Image: dog with reproachful look - Ocean Park, Puerto Rico (Source: Colin Grubb)
It may have been in that moment when our dog decided to take himself for a walk.
We brought our yellow lab Bozo home about a year ago, when he was only one month old. It was a little on the young side to take him away from his mother, but we got him from a guy who was leaving the country, and had a few other people ready to take him.
I’ll never forget the night I picked the tiny little fur ball up. I put him in a box on the passenger seat, and he cried the whole way home. As soon as Bozo got in the living room he ran and hid under the couch.
That night, after we’d fed him, the whole family, puppy included, took a stroll around a street fair that was going on near the house. I was able to walk around with him in my right hand tucked up into my chest for hours with no problem -- he was that small. I couldn’t walk more than five steps without being mobbed by groups of young women who wanted to pet Bozo. Needless to say, my wife was not amused!
Image: puppy touching little boy's face - Ocean Park, Puerto Rico (Source: Colin Grubb)
Of course, little by little, Bozo got used to our house. At first, he bit, growled and roughhoused like crazy. I had been under the impression that Labs were known for being gentle and family-friendly, so I started to think that we had adopted an ill-tempered anomaly.
At about two months, he started tearing everything in the house to bits when we left him alone. Books, magazines, clothes, wood furniture --I came home from work everyday to find my place looking like it had been mauled by a pack of angry beavers.
It was no good scolding him, because if I didn’t catch him in the act, he wouldn’t have understood what I was scolding him for anyway. I finally consulted a website which explained that for Labs, this was typical behavior. While there were certain things I could do to stop the biting, we would really just have to wait Bozo out.
By six months, Bozo had swelled to over 80 pounds. He was BIG, even by Lab standards. This was when the jumping and barking started. When we were out for walks, he’d go absolutely insane at the sight of any other human being. He’d lunge at them and almost pull me over, and I’m 200 pounds.
I’m painting the picture of a rambunctious and crazy dog, but in reality, Bozo was still a baby trapped in a full-grown dog’s body. He was terrified at being away from me. Even when we’d open the front door, he would cower in the hall, afraid to step outside until I went with him.
It was misinterpreting this behavior that almost led to disaster.
I’d become so convinced Bozo was completely attached to me, and scared of venturing out alone, that I’d gotten into the habit of casually leaving the front door open. At first, it was just out of convenience, to bring groceries in or to take out the trash.
Then, last month, on a Saturday afternoon, my neighbor asked for help moving something in his yard. Once again, I left the door open. When I got back I expected to see timid little (well, not really little) Bozo waiting right inside the door. He wasn’t in the house, he wasn’t in the yard and he even wasn’t anywhere on the street.
Just as I got to the nearby intersection, I heard the screech of wheels and a thump. I turned the corner to have my worst fears confirmed. Bozo was lying on his side on the grass. The teenager who was driving the car opened his door and leapt out.
“I swear I only grazed him, he just bumped the side of the car!” he said.
As calmly as I could, I examined Bozo. Though he wasn’t moving, there didn’t seem to be any external injuries. He was breathing too. After the longest minute of my life, Bozo opened his eyes and looked at me. Slowly he got up, and after a few more minutes I could tell he’d just been stunned by the impact.
That’s how I found out my 'little' puppy wasn’t as afraid of the outside world as I’d thought he was!
Up until this point, I had just assumed that when Bozo finally left the front door, he’d be the kind of dog that stuck around the house. Maybe he will, eventually, but I could no longer afford to take that chance.
Image: dog sleeping - Ocean Park, Puerto Rico (Source: Colin Grubb)
As I really didn’t want to install an ugly chain-link fence around my yard, I decided to look into an electric dog fence.
Electric dog fences create a perimeter around your yard. The dog wears a type of electric collar. When he nears the perimeter, a warning sound goes off. If he continues to cross the perimeter, he gets a harmless static shock. Eventually, the dog associates the alarm with the coming shock, and learns where he’s not to go.
There are two types of electric dog fences: wireless and in-ground. A wireless fence requires no installation. It is simply a base unit that radiates a circular boundary of chosen diameter. They are the cheaper, less labor-intensive option, but are only ideal for yards largely free from obstructions. Large trees, shrubs, cars, can all cause gaps in the perimeter.
Since my yard is of irregular shape, I went with the in-ground option. This consists of a long wire buried underground to fit the contour of your yard. The wire attaches to a transmitter that plugs into a standard power outlet. With my system, I am able to set the width of the boundary, as well as adjust the strength of the shock.
We decided to install ourselves, as opposed to paying a professional, which can be really pricey. My wife and I set it up in a weekend, and Bozo had gotten the hang of it literally within a week. Labs are smart. Did I mention that?