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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I’m pretty sure my dogs are smarter than I think

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

Editor’s Note: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is writing a blog called “Food for Thought.” It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com.

This summer, my husband and I decided to draw a line in the sand with respect to our yard and who, ultimately, is the boss. It was either us or our dogs, Chester and Cassie. I may have mentioned them here before; they are two Golden Retriever mix rescues who are absolute delights (most of the time). They have brought joy, peace, laughter and contentment to our family, and we love them dearly.

However, our yard has become a battleground. Each of our dogs weighs about 85 pounds. They love to race, wrestle and dig. My husband, on the other hand, is a Type-A perfectionist. He has earned a reputation on our block as being the guy with the best manicured lawn, and he is very proud of that distinction.

Our dogs do not care about that honor, not at all. In fact, Chester has taken it upon himself to single-handedly (if that’s a canine possibility) undo everything my husband does to beautify our lawn. Over the years, Chester has dug up all the underground wiring that makes outdoor lighting possible, dug up the cable (yes, the TV variety), dug up vines, plants, flowers, and chewed up huge terra cotta pots. If not for me, Chester would have gone back into the adoption pool a long time ago. I adore him and coddle him like a spoiled, incorrigible child. He loves his mama.

Cassie is just a digger. We expect her to reach China sometime around Christmas.

This past spring, when I decided that it would be fun to plant a vegetable garden, we broke down and installed an invisible fence. I could not stand the thought of the dogs jumping into my little garden and having a field day digging in dirt and manure, killing all the seedlings to boot.

Training the dogs to anticipate, recognize and respect the invisible fence boundary was awful. Cassie learned right away that if she stepped beyond the marked boundary, a mild electric shock would be her reward. She felt it once and was done, an A+ student.

Chester, on the other hand, started each new training day as if the one before had never happened. The trainer told us that he would have to have his collar set on the “stubborn dog” setting. Translated, that means that Chester’s shock was much more intense than Cassie’s. I took offense at my dog being labeled a slow learner or a problem student, although I suppose he was.

Every morning, as we would walk our leashed dogs around the entire perimeter of the invisible fence, Cassie would stay within the safe area, but Chester couldn’t stand himself until he breached the boundary and gave himself a jolt that would inevitably land him in my arms, yelping and looking at my husband as if to say, “I’m going to fix you, pal.” He just couldn’t seem to connect the warning with the shock, and I couldn’t bear to see him so edgy and nervous. Long story short, we wasted an embarrassing amount of money on a useless invisible fence because Chester just couldn’t grasp the concept.

I have to admit that I took the collars off both dogs. I just couldn’t live with the thought of either of them being stressed or jumpy. In hindsight, I think Chester knew exactly where the boundary was. He just had no intention of being beaten in this particular battle.

The dogs have, however, dialed it down a bit. Yes, they race and play in the yard. But when they approach the boundary, they stop for a moment and pause. Cassie turns around and goes elsewhere, looking at us for approval. Chester puts a paw in and out, again and again, all the while looking at my husband and smirking. Then he comes and sits beside me, looking up at me as if to say, “You’re the best mom in the world.”

I guess there’s always next year where the yard is concerned.

Do you have dogs and still maintain a nice yard? How on earth do you do it?