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All the sights, sounds and smells filled his senses and he spent hours sitting on the front porch, surveying his new kingdom. Occasionally, he would summon the nerve to hop down the big set of stairs that his little legs could barely reach so that he could lie on the cool green grass and nap. That was when he was nine weeks old.
Over the next month, Fergus’s legs grew so that he could leap up and down any set of stairs with ease if not grace.
He began chasing the birds that had scared him by swooping down and dive-bombing him when he first arrived on the scene.
He followed his nose down a groundhog hole under the playhouse, and discovered the joy of running laps in the loose soil of my vegetable garden.
Finally, after weeks of sitting on the back deck studying the cattle in the meadow, Fergus decided to wriggle under the fence to the barnyard.
On his first attempt, he was scolded for eating the garbage ash around the burn barrel. He immediately understood that he was not to go into the barnyard again, after a sharp tap on the butt and a stern tone of voice from his master.
However, the attraction was too great. The next time, I caught him tip-toeing deeper into the barnyard and peering around the corner of the shed toward the big barn.
Fergus! I shouted.
He turned and looked at me, then turned back and ran as fast as he could toward the manure pile.
I had just dumped the kitty litter there and realized, with horror, that he thought he could smell a potential midday snack.
Over the next week, we caught Fergus in the barnyard several times a day, sampling other disgusting delicacies. He developed a digestive issue.
I was up two and three times a night, changing the puppy pad at the end of his bed. Fergus needed a bath in the morning, as he had soiled his fur.
The vet did a test on his feces and called me with the results. We found something strange in Fergus’s poop, she announced, so we sent it off to someone who looks at this sort of thing all day long. I can only imagine a few jobs worse than that.
It seems Fergus has a rare parasite that is usually only found in earthworms! she declared. Is it possible that he has been eating mud?
I had to laugh.
Mud? Try mud, manure, cat litter, garden soil – anything that’s smelly and on the ground at Ferg level.
The vet assured me that the parasite would harmlessly work its way through the puppy’s system. She also prescribed something for the loose bowel problem.
Then I looked at the bigger picture: we had to find a way to keep Fergus out of the barnyard.
We have inherited the invisible fencing collar that my daughter used with her hunting dogs. The first morning, I walked the perimeter of the property with him on a leash beside me. Every time the collar beeped, I told him No, no, no, the way I always do when he’s leaving his boundary.
I made sure the system was set to encompass his established toilet area, the front and back porch and plenty of yard. But he could no longer access the chicken shed, my vegetable garden or his beloved barnyard.
I adjusted the collar to Fergus’s scrawny little puppy neck and set him free. Within five minutes, he was under the fence and trotting happily into the barnyard. Just then, the collar started to beep. He stopped, turned and looked at me, wide eyed.
Come, Fergus! I called, holding the gate open to the house yard. He turned to go farther into the barnyard, and then suddenly started hopping around and yelping as if he had been stung by a bee. He yipped and yelped and covered the five metres between us in about three leaps, landing in my arms. He shivered and whimpered like a European football star who had just had his ear flicked during a match.
I set the collar a little lower in intensity, realizing it had been dialed up to control Annie’s high-strung German pointer, Skor. Surely a little golden retriever doesn’t need more than a subtle reminder of his boundaries.
Now Fergus turns tail and runs back to the house whenever he reaches the outskirts of his property and his collar begins to beep. He’s a smart dog and is determined never to let his collar sting him again.
Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.
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