She learned well from her parents. When she misbehaved there were consequences, when she did well she was rewarded. Her siblings, all different personalities, taught her about diversity. She was patient and quiet with them, ever observant and when she wanted something was able to get it without a lot of fanfare.
She moved in with a new family when she was 12-weeks-old and by one-year-old I discovered that she had a natural knack for leading a pack. She could read subtle body language, such as a tail erect, back hair on-end, two bodies doing a slow, calculated dance like two boxers ready to fight. When it became apparent to her that a conflict was going to escalate to a full-blown fight she would walk between the two offenders, slow to a stop, her body held high, her tail up and still. She would sniff the air and look right and left but not exactly at them. That was all she had to do to restore peace. Invariably the two offenders would get the message and go off to play.
That is Sophie, my nine-year-old German shepherd, Rhodesian ridgeback mix. She is the alpha of my dogs and I am so blessed to be able to witness such a gentle and effective leader.
Advantages of a pecking order
Don’t get me wrong, I am boss but it is clear that she is second in command. It’s like a well run company, military or family. We all need leaders because not everyone wants to lead and not everyone wants to follow. Having a good alpha in my little unit is awesome. But periodically I also learn what it is like when someone challenges the whole system of hierarchy. Because I foster dogs for , occasionally changes in the pack test the harmony of our little society.
Zack, a purebred beagle was given up by his owner because their house went into foreclosure and they couldn’t take him with to the apartment they were renting. He was brought to animal control where he pined for his lost family for two weeks, curled in a ball, in his dog run, rarely lifting his head or even eating. Hearing his plight I agreed to take Zack in.
From the beginning Zack needled Sophie. He picked on her by barking loudly at her and shoving his nose forcefully by her rear end nipping tauntingly in the air. I scolded him and pushed him back each time but it didn’t seem to matter. Sophie let me handle it for a while. She would look back at him, even give a little growl but that was that.
Learning from our pets
But after two weeks of his bullying she had enough and one night after a good rousting by Zack she went off on him. The fight looked and sounded far worse than it actually was. No one was hurt but it sure scared the big ego out of Zack.
As the ingenious system of a well-run hierarchy works Zack now respects Sophie as the leader. He doesn’t bark at her or nip at her rear end. He watches her closely and even steps aside when she walks by. He actually seems a bit more relaxed. Zack had to be taught that every good society has a pecking order and he needed to get in line. Once more peace is restored to this fragile system and all’s well and frolicking in my yard.
We can learn so much from our dogs.
If you have an interesting, remarkable or miraculous animal tale you’d like to share with me please email me.