Free-range puppy?

Twelve years ago, when Steve and I were raising our first CCI puppy (Tucker), we  routinely left the back doors open. Tucker and our house dog at the time (Pearl) could go out whenever they wanted. We had always let our dogs do that. And why not? The yard is fenced, and they’re safe within those confines.

We changed our policy a few puppies later. The pups made us do it — all the countless adventures with chewing up plants and eating dog poop and digging holes and vomiting up various edibles scavenged from the grounds. We got beaten down; eventually embraced the adage we’d heard from one of the early puppy program directors: “Puppies are learning all the time,” she had told us. “They’re either learning good things or bad things.” It made me sad to confine our trainees to being inside the house, unless they were under our direct supervision outside. But doing that limited their opportunities for doing bad things.

Beverly is the first dog in a long time who’s made us consider altering this policy. Like Tucker, she loves to lie in the sun, and unlike most of her predecessors, she seems capable of doing that for long periods without jumping up to sniff out trouble. In the past few weeks, I’ve allowed her some limited time outside on her own.

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Steve has been pretty resistant to this. He pointed out that a hole had appeared in the far rear cor053017 Bev3ning of the yard. “See!” he exclaimed. “She’s trying to dig her way out!” I urged calm, arguing that this was unlikely. I suggested we should monitor the hole; see if she continued to enlarge it. It was more likely she would tire of this pastime, I argued, and with luck, it would cease to be a forbidden pleasure. Moreover, Beverly’s so chill and sleepy, sometimes I worry she may not succeed as a service dog because she’s too low-energy. The thought of keeping her a bit more active (both mentally and physically) by allowing her to explore the yard appealed to me.

But problems are looming. Although that first hole is still the same size, a couple of others have appeared at other points along the back wall. And in the last few days, something else has developed that spells the coming end to her short career as a free-range puppy. The other day I found her flipping an object around with glee. 053017 Bev4

It turned out to be a partially eaten peach. One of our young trees has produced hundreds of beautiful, juicy peaches this year, and they’ve reached the point where they’re falling off the branches. Beverly is transfixed by the sight of them, and even though Steve has erected netting to keep out marauding birds, Beverly clearly wants to apply her doggy intelligence to the problem of breaking in. 053017 Bev1

Given enough unsupervised time, I’m sure she can figure it out. Moreover, any day now our bountiful fig crop will be ripe. The yard at that point will be a gigantic canine snack shop, and unless we want a yugely fat puppy, Beverly will not be able to roam  freely within it.