Flags Without Sting

We live in the country. Trees and wildlife all around. Can’t see our neighbors. A great place to be if you like the outdoors. We have two dogs – Abe and Lola.

The dilemma: How to let the dogs run around outside but prevent them from running off into the wilderness? The technological solution: an electric dog fence, an underground wire around the perimeter, a receiver hung on the dogs’ collars, and little white flags to designate the safe zone. The rules are straightforward and clear: 1. Stay within the perimeter and it’s happy happy: strut around, bark at smells and sounds, and guard the perimeter against the invading UPS truck. 2. Go outside the perimeter and all hell breaks loose: a nasty jolt from the collar, tail between the legs, and general disorientation. All is well.

But it’s not purely a technological system. There are dogs involved – thinking beings. They must understand the rules, they need training, and they must live within the system day-to-day. No matter what the situation, even if not covered in the training, they must stay within the perimeter or pay the price.

The people world has a similar dilemma: How to give the right amount of freedom and set the right limits. Boundaries are established, though not as formally or as simply as the flags; we live within the perimeter day-to-day or face consequences, though shock collars should not be used; and the thinking beings are more important than technology.

And, there is no right way to place the white flags – perimeters can be too big or too small; there is no right consequence level – the jolt can be too severe or too muted; and there is no perfect training – too much or too little. However, there must always be respect for the thinking beings.

One day I was in the yard with Abe and his new, high powered collar intended to stop his socializing, when a deer crossed the driveway about 50 meters outside the perimeter. Without hesitation, without consideration of consequence, he broke ranks and exploded though the perimeter – right through without a yelp, flinch, or twitch. He was in the moment, he did what he was made to do, he lived up to his genetics, he was all dog, he was himself. It was beautiful to watch him tear down the driveway.

As I watched the chase I thought about the power of his singular focus blasting him through without even a yelp. Then the realization – I never fixed the break in the wire – the fence was off. Flags without sting, though Abe did not know it.

The sting would not have prevented the chase, but would it have prevented the next one? I hope not. Perimeters can be too tight and consequences too severe, preventing us from being in the moment, doing what we’re made to do, living up to our genetics, and depriving us from experiencing our full selves.

Maybe I won’t fix the fence – flags without sting seems about right.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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