Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Maurice Dog Hierarchy

There is a defined hierarchy in homes that have more than one dog. There is the Alpha dog, the leader of the group—the big cheese who claims the best sleeping spots, gets treats first, fed first, and who can claim possession of any toy at any moment, even, sometimes especially, if it’s being played with by another lower member of the group. Alpha dog rules!

Next in line comes the Beta dog, who is like the Vice President or the second runner up in Miss America. Should, for whatever reason, the Alpha dog not be able to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of their position, Beta dog can step in and assume this new place and therefore is entitled to all titles, trophies, choice napping spots, treats and toy possession.

On the bottom rung of the dog food, er, hierarchy chain, falls the beloved underdog or Omega dog. This is typically the puppies, the grunts, those not mature enough or not ready to assume the responsibility of running a dog hierarchy within the family home unit. But this is not such a bad spot to be. Sure, you have to wait your turn to get your treats—but there’s lots of dropped crumbs to gobble while the higher ups are distracted with maintaining their grand importance. Maybe the toys are a little slobbery by the time they get a chance to play with them—but I’ve never really known a dog too proud to play with a slobbery toy, though. And, what happens when you’re the underdog? Don’t you usually get the most support and encouragement from others? Everyone loves the underdog! Pity not these little ones…they will have their days of glory. For now they’re enjoying their complete lack of responsibility—it’s a pretty good place to be.

Our Ruby received Queendom earlier this year when our beloved Willow finally succumbed to the cancer that had slowly consumed her. Willow was a wonderful Alpha dog—fair and gentle with her underlings. Full of love and wisdom. Ruby would try to challenge Willow every once in a while, but Willow would not be shaken from her position. A swift snap and a sharp bark would put Ruby back in her place once more and all would be right with the world again.

Once Ruby did gain the Alpha position, the power went straight to her fluffy white head. Of course, she only had Sweet Pea to boss around and, let’s face it, a short legged little Bassett isn’t much of a match for an eighty pound Pyrennees mix—she wasn’t about to attempt a coup even on her best day. Ruby’s new position was fairly well locked and she wasn’t remiss in gloating her supremacy over the unfortunate subordinate Sweet Pea. Ruby’s favorite form of torture would be to lay lengthwise, blocking the entire entrance of whatever room she might happen to find Sweet Pea in and not allowing any exit. Sweet Pea would be trapped. She couldn’t possibly manage to jump over the Pyrennees mountain that lay before her, so she would bark and whine, bemoaning her tragic circumstances, hopefully rousting a human to rescue her from the Evil White Queen Ruby. Even still, upon the appearance of said human, the eighty pound brat would refuse to budge and had to be dragged at least partially out of the doorway to finally release Sweet Pea from her dungeon.

Well, then along came Tucker. Exhuberant, hyper ball of energy and happiness, gleeful  stumpy tail wagging, non-stop maniac Tucker. He may have been smaller and shorter than Sweet Pea at first, but being of Boxer blood, he has that natural Tigger bounce and it didn’t take long for him to discover he could quite easily bound over that snowy white Pyrennean landscape laid out in the doorway. He would not be contained! Ruby was dismayed. How to control this black and brown brindle bundle of bouncing energy?

I believe that sad moment of mortality realization set in for Ruby then. She’s not a young dog anymore. She celebrated her ninth birthday this July. She no longer has the energy or the desire to try and keep up with crazy Energizer Bunny puppies! A lazy laid back Bassett may not have presented much of a challenge to her authority, but this Boxer, this barking, wiggling, long-legged-growing-into-a-horse-rather-than-a-dog thing, was more than she was willing to take on. Not that she’s relinquished her golden Alpha crown, mind you. She has just mellowed in exercising her position of authority over the others. Rather than lay in the doorways trying to trap the other two, she’s more content to lay peacefully half-under my bed where bouncing puppies aren’t as likely to come bothering.

Soon enough the battle will ensue over who should be the next in charge. Sweet Pea senses this, I think. She tries to stand up against Tucker, who now towers over her much shorter stature. She’ll give him a sideways body length shove and he laughs, bouncing over top of her and bounding away in a come-and-catch-me flash. He’s not concerned yet about Alpha or Beta or anything that doesn’t involve peanut butter flavored chewies, slobbery squeaky toys, or his bowl full of puppy chow. All he wants to do is play…and nap…and play some more. Oh yeah, and eat. Lots of eating! There’s plenty of time later on for him to worry about Alphadom, but right now he’s got other much more fun priorities to occupy his carefree puppy mind.
In loving memory of our sweet Willow

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