How A Dog Says “I’m Sorry”

Everyone says, “You have to be the Alpha.” But I have a beagle, and beagles don’t respond to Alpha training, no matter what Cesar Whats-His-Name teaches. Cesar Milan is not the boss of me. I don’t like him. I think he’s savage. I don’t believe half of what these dog gurus teach. You can scare almost any animal into obeying you if you abuse it at the same time that you’re feeding and taking care of it. Millions of people were raised that way by their parents but it doesn’t make it right.

“But they’re canines! They’re pack animals! There has to be an Alpha!” Yea, and you’re not a canine, I notice. You have opposable thumbs and leashes and restraints that alpha dogs in the wild don’t have. At any rate, I won’t treat my beagle hound that way and never have. I never crated him past a couple of weeks of trying, either. Some dogs think their crates are their safe caves, yes, but mine never did. He thought it was a penitentiary and he hadn’t committed any crime. So he just howled and howled at his adoptive humans and tore up everything we put in there with him to comfort him, and smacked the water bottle around and peed and pooped on himself until we repented and unlocked the crate. He never went near it again. He got gated into the kitchen for a week and the baby gate never stopped offending him, so he finally got free reign of the house.

In eight years he has never chewed one thing, destroyed one thing, peed on anything, pooped anywhere, or made one bit of mischief.

He gets a lot of attention, a night of sleep on a warm bed, and snacks and love galore.  He gets along with most other dogs and he loves children. He is a pretty decent houseguest, too.

And he’ll give me the food right out of his mouth. If you know hound dogs and their food, you’ll realize how big an act of generosity and trust this is. Beagles are notoriously obsessed with food.

A couple of weeks ago I gave my beagle a really fancy bone: way too fancy and rich to chew for too long. After an hour, I went to get it from him, and he growled at me. HEY, I said. HEY. GIVE ME THE BONE.

He growled and snapped at me.

I said, OH, FINE. YOU KNOW WHAT? IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT AND I HAVE  A SERMON TO EDIT SO YOU JUST MAKE YOURSELF SICK WITH THAT DAMNED BONE, AND THE DEVIL TAKE YOU.

Saturday nights bring out the Rooster Cogburn in me.

Well, my darling beagle did make himself sick with the bone. Very sick. It took him a full week to pass it and meantime I felt guilty as sin. I should have asserted my Alpha status with him that night. I should have thrown a towel over my dog and his bone and snatched that thing from him with no further ado.

A couple of weeks have passed since the crisis, so today I gave my sweet beagle a Himalayan chew, which is an entirely different and far more digestible kind of treat. But I still wanted to limit his time with it, so I went to repossess it from him this afternoon. He’s not nearly as crazy about his Himalayan chews as he is about the big pork bone, so I figured he would handily surrender it.

But he growled at me.

HEY, I said again. WE ARE NOT HAVING THIS AT ALL! THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF NEW TRICK YOU’RE GOING TO BE LEARNING, OLD DOG.

I put my hand on the bone and he growled and snarled. I raised my voice another decibel or two. Or five. MAXFIELD! GIVE. ME. THIS. BONE. RIGHT. NOW.

I put one hand on his snout and held it there, and put my other hand under his chin in a confident way to show him I wasn’t buying his theatrics. It was a risk but I feel that we have a lot of trust between us after eight good years together, so I took that risk.

I AM TAKING THIS BONE RIGHT NOW AND I DO NOT LIKE YOUR TONE. He growled and snarled but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it, and I just slid the bone out of his mouth. I did have to give it one yank, but he didn’t make a move to snap at me.

Then I stood over him and delivered a bit of an Alpha performance saying things like THIS IS MY BONE AND ALL YOUR BONES ARE MY BONES, DOG. I AM THE GIVER OF BONES AND I AM THE TAKER-AWAY OF THE BONES.

Then we had a nap.

I got up a little later to do some work in the study and left the dog to his bone, which he said he wanted. After about half an hour, I heard him start to cry a funny cry, halfway between his “I have to go out” whine and his “I love you and am so happy to see you” whimper. I thought he might be playing with the cat, as they have their own little language and he doesn’t use that vocalization with me. I didn’t recognize it.

I kept working.

Every few minutes, he would make that funny cry again, up and down the scale with a few woops at the end. Beagles are exceptionally musical.

“What is it, Maxfield?” I got up to see.

As I approached him in the hallway, he approached me on his belly, practically, wagging his tail and dropping his bone for me.

“Oh, is that for me?”

He scooted forward and threw the bone in the air. Thump, it fell on the carpet. He picked it up and tossed it in the air again.

“You want to play?”

I bent down to get the bone off the floor and he nuzzled my hand with his snout.

“What, honey?”

I finally figured out that he was showing me that he wanted me to have his bone in my hand while he chewed it. So we did that for awhile. I sat down on the floor with my hand open and the bone in it, and Max settled himself on his belly with one paw on my wrist, one paw on the floor and worked on his bone for awhile. When his chewing knocked the bone out of my hand, he grabbed it with his teeth and put it right back into my palm.

What a hound.

I felt like that scene in “The Miracle Worker” except I was Helen Keller and he was Annie Sullivan.

I said, “Listen, I knew you weren’t going to bite me. I knew it. But you can’t even pretend. That’s not okay.” And he said, “Bones love food warm lady snacks bone feelings warm lady smells love happiness snacks safety.” His tail went thump thump thump.

Then we went outside and played catch, and he caught the squeaky ball and ran and ran and ran wild circles of ecstasy around the muddy yard.

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8 Replies to “How A Dog Says “I’m Sorry””

  1. Loved this!! So well written and fun. Max is the best – well, one of the best!!

  2. Just a wonderful day for you two, and even more wonderful that you shared it with us. Blessings of the Bountiful Bone to you Both!

  3. Omg!! This made me cry. Max is such a sweetheart !!

    We are also not alphas to our dog. As cat people, we prefer our animals to make their own decisions and be independent. Our dog has also never done anything “wrong” except beg for food, which is equal parts annoying and adorable.

    Anyway, I love this story and was quite relieved to see Max feeling like himself again. Go Max!!! [Tiger! We love you! I’m so glad to know your real name! – PB]

  4. I love your writing. You have the same kind of relationship with your fur kid as I do with mine. If I did what Cesar MiIlian suggested, my sweet and trusting, girl would never understand why I was being such a bully. I use a completely different technique. I teach not train. I teach my sweet girl to think and make decisions. My loving pup learns extremely fast and feels great about herself and me. We work as a team and she loves to learn new things. She is my best friend.

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