Curmudgeon’s Corner: Her Place in the Pack

Written by Sanford Begley

Her Place in the pack

reading at the table
The human pack

Dogs are social animals. So much so that a lot of their lives are determined by their notions of what is socially right. Now this varies by dog to some extent and even more so by the rules laid down by the leader of their pack. In the wild this is the Alpha male of the pack, aided by the Alpha female. Places below that are decided by a variety of things including mild combat. For that matter combat ability has much to do with becoming the pack Alpha as well. It isn’t everything though. A 50 pound dominate female can and will totally cow a 150 pound male by sheer personality.

In human households there are other factors in play. We all know about the “one man dog” who is dangerous to everyone else. That is largely a myth. If a dog has bonded with a human and accepts him as his pack leader he holds the same views about people as the human. At least to a very large extent. If you think about those “one man dog” stories they usually revolve around someone who lived alone in society, and was usually a curmudgeon, having as few dealings with people as they could, and usually the one dog was their only companion. Such a “pack” sees all other people as outsiders to be defended against, and is very territorial.

I have a dog who could easily have become a “one man dog”  She bonded tightly to me and sees her place in the world through her relationship to me. Instead of being solely tied to me she is part of a welcoming pack, territorial but not unfriendly. This is because when she was a pup growing I walked her in public daily and insisted on introducing her to strangers. Instead of hating everyone but me, she see the world as a place where everyone adores her. Like some members of royalty she will graciously greet anyone but has no desire to extend the acquaintance beyond a perfunctory sniff and accepting a pet or two.

Now, as is true of almost all dogs, the social graces do not prevent her from protecting “her” house and pack. If she slips out the door I can expect to find a neighbor leading her back to the house shortly. The neighbors all love her and think of her as a beautiful dog, loving and friendly. Oddly enough the neighbors are also afraid of her when she is in the house. They have come near the doors and heard her response to trespassers. No one in our neighborhood wants a piece of that. I could comfortably leave the doors unlocked while I went to work if I wished, no one is going into my house, they know better.

She is tightly bonded to me and loves her place as the favorite. One of the results of this is that she is one of the dominant dogs in the local area. She knows her place is second to her Alpha and is willing to tell other dogs that in no uncertain terms. This includes some growling and nipping. This growling and nipping, done by almost all dogs with strange dogs is not fighting, though many humans think so, it is dominance displays that will usually end in one dog submitting to the other. It can, on rare occasions lead to more serious fighting, but that is the exception not the rule. I’ve never seen if from this dog, but I could easily see it if another dog came onto our property and proclaimed himself her superior, especially since such a dog would not have been introduced by me, her Alpha.

Now lately her place as the favorite has been threatened often, by the expansion of the pack.. A few years ago when my then future wife came to visit for a while She lost a notch in the pack. Since the pack had not had an Alpha female she had been enjoying that role, though knowing she wasn’t qualified in her own eyes due to a lack of pups. The placement of Cedar higher in the pack than she was simple. When the dog tried to ride shotgun she was firmly told no by both Cedar and myself. Tricksy accepted her new Alpha female with good grace, especially once she discovered she was now the pack favorite to two Alphas.

Later Cedar came to live with me. The temporary nature of her visit became permanent because of circumstances beyond our control. The extended visit became marriage and we had her two youngest down for the summer. We would have preferred to have all four children , but life dictated otherwise. Tricksy was saddened by her loss of status, being relegated to the cargo compartment of the wagon when traveling, but loved her new packmates.

An odd change came over her at that time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she now saw herself as a barren female and therefore a guardian of the pack. She had always feared fireworks and thunder, now they made her mad as a danger to the pups. When the children returned to their father’s household she was sad at the loss.

Now we are visiting New Hampshire and have the three youngest with us for the week. We rented a cabin and are being a family. Again I am seeing a change in Tricksy’s behavior. It is a twin change, She is sleeping with the boy now, he wants that. We have the door to the bedroom closed because of the children and she isn’t allowed to sleep on the floor by my side. This has caused her to be much more emotionally needy, sitting leaned against my knee when possible for reassurance that she is still loved. The other change I am proud of. When we are outside she is no longer the gamboling pup. She is an alert and watchful protector of her pups.