Contrary to popular belief, the most dominant dog in any given pack is rarely the first one you notice.

Like any dictator, an alpha dog may be either benevolent or tyrannical, but unlike many human dictators, alpha dogs are never emotionally fragile, touchy, needy, or exceptionally demonstrative.  They just don’t generally stick out unless something has gone seriously awry.

As just about anyone who knows me–or who is my facebook friend by accident or foolishness–knows, I recently became the owner of a puppy.  Her name is Sydney.  Full name: Sydney Wooloomaloo Didgeridoo Palapala.  She is an Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler) mix.  She is–in case you hadn’t heard–omifuckingod so fucking cute.

I don’t want people preemptively calling CPS on me, but I’m not gonna lie.  My human baby will face some stiff–and by then, considerably more obedient–competition.

We call her Syd for short.  Or Syd Vicious.  Or Syd the Kid.  Or Schmoo.  Or Mooshy-moo-moo-moopsie-woo-loo-loo.

I’m the only one who calls her that last one.

I love dogs.

I love them.  Even ugly ones and naughty ones and dirty, jumping-up ones.

I mean, Jesus.  Look at her face.

I love dogs more than is probably normal.  Definitely more than I love most people.  They’re certainly easier to understand than people.

Or they were until I recently, really truly, started looking at people as if they were dogs.

 

At 4.5 months old, Sydney is a bit young to have her tendency towards either submission or dominance set in stone, but I know that her breed mix is likely to result in an independent, headstrong, and self-possessed temperament and an intellect that will require a great deal of stimulation.  These are wonderful traits in a dog.  Like their human equivalents, stupid, needy dogs are tedious and unpleasant.  But if there is not sufficient consistency and structure around him or her, a smart, independent dog can quickly become unmanageable and anti-social–a proper pain in the ass.

It is likely that, regardless of her personal preference for dominance or submission, if I don’t give her a good deal of fair, cool-headed structure, she will test my limits and gradually go about setting the rules herself.  She could easily become dominant and unruly.

I’m very adamant in general about people training their dogs.  I say terrible, hateful, and intolerant things about people who don’t. With a baby on the way, I made it especially clear to my husband that this dog, like no other dog before, is going to be a goose-stepping, good little soldier in the Palapala army.  A future Sargeant Major.  The most valiant and noble of plebes.

While she is still a family pet and a puppy, she is a puppy with a purpose.  I need a dog that I can reliably recall to me from a 1/2 mile away, through a field of small animals, a pool filled with yummy rotten hamburger, horse shit, and sundry garbage stuffs, a pack of 50 other dogs with squeaky balls, and a crowd of 80 toddlers all carrying half-melted ice cream cones.  During a fireworks show.

I need her not to chew on my baby.  Because that can end only in sadness.  No one wants to have to re-home a baby.

Domestication, both mine and hers, is going to look a lot like a battlefield.  The taming of the Schmoo.

As a result, it has been important for me to understand as much about canine dominance and obedience as possible.  If Sydney ends up in charge, everyone–including Sydney–will be miserable.

One of the few forms of communication that dogs and humans have in common is the no-touch, non-verbal physical negotiation of power dynamics.  Using things like personal space to set boundaries and assert oneself.

 

I was taught when I was 11 or so years old how to get a horse to move away from me without touching it or making a sound. How to make myself “feel big” from a distance.  How to puff up and “project” my 70 lb., 11 year-old frame and personal space and use it to push against a 1500 lb. animal’s personal space in such a way that s/he would simply feel compelled to move away.  Or how NOT to push on a horse from a distance.  Like if it had gotten loose and we were trying to catch it.

I sometimes, mostly for my own amusement, use a similar maneuver to back people off when they stand too close to me in coffee shop and bank teller lines.  It works pretty well.

Subtle intimidation.  Harmless, non-violent manipulation of others’ behaviors through invasion of personal space, posture, gestures, eye contact, and body language.  The other person moves away subconsciously.  No confrontation necessary.  All things humans have in common with both dogs and horses as a means by which to assert confidence, dominance.

It’s not just a coffee shop queue pastime.  It can be totally unintentional and often is totally unintentional as we take part in it every day.

 

Power would seem to be a natural commodity for bartering among living creatures–it is the fundamental unit from which social order is created in a largely chaotic, uncertain, and generally unfair & indifferent universe.  MUST it be this way?  I don’t know.  I tend to think so.

Historically and philosophically, humans are torn between their reasonable need to feel in tune with and a part of the rest of the natural world in such a way that humanity’s existence makes sense and the inescapable, probably justified suspicion that we are oh so very different from the rest of the natural world.

Politics are insufficient to explain it.

Ask a certain type of very conservative christian and the notion that we are mere beasts–as evolution would suggest–is an abomination, but ask him if there are or aren’t also human behaviors like violence, lust, greed, and so on that are uniformly “natural” in living things and to be accepted as a matter of course, and s/he is likely to agree as is convenient for his/her politics.

To a more humanist liberal the notion that humans are animals like any animal in the evolutionary sense is simply a matter of fact.  Yet we are meant to be more virtuous and kind and equitable and generally better than or above them all in more ways than I can count on all my fingers, opposable thumbs, and useless toes combined.  Which selective humanist virtues are emphasized generally depends on what is immediately convenient for a given individual’s argument.

Both factions will negotiate for a pass on their hypocrisy, assuring us that, for various reasons, their philosophy ought to be declared the consistent–or even just the more consistent–one, but in the grand theoretical picture, degrees of rectitude are nothing but numbing unguents for a chronic existential rash.  Maybe practical or even necessary, but even if treated topically, the paradox remains.  It’s the great white elephant in that room where Vain Humanity stands–and has stood for thousands of years–preening himself in a mirror.

Vain Humanity prefers a neck-up view, which saves him from having to confront his rashy, hairy, mammalian ass.

But the more one understands about the social machinations  of animals, the harder it is to maintain an elitist view of human social habits and capabilities.

The most dominant dog, among dogs, takes what it wants with a look, gets what it wants without exception or fuss, keeps order with confidence enough to have no real need of open emotional agitation–joy, anger, anxiety or otherwise–and in many cases, s/he may go largely unnoticed.  While other dogs maul visitors with open displays of affection or fear–wagging, excessive licking, peeing involuntarily, cowering, barking obsessively, biting, jumping–a dominant dog can generally be found bringing up the rear, making its way to greet owners and visitors at a casual trot or lope, in an affable enough but dignified way, getting there in his/her own good time, letting out a matter-of-fact woof or two if caught by surprise.

We all know people like this.  Of all these types.  They are at work, at home, and even here.  At TNB.

 

Having this puppy and paying more attention to power dynamics in humans has highlighted interesting things about my household, too.  I’ve discovered that there is no real alpha dog.  There are two mid-level dogs, one of whom has reluctantly accepted a leadership role out of simple necessity. Though I am strong in my way, and even silent in my way, neither is an effective or accurate way to describe my overall state of being.  I am certainly not one who is, by nature, a stable, leading, or calming force.  It is possible–but an exhausting amount of mental and emotional work–for me to be that individual.

But someone has to be that individual.

I’ve tried to coax my husband into taking on the leadership role, but he, wisely, has flailed and resisted, largely by deftly, strategically, failing minor quests & tasks.  Nothing that would put us in serious jeopardy, but just enough so that whatever dominant tendencies I have simply cannot risk giving him control.  Even if I am not a dominant dog per se, on a continuum, I am historically more dominant than my husband and there is just no way this isn’t going to fall to me first.

But what kind of leader to be? If I have to learn it, I should be able to choose what leader I learn.

Contrary to what most mean when they begin talking about alpha humans, the proverbial strong, silent type–not the cocky, aggressive, muscle-flexing, Aryan football captain–is the human equivalent of the canine alpha male or female.

They’re the yogis and senseis and mentors.  In storytelling, these are the Mr. Miyagis, the Bills, the Professor Keatings, and the Yodas.  Calm, wise, never petty, difficult to provoke but decisive and decisive winners when forced to fight.  This is not me.  For sure not the calm and difficult to provoke part.

 

The obvious enticement to riot here is that all of the examples I’ve given are of males.  Many alpha dog traits as they are generally described are roughly equivalent to “masculine” human attributes within a generally patriarchal value system: Unemotionalism, detached assertiveness, decisiveness in “battle,” “strong and silent.”

I’ll just casually leave that there for the political and philosophical picking.  I highly recommend Gloria Harrison’s “Does the Seed of All Knowledge Lie in the Labia?” as a companion piece for discussion, if people are so inclined.

 

For my part, I’m most comfortable with non-traditional role models, and gender is of secondary or tertiary concern to me, if it is a concern at all.  Additionally, most of my life, the people I’ve admired have been lone wolves, not leaders.

So although he is a man, I take heart in knowing that Hannibal Lecter falls into the alpha dog/mentor archetype category, however barely.  Maybe this is my variant.  Maybe he is someone I can look up to.  Maybe there is something in this leadership gig that will suit me after all.

He appears as necessary to lead, coerce, encourage, and relay orders, then vanishes.

Mr. Fuzzy Monkey once tried to test me, Sydney.  I ate his squeaker with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

*thhhpthhpthhp*

 

Hannibal Lecter likes puppies, right?

But not, like, for dinner.

Right?

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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

61 responses to “Of Dogs and Men(tors)”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    I love dogs.

    With or without Steve Buscemi eyes.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      That’s Buscemeyes, Irwin.

      But I know.

      Dogs are incredible. Incredible because they are awesome buddies and all, but also incredible because they have, in a matter of only about 10,000 years, managed to transform themselves from wolves into a whole other species that most humans find impossibly sympathetic and irresistible.

      Which leads us to provide them with food, shelter, protection and flashy rhinestone collars.

      Anyone who says dogs are stupid is not thinking straight.

  2. mutterhals says:

    My mom has an Aussie Shepard, she spoiled it rotten. It literally has more toys than I did as a child and if you don’t pay loads of attention to it when you first come in it whines horribly. She feeds it steak and leaves the TV on for it when no ones at home. Sometimes I’d really like to kick it in the ass, and I love dogs.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Yeah, I guess that’s a very Aussie outcome. They can get kind of attached and dependent. Mine ended up with the Blue Heeler temperament, so a solid 40% of the time, she doesn’t care if anyone pays any attention to her or not.

      Which is nice when you don’t want to be harassed, but not so nice when you’re struggling to find things to reward her with for training.

      Like, praise is nice, she figures, but she’s not going to bust her ass for it.

      She’s an odd duck, this one.

  3. Joe Daly says:

    Dogs rule. My ex-gf and I brought home two golden puppies nearly nine years ago, when we were living in a dumpy little one room apartment in Harvard Square, during the hottest summer of the Naughties. No AC and three flights of stairs separating us from the precious patch of dirt on four lane, super-loud Massachusetts Ave., where the pups would do their business (after taking considerable time to choose just the right place). It was hard work having two at once, as they’d pay more attention to each other than us.

    A month into the housebreaking process, I broke my ankle. Then-girlfriend had to take over house breaking duties- running up and down three flights of stairs, a puppy in each hand, five or six times a day, while I sat on the couch all hepped up on painkillers and wine, asking her if she needed any help.

    My ex just had a baby last month (we’re on very good terms). She recently reminded me of all the people who used to condescendingly tell us that raising dogs was nothing compared to raising a child. My ex advises that those people are uniformly wrong- dogs are harder.

    Good luck. Dogs rule. They’re the only other species to consciously ally themselves with man.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      At least if you set a human baby down and go in the other room, when you come back, the human baby will still be about where you left it.

      I mean, this is a key difference. That and the razor-sharp teeth.

      We have a pretty small house and it already seems smaller with just the one puppy. I can’t even imagine doing it all in an efficiency apt. with twice as many puppies.

      I can say this: Rarely am I ever at a loss about what to do with myself. The dog will just tell me.

  4. I agree that the strong and silent, still-water-runs-deep type winds up being the true alpha dog equivalent in humans and, in my experience, I’ve seen this trait just as frequently in men as in women. Women just end up better at multi-tasking so their wisdom is often revealed in strong and social ways.

    It’s interesting too what you say about personal space dynamics, for animals and humans. I was just reading a National Geographic article about the attempt to domesticate foxes which discussed the response to the subtle, physical cues of humans as the crux of what separates wild animals from tame. It does kind of boil down to that power game.

    Meanwhile, soon enough I will cave to my daughters’ incessant requests for a dog. For now, I’m really enjoying with the goldfish.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Sweet baby Jesus, Nat. Behold.

      You can get one.

      http://www.sibfox.com/foxes/

      Look at them. They’re adorable.

      Do you think they chew on babies?

      What’s REALLY interesting is how much, like in coloring, domestication has made them look like dogs. I was reading up on the project, and they weren’t going for that. These familiar domesticated colorings just started popping up.

      So cool.

      • Nathaniel Missildine says:

        Wow, if my girls were to get a look at that site, I’d never hear the end of it until one of these little creatures is curled up at the end of my bed, gnawing on my calves. Around the Burgundy countryside, foxes are known only as the insanely clever and bloodthirsty devourers of chickens who also happen to have toxic urine.

        Still, the Siberian ones do look pretty cute.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Only 6 grand.

          Get on it.

          It says they’ll use a litterbox if they live with cats but that they are mostly like dogs.

          What could possibly be more perfect than a dog that uses a litterbox?

      • Gloria Harrison says:

        Oh my god, those are cute.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Awwww. Sydney is too cute!
    I’m with you, Becky – sometimes I feel I love dogs too much. It’s a cliche but there truly is something god-like in them.
    The absolute devotion, the excitement of being alive, the being in the moment that they have.
    My doggy is not well trained. She isn’t the alpha dog of our pack – that would be my mean cat. I am afraid I have spoiled my dog, I know people disapprove of the way she has the run of the house and the pick of the furniture – but frankly, I don’t care. If you don’t like my dog sitting on my furniture when you come to visit me? Tough shit.
    Having said that – it is kind of embarassing when my dog jumps up on visitors and tries to smell their hair. What is that about??
    Be warned -don’t shampoo your hair before coming to visit me. Pepper will hold you down and sniff your head for at least five minutes when you walk in the door!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Funny. I was just reading the other day that Wirehaired Pointers are somewhat notorious for goofy behavior.

      What someone’s dog does to or on their furniture is no concern of mine. All my pets all my life have been allowed up on furniture. Sydney will probably not be allowed except when invited, just because I know I have to be careful with her and her sense of who is the boss of whom. As she is better trained and more obedient, she will probably get more liberties, but not for a while. “Earn your privileges” as Dad would always say.

      No, my issue has more to do with cases in which dogs bear the brunt of the punishment, negative consequences, or blame for what is really irresponsible ownership.

      The controversy surrounding Pitbulls is a good example, but just one example.

      Who knows about the hair-sniffing. They’re bred for hunting. She might just be predisposed to being nosey and sniffy.

      Of all the vices or questionable manners a dog might have, I’d consider a shampoo fetish pretty minor.

      Who doesn’t love the smell of clean hair?

  6. dwoz says:

    great piece, Becky!

    The aussie cattle dog is easily one of the smartest. I had one for a while…unceremoniously inherited, I’m a dumping-off-facility for rescue animals, it seems. This ACD, which was coincidentally named “foxy”, had learned to be alpha, and not only of the household…of the world.

    It would immediately, intensely, and utterly without malice tackle any child carrying food and steal it. (the food). It knew no boundaries. My own dogs had been raised with full bowls of on-demand food, which greatly simplified the whole feeding concept…until Foxy. Foxy would voraciously inhale every bit of everything, and quickly “taught” the others that they had to protect their food.

    The end of innocence. But temperament? This animal was a prince, as sweet and lovable as any companion you could make up.

    It would bolt more than it’s food…if it got outside unencumbered, it would bolt. Three-towns-away style bolt.

    After spending many evenings driving the back roads slowly with flashlights trained into the woods, hours of our lives gone searching for this creature, he got out one more time. One more time. We heard, through the grapevine, that a vet FIFTEEN MILES AWAY might have our dog, and that we better go get it because someone had fallen in love with him and was about to adopt him.

    I tried to imagine a better outcome.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, they’re Australian, and we’ve all seen Crocodile Dundee. Australians are generally rube-ish and feral. Sometimes they just go on “walkabout.”

      The independence, dominance, etc. are definitely hallmarks of the breed. Certainly traits that need to be properly channeled.

      So many herding dogs are bred to herd sheep and goats. Not ACDs. They have to herd cattle. And survive. So they’re a little…gumptious. I guess their breed lineage also includes dingos, and not too far back, so this is probably responsible for some of it. It’s usually given as a probable source for their distinctive “shriek.” Sydney was lucky enough to inherit it. It’s not her normal bark. It’s for special occasions, like 4:30 am and when she needs to argue with invisible banshees.

  7. Gloria Harrison says:

    “No one wants to have to re-home a baby.” It’s true. You think a rabbit is hard to offload.

    I have a fabulous book recommendation for you: The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete. Not only have I used this book, but I’ve given it as a gift to friends, to almost exclusively positive results.

    I couldn’t agree more that we’re animals. Okay, I mean, obviously there’s not really room for debate there, but I just wanted to clarify what camp I was in. As a matter of fact, I used some of the recommendations from the dog training book I recommend above to help establish order with my boys when they were smaller, when I lived with my ex-husband. Jim is six foot one and deep voiced. I noticed that T and I were more likely to respond to his commands and requests the first time, while they often argued with or completely ignored me. So, I went to the chapter in the dog training book about establishing myself as an alpha, and I tried the trick with making my voice deeper (as opposed to louder, as I’d been doing) and lo and behold, things began going much smoother.

    I highly recommend dog training books for raising kids. There, I said it.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      And why not? There will be a period of time in which my dog is, in fact, just as smart or smarter than my child.

      I mean, I might balk on withholding dinner from a crying baby, where I would refuse to give Sydney her dinner until she stopped barking at me to give it to her.

      But the similarities between raising a puppy and raising a human child are not lost on us.

      Just last weekend, I was hanging out with a friend’s twin boys, 18 months, and caught myself cutting deals with them for pieces of honey ham. “Stop whining. Stop whining…thank you! Good!!” then popping it in their little mouths.

      They’re no good at fetch, though.

      The book looks interesting. Syd’s already about 4.5 months, though, and that says it focuses on the first 3 months. Looks like they have other books out too–I might look into those.

      • Gloria says:

        Yes, get the book for older dogs. That’s the one that I had anyway. The monks’ approach to dog training is actually steeped heavily in dog psychology and the idea that dogs are a part of our family, etc. Reallly fantastic.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          How do a bunch of monks come to dog training, anyway? And where/what the hell is New Skete?

          WTF is up with these guys, Gloria????

        • Gloria says:

          Well, Becky, stealing from Wikipedia, I learn:

          As a monastic community, the Monks of New Skete live with the conviction that an authentic and vibrant monasticism is an essential ingredient to healthy Church life. By nature, the monastic vocation is contemplative and apostolic, challenging both the Church and the world at large to fuller life; therefore, they see their primary responsibility as being authentic monastics. However, they believe this cannot be done by simplistically reproducing previous expressions of monastic life. Monasticism has always incarnated itself within a particular cultural context, so throughout their history the monks have worked to express the mystery and dynamism of their vocation in a manner appropriate to modern culture and times.

          Working toward this end, the Monks’ daily schedule reflects an integrated blend of liturgical and personal prayer, work, study, and prudent openness to the world. Anchored in a daily cycle of matins and vespers (with Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days), they try to make themselves available to all who come to the monastery, in a manner that is in keeping with their vocation. Many people visit the monastery each year, either to make retreats, attend services, or visit the gift shop and grounds, or as dog customers.

          Furthermore, I read that the Monks of New Skete, an order of Orthodox Christian monks who train dogs. The monks, located in upstate New York, are known for their ability to train dysfunctional dogs as well as being breeders of German Shepherd puppies.

          I think their primary focus is on German Shepherds, as far as the animals that live amongst them in their monastic community. But their books are useful to just about any breed, if not every breed.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Hmmm.

          My question was too broad. Really, I think, what I was wondering about was “Skete.”

          I had no framework for comprehension. No scaffolding. “Skete” could have been a form of break dancing for all I knew. It kind of sounds like one…

          The information in this paragraph makes my confusion go away, from the wiki entry for “Skete”:

          A Skete is a monastic style community that allows relative isolation for monks, but also allows for communal services and the safety of shared resources and protection. It is one of three early monastic orders along with eremitic and coenobitic that became popular during the early formation of the Christian Church…The term Skete is most likely a reference to the Scetis valley region of Egypt where Skete communities first appear, but a few scholars have argued that it instead is a stylized spelling of the word ascetic.

          Skete monasticism largely died out in the middle ages, it looks like, explaining why these guys would call themselves “New” Skete.

          So, therefore, “New Skete” is not, like, “New Funk” or “New Hotness” or “New England”. It’s, like, a real thing with a history, not a made-up thing, and not a place.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Though that doesn’t do too much to explain how they ended up with dogs, but I guess dog training is a pretty isolated behavior with meditative qualities…I mean, I can see it.

        • Gloria says:

          Well, and from what I read in the book Jim had (which was published in the 70s, so I’m not sure if the bio has been updated), the monks incorporate the dogs into their religious practice and their everyday activities. They don’t really treat them as people, they treat them like dogs, which is to say that the dogs are honored for the pack mentality and the skills that they have. But dogs are given jobs and duties and on the grounds. The monks treat them like family and that philosophy plays heavily in their overall view of dog training. That’s really what drew me into their book. And their instruction is very pragmatic and in now way precious or touchy feely, which I liked too.

  8. Victoria Patterson says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE dogs. Hyper dog lover, right here. Syd is sooooo [email protected](*$$ cute. She’s so cute that I had to curse before even writing the word cute.

    My kids were born and raised with dog(s) in home, and we’re all subsequently dog crazy here.

    Congratulations on all your good news.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks, Victoria.

      I think being raised with/around animals is super important. I think it makes people better and more interesting human beings. I was raised in a barn (at least in a manner of speaking), so I never quite know how to interact socially with or relate to people who are indifferent towards animals and pets.

      They seem like aliens to me.

      I’d take a canine over one of those weirdos any day.

  9. Art Edwards says:

    Have you put this dog’s entire head in your mouth yet? That is the real test of a dog’s cuteness’s effect on you. If you’ve put its head in your mouth, you are completely under its cuteness spell.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I have not. But I have grabbed her head, pressed my mouth to it, and gone “NOMNOMNOMNOMNOMNOM”

      She thought that was hiLARious. Seriously. Big hit.

      • Art Edwards says:

        Yes, the NOMNOM is early onset cuteness fever. You’ve got it. I recommend reading about our environmental issues, Japan radiation, or your future chances of making a living with a liberal arts degree.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          None of those things frighten me. You know what frightens me?

          Nothing.

          Except sharks and jellyfish and Junebugs. And sudden, loud noises. And failure. And sometimes change, but only if I’m not the one instigating it. And haunted houses.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          And ruining my dog. Yes. Ruining my dog. At least the human kid can get a shrink.

  10. I remember one good reads member interuppting our group discussion with the totally off the topic comment: “Hey guys! I just tackled my dog and held him down while I smelled his feet. They smelled like corn chips!” I guess you might jump in with that someday in your next essay. 🙂

    • Becky Palapala says:

      You know…that may very well happen. I guess I’d never considered–or had simply feared–what my dog’s feet might smell like, but I suddenly find myself very curious.

      If I do undertake the research, I assure you, TNB will have exclusive rights to the story.

  11. Lorna says:

    Your Syd Vicious is adorable.

    We have a blue heeler and while he thinks he is the alpha dog among the humans, our little mutt princess doggie will put him in his place in a heartbeat and show him who’s boss. He is incredibly smart when it comes to learning tricks and will focus on a ball for up to a half hour waiting for you to throw it. But he is also extremely hyper, which can be annoying at times. Heelers need tasks and jobs in order to be happy. Our heeler gets grumpy when he’s ordered to go lay down. But he is getting old and his joints are getting achey so I suppose grumpiness comes along with the pain. Still, he’d fetch a ball all day if we humans had the patience for it.

    Good luck with your little Syd.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Absolutely. Both Aussies and ACDs need action and “work.” And Syd fights “wind-down” time at night, just like a human toddler. Gets bossy and fussy and everything. It’s pretty cute.

      We really wanted a dog we could take with us anywhere, and we do a lot of camping, boating, going to friends’ houses in the country, etc.

      I’m interested in trying agility with her, but it will depend on whether or not she gets better at focusing on me as she gets older. It won’t be any fun for either of us, I have a feeling, if we’re not good at it.

      And I love training in general. Especially when it’s fun stuff, not just boring obedience stuff. So if all else fails, I’ll just teach her a bunch of strange tricks with which to delight house guests, and that will be her job.

      Reasonably certain this dog will learn to retrieve beer from fridges and coolers at some point.

  12. Mary Richert says:

    “No one wants to have to re-home a baby.”
    Oh, Becky. This is why we love you.

    As for my human relationships … my husband and I are both probably dominant types. Each of us are in leadership roles at work and sometimes in social situations we butt heads while trying to guide the situation in a particular direction — like getting a group to pick a restaurant for dinner… why is that so fucking hard? At home though, I tend to let him take the dominant role most of the time (notice how I say “let him” which allows me to maintain my sense of control), although when I feel very strongly about something, I say as much, and I generally get my way. I’m not sure if that makes me dominant or not. According to some gender stereotypes, it just makes me a bitch.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Never let anyone call you “just” a bitch.

      Being a bitch takes hard work and dedication, and anyone who would belittle our efforts like that deserves nothing less than a solid bitching out.

  13. Mmmmmm. Social psychology and pictures of cute puppies. I’m so there. Sydney is ridiculously adorable.

    Best part: “I need her not to chew on my baby. Because that can end only in sadness. No one wants to have to re-home a baby.”

    Ahahahahahaha. It’s funny because it’s true.

    I love this one, Becky.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      “It was really cute and seemed pretty mild-mannered, but it kept tormenting our other pet. This one really needs a home without other animals. Preferably with a large yard for it to poop in. I’m pretty sure pooping is all it does. It just cries when the dog tries to play.”

  14. Amber says:

    This makes me feel like less of a terrible person for feeling that if my cat were to become jealous of any children I may have in the future, I would have serious trouble deciding who had to go. I mean, really, the cat’s been there for over a decade. I haven’t even met this hypothetical “baby” person.

    On another note, I have a blue heeler. She is 16-ish, blind, and unfailingly happy with life. She raised our pit bull and enjoys herding cats, dogs, and people of all ages. Nothing ever gets her spirits down and she hasn’t let blindness stop her neverending quest for belly rubs and food that may have been dropped on the floor. Heelers are all kinds of awesome. Yours will make you laugh for a very, very long time. I can guarantee that.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, at the end of the day, there’s really no reason why one shouldn’t be able to keep a dog, even if new family additions are a struggle at first.

      I suppose never say never, but in theory, any dog that’s even half-assed trained should be able to cope with a baby; beyond that, I would go to virtually ANY length to avoid having to give up a pet, including hiring a professional trainer, animal behaviorist, medium, shaman, etc.

      There are just so many options that don’t include having to kick anyone out. I’m able to joke about it, really, because the notion of giving either of them up is entirely off the table for me.

      I really have heard–well, except for dwoz up there–only good things about Heelers. Though Syd is only a half-breed, she definitely has a lot of Heeler characteristics, so here’s hoping they’re all the best ones. 🙂

  15. Jessica Blau says:

    That dog is SO cute! I almost always have a dog. And I’ve had two babies. One of my babies was easier than all of my dogs. One was way more canine. Sometimes when I’m calling my daughter I say the dog’s name instead. Everyone in the house does it. They’re just so much alike!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I’ve discovered that pet names are universal in our house. Terms of endearment, even some of our more inventive and unique-to-us-as-a-couple ones, are not something we reserve for one another.

      The dog gets them too.

      Since she’s female, she mostly gets the ones originally created for me, but after a couple of days, I was okay with it.

      Endearment is endearment is endearment. I should just be happy that my husband, who has never had dogs and is therefore not predisposed to doting on them, has bonded to her so quickly.

  16. Don Mitchell says:

    Nice, Becky.

    As a coincidence fan, I’ll report that directly across the street from where I’m typing is a Blue Heeler named, you got it, Sydney.

    And I’ll report that a couple of days ago Ruth and I were up on Mauna Kea and we had to open and go through a gate into maybe twenty horses. I drove through and Ruth’s job was to shut the gate, but a couple of the horses thought maybe it might be fun to go through the gate before it was closed. I had the joy of watching Ruth (5′ 1″ on a good day) move a couple of big horses back where they belonged. These were good-natured, curious horses but even so it was treat to see her moving them around by force of (good) will, some voice commands, and a hand on their great chests. But you at 11? I’d like to have seen that, too.

    Did you ever read Elizabeth Marshall Thomas — The Secret Life of Dogs?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Yeah. We knew when we decided on the name that it was well beyond likely that she would not be the first Blue Heeler and/or Aussie Shepherd named Sydney. We also considered Adelaide, and even Wooloomaloo (therefore “Lulu”) as a first name, but the prospect of a girl named “Syd” was just too adorable to us.

      I have not read The Secret Life of Dogs.

      Do tell.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Marshall’s book is basically a study of the social interactions of her dogs. She’s an anthropologist (and also one hell of a writer — see “Reindeer Moon,” her European Ice Age novel, which puts the ridiculous work of Jean Auel to shame) and so the subtitle might be “anthropologist looks at a pack of dogs.”

        Ruth, who knows a lot about dogs, didn’t like it because it struck her as unfeeling and not really entering the world of the dogs. I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or another, but I did find it interesting.

  17. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is awesome. I think I’ve actually gained a great deal of clarity about the nature of social power having read this. But mostly I’m just flipping out that you’re pregnant and have a new puppy. Holy moly, Becky. Jumping-up-and-down-with-hugs-and-high-fives-type congratulations!!

    My near-total Facebook neglect has is drawbacks. I’m so happy for you.

    And, as always, I love the way you lay down words. (And in this case dogs, and soon enough, babies.)

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Laying down babies. New human drops Sept. 13.

      It’s like being in studio with Dr. Dre, but I don’t get to be a millionaire or meet Eminem. I just get to eat a lot of fudgecicles.

      You won’t catch me complaining.

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        “I Need A Doctor” is what I’ll play when your water breaks, if I get to MC. Fudgecicles on da house, yo.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, not about the fudgecicles, I mean.

  18. D.R. Haney says:

    I’ll just have to add my voice to the chorus on Syd. Beautiful dog.

    I’ve never read much about alphas — their traits and so on — or given much consideration to it, I suppose because I always figured, in the human world at least, it’s pretty obvious who the alphas are. The people who attract a lot of followers — they’re the alphas as far as I’m concerned, whether they’re quiet or they’re loud or they’re small or they’re tall, etc. I’m speaking of attraction based on social interaction, not through media, which allows for manipulation. We’ve all heard of public figures, allegedly charismatic, who are nothing special in reality.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      For some reason, I didn’t get an email notification for this. Totally would not have known you commented if I hadn’t happened to see it on the recent comments scroll earlier this morning.

      Get it together, wordpress!

      Where the alpha situation becomes interesting to me is the point at which one can (if one can) simply affect that kind status and therefore have it, and with what types of other people.

      A even a fairly timid individual can do it in the human/dog dynamic and at least superficially in the human/human dynamic.

      I mean, it all sounds sort of gross and “dress for the job you want to have!” or some other kind of obnoxious banal yuppie lifecoach B.S., but it comes down to my interest in power dynamics and the way creatures (especially people, since I am people) manipulate them, why, how freely, etc.

      Why do we listen to the people we do, respect the people we do, value the traits we do…I dunno. Goes on and on.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Ah. I get it.

        John Kennedy supposedly made very careful study of charismatic people in order to make himself charismatic.

        Of course I realize that charisma and being an alpha aren’t one and the same, but I would think that most alphas aren’t short on charisma.

        Also, I remember reading something very, very interesting about Dwight Eisenhower. There was a study done about high-ranking military officers and their facial characteristics around the time Eisenhower was at West Point, and someone — I think it was those responsible for the study — either met with, or studied photos of, all of the cadets then at West Point and pointed to Eisenhower as having the facial characteristics associated with generals and the like. If I’m remembering correctly, Eisenhower wasn’t considered a top student at West Point, and the administration there was like, “What? Are you out of your mind?” Well, cut to a few years later and…

        But I do think there’s a relationship between alphas and physiology, just as there’s a relationship between physiology and any sort of destiny. That’s the subject of my (projected) next novel, in fact, or part of it. I read an interview with Madonna once — it was the one Norman Mailer did with her — and she said, “If I’d been an inch shorter, I might have been a housewife in Michigan.” The idea being, of course, that she’s already very small, and if she’d been any smaller, it might have been hard to convince people she was a sex bomb, as she was first marketed.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, it’s interesting. Especially when you start thinking about new modes of or platforms for power negotiation. Like the internet.

          I’m reasonably tall–at least solidly above average–at 5’9″ (close to 6′ in most shoes I enjoy wearing), and this must have some effect on people who know me or who speak to me in person, but does this matter at all online?

          Does it matter for people to just sort of abstractly know that I am tall? My attitude towards people changes, I know, in simply knowing if they’re tall or short.

          And then beyond that, is it likely that out of habit from having a physically more commanding presence, tall people “act” commanding even when their height or posture doesn’t enter into the physical equation?

          For my part, I’ve only been tall since I’ve been an older teenager. Most of my formative life I was very average (not to mention, a wisp). So it’s not like I feel like I can blame my more overbearing tendencies on a history of being physically imposing in any way.

          Likewise, my husband is 6’1″. If I stand very close to the dog and sort of lean forward, doing my best job of “towering” over her, she becomes super submissive. When my husband does the same thing, she completely ignores him. Barks and play-bites his toe. Total disregard.

          So, you know. It all makes perfect sense until it doesn’t make any sense at all.

  19. pixy says:

    mr. fuzzy monkey. mhahahahahhaa!

    this is fantabulous. and true. the physical dominance thing… the unspoken “get out of my space you asshole”… i have that and can’t control it. maybe THAT’S why i’m single! OOPS!

    i had a puppy once. a girl puppy named cowboy because she was one. i lived alone and wanted her for company. i crate-trained her and got up with her at 1am and 3am and 5am to let her deficate outside. after 8 weeks i gave her to a better family because my catholic guilt started ripping my heart out. i would leave her in the crate for 9 hours a day (with an hour break at lunch) and then want to go see a show or meet with friends or something and have to put her back in there! that’s no way for the raddest puppy EVER to live. so i gave her to someone that had one of her littermates and a huge yard. she’s tres happy now.
    i learned that she responded well when i would growl at her when she was being a cunty puppy and when i would put her on her back gently, my hand lightly on her chest and stare hard between her eyes until she relented. those games made my heart and my brain hurt.

    dang.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Cunty puppy! Totally.

      Sydney gets cunty. “Stop being so bitchy!” I say. Then she barks in my face.

      I did do the on-the-back submission exercise with her–was encouraged to by my puppy kindergarten trainer just to “really drive home” the idea that I was in charge of the joint, since she realized immediately that the dog and I were in some kind of Mexican standoff for ultimate rule.

      It worked–at least according to what I was told would be the signals it was working, but man, I felt like Cruella DeVille. :-/

      Puppies man.

      Puppies.

      I want 12.

      • pixy says:

        the growling thing… if you aren’t too self-conscious, i say give it a shot.
        it worked surprisingly well while crate training at night time. she hated being crated at night and would whine and whimper, such a freaking booger. and one night i growled at her. like, from the angry animal pit of my stomach growled at her. and she stopped. and slept. she just wanted to know that mama was there.

        but it can’t be a pussy growl from your throat. it has to be assertive and from your gut to get the point across.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          She’s kind of old enough now that I’m worried doing that would initiate an outright confrontational rather than leadership relationship. I guess at about 14-16 weeks, they’re at a point developmentally where they stop responding to those kinds of “in-litter” cues and have to be treated, socially, like an adult dog. Like, you’re supposed to stop “yiping” when they nip at you since they no longer take it as a cue to be more gentle and begin seeing it as a sign of weakness.

          It’s around this time, too, that they go through the puppy equivalent of the teen years. Anywhere from about 4-5 months up to 8-9 months, I think. So right now, at about 19 weeks, she’s, like, asking to be dropped off three blocks from the mall, throwing nylabones at the door as I yell at her through it about the impropriety of keeping pieces of tree bark in the house, etc.

          Preteens. What can you do?

          I may do the submission thing with her one or two more times before she gets too big, but I think…I’m pretty sure…I’m winning. Like, I hope it won’t be necessary.

  20. That dog looks delicious. Yum yum.

    You’re right. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Those owners, I feel, should probably be the ones who get taken to the vet and put down when their incompetence causes an accident, and not the poor dog.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Doesn’t she though? I’ve only ever nibbled on her ears, but I have to assume the rest of her is just as tasty.

      Don’t even get me started on what I think should happen to pet owners whose incompetence/malice/apathy causes physical harm to come to dogs.

      Allowing that accidents happen and that no one’s perfect, I think some people are willfully less perfect than others. They’re the ones who need to look out for me.

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