Our dog Lily gives me a lot of grief. She’s an assertive dog, always vying with me, I assume, for the alpha female role in our household. She’s very wily and has a packet of one-up-manship moves. She delays obeying or doesn’t obey, or obeys in a slant way. She loves to fetch the paper but will drop it at my feet or toss it to the side. When she’s wanting more snacks, she blocks my path repeatedly, but assumes a sitting position, head down, eyes up, what I call a hang-dog look. This is not behavior I’ve encouraged but it’s apparently inborn. I thought that giving her extra attention would soften her behavior. I pet her more often. If she doesn’t do one of her tricks well (she likes doing tricks), I give her the reward anyhow. Sometimes I get in the floor with her, so we’re on a par. I put my forehead on hers and hum. So far, nothing has come from that, as far as I can tell.
Last week I checked a book from Trails Regional Library titled The Dog Who Loves Too Much, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. He addresses many problems with canine companions—separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms, aggression, dominance. I learned that my gut instinct of how to deal with a problem dog was wrong. Over-petting is absolutely a mistake. Petting is a reward, a prime response for a well behaved animal. That hurt to hear. I dislike withholding affection. It seems cruel. Too, getting on the same level as an animal can actually trigger aggression. Pets want and need to know their place in the hierarchy. They can handle easily being the omega, but if they have to be the alpha, then they’ll rise to the occasion. Someone has to do it. If I waver in my role, Lily will assume it. I’m still uncertain that this is correct, but I was planning to test it gradually.
This afternoon, something happened that makes me wonder again. I was going to take a nap upstairs. Lily came along, but she becamet agitated. She paced a little, and looked as if a ghost might be around. I assured her everyting was all right, and went in the bedroom. She came in and sat by the bed, her back to me, facing the doorway. I said, “It’s okay, Lily. Okay. Go to bed.” She didn’t obey me. I listened and didn’t hear anything or smell anything. But in a few minutes I arose and went in the hallway. In a few seconds I heard the sharp beep of a smoke alarm with a battery going out. I was tickled with Lily and praised her. She wasn’t soothed. I removed the batteries and went back to bed. She repeated her safeguarding, rigid by my bed, with her back to me, facing the door. So, I arose again and soon discovered another battery beeping. I took those batteries out and returned to bed. I told her what a good girl she was. She wasn’t impressed. She sat by my bed for a while, looking toward the hall. Gradually she relaxed and after a while trotted out and to her bed. I fell asleep very easily then, though no alarms but Lily were working.
I don’t know if Lily was being alpha or omega, but she was being so good. The sound was strange and she wasn’t leaving her post. Her post was by me. How wonderful. She and I have had our troubles and will continue to, I’m sure. She’s so smart and wily and willful. But! When we first got her, I told Baird (my husband) that I couldn’t handle her and I thought we couldn’t keep her. He said “I love her.” I remember exactly how he sounded. It moved me very much. I feel that way, too.