabriel (Gabby), a wound-up, wacko border collie–hound mix. These two spent the next 12 years as adoring brothers, roaming free in our front yard on a busy corner in our little town of Webster Groves, Missouri, and teaching a valuable lesson about the importance of knowing when to be in your Knower/Judger and when to be in your Learner/Researcher.

Margaret and I were both working when we got the dogs, so we installed an invisible fence in our front yard. For the uninitiated, the invisible fence is a signal-transmitting wire buried around the perimeter of your property. You place shock collars around the dogs’ necks, and the collars beep a warning when the dogs get close to the fence. The collars shock the dogs—without damaging them—when they stray too close to the line.

In about three weeks, our dogs became perfect four-legged gentlemen. They lived out on this corner all day, every day, even when we were away. The fence worked flawlessly. Kids would stop and play. Other dogs would wander in and out of the yard. Our “boys” clearly knew their limits. They had a clear K/J understanding of the rules: this close, but no closer.

Things happen to invisible fences. The antenna can break, or the battery that delivers the shock can expire. Sometimes it’s difficult for us humans to know when the system is down. But it doesn’t make much difference to the dogs. Once they’ve assimilated to their backyard Rules of Life, they pull up short of their spatial limits whether the fence is operating or not. We could go for weeks with a non-functioning system and the boys would behave exactly as they were trained.

But there would always come a day when Gabby entered L/R puppy mode and wandered closer to the limit, only to discover that nothing happened. Ah, new information! We would watch from the living room window as he wandered closer yet and discovered that he did not get shocked. And then he was all the way out in the street. Free!

Our compliant black Lab always refused to take part in this adventure. He knew his limits. He knew he’d receive a shock. While his behavior pleased us, I couldn’t help thinking that he was missing out on the adventure that Gabby was having.

So which are you? Did you learn the rules of life as a young pup, and do you still insist on staying within those boundaries learned so long ago? Or are you the one who will test the rules looking for new data and new ways to do things, like the adventurous Gabby?

We lost Bubba two years ago, and Gabby’s too old to care much about his boundaries. But we still won’t put him in the yard without the collar. And we still see him wander out into the yard in his L/R mode, looking for new data, testing the rules. We’re absolutely certain that if the system is down he will go adventuring.

 Sounds like fun for an old man, doesn’t it?

 

 

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