Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Dog Collar

There is a chill in the air. The mornings are crisp, and the afternoons are staying cool. The calendar says November, and that can mean only one thing for yours truly: Pheasant season. I am a bird hunter, and have been all my life.

You know the old saying; the only thing better than owning a swimming pool is having a friend who owns a swimming pool? The same is true for dogs if you are a bird hunter. I don’t own dogs, but my friend does. Actually, he’s also the one with the pool. He’s a really good friend!

I had been toying with the idea of getting a dog of my own, but there was an incident the night before opening day a few years back that changed my mind forever. I never realized how dangerous dog collars could be.

During the summer my friend had purchased two new remote collars for his pair of German Shorthair pointers. Dogs are supposed to stay close in front of the hunters during the hunt, but occasionally -- especially at the beginning of the season when they are extra excited to be back in the field -- the dogs get a little overzealous and get too far out in front. Just like my children, when dogs are excited about what they’re doing, they apparently lose the ability to hear their master’s voice. That’s where the remote collars come in. (For the dogs, not the kids.)

The collars have two modes of operation. They have an audible tone that alerts the dog that his or her attention is needed, and a small electric jolt that commands the dog’s attention if the tone is ignored.  My friend’s brand new setup had a single remote that controlled both collars, and it wasn’t until the night before opening day of pheasant season that he realized he hadn’t even taken them out of their packaging yet. He put the two new collars on the wall charger, got batteries for the remote, and, being male, threw the directions in the trash can.

It was getting late, and we were meeting the next morning at oh-dark-thirty to hunt. When he decided it had probably been long enough, he took the two collars off the charger and began packing everything up. Then he had a thought: These collars were new, and the last thing he wanted was to be out in the field thinking the collars were working when they weren’t. He also wanted to make sure he knew which collar went with each set of buttons on the dual remote, so he wasn’t accidentally calling the wrong dog. He needed to test them.

He grabbed the remote and tested the audible tones. They worked great, and he was able to verify which buttons went with which collar. So far, so good. Then he tested the electricity. He put the power setting on level 1, and put his index finger on the silver contact inside the collar.
He pressed the button with his thumb.
He touched the silver contact in the other collar, and pressed the same button.
Uh oh. Maybe he didn’t charge them long enough. Or maybe setting number 1 is such a small electrical current that it’s hard to actually feel.
Go to level 2.
Press the button.
Other collar, same button.
What is wrong with these things?
Let’s try level 4.
Dang it! I need these things to work tomorrow. They must have been charged up OK, because the tone works just fine, and it’s nice and loud. Maybe the electricity levels are just really light?
Try level 6.
Press the button.
Other button.
Other collar, same button.
Other collar different button.
Damn it! Are these things defective? What kind of crap did I buy here?
All the way to level 10.
These things are broken! Now what?
Maybe you have to be touching both silver contacts inside the collar?
Press the button…

Level number 10 on a remote dog collar is likely made for when your dog is over 20 miles away, or possibly when he is defiantly eating one of the birds in front of you, despite your verbal threats to his life. But even if you hit your dog with level 10, he would only feel a momentary shock. It turns out, however, that if you yourself are holding the button down, and receiving the level-10 shock, it works a little differently.

Since your body runs on electricity, adding more can cause your muscles to contract without your consent. If one or more of those muscles happen to be holding down a button, you may find yourself temporarily unable to release said button. It’s sort of an electrical “Catch-22.”

When my friend’s upper body hit the ground, his thumb finally came off the button. He found himself on the floor of his living room, still clutching the now smoking dog collar, having fallen forward over the ottoman, legs in the air behind him, face in the carpet, and drooling. There was a strong taste of burnt metal coming from the fillings in his molars, and he was pretty sure his heart had stopped for at least ten to fifteen seconds.

It was 10:30pm when he inadvertently Tasered himself. By 11:00pm he had somewhat regained his sense of direction and smell, but despite needing to be up at 5:00am, he stayed awake for another three hours, afraid if he fell asleep he might slip into a coma.

When he arrived to the hunt the next morning, I had never seen a man so deprived of sleep looking so wide awake. Or so surprised.

After I heard the story -- and after I got done laughing -- I gave up any notion of ever owning my own hunting dog. I don’t need any more electro-shock therapy in my life. I get enough already from my home improvement projects.

I’ll leave the dog ownership up to my good friend. (And the pool ownership, too.) Come to think of it, it’s a good thing he wasn’t standing next to his pool that night. That could have been ugly.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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