In Kevin Behan’s article, “How I Developed the Pushing Technique,” he states, “Of particular interest to me was the deepest layer in the battery that had been caused by the most intense experiences, what I came to call the last .01 percent because so many of my clients would say to me “99.9 percent of the time my dog listens to me.” I realized the truth was that when that last .01 percent was triggered and came to the surface, not only was this behavior likely to be explosive since it had to burst through so many layers of inhibition, but in these instances the dog never ever listens to its owner.”
The truth of this was brought home to me recently, not with Cholula, my shelter dog, my problem dog, my sometimes-aggressive-to-other-dogs dog, with whom I’ve been working with pushing and other guidance Kevin has given me. No, the truth of Kevin’s statement above was brought home to me through a moment with my beloved, solid-citizen-turned-stately-patriarch dog Pundit, now in his 13th year, well into the geriatric colors of the chart hanging on the vet’s wall.
I never did pushing with Pundit. I don’t even know if Kevin Behan had written about pushing yet when Pundit was a puppy. However, when we first got Pundit, I did get Kevin Behan’s first book again, Natural Dog Training, and use his recommended techniques for working with a puppy, primarily training Pundit to fetch by using two balls. It worked like magic on Pundit, who became the best ball chaser, catcher, and releaser a person could ask for, and, as Kevin had described it would, basically molded Pundit into an exemplary pet. I know I did work with him through some of the other lessons in Natural Dog Training, from the sit through the heel and down and come, but to tell the truth Pundit became so reliable, even while also being a hyper-energetic pup, that by the time he was a year or so old I wasn’t doing much of anything specifically to train him. And now he’s 13, so it’s been a while.
The one fault Pundit has always had—and it’s a fault we let slide because really, on the scale of things, how bad is it?—is that he’s a dumpster diver—a trash hunting dog who lives—especially now that his arthritic forelegs don’t let him play much ball anymore—for his catch of old pizza and discarded chicken wings on city streets. He was found abandoned in a park as a young pup, and starving, so we attribute his insatiable drive for street scraps to that. And while we try to keep him away from such scraps, usually, if he does manage to grab something, we just let him have it.
But a few days ago, I was walking him home on trash day, when he darted into a trash bag on the sidewalk and pulled out a massive, meat-covered bone that had been laying at the top of the bag. Given his usual haul of pizza crusts and chicken wings, this massive bone was like a lifetime fantasy for him. And I probably would have just let him have it, except that I could see that the entire thing was covered with a drapery of white mold. While of course I feared for Pundit’s health, I have to admit that what caused my drive to equal his drive in that moment was the likelihood of being up all night with a sick dog. We have young kids in the house still, and are still always on the edge of sleep deprivation—an edge that a sick dog can tip you over so fast because being on the edge already, one bad night can easily mean a week of lost productivity.
So here it was, after 13 years of having Pundit, loving Pundit, trusting Pundit—a meat and mold covered bone–the one thing that would both trigger that .01 percent of Pundit’s drive, and in equal measure to his desire for the bone my own desire to get it away from him.
Just as Kevin wrote, at that moment, Pundit was never going to listen to me telling him to drop that bone. I tugged the edge of it for a while and yelled at him; when that didn’t work, I stuck my hand deep into his mouth, grabbed the nasty thing, and slowly, slowly pulled it out of his clamped jaws. His clamped jaws did not open as I managed to slide it out. In fact, just as I finished sliding it out, his clamped jaws clamped down on my finger. To be clear, Pundit did not turn on me in that moment and bite me in an aggressive manner; no, he simply was not going to open his mouth for me, and I’m 100 percent positive that he thought that my finger was the last particle of that bone and that by biting down as hard as he could he still might salvage it from me.
Luckily, Pundit’s 13-year-old teeth are not sharp. But he bit down on my finger so hard that the pain was among the most intense I’ve ever felt. When I finally got my hand out of his mouth (and yes, I also had succeeded in extricating the bone) I stumbled into the house screaming for my husband and collapsed on the floor. My husband gave me an ice pack to wrap around my swollen, throbbing finger. The problem was that the pain had sent my body into such a state of shock that I couldn’t get up for two hours. Every time I tried to stand I felt such intense waves of nausea and faintness that I had to lie back down.
Our morning routine with three little kids, two dogs, and two jobs to get to, is controlled chaos on the best of days, and on top of that my husband was supposed to be at work early on the morning that I collapsed on the floor—and I couldn’t help with any of it. Pundit’s bite rendered me useless until about 11:00, when I felt better and got on with my day. Luckily, he didn’t crush bone or do any actual major damage—basically, he had just squeezed the flesh of my finger together, creating two blood blisters—one underneath where each of his two teeth had been squeezing—and bruising the fingernail. I still have the ugly black circles on my finger, and I still love Pundit just as much. They serve as reminders of why, even when things seem to be going well with the dogs, it’s best to keep on pushing.
The Black Circles Are the Bite Marks on My Finger