Silver Threads: Losing status with a dog
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve gone from alpha probably to omega in the estimation of my dog.
Almost nine years ago I gave my husband a puppy for his birthday: a red, long-haired mini dachshund, the pedigreed version of the two mixed-breed dachshunds we’d owned and loved before.
She’d already been named Heidi, and he cuddled her, played “toss the toy” with her, raced her around our long living room, and let her lie on one of his shoulders and lick his ear as he watched television.
She loved him, but I was the “alpha” in our household of two humans and one dog. That’s because I fed her, bathed her, put her out in the backyard when it was time to potty, and basically took care of all her physical needs. (Much like moms do for their children, even in these supposedly “gender equality” days.)
Back then, I didn’t know anything about becoming the alpha, or leader of our little pack in our puppy’s eyes, but the website “The Dog Owner’s Guide” says this is important “if your pup is to develop into a well-mannered family member instead of a burden. Dominance and alpha behavior are important concepts that every dog owner should comprehend.
“Dogs are pack animals by nature. Every pack has a leader, known as the alpha animal, who dominates and leads the other members of the pack. The alpha is the boss who makes decisions for the entire pack. Usually the pack will have an alpha male and an alpha female. All the other members of the pack form a hierarchy of dominance and submission where everyone has a place.
"In your home, you and your family become your dog's pack, as do any other dogs you may have. It is your responsibility to establish yourself in the alpha position. If you fail to do this, your dog will do it as a natural behavior.
“The key to successfully rearing a puppy is to establish yourself as the pack leader and then maintain that position for the life of your dog.”
“Maintain that position for the life of your dog”?
After my husband died late last year, my daughter and her family and I moved into a large house together five months later, and it has taken me at least another five months to realize that I’m no longer the alpha insofar as Heidi is concerned.
In addition to more humans, she now lives in a house with Lucca, Jill’s 14-year-old male chi-poodle who is continually being monitored because of his age. He can’t stay out in the heat for too long, can’t eat table scraps or the wrong kind of doggie treats, etc.; so Heidi doesn’t either and has followed my daughter’s instructions to the point that she has forgotten that I’m her alpha.
I am, of course, physically incapable of things like climbing even halfway under my bed to drag her out when she has refused to go to her own. Jill must do that, and in the meantime give her a lecture.
Jill had to win the wrestling matches that Heidi initiated when it came time for two daily doses of antibiotics for a sore that wouldn’t heal, and apply the dreaded moisturizing spray for a dry and itching skin.
So, you can see that we now have a willful but perhaps confused little dog, who is gradually becoming more subservient to my daughter than she is to me. I’ll tell you this: I hate to lose my status.
On the other hand, Heidi is getting good care and perhaps will think more highly of me when the days cool and we resume our daily walks. I could become a delta — perhaps even a beta — in her eyes.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.