Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Alpha Dog

Judith Anderson


I am studying to become an alpha dog.

One would think that, at my advanced age and with my great experience as a lifelong dog owner, I would have attained some alpha status among dogs.

One would be wrong.

When we decided to get another dog, my husband, who is a very logical and studious person, and I determined that this time we would get a dog that fit our needs. We knew we needed a small dog. We wanted an intelligent dog with high skills as a companion dog and a watchdog and few genetic defects. Our last dog, a mutt definitely lacking in social skills and intellectual ability, was an excellent watchdog. During his tenure, no one knew we had a doorbell. Friend barked and hid under the steps until we came. This time, we decided, we would get a dog with confidence, a trainable alpha dog.

And so Tex entered our lives.

That Tex is intelligent was established the first day. He learned to sit. Every time he sat, I would bend down, pet him, and tell him what a good dog he was. By the end of the first day he sat with head cocked, ears erect, his eyes glued to my face, just like all the puppy books said he should. I was a success! And he looked so adorable that I picked him up and cuddled him. After all, he’d learned to sit in less than a day. He had earned high praise. It took me three days to realize that he had trained me to pick him up.

After coming to the realization that Tex and I had different ideas of what training consisted of, I decided we needed to establish dominance. All the dog books my husband studied said dominance is the essential ingredient in living with a well-trained, people friendly, easy-to-live-with pet. I assumed establishing dominance would be easy. After all, Tex weighed in at four pounds, and I—well, I am heavier. Tex now weighs seven pounds. I still weigh more. We are still working on dominance.

After two months of watching my husband take the dog for his evening “walk” and seeing him return in less than ten minutes with all accomplished while I still had to walk for half an hour with nothing accomplished, I decided something was wrong. Dominance had been established, but I was definitely not the dominant one. Even fifteen-year-old Abigail, my dear friend and Tex’s dog sitter and mentor had more dominance than I. She taught him to sit, roll over, come, and fetch.

The real crisis, my Waterloo, my Yorktown, my vote for the war before I voted against it, came the day my friend Barbara came to visit. Barbara trains dogs. Big dogs. She teaches German Shepherds the finer points of protection work. Some of her dogs have weighed as much as or more than Barbara does, but she controls them, if not with ease, certainly with authority. To see an eighty-pound shepherd sitting in front of petite Barbara with ears pricked forward and eyes glued to hers, with one desire—to obey her every whim—is a thing of beauty.

That was the day Tex chose to be an unholy terror. Until Barbara walked in. She sat down on the floor. Tex walked over and sat down in front of her, ears pricked forward, eyes fastened on hers, ready—no, delighted—to obey her every whim. Tex performed all the tricks Abigail had taught him and sat down in front of Barbara and asked for more.

After Barbara left, Tex reverted to nasty form. Until my grandson walked in. Noah is eight and has at least as much energy as Tex. Noah sat down and once again Tex performed all Abigail’s tricks faultlessly.

I was not the alpha dog.

I was the runt of the litter.

It was a day that lives in infamy.

Luke, my five-year-old grandson, is fond of telling me, “Grandma, never give up. Never, never, never give up.” But, as I tell him, sometimes you have to reconceptualize.

I reconceptualized. I read some of the books my husband handed me. I even listened when he read relevant passages to me. I watched the Dog Whisperer. I asked Barbara questions. And I tried to develop Attitude, Authority, Assertion. I was going to be the Alpha Dog. Tex improved. As long as I concentrated on Attitude, Authority and Assertion, Tex obeyed. If my mind wandered, he practiced Attitude, Authority and Assertion. I was no longer the runt of the litter, but I certainly wasn’t the Alpha Dog I needed to be.

Then came the day that Tex growled in MY KITCHEN.

Tex found a blob of baked potato with sour cream and butter and olives and cheese and oodles of other delights on the kitchen floor. He did what any alpha dog would do. He pounced on it and started eating. My husband came in, studied the situation for a moment, and decided that perhaps blobs of glorified baked potato weren’t good dog food. He bent down to clean up the mess.

Tex growled.

In MY KITCHEN!

Apparently Tex’s mother had never taught him the venerable proverb, “Never beard a lion in its den or a grandmother in her kitchen.”

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than Kryptonite, I swooped down on my pup, flipped him over, pinned him to the floor in an alpha dog roll over, and gave him a lecture on just exactly who was the Alpha Dog in MY KITCHEN. Tex was stunned. When I finished the lecture and released him, he reconceptualized. He assumed a very submissive position and followed me around the kitchen as I muttered imprecations on all who violated the sacred space of a grandmother’s kitchen.

Later that day, as Tex and I were walking and I was pulling weeds, I looked down at Tex. He sat before me, ears pricked forward, eyes glued to mine, waiting—no, delighted—to obey my next command.

I am an ALPHA DOG!

And the whole world is my kitchen!

***

Judith Anderson lives on 20 acres at the end of a dead end road in St. Clair County. She recently obtained her first Confederate Rose plant and points with pride when it blooms, but as much as she loves flowers, she is more famous as a "seed undertaker" than gardener. She is more successful as a grandmother and wife and mother, and to fill out her life, she works with her husband in a nonprofit organization.

© Judith Anderson

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012