Peaks and Troughs: Alpha-Beta Canine Relations

I apologize to those who have heard enough about our trials and tribulations, our thrills of victory, or the more-common agonies of defeat in the attempt to rear this not-a-labrador-retriever puppy into a beast we want to have with us for the duration of her life.

Wednesday was a new low. She’s behaved worse, but not since we had made the leap of faith that she would, indeed, fit in. To have her revert to her wolfish ways was a sad disappointment, and we wondered aloud once again if we should see if she might fit better in another setting that the Humane Society might help us find.

Then today, Friday, she has been the perfect dog. After our hello greeting when she woke up at 530, I let her out, and she came in and nested on the love seat while, for the first morning since she came here on December 18, I actually got something done! She stirred when Ann got up, and did not venture to pull at her robe or her slippers. Gandy ate her breakfast, and came back to nap on the loveseat, and I got even more work done. Now, we’ve just come back from our first of a half-dozen walks of the day that you see in this boring video, and she’s asleep on the couch again. We wondered if she were ill, but her nose is cold and wet, and she shows no symptoms other than a bizarre NICENESS.

What happened between her Wednesday trough and Friday’s peak performance? And does any of this action on our part account for her transformation? We don’t know, but these two things took place yesterday.

1) Ann finally asserted her dominance, and went from being number three in this small pack to being number two. She finally boldly and loudly defended her space without resorting to bribery and pay-offs or acting afraid of the dog. The dog acknowledged her place, with no doubts this time. She got it and accepted her new #3 position.

2) And I did to Gandy what I had to do with Tsuga, who was surly and snippy too at 4 months: Interrupting a snappy episode, I literally laid down over him firmly but without causing pain, and held his muzzle and thwarted his every attempt to move for a full minute until he relented. After that, miraculously, he never again tried to take the alpha male role. Gandy, too, seems to have “gotten it” and at least today, has been the dog we hoped and prayed she could be.

But it ain’t over yet by a long shot.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hope it’s turned a corner, but sounds as if she has a lot to prove in the “trust” department, especially when it comes to others beyond you two.

  2. I am of the opinion that the most intelligent dogs are the best. And like intelligent children (or perhaps velociraptors) they occasionally like to test the boundaries.

  3. I loved what you did to show your Alpha position!! You may have to do it more than once, but while you are so much bigger and heavier is the time to “rub it in” that Gandy is your subordinate, in all ways, including strength and size. Way to go!! And congratulations to Ann,too.