A Dog to Put Down

      by Brian S. Wheeler / Fantasy

Chapter 4 – Instinct and Control…

Harmon recounted the dogs laying along the edge of the training field, as if his heart denied the loss the pack suffered a little less than a week before.

“You would’ve loved a day like this, Tonka, and your pack would’ve made you proud,” sighed Harmon.

Harmon felt pleased as he looked upon the training field. The dogs focused their attention onto holding the command given them to lay still upon the grass, their concentration unbroken by the squirrels that randomly darted from one tree to another. The discipline of those ebony dogs required no leash. Harmon didn’t need to tie his dogs to any stationary post. Harmon bred a noble line, and he wouldn’t mock his dogs by shackling them upon the training field.

The summer had proven untypically humid and hot, and the early chill that finally arrived late that October appeared to refresh the ebony pack’s spirits. The dogs seemed to regain their focus following a couple rounds of work during the week, and Harmon regretted he hadn’t immediately given his pack more purpose immediately after he put Tonka down. John seemed to have known better, and that was likely why his boy pushed him to get the dogs back onto the field. Harmon smiled, for he had very good reason to believe that John might master the art of training and breeding dogs, very good reason to suspect that John might one day surpass even his father’s skills.

“Remember, John! Don’t let your movements fall into any patterns! Your dog will learn those patterns, and he’ll start to anticipate your turns, and start guessing your wants. We don’t want these dogs guessing. We want them listening, and paying attention, for the commands you’re ready to give him. Change your turns and your movements. Remember, John, we want dogs who can think.”

Harmon bit his tongue before shouting further commands. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. Sooner or later, he was going to have to trust John’s judgment. Harmon never had a father shouting commands at him and second-guessing all of his choices. Was Harmon’s concern holding back his boy? Harmon had such a difficult time watching his boy stumble, and wasn’t he doing his fatherly duty to correct John whenever that child made a mistake? Wasn’t he only trying to help John do things the right way, the only way that mattered if a man was going to do any task at all? Harmon viewed the world as a rough and dangerous place, and he wanted to think it was best that he temper the boy before some danger harmed his son.

Harmon’s sore hands twitched as he nervously watched John move his dog, Horus, about the training field. He resented the way indecision made men hesitate. Perhaps it would’ve been better if he’d said nothing at all to John as the boy worked with his dog. Maybe it would’ve been better if he had let the silence stand. Perhaps John was hoping to forge a stronger bond with Horus by pausing for a quiet moment. Perhaps Harmon should’ve kept his thoughts to himself as he stood on the edge of that training field. Yet shouldn’t he say something? Shouldn’t a father possess the right to train a son more than a little like he might train a dog?

“Sit!”

John spoke the command without a hitch in his stride, and Horus immediately sat upon his haunches. The dog’s green eyes locked onto John and watched him walk further down field.

Harmon grinned. John tested his dog’s discipline. John taxed Horus’ concentration by giving such a command the moment he felt his dog’s excitement spike. A good dog and a good master could sense the emotion and energy that pulsed between them. Horus didn’t move as John removed a tug-ball from his pocket and whirled it in his hand, taxing Horus’ discipline, tempting Horus to whimper and break his command to nudge closer to that ball as his instinct desired. Horus’ instinct brimmed with want to chase. The dog was hard-wired to bolt after prey. Thus John tested Horus’ ability to check his most powerful want, and John silently counted, forcing Horus to hold his position and show how, though he was only a dog, that he was the master of his will, that he was a creature motivated by much more than only the wild.

Horus remained still as an ebony stone.

John suddenly tossed the ball downfield, where it bounced several times before rolling to a rest. Several of the dogs laying along the edge of the field whimpered. A few crawled forward. But they too resisted that impulse to chase. Horus’ eyes remained locked on John as the boy turned around and casually returned to the dog’s side.

After the count of another heartbeat, John lifted his arm and shouted, “Voraus!”

Horus bolted like a black arrow down the field upon hearing the command that threw him into the charge. The dog had waited for the command, and that dog allowed his instincts to fuel his speed the moment John shouted the word Horus waited to hear. Harmon held his breath at the sight of that dog’s form in motion. None of the other dogs in the ebony pack covered ground as swiftly as did Horus, and none of those dogs gathered along the side of the field would dare move from their posts – none would dare challenge Horus’ claim to that ball.

Horus didn’t slow as his teeth locked upon the ball a moment before the dog circled back towards John, violently shaking his prize as he sped to return to his master’s side. John grabbled the tug rope when Horus offered it, and he gave that rope several pulls to reward Horus for showing such discipline with a playful contest of tug and war.

“Reward that dog’s mind!” Harmon shouted. “Horus earned that tug! Don’t take away his prize today!”

John lifted his arms and conceded the ball to his dog. He and his father laughed to watch Horus prance around the field with his prize, showing his keepers and his pack how his teeth gripped the ball. Harmon applauded. John’s reward would encourage Horus to further value his mind over his instinct, and Horus would learn how pleasure could come from controlling the wild.

“That’s a fantastic note for the end of the day’s session, John. Feed the dogs well tonight. Dole out the chicken thighs. The pack’s earned it.”

John first escorted Horus to his kennel, for that dog would be the first to feed that night. The other dogs patiently waited for John to escort them too to their crates and meals. A few of the younger dogs whined as they struggled to maintain their focus and wait their turn, but Harmon was confident those dogs would soon emulate the discipline the older dogs like Horus modeled. Come the morning, Harmon thought his arm would hurt a little less, and that he would feel further refreshed. Come a new day, perhaps enough of Harmon’s sorrow for his Tonka would diminish and leave him ready to train a new dog to take Tonka’s place.

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