My Dogs are Smarter Than Me

November 20, 2006

As you probably know, I have a beagle (Lily) and a basset hound (Blossom). What you might not know is that they -- especially the beagle -- have hundreds of years of breeding telling them that they want to take off. They sit in the yard and ache at the thought of all of the squirrels and cats in the neighborhood that they can chase noisily in lieu of deer and rabbits.

At some point, they realized that access to the wide open world of cats and squirrels wasn't as far as it seemed. They had free access to the underside of the house in the back yard. All they needed to do was bust the lattice that covers the underside of the house up front, and they were free as birds.

When Lily was a puppy, an invisible fence helpedme to convince her that this wasn't a viable alternative. I had the wire run underneath the house, making a line that approximates where the front yard meets the back. She figured out pretty fast not to go near the wire.

Blossom came later, and she's a natural follower. I thought that I could put a shock collar on her, and all would continue to be good. But Blossom is also stupid, and her stupidity worked against me in this case. When she got shocked, she ran forward -- into the pain -- rather than back away from it. It only took a couple of tries before she knew that if she ran past the wire line, it wasn't so bad.

Compromised dog wire and lattice in the back yard.

Lily watched and learned, and as of a few weeks ago, my invisible fence was no deterrent at all.

After retrieving them from neighbors a couple of times, I went to Lowe's and bought a roll of dog wire. My idea was to stretch the wire horizontally across a long gap across the back of the house. This was their route underneath, and I figured I could close it up, and that would be that.

In retrospect, that was a laughably foolish assumption. They were happy enough to break a dog-sized hole in the lattice in the front of my house, so they were more than happy enough to bust a similar hole in the back yard, but on the other side of my dog wire. I probably spent four hours on the house to give them a roadblock that held them up half a day or so.

I put up more wire to keep them from getting to their new hole. Then, I spent several more hours putting more dog wire under the house in spots where the lattice looked vulnerable.

The dogs come home worn out. They immediately hit the couch after I brought them home after one escape.

That's when they learned that they could bend and break the wire in spots where I didn't have a good spot to steak or nail one part of the wire's border. I don't know how much time they spent exploring, but they found two or three spots. We spent a couple of weeks on a drill where they would take advantage of a weakness, then I would fortify the weakness. In another day or two, they would have found a new spot and be out terrorizing the neighborhood cats once again. I spent more time crawling under the house that I care to admit.

Last weekend, I think I found a trump card. I crawled under the house yet again. I fortified all of the week spots in my dog wire, and then ran a spool of invisible fence wire across the bottom of it, and going all the way around the house. Now, they can't put their heads in and work out an opening without shocking themselves repeatedly.

This method has worked for a full week, so maybe I've finally won.

The complete (but small) collection of photos of their damage is here.