For the Love of Brody: Part III - The Bond

November 07, 2017 Written by: Aiden Doane


This is Part III of our "Forever Dog" series. If you haven't read Part I and Part II of Brody's story yet, check them out first.

When I left Brody with Kevin Behan that fateful day, I knew my life was about to change but had no idea to what extent. At the same time, I was working an exhausting job at an amazing international nonprofit, but I spent more time in airports than I did with my nephews, who I adore more than anything. A few weeks before Brody’s second bite incident, I had told my employer I would be leaving at the end of January. I was 29-years-old -- and I had no plan. I was supposed to be in a solid career, and I had done well enough in school and in my professional life thus far that I knew I could get a good job. But I decided to take a break instead. This change came about in a simple and surprising way. On the day after Thanksgiving, I went to see the new Warren Miller ski movie as I did every year. And just like all the previous years, I left the theater feeling both revved up for ski season and also a little depressed that I’d never given myself the opportunity to be a ski bum. But this time, something inside me let fear give way to risk. So when I gave my notice at my job, at the dismay of most people I knew (but also a little friendly jealousy), I decided that instead of applying for new jobs I was going to spend the end of the winter out west being a 29-year-old ski bum, and then I’d deal with my future.

Of course, this was all before I left Brody at aggression boot camp for a month (as I lovingly referred to it) doing who knows what with a man I’d spent a few hours with before essentially giving him an automatic withdrawl on my bank account. In a nutshell, things were getting a little tricky. I now had two missions in life for February and March: go skiing every day and train Brody. From what I had learned during my limited time with Kevin so far and reading his book (Your Dog is Your Mirror), Brody would no longer be out going clicker happy with me around the neighborhood. Sidenote: I have nothing against clicker training -- I think it’s a great technique and I still use it to this day, but Brody was a unique case who required more than your average dog. The closest type of training to what Brody was learning is called Shutzhund training -- we have an article about Shutzhund and an amazing training team that does it if you want to learn more about it. But Kevin’s style merged this with an even deeper training -- he taps into the dog’s energy and combines this with bite work, obedience, and highly focused drive instinct.

Brody hay

I still didn’t know where I was going to do my ski bumming, but I’d narrowed it down to the Aspen area in Colorado or Jackson, Wyoming. My decision was coming down to housing -- I couldn’t find a place to live, and I needed somewhere I could be left alone with all of my bite training toys and my crazy dog. After weeks of searching both areas, I came across a Craigslist ad from two guys trying to sublet a trailer outside of Jackson, Wyoming because they'd decided it was a lousy winter and were heading to Costa Rica to start a corn dog stand (to each his own). I called them up, they told me they’d leave a futon and a couch for me, and they gave me their landlord’s phone number. I dialed her right away, beginning the conversation with the fact that I knew how to operate a wood stove.

“Yup, sounds good,” she said, apparently the interview concluded.

“One thing,” I replied hesitantly. “I have a lab pitbull mix with aggression issues, and I’ll be training him every day with some not-so-normal techniques.”

“Great -- you can train my dogs while you’re at it, I’ve got four of ‘em. See you in a couple weeks.” And with that, she hung up.

Ten days later, my car was packed, I’d spent six days on the boot camp compound learning from Kevin (I’d still call this the best education I’ve gotten in not only dog training but in life), and Brody and I were going to head west straight from Kevin’s. But we had one final task before we left: the vet.

Although I had seen Kevin work wonders with Brody that week, and we had a slew of training techniques up our sleeve, “extremely anxious” would be the understatement of my life in terms of how I felt about going on this vet adventure. It was a dreary, freezing Vermont morning in February, and we arrived a few minutes early. Outside the office was a 15-foot cement wall.

“Before we go in, Brody needs to climb the wall,” Kevin said.

One of Kevin’s techniques that he’d taught Brody was a command called “on the box,” which allowed me to point at an object and Brody would go get on top of it. The object might be an actual box, or a tree stump, or a picnic table, or even a fence post. It could really be anything. Over the previous year, Brody had developed dog aggression while on the leash, and “on the box” was particularly useful for these situations. When walking him on a leash as another dog approached, I could give the “on the box” command, and because he was up higher and usually it took some level of concentration and work to get there, it dispersed his anxiety and energy, bringing his fear down and his confidence up. He would then usually be able to interact calmly, or at worst, remain on the object if his fear-based aggression continued, keeping him out of trouble and in control until I gave him the “off” command.

Brody picnic tableBrody "On the Box"

However, as I said, this wall was 15-feet high. By this time, I’d learned not to point out the obvious to Kevin, and I’d also learned he didn’t joke around. The wall was flat cement, and while Brody could jump very high, he couldn’t jump that high. I kept my mouth shut while my head whirled around what Kevin could possibly be thinking. Walking toward the wall, he read my mind.

“The vet is one of Brody’s toughest situations,” he said. “So we’ve got to get all this anxiety and energy out before we go in so he can feel in control of the situation.” I nodded, but I was still skeptical and scared. I’d begged Kevin to let me bring the muzzle, but it was out of the question. So all I had between me and my worst nightmare was a cement wall. No problem.

I thought maybe he’d be able to jump that high. “On the box!” I said confidently, pointing at the wall. Ever loyal and unquestioning, Brody ran, jumped a solid 10 feet up, slammed straight into the wall, and came back down. We tried again with the same result. Never one to give up, Brody cocked his head and looked up at me, waiting for a command.

“Do it again,” Kevin remained calm.

I issued the command, only this time as Brody jumped up, Kevin braced himself so that he was providing a physical support for where Brody landed, but Brody would still have to work to get to the top. It looked similar to when you ask someone to cup their hands to give you a boost, like the step of a ladder. Kevin helped him stay against the wall, but he had to work to get up the rest of the way. And work he did. For close to five minutes, he put everything he had into trying to scale that last five feet of the cement wall, pressed against it like Spiderman, clawing at the smooth cement to gain inches of traction in what seemed an impossible feat. He was panting, but ever the champion, he didn’t give up. When he got to the top and looked down on us, he was calm as can be. “In the zone,” as we’d say. And with that, apparently, he was ready.

Brody tree stump

The vet was a hefty man with wire-rimmed glasses and a beard. He greeted us as we came in and gave Brody a treat, who didn’t seem the least bit miffed to be there. Instead of shying away from the table in the center of the room like I usually did, Kevin told me to have Brody get on the table by himself.

“On the box,” I said, and Brody immediately leaped up, in command of the situation. I, however, was dreading the next moment, although I was trying my best to seem confident and not anxious. Kevin stood in a corner, out of my reach, while inside I was screaming for him to come closer in case something happened. Kevin had the reflexes of a cat, where as I seemed to freeze in situations like this.

“Pet him for a minute, give him some reinforcement and a few treats.” I did so, and the vet came over at the same time and started to look in Brody’s ears. Brody was focused on me and at ease.

Before I knew it, the vet had a thermometer up Brody’s butt, and we were all still alive. When he went to draw blood and Brody didn’t so much as flinch, I could have sworn I was in a dream. That’s the moment when all the anxiety drained out of me, puddling itself at my feet, while my heart pumped, overwhelmed with pride and disbelief. I cried (pretending my cat allergies were acting up), while the vet gave Brody a long ear rub, his face inches from Brody’s, my best friend’s tongue happily lagging out of his mouth. Once again, Kevin’s seemingly wacky technique had proven true. Brody had worked hard to scale that wall, getting all of his energy out and gaining confidence as he completed the task, and then with that confidence he was able to stand on the table (also important, because it reinforced his feeling of being in control) without fear.

Brody sleepingThe Brodster sleeping on the job

An hour later, we were in the car driving west, Brody snoozing in the small but cozy space I’d created behind the passenger seat, the rest of the car full to the gills.

Our first big test on our own came far sooner than I’d anticipated. We were about 6 hours behind schedule, and by the time we were slightly past Erie, Pennsylvania, we were in a full on blizzard. We’d driven only 8 hours, but I threw in the towel. We were in a small town, and there was one motel that didn’t allow pets. I paid for the room, backed the car up to the door, and snuck Brody inside. At 4:00 a.m., the alarm went off, and we stepped out to close to 15 inches of snow and fast-dropping temperatures that were now in the single digits. We drove across the street to the gas station to fill up. I needed to give Brody some exercise, and there was a field next to the gas station, so we went over there to do some training drills. Satisfied and ready to go, we headed back to the car. I shuffled around in my jacket for my keys. I shuffled around my pants for my keys. I shuffled around my jacked again. No keys. I looked back toward the field, knowing instantly my keys had fallen out and were somewhere among the footprints and 15 inches of snow. We combed the field for 20 minutes, but it was hopeless. The car was locked, and there was my phone conveniently laying on the driver’s seat. My extra key was in the glove compartment, and that's about when I heard my father's voice in my ear, repeatedly suggesting I get one of those magnetic key boxes to store a spare where it might be useful should I ever got locked out. It was 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday. Awesome.

I couldn’t go back to the motel considering I had nowhere to hide Brody. The only thing we had going for us was the fact that it was a 24-hour gas station. I tied Brody to a light pole on the side of the parking lot and put him in a down stay while I went inside to use the old, reliable yellow pages and a landline to call a locksmith. One of the numbers finally answered, and a sleepy, gruff voice said he was on his way.

Brody XmasIs it possible something so cute could be so dangerous? Yes.

An hour later, after what felt like an endless training session together trying to keep warm, Brody and I shivered as a blue truck pulled up. A bulky man with a baseball cap got out, and I couldn’t make out his features in the darkness other than his facial hair. Brody stood next to me, and I was thankful I had my treat bag around my waist, pumping him a steady stream as I explained the overly obvious situation. The man got to work quickly, pulling out a case of tools and a flashlight.

Given that it was completely dark in the parking lot, I should have been prepared for the flashlight, but I was tired and not quite thinking clearly. One of Brody’s “special gifts” was his obsessive, irrational, and completely psychotic behavior with flashlights. I had discovered this one day when we lost power, and Brody went from a deep sleep to a complete headcase in less than a second. He leaped up, barking a high-pitched, uncontrollable bark, chasing the light, and then flipped around and jumped on me so hard we both ended up on the floor, him frantically trying to get at the device. Soon after, everyone in my family knew flashlights weren’t an option around Brody -- you’re better off carrying a torch.

As the locksmith switched on his light, I felt Brody tense up through the leash, about to leap forward. Somehow in my foggy state I managed to yell “get it!” and used the weird black tube that we trained with to slap his butt and redirect his attention. Forgetting the flashlight, he did a 180 and bit the tube, launching us into a high-powered training session, pulling against each other, me egging him on to keep his mouth hard around the bite toy, backing up with all my strength as he pulled against me with all of his. I can only imagine what the locksmith thought of us, but his face gave me plenty of ideas. I didn't care in the least -- I was doing an internal dance about how successful the technique had been and how much fun Brody was now having. When we were far enough away, I let him have the tube, and he did a celebratory circle around me, toy in mouth, the flashlight in the past. I thanked Kevin quietly under my breath for honing my reaction skills and for bringing this long tube from an auto parts store into my life (it was one of the only things Brody couldn’t bite through easily, and when he did eventually destroy them after a few months they were nice and cheap to replace).

the tube
"The Tube"

A few minutes later, Brody was in his spot in the backseat. I’ll never have a reason for what happened next other than it was fate. The locksmith was on the passenger side of the car, and I was in the driver’s seat searching for my wallet. As I walked around the car with the money, the locksmith opened the passenger door, turned on his flashlight, and stuck his head and the flashlight in between the seats, reaching back to pet Brody. I was in front of the car by this time, and there was nothing I could do but watch in horror, seeing all of our hard work flash before my eyes, everything ending right there in this one-horse town gas station parking lot. The man with the baseball hat and heavy duty facial hair proceeded to pet Brody’s head and shined the light in his eyes. After one pet, I’d made it around to his side, and with as much restraint as possible, I tapped (and possibly grabbed) the man’s shoulder. He backed out, shook my hand, took my money, and said, “Handsome dog you’ve got there.” Then he was gone. I’ll never forget that moment. I got Brody back out of the car and gave him the best rub down any dog could get. The training session we’d had a few minutes prior had the same effect as scaling the wall at the vet. My boy and I had overcome the impossible. I felt a sense of comfort and trust I hadn’t felt in a long time, and in that freezing Pennsylvania parking lot we solidified our bond forever, driving west a completely different pair than the one that had driven in the night before. We were a team now.


All of a sudden, skiing seemed a lot less important to me. For the next three days we drove, Brody coming out of his heavy slumber every few hours to put his head against my shoulder, checking in, then hitting the hay again. We trained at gas stations while the car was filling up, we ate while we drove, and each night just as I was about to fall asleep at the wheel, a nose nudged me -- or sometimes a tongue scratched along the side of my face -- and I’d find us our next motel.

By the time we got to that trailer in Wyoming, my life felt complete, and as fate would have it, the date was Valentine's Day -- exactly three years since I'd adopted Brody. We were greeted by a double-wide aluminum trailer with plywood floors, two pieces of furniture, a pot and pan the corndog boys had considerately left behind, and an old woodstove. To us, it was heaven on earth. That first night it snowed two feet, and instead of skiing the next morning we explored the wilderness, a new chapter in both of our lives unfolding, alone together in a vast and stunningly beautiful world.


The next installment For the Love of Brody: Part IV The Battle is available to read, and is the final chapter in the For the Love of Brody series. Do you have a forever dog? If so, tell us about him or her below!

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