Obedient dogs teach men to come to God
Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 15, 2011 at 2:15 a.m.
Hank Hough ordered a pack of alpha males to lure his dog away from a "sit" command.
"Here, Bandera! Come, Bandera! Bandera, over here," a group of about 100 men shouted at the 4-year-old black Labrador, frozen next to his master.
Bandera's pink, salivating tongue dangled to one side of his mouth, while he stared at the excited men sitting in lawn chairs, patting their thighs and screaming his name.
But Bandera knew not to move, at least not until his master gave him the cue.
Blowing a high-pitched whistle three times, Hough silenced the men, simultaneously directing Bandera's gaze back on his owner.
"You know why he doesn't leave my side? Because he's my dog. I paid a price for him. I gave him a name. And I call his name out as one of mine, just like the Lord Jesus calls my name out," Hough told the men at a Man to Man Ministries' Camp WhetStone event two weeks ago.
As executive director of Spring-based non-profit Kingdom Dog Ministries, Hough travels around the country with his multi-colored labs to spread the gospel of Jesus.
The self-taught dog trainer uses visual illustrations of competition-level obedience Labradors and not-so-trained Labrador puppies to teach men and women to sit, stay and come to God.
The 64-year-old Hough isn't a minister. And years ago, speaking in public was a paralyzing experience.
"I used to write my name on my hand in college so when I'd stand up and introduce myself in class on the first day, I'd remember who I was," Hough said, laughing. "I still get nervous, but not like I used to."
As a longtime follower of Christ, Hough knew he wanted to serve God; he just didn't know where to start.
"I couldn't dance, I couldn't sing, I was afraid to speak in public," Hough recalled. "But I loved the outdoors, and I loved training these dogs."
Since childhood, Hough has been an avid outdoorsman and duck hunter, a sport that commonly uses well-trained dogs to assist the hunter.
Several years ago, a family member dropped off a Labrador puppy at Hough's house - a dog Hough said he didn't want initially - and began obedience training the dog. Eventually, that dog became a title-winning competition hunting dog, and Hough's concept for Kingdom Dog Ministries was born.
"The dogs have brought me closer to God by watching their love and faith and loyalty with me," he said.
Last year, Hough spoke at about 150 national events and witnessed more than 4,000 attendees commit or rededicate their lives to Christ.
Between the legs of an audience member watching the demonstration at Camp WhetStone, Hough's 4-month-old untrained puppy - whose temporary name is Sonday Morning - excitedly barked at the commotion.
At Hough's signal, Bandera retrieved and released rubber bumper toys, while his master spoke to the group about the importance of obeying God.
"Now why does God tell us 'No' sometimes? Is 'No' a bad word?" Hough asked the crowd, directing Bandera to avoid a rubber bumper resting in the grass.
Walking over to bumper, Hough pulled a rubber snake from behind a rock.
"When God tells us 'No' is that about control, or can he see things we can't see? If Bandera hadn't listened to me, he'd be dead," Hough said holding up the snake.
Each bumper, Hough explained to the crowd, represented something different: sin, lust, material possessions and temptation.
Following his master's orders - sometimes with nothing more than a hand signal and eye contact - Bandera chased after the bumpers and brought them back to his master.
But Hough didn't simply order the dog around. When he asked Bandera to obey, Hough thanked and praised the dog, explaining his request was love-centered.
"Sit, son, because I love you," he told Bandera frequently throughout the demonstration.
Hough paralleled Bandera's willingness and joy to serve his master with how man should joyfully serve and obey God's will. Not for the expectation of reward, however, but because the man wants to honor his master.
"Do you love me? Or do you love the toys in my hand?" he asked Bandera, panning the audience.
Hough also emphasized that discipline, whether between man and God, or man and his children, is most effective when based on love.
"Don't treat train; don't fear train, or that dog is not coming back," Hough said, discussing father-son relationships. "Guys, look in the mirror and I'll show you what your son is going to look like. Are you in church? Do you pray in public? Are you someone your son can look up to?"
At the end, David James, of Cuero, said he enjoyed Hough's demonstration.
"I think it was such an experience to see examples of a daily walk with Christ through trained dogs. And to see how God is training us," James, 63, said.
James also commented that Hough's demonstration allowed him to understand for the first time that discipline can be love-centered.
"My son is a doctor, and I have always had a tendency to be tough on him. It was good to see that love is more important than discipline."
Ruston Raybon, 23, also of Cuero, said he was motivated by the demonstration to consider missionary work.
"I had been considering it for a while, but after watching the dogs, they've inspired me to do it," he said. "It was a divine meeting to be here."
At the end of each presentation, Hough said he never knows how audiences will respond. Sometimes it resonates, and sometimes it doesn't, he said. But he's never distracted by crowd reactions. He wants only to encourage his viewers to sit, be still and know God is their master.
"My prayer is that God will move through me and say what He needs me to say."