A Dog to Put Down

      by Brian S. Wheeler / Fantasy

Chapter 6 – Finding the Trigger…

“Don’t just stand there at the end of that leash, boy! Encourage him! Tell him to be strong!”

Harmon panted for breath after barking those words at John, who stood before his father and strained to hold Horus back from the bite sleeve Harmon shook before the canine. Harmon danced before the dog, tempting Horus to lunge forward by slapping the bite sleeve, urging the dog to growl by bearing his human teeth at the animal. Horus showed no indication of retreating from Harmon’s taunts. The dog’s habit had been to turn his green eyes away from Harmon whenever that master threw such aggression in his direction; the dog’s typical response had been to go still, turn quiet and just hope whatever threat Harmon chose to show to him would simply go away. But Horus displayed no inclination for docility that morning. Horus instead made himself large, and he made his bark loud, taxing John’s legs and arms as the boy widened his feet to hold Horus back from the bite sleeve Harmon used to taunt the dog.

“He’s doing great today!” John shouted over Horus’ barking.

“Pat him to let him know it! Concentrate on your dog! And hold him back so he doesn’t get a taste of the sleeve until I’m ready for him to have it!”

Working Horus distracted Harmon from the pain throbbing in his left arm currently shoved into the bite sleeve. His adrenaline was up, making his legs feel young again as he locked his eyes into those of the dog, who surged forward each time Harmon curled his lips and sneered. Harmon saw something change within Horus. Something sparked that dog’s defensive drive, that instinct to fight for territory and to confront threat. Harmon had spent many afternoons searching for the trigger within Horus that would pull that defensive drive out of the animal. He had almost decided that Horus possessed none of the drive at all, and that Horus would thus be a poor dog to enter into any competition through which Harmon hoped to prove the worth of his canine line. But Harmon thought he might’ve finally found that trigger as he danced about the dog. He only needed to recognize it. He only needed to name it, and encourage it, so that he might be able to command Horus into that defensive drive the moment threat required it.

“Good boy! Good boy!” John patted Horus’ flank, and dog responded by straining still harder against the leash.

A trainer needed experience, and skill, and most of all talent when gauging the demeanor of dogs like those of Harmon’s breed. Shaping a dog to serve as a protector tested any trainer. The protection dog needed to pull from his instincts, but that dog needed to temper that passion with a developed and disciplined mind. No other work on the training field demanded such a fine balance between feral drive and disciplined control as did protection work. A dog needed to draw strength from its wild nature to fend off attack, but the dog needed the ability to instantly return to a disciplined mind if a handler hoped to direct and release the dog’s bite. Harmon devoted so many afternoons on the training field searching for the cues that would help each of his dogs realize that balance. No dog was the same, and each canine required Harmon to take a different approach to coax the most from a dog. The best trainers relied on no templates and formulas. The best trainers read each individual animal, and the best trainers knew how to find the triggers to encourage the canine drives demanded of each moment.

Harmon concentrated while he stared into Horus’ green eyes. What trigger had he tripped? Horus had always answered to the play drive. That dog had always before only wanted to swim after Frisbees thrown into the public park’s pond, or to chase down tennis balls until John’s arm ached. Horus wanted to lick faces and to play with the cats who sometimes sheltered beneath the kennel’s porch steps. Horus sought the comfort of couches, and he relished few things more than catching popcorn John flicked into his teeth while the boy watched movies on late weekend nights. Harmon didn’t deny that John and that dog shared the tightest of bonds, but it had always been a connection reinforced with play and leisure, a connection seldom strengthened through the training field’s hard work.

Though a loving dog, Horus rarely exhibited the discipline possessed by most of his pack. Horus’ instinct was to jump when Harmon told the dog to sit. Harmon suspected Horus would consider any intruder a friend, and Harmon knew it was Horus, among the pack, who was the first to fall to distraction when the animals were commanded to lay still along the edges of the training field.

Horus needed both discipline and fire. Horus was born the runt of his litter, but he had grown into one of largest dogs Harmon ever bred, an animal that rivalled even Tonka’s size. And Horus also owned quickness, so that Harmon could think of no other dog prior to Horus’ time that displayed such a combination of speed and power. Harmon always feared that combination, coupled with a lack of discipline, would land the dog in trouble. Horus never felt the need to bite, but the dog had the habit of nipping John’s fingers for attention and play. Horus pulled against his leash whenever John attempted to walk the dog through the park, and Horus would charge into gatherings of children to enter their play, terrifying mothers with his bounding arrival of fur and excitement. Harmon feared it would only take one incident, that it would only take one knocked-down child, for the public to order Horus’ execution. Sheriff Miller’s words the previous day struck Harmon, no matter how Harmon had attempted to shrug aside the warning.

So Harmon pushed for that balance of control and instinct. He needed to give Horus discipline, and he needed to encourage Horus’ confidence so that the dog would maintain it.

Horus refused to retreat. Harmon slapped the foam baton against the bite sleeve, his hurts wincing beneath the blows, but Horus still strained forward.

John smiled to watch his favorite dog finally show his mettle. “That baton doesn’t scare him at all today. That’s no longer enough to get him to back away from the sleeve.”

“He’s trying to tell us something today, John. He’s letting us know he’s no longer a pup.”

Horus usually responded best when Harmon removed the bite sleeve from his arm and presented it as a toy. Usually, Harmon needed to keep his gaze locked only upon the sleeve, lest his stare intimidate Horus into inactivity. Usually, the first indication of threat Harmon threw upon Horus ended the training session after the dog refuse to engage in activity other than play. But Horus that morning showed little interest in the sleeve until it covered Harmon’s arm, and that dog’s eyes burned as they refused to peek away from Harmon’s stare.

“Alright, John. Let him go the moment I start to back-pedal. I’m going to present the bite sleeve to him, and I have a feeling that Horus isn’t going to hold anything back when he tries to take it.”

Shaking the bite sleeve when removed from a handler’s arm was a puppy’s play, but charging a man wearing that sleeve was serious business. A dog needed a strong and committed bite to hold onto that sleeve while a handler shook to break free. Only confident dogs locked their teeth into the sleeve’s burlap. Horus had never before clamped upon that sleeve while it covered Harmon’s arm. Horus always lacked the conviction. The dog never before showed the desire to move beyond the playful games of tug. Harmon took a breath. Perhaps Horus gained a new confidence following Tonka’s death. Maybe Tonka’s passing gave Horus the space to come out of his shell. Just maybe, Horus was hoping to assert himself as the head of that ebony pack.

“Now, John!”

Harmon hardly felt the pain that flared in his knees as his feet pedaled away from Horus, and Harmon’s heart thrilled as he watched Horus jump forward into a run the moment John released the leash.

Horus’ speed surprised Harmon, and Harmon’s feet tripped together and sent the trainer stumbling upon his back with an impact that knocked the breath from his lungs and shot a painful jolt through his spine. Harmon had time to raise the bite sleeve before Horus leapt upon him. Harmon’s arm screamed as Horus’ teeth squeezed through the bite sleeve. Wincing, Harmon climbed back upon his feet and slipped his arm out of the sleeve. Horus growled as his teeth clamped stronger upon his reward, and the dog’s green eyes continued to burn as Horus stared into Harmon’s eyes. For a second, Harmon sensed that large, black dog appraising his character.

Harmon winked at Horus. “Good boy! Good boy!”

Horus didn’t playfully shake that sleeve between his teeth, giving no indication that he viewed that training session as any kind of a game. Harmon expected Horus would’ve taunted his trainer with that sleeve in an attempt to persuade Harmon to engage in a contest of tug. Instead, Horus’ eyes continued to burn, and the dog continued to growl.

Harmon felt his heartrate quicken. Adrenaline wasn’t responsible for the surge of his blood. Horus took several steps towards Harmon, and Harmon sensed that the dog might jump into another charge. Yet Harmon no longer had a bite sleeve with which to cover his arm.

“Here! Foos!”

John’s voice echoed across the field. Harmon never considered himself a religious man, but he nonetheless thanked the Creator for helping his son find such a commanding voice just when Horus displayed such snarl.

Horus snapped his eyes away from Harmon and hurried to John’s side, circling the boy’s legs before dropping into a seated position. Horus’ bite remained clamped upon the bite sleeve.

“Good boy, Horus! Good boy!” John knelt next to his dog and rubbed Horus’ ears.

“That’s enough for today, John.” Harmon slowly walked back to his son, careful not to look into Horus’ eyes and throw more threat at the dog. “Let Horus carry that sleeve back to his crate.”

“I hoped I might reward him by taking him into the house tonight.”

Harmon shook his head. “Not tonight. It’s been a long day. Get him in the kennel and come back out to work another dog.”

Harmon lowered onto the ground when John closed the kennel door behind him. He used the hem of his shirt to mop at the blood trickling out of several broken stitches in his arm. How had he failed to recognize that such fire existed within that dog? Harmon remained unsure as to how he triggered that dog’s defensive drive. Harmon looked at the half-dozen black dogs laying at the edge of the training field, and he wondered what animal to next work as he panted to catch his breath. None of those dogs had moved while he worked Horus, and Harmon was pleased to see that every one of those beasts focused their green eyes squarely upon him.

* * * * *
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 12
Scroll Up
Scroll
0
Add comment

Add comment