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It’s the Little Things That Count

 

One of the three things a dog wants to know is where he or she stands in the group hierarchy. The dog who is given to understand clearly what rank he or she holds within the group is a dog with no behavior problems. This is the dog you remember as the best dog you’ve ever had.

            But how can a dog determine where she fits into the group? She administers tests. These are not tests in the way of a child trying to discover what your buttons are so he can push them when convenient. This is a wolf experimenting with social maneuvers. The reaction of the one being tested, be it wolf or dog or human, determines the momentary status of the tester. Dogs have a way of ‘keeping score.’ Each moment of victory adds up over time until the dog has determined where she stands. She then goes about filling the job description. She carries out the duties of the position she finds herself in.

            One of the most common ways a dog will test her status as it relates to yours is to order up a belly rub. Yes, how cute is that? She rolls adorably onto her back, curls her little paws down, throws her legs open and, making herself irresistible, looks up at you with bedroom eyes. She soon finds that she is too cute for words. Humans will even come across a room to squat down and give her that belly rub she so invitingly begs. Score one for the doggie. You followed her rule and she got what she wanted.

            How about the one where she sits and looks up pleadingly at the cupboard? Convinced your dog is the smartest dog in the universe, you open the cupboard and give the dog a treat for such a pretty sit. Score two for the doggie. Again, you obeyed her ruling.

            Then there’s the dinner table routine. Your dog sits ever so patiently, her head moving up and down watching every bite you take. You are overwhelmed with pity when you look down to see long strings of drool stretching from the corners of her mouth to the floor. My goodness, how hungry must that dog BE? You reach down and give her a bite of your dinner. Never mind that she inhaled her own dinner just 6.3 minutes earlier. Score three for the doggie.

            Here’s a clever one. Your dog comes out of your bedroom carrying your slipper in her mouth. She arches her neck, wags her tail high and, with sparkling eyes, looks at you sideways. For some owners it’s more cute than they can bear, others it infuriates. Either way, you do something about it. Sure enough, the dog gets your attention. Score four for the doggie. She even used a tool for that one.

            Wait. There’s more.

            You are sitting in your chair minding your own business reading or watching TV. Suddenly you feel the smallest nudge on your leg. A few seconds later, it happens again. You look down and your dog is using her paw to tap you on the leg. How smart is that? A polite request for a pat on the head. How much harm could it do for you to reach down and pat her? The problem comes when you stop patting. She taps you again. You reach down again. She taps you again. You reach down again. Score five, six and seven for the doggie..

A less common test is the dog who lies flat out on her side on the floor and with her front paw scoops at her ear over and over again. Of course (you fool) you think her ear itches. You reach down and scratch her ears for her. Score eight for the doggie.

            This goes on and on for the duration of the day and evening. Then morning comes and it’s like that movie Groundhog Day. The previous day just repeats itself. You are busy with phone calls, e-mail, bill paying, getting to work on time, laundry, meal preparation and picking the kids up from soccer and dance practice. In which of these activities does your dog participate? What else has a dog got in her life but the little things? She adds them all up each day, keeping score like a cowboy.

It is a mystery how a dog makes the final decision that she ranks above you, but when she does, you’ll know it. Unfortunately your realization that the dog is running your life comes long after the dog has decided to run your life. Because, you see, a dog in the Alpha position is allowed to ignore you. She is allowed to make the rules, she’s allowed to pee in the house, steal from your dinner table, try to get your visitors to leave by attacking them, put her feet up and jump on you, bite your feet under the sheets if you are so bold as to disturb her sleep, and control your hands and all your activities to the point where the dog is the center of attention and has a great life. Your life will be very full, answering to the dog’s demands. Sound good?

            Like we said, it’s the little things that count.

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