I am alpha-wolf. Hear me whimper.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite authors was James Herriot, who wrote wonderful nostalgic stories about his life as a veterinarian in England’s Yorkshire Dales.

In those days, my family didn’t have a dog, nor did we live on a farm. Herriot, on the other hand, was a highly-trained domestic animal expert who often found need to put his entire arm directly inside a cow. Suffice to say, I regarded him as a pretty safe authority when it came to the general behaviour of all creatures great and small.

You’re telling me you’re gonna stick your arm WHERE?

Herriot frequently wrote about the majesty and nobility of dogs. However, now that I am older and endure a dog of my own, I now believe that:

1) James Herriot didn’t actually own a dog, and was pretty much just guessing about how they might act, or

2) James Herriot was on drugs, or

3) The dogs he wrote about in his books were on drugs, or

4) James Herriot is actually the pseudonym for a group of talented Labrador Retrievers who somehow taught themselves to type.

As I mentioned, as a little kid I didn’t get a lot of real-world experience with dog ownership, although I remember our family briefly owning a dog when I was around six-years-old. The dog was a beagle mix of some sort that we obtained from the animal shelter, presumably because his previous owner, Satan, found him too difficult to manage.

This particular beagle had some very specific anger management issues coupled with a unique fondness for urinating on furniture – and when I say “fondness,” I mean that if pissing on things was an Olympic sport, this dog would be Michael Phelps. He lasted in our house for about a week (the dog I mean, not Michael Phelps) before my father returned him to the shelter. I don’t recall if we had the dog long enough to properly name him. I just remember the moniker my father stuck him with, which was “that little son of a bitch.”

My dog stories don’t exactly match up to those of Mr. Herriot, is what I’m saying.

Our current family pet is Superdog, a Japanese Chin-Shih Tzu (gesundheit) cross, whom my daughters adore. Perhaps his most notable features are his big brown soulful eyes. When he looks at my daughters, his eyes tell them, “I will love you for eternity…especially if I can have the rest of that cookie.”

When he looks at me though, the message is far less benign. His eyes say, “Hello human person. I’d like you to do something about the temperature of the water in my drinking bowl. Lukewarm doesn’t do it for me. And while you’re at it, I left a steamer in the yard for you this morning that looks like it came out of a Tasmanian Devil. Enjoy.”

When Superdog was a puppy, I decided early on that I wasn’t going to surrender in any battle of wills against a nine-pound furball who still gets confused by stairs. I was determined to train him so well that, if things didn’t work out for him in the Ad-libb3d household, he could always fall back on a career as a canine officer with the local SWAT team.

Every book I researched on the subject made the process sound simple. According to popular academic theory, the first step in dog training was to establish myself as the “alpha dog” or “lead wolf” in our metaphorical household pack. In other words, I simply had to convince Superdog that I was the dominant male of the family and entitled to all the deference and privilege that the office entails.

However, given that our metaphorical household pack also includes two fair-haired daughters who, whenever I make any attempt to flex my alpha-wolf authority, openly laugh in my face – and, in fact, just last week took turns throwing peanut M-and-M’s at my head when I ordered them to fold laundry – this concept was doomed from the start.

So as a backup plan, Superdog and I enrolled in Wednesday night dog obedience class.

The first Wednesday, we owners attended without our pets. The teacher was a pleasant woman with an uncanny ability for sizing up people and their dogs.

“Dogs never fail my class, only people fail,” she warned, making it disturbingly clear from the outset whose side she was on.

One exasperated woman constantly interrupted our orientation with anxious questions about her dog, which was, I gathered, some dreadful destructive monster that kept its entire family in a constant state of terror. The woman’s demeanor was not unlike JoBeth Williams in the movie Poltergeist when, exhausted and nerve-wracked, she finally goes looking for an exorcist to rescue her family.

The woman showed up to class the following Wednesday with a little blond Chihuahua, who proved to be ridiculously easy to train. The teacher looked at Superdog on the first night and told me, “He’s got a stubborn streak in him. It’s going to take a lot of work to make any progress with him.”

I told you she was uncanny.

I came to dread Wednesday nights. Our classes were held in a large downtown warehouse, where we owners would move around in a circle with our dogs while people sat along the sidelines in folding chairs and laughed at us. I don’t know who these people were or where they came from. Maybe they just came down to the warehouse on any given night just to watch whatever happened to be playing.

I would have laughed at the spectacle too, were it not for the fact that Superdog and I were a central part of the entertainment. Week after week, session after session, I watched as everyone’s dog learned to skillfully execute every command at a snap of their owner’s finger. By week four, even Jobeth Williams lady’s Chihuahua was a poster model of puppy success, dutifully marching around like the sergeant major in a military color guard, while Superdog and I mainly just spent our time trying to get from one corner of the room to another without tripping each other with the leash.

Oh, so it’s jump THEN bite…I was doing jump AND bite…that explains everything!

As you remember, dogs couldn’t flunk the program, only people could, so Superdog was, in the end, entitled to a diploma. Me, I received only a slightly ripped receipt for the payment of the classes and a sad, disappointed look from the instructor. Superdog and I slinked away, wholly accepting of the fact that Superdog is far better suited to sitting on the sofa nuzzled up to one of my girls than, say, defending our estate from invaders or rescuing children after they’ve fallen down a well.

Superdog’s nearly eleven now, and despite our differences and his steadfast refusal to do anything I ask of him, we manage to get along in an ongoing state of mutual ambivalence. After all, he’s never been “my” dog, but rather “their” dog, referring to my children. And in fairness, they love him to death and he loves them back, and I’m certain he would do his level best to defend them both with his life if it came down to it, even if the best he could do is bite someone in the bottom part of their lower ankle.

In his eyes, I’ve never achieved “alpha-wolf” status, and I know I never will. But hey, there’s always a silver lining if you look hard enough.

At least he doesn’t piss on the furniture.

24 thoughts on “I am alpha-wolf. Hear me whimper.

  1. The trainer told me I should put a bullet through my dog’s head so as to put him out of his misery. Seems he thought my dog had serious mental health issues. I say it’s because my Wheaten kicked his Beagle’s ass. Just between you and me, my dog is bipolar and has a tendency towards mischief, but that seemed extreme in terms of a resolution. Just because my dog enticed the trainer’s perfect beagle to break ranks and run amok on the training field. I warned him that my dog was not ready for “off leash” exercises. Ah, good times…

    Your posts crack me up. Thanks for the chucks!

  2. Awwww, too cute! My dog is 12 and has turned into a grumpy old man. My roommate’s dog is just a year and she has come to regard myself and my dog as her pack, which means she can hunt me down in a forest (seriously, she did that once, it was amazing) and flips out if we’re all out hiking and my pup and I go a different way than her. Dogs are awesome.

  3. Love the ending. My mom sent our dog away to a boot camp when she was a puppy because she was gnawing at all the floorboards in the house. I was probably about as upset and heartbroken as the dog was, but she did come back better behaved. …I really just think it was because she was afraid of being left somewhere with strangers again.

    • Yeah, for all my griping, he’s overall pretty low maintenance and he’s been great with the kids for over ten years. I suppose, too, if I wanted an ROTC capable animal, we shouldn’t have gone Shih-Tzu. Thanks for stopping by, Katie. Always a pleasure!

    • Thanks Marylin. Herriot was a pretty amazing writer, for certain. I always loved how he could spend so much time describing the scenery, but still never bore me with it.

      But you’re right…give me a cat over a cow any day of the week. Thanks for stopping in!

  4. “As a little kid I didn’t get a lot of real-world experience with dog ownership,” that line sums it up for me. I never had a pet dog growing up, and to be honest, I don’t think I want one now. I can’t get over my fears of being bitten. My kids may cause me to cave. They have been begging for a dog for the past two years. On a side note, I wanted to congratulate you for getting freshly pressed. Great job!

    • That’s exactly why we own a dog — my girls wore me down to a point where picking up dog poo seemed less of a hassle than listening to their pleading.

      I’ll admit it hasn’t been too bad. If nothing else, he’s good blog fodder. :)

    • Ah, yes, I believe that’s a famous quote from Sir Alfred Schnauzer, esteemed canine expert and dog trainer from the mid-1800s. He published extensive and very opinionated journals on the topic “Felines: the Scourge of the Earth.”

      I’ve always felt his writing seemed a little biased.

  5. How did I miss this! You aren’t showing up in my reader. I’m going to have to unfollow you then re follow you. Grrr. Anyhoo~ This is so funny! Super Dog and Daisy the Wonder Mutt would be great pals! She can be such a little bitch! She will bark and squeak like she’s on crack until her demands are met~ usually because she wants a game of “herdball” up and down the hallway, chase the tennis balls that daddy putts over and over and over with a golf club. She can do this for hours. Another nice one. :-) Good work!

  6. Ah, yes, the unruly dog obedience class dogs — not that ours were ever like that. I had to go to class with our first dog, because my husband was the alpha and the dog was beta, and I was lucky to have a spot anywhere in the house. That was the class where the trainer hollered at me in front of everyone in the class, “ARE YOU SCARE OF THAT DOG, MISS?!” Payback time many years later, when my current 100-pound lab-mix baby adopted me as his favorite, so my husband decided to be the one to go to obedience class with him after we adopted him (the dog was 7 months old and about 70 pounds at that point when we adopted him from the shelter). My baby was very well-behaved in class, so I was told, so when my husband was going to the last class and “graduation ceremony”, I attended class with our sons. During the last exercise, the owner is supposed to sit-stay the dog, walk across the room, and then call the dog who dutifully gallops to the owner and sits right in front of him. My husband sit-stayed my baby, called him, and then as the dog (a/k/a my baby) galloped dutifully across the room he caught a glimpse of me sitting in that row of folding chairs along the side, got a grin on his face and immediately beelined to say hi. The look on my husband’s face was priceless — the trainer says in front of everyone, “DIDN”T YOU PRACTICE THIS AT HOME?” :-) Life would be so dull without our furry companions. ~ Kat

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