Thursday, July 28, 2011

The first letter of the Greek alphabet is...

Long before Cesar Millan burst onto the North American scene as the disciple of calm and assertive pack leadership, I was learning doggie 101 from good 'ole Dad.

You really could not imagine two completely different personalities than Dad and the Dog Whisperer if you tried. First of all, words like "calm" and "whisper" are not in my father's vocabulary. Nor is he too interested in checking his energy to see what kind of impact it is having on those around him, canine or otherwise. He's pretty much the happiest when he is working frantically and making a lot of noise.

What the two have in common though is an uncanny ability to bond with dogs. And although their approaches are, well, different, both are true pack leaders. I remember my childhood cocker spaniel/terrier cross, who used to walk behind dad - off leash - to and from work every day. She looked so happy with her wagging tongue, all her focus on the man at the helm.

So my whole life - whether from observing Dad's interactions with the family pets or from watching the entire third season of The Dog Whisperer in one weekend - I have known one thing to be absolutely true; there can only be one alpha in the house, and it ain't the dog!

Before the Beast joined our herd, I did my homework to make sure that I could immediately assert myself as the leader in this relationship. The night he came home with us, we "walked" him for two hours before going into the house (a term I use loosely because he pulled us along for two hours - back and forth, back and forth...). We made him wait until we entered the house before he came in. We led him to his crate where we had him relax and chill out. So successful was our first night together (even the pulling subsided after two hours) that I went to bed that night secure in the knowledge that I had succeeded in showing him who is boss!

Of course, nothing in life can be that easy... Almost immediately the next morning, the Beast began to exhibit behaviours that are akin to giving me the finger, making me suspect that he does not appreciate relinquishing control. For fun, and because I rely on the Internet for all of my answers to doggy questions (such as, "Is it normal that my dog eats sticks?"), I googled "dominant dog" to find out what exactly I was dealing with. I found this great list from to help you all figure out if you have a dominant dog. The bold and italics are those traits that belong to the Beast.

Your dog is dominant if he:

1. Pushes through doors, inside or outside, before you.
2. Jumps or reaches for food or treat before it is put down or in reach.
3. Puts his feet on you, standing on or pawing at you.
4. Barks at you when told to do something or when he wants something.
5. Tries to be physically taller than you.
6. Gets on furniture before you or before being given permission.
7. Is reluctant to move from a spot you want to sit on, walk through or put something in.
8. Is reluctant to release food or toys.
9. Stares at you for prolonged periods of time.
10. Is reluctant or refuses to obey simple, normal commands such as sit.
11. Marks (urinates or defecates) in house, marking your personal belongings or bed.
12. Runs into you or jumps on you hard during play.
13. Growls or barks at you during play.
14. Displays sexual behaviors, such as mounting, with an inappropriate partner.
15. Puts his head on or over your head or shoulders.
16. Holds chews or toys against you while chewing or playing with toy.
17. Shoves you out of the way when walking, sitting with, moving past or laying with you.
18. Mouths you at any time, whether in protest, during play or during petting.
19. Eats before you.
20. Does not accept petting or touching on top of his or her head or body.
21. Gets playful or cute instead of obeying when told to do things. The dog may obey briefly and immediately resume previous behavior.22. Guards food, toys or locations that they see as theirs.

In other words, the Beast displays 13 out of 22, which says a few things to me:
(a) the Beast probably does not know what it means to be submissive;
(b) the Beast is obviously an overachiever. It's not good enough to be "sort of" dominant;
(c) the Beast and I agree that there is only room for one alpha in the house. We just haven't figured out who it is just yet....