The Battle of the Backyard

It Begins With an Escape

This morning as Reyna (my wife) and I walked out the door to drive to work we saw our dogs, Jasper and Ginger, playing in the front yard. It took a few seconds for me to process what was wrong with that picture. I do not usually see my dogs in the front yard. Then I got it; it meant that they had escaped from the back yard.

The dogs did not take as long to process what was going on; they ran off in opposite directions when they saw us walk out the front door. We dutifully got in our cars to chase them down. Though they initially ran off in different directions, Ginger, thankfully, changed course and ran after Jasper. I was able to quickly overtake them in my truck, When I reached them I opened the camper shell and the gate and both dogs quickly jumped into the bed of the truck.

I got them home and took them into the house. I did a quick reconnaissance of the back yard and found the weakness they were able to exploit to escape the back yard. I recently moved their kennel a few feet; this had the effect of leaving a small stretch of unreinforced fence they were able to dig under. Reyna and I quickly moved some barriers (trashcan, assorted bricks, and some plastic milk crates filled with gravel) to keep them from getting out that way again.

They have not gotten out in quite a long time; years. This is because I have been practicing defensive landscaping techniques since we have acquired Jasper. We got Jasper on February 21, 2015 when he was a 3-month old puppy. He went to obedience training (he still retains the ability to sit on command, though staying is still not within his power, and he is especially good at sitting if he thinks a treat is involved). He quickly became comfortable spending his days in the backyard while my wife and I were at work. It was at this point that I began to realize that the backyard garden was about to become Jasper’s domain.

The Battle Begins

I noticed when I came home from work and fed Jasper his evening meal his body language changed immediately. I sometimes would observe him before letting him know I was home. He seemed to be depressed before he realized I was there. When I came out his expressions changed and he would run to me tail wagging.

I was happy to see him too, but sometimes that would change when I realized he had been hard at work destroying my yard. Plants, yard decorations, wooden furniture all seemed equally edible to him. He chewed his doghouse to pieces. After a month or two of this I decided that I needed to limit his access to parts of the yard.

I built a fence and gate to formally separate the yard. The part of the yard closest to the house belonged to Jasper; Reyna dubbed this The Dog Yard. This left a nice chunk of yard at the rear of the property safe from any canine vandalism; ironically Reyna dubbed this  Jasper’s Gardens.

Soon thereafter Jasper made the acquaintance of a stray who taught Jasper how to dig. Jasper thereafter dug himself out of the yard on a number of occasions. I would get occasional calls from neighbors who had captured him and I would dutifully leave work to pick him up.

My next great effort in the yard was to lay paving stones around the perimeter of the entire yard, both The Dog Yard and Jasper’s Gardens, to discourage any new digging. This stopped Jasper from escaping.

In December 2015, right after Christmas, Reyna saw a Facebook post wherein someone was looking for a home for a stray puppy. This puppy had somehow made its way from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and became part of our family. Ginger is a mutt of indeterminate origin; all we know for sure is that she came from Bakersfield.

Jasper’s reaction to Ginger was immediate. He did the best he could to care for her: he made sure she ate before he did, he would come running to Reyna and me whenever she cried, and he followed her around the yard to make sure she did not come to any trouble. That was his initial reaction; he has since gotten jealous of the attention she gets. They also bicker and fight like any human siblings might.

Escalation

Ginger is a natural digger. Ginger is also a lot smaller than Jasper; she weighs about 40 pounds to his 90. She constantly found weaknesses in my paving stone digging shield. She was eventually able to dig a hole large enough for both of them to escape the yard. I strengthened the paving stone shield, filling in the gaps in the system and adding extra pavers at the most vulnerable points.

Then Jasper learned he could chew through the wooden fence that surrounds our yard. Another escape. I fixed the fence and screwed metal chicken wire fencing to our wooden fence to mitigate another escape of this kind. Not very attractive, but effective.

The dogs learned to open the gate that keeps them out of the Jasper’s Gardens. Jasper can reach the gate latch and learned how to open the gate. I added a rope to make sure the Jasper could not push open the gate. Ginger then learned how to squeeze through the lower half of the gate. Now there is a bungee cord attached to the gate that doesn’t allow it to open wide enough to let either of them through.

Lessons Learned

The battle of the backyard is never ending. The dogs will find another way to cause me some consternation. It is inevitable. A pair of dogs sitting in a backyard for 10 or 11 hours a day can get bored.

My dogs are endlessly energetic. They seek to avoid boredom. They respond to only a limited set of stimuli. They never concede or compromise. They are not amenable to logic or reason. I am sure this describes most, if not all, other dogs as well. I have read articles that advised against anthomorphizing pets, but I found this impossible because interactions between living creatures are complex. If animal behavior was simple enough to explain there would be no animal behaviorist admonishing me not to ascribe feelings and emotions to my dogs. They have distinct personalities and reactions. Though they may not be quite human, neither are they soulless and predictable.

The point is, that they, my dogs, are each in their own way a force of nature. We, Reyna and me, have to do all the compromising. However, seeing their excitement and wagging tails when we get home from work makes it all worth it.

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