Monday, August 04, 2008

Electroshock for the whole family

If you love something, let it go. But first, strap a low-voltage collar around its neck so that it’ll get zapped if it tries to cross your property line.

My wife Kara and I chose this approach last week with our dog Memphis, who is now the proud detainee of an invisible fence. We’d been dithering for months about whether or not we should subject our pooch and ourselves to the training process for one of these fences, but we eventually decided that giving Memphis the freedom to roam the yard without being tethered to one of us outweighed the yelping that would occur when we received the bill.

“How bad does it hurt?” I asked the fence man before we took Memphis out for her first training session.

“It’s not even what you’d think of as a shock. It’s just a mild correction. It feels like shuffling your feet on the carpet and then touching a doorknob,” he assured us. Everyone in the invisible fence business is very careful to steer away from the word “shock,” preferring the euphemism “correction” instead. It sounds much nicer to correct your dog. It’s like she’s a spelling test.

The settings on the collar went from 1 (Brookstone-style massage) to 7 (incapacitate a rhinoceros). The fence man set Memphis’ collar to 2. Wearing that collar with the little plastic box under her neck, Memphis looked like a miniature black St. Bernard, on her way to bring batteries to some stranded robots.

The learning process for an invisible fence required Kara to go just outside of the boundary, kneeling and making a big show of shaking the little white flags that dotted the perimeter while saying, “No!” Memphis of course ran straight out to say hello, receiving a warning beep and then her first correction, which she enjoyed receiving exactly as much as I enjoy receiving things like wedgies and property tax bills. When Memphis responded the way we’d hoped, turning away from Kara and coming back to me, I gave her a treat, which she accepted as she looked up at me with eyes that said, “Don’t taze me, bro. Don’t taze me.”

John Mellencamp once sang, “Sometimes love don’t feel like it should,” which he must have penned shortly after installing his own invisible fence. I could only watch the first few minutes of training through the fingers that were covering my eyes, much like how I’d watch horror movies if I didn’t go hide under the covers every time somebody puts one on. Fortunately for all of us, Memphis learned very quickly. After a handful of corrections, snuggling with a rabid wolverine or taking a joyride with Nick Nolte would have been higher on her to-do list than getting anywhere near those white flags.

After her first day of training, I finally couldn’t stand not knowing firsthand exactly how much juice her collar was putting out. It didn’t seem fair to subject our animal to something that I wouldn’t subject myself to, which, incidentally, is how we found out how much better teriyaki rawhides taste.

I took the collar out to the property line, pressed the metal contacts against my forearm, ignored the warning beep and walked across.

When I came to, I found that the best thing about my experiment was that the paramedic gave me a free lollipop, the big kind with white swirls in it, which helped to make up for the fact that my pants had burned off.

In truth, the correction doesn’t even feel as bad as a carpet-to-doorknob shock. I can see why it’s a sensation that a dog would rather not prolong, but I feel better knowing that we’re not giving our dog freedom at the expense of turning her into a Tesla coil.

You can correct Mike Todd at


  1. Dude, next time you gotta crank up the knob to 7 and run through the fence. Make sure to wear pants that you don't mind getting dirty.

  2. Allover -- Why stop at 7? My buddy Derek just wrote to challenge me to an evening of testing out the higher settings. With beer, of course. You're welcome to join us. We're cranking it up to 11, Spinal Tap style.

  3. I'm in! You provide the beer and the pants though.