Saturday, March 26, 2011

Power Struggle

Good Saturday morning!  I, of course, am teaching lessons.  You are likely relaxing with your coffee.  That's ok.  I'll have Monday off when you're back at work.  See, it all works out.

Right now, there's a bit of a power struggle going on at the farm.  All creatures, humans and animals alike, organize themselves in some form.  In these organizations, there are leaders and followers.

In horses it's called a herd.  In dogs it's called a pack.  On the farm with my Bible College employees, it's called a herd of Christians.  Although, Dod lobbied for a "Gaggle of Christians" as in a gaggle of geese.  But, we're on a horse farm, not a goose farm.

In all groups, a leader emerges.  On the farm, I am the human leader. I am the leader among the humans and the animals.

In my herd of horses, it would probably be Merry.  In horses, like dogs, the females tend to be dominant.  However, if there's an intact stallion in the herd, he may be the leader.  He is in herds of wild horses.  But, since all my boys are "fixed" or gelded, it would likely be Merry.  Although, Tar would give her a run for her money.

In my dogs, the pack leader has always been Spot.  He raised Coffee and Killer himself.  Although they are not biologically his offspring, they are defiantly his pups.  He trained them beautifully for me.  His methods, at times, were not so lovely.

He did the normal stuff adult dogs do with pups.  He barked and snarled at them.  He grabbed them.  He took their toys away from them.  He herded them around.  He "countermanded" their markings.  But, he took it one step further with Killer.

Despite Killer's name and development into a fine guard dog, as a pup, Killer was very passive.  Coffee would steal his food.  She would drag him around by the ear.  This was nothing compared to Spot's methods.

When Killer would urinate, not only would Spot have to "negate" it, he would negate Killer, too.  Yep, while little Killer was taking a wee, Spot would lift his leg and wiz right on little Killer himself.  That's some harsh training.  That really says, "I'm in charge here, boy."

But, Killer passively accepted his place in the pack.  Spot was the leader, the alpha dog; Coffee was the alpha female in training to take over when Spot passed on; and poor Killer was tertiary--definitely number three.

Well, recently, as Spot has aged, his aging has become more obvious.  He had spinal surgery in August.  That saved his life.  He could use hip surgery, but at 13, my vet, Doc, and I agree we're going to avoid hip surgery as long as possible.  Spot doesn't seem in pain.  He kind'a hangs low on the rear quarters when he's at rest, but he can still run and play when he wants.

Spot and Coffee have always played dominance games.  It's Spot way of training her to be a leader.  He still wins.  He still grabs her by the neck and pins her down.  That's what dogs do.

If Coffee wanted to harm Spot at this point in her life, she could. He outweighs her by 10 lbs, but he's no longer as physically strong as he once was.  I think Coffee knows this.  I've seen her run interference for him with other young dominant dogs before.  Coffee still respects her pack leader.

Little Killer isn't so little any more.  Spot may still negate Killer's markings, but no one steals from Killer anymore.  Not Spot, not Coffee, no animal steals from Killer anymore.

On the other hand, I will take anything I want from Killer.He will "drop it" on command.  This is necessary with Chows, remember.  They are bossy, dominant dogs.  They will dominate their owners with no problem if you don't assert yourself.

Unfortunately, as is normal when your alpha dog ages, it creates an upset in the balance of power in the pack.  Coffee may still treat Spot with deference, but Killer has other ideas.

Killer is the one who got peed on after all.  Now, he's ready to make his move.  If Killer can't be number one, then by golly he's going to be number two.  In his mind, he's just fine with old Spot falling all the way into third place.

Killer has growled at Spot around their rawhide bones. He's stolen Spot's bone.  He's snatched a biscuit that was tossed in the the air for Spot to catch.  He's tried to snatch a  reward biscuit being given to Spot for performing the command, "sit" which is now very difficult for him with his bad hip.

I've verbally reprimanded Killer.  I don't tolerate this behavior among my dogs no matter who's the low dog on the totem pole that day.  Growling and food guarding behaviors aren't allowed.  That's just setting up the road map to a disaster called a dog fight.

This change in the power dynamic of a pack is usually hard for owners to see.  It's hard for me, too.  I adore Spot.  I'd probably give him a kidney to transplant if it would help.  But, this is the difference in me and a lot of owners of animals...I know I'm the leader.

I have enough alpha mojo going on for all of us here at the farm.  Those who know me are again saying, "Yeah, tell me something I don't know about you."  I can correct a horse with a stern look.  I can do it with dogs and children, too.  No yelling necessary, but man do I have a look.  I can yell if I have to, but it rarely comes to that.

Spot will relinquish his position in his pack when he's damn good and ready and not a moment before.  Spot knows I'm the alpha be all and end all around here, anyway.  He's sorta like the Vice-President--well probably smarter than most US VPs in recent history, at least.

So what do I do when Killer begins to make a grab for power?  I do what any good alpha does, I calmly, quietly, but assertively, take away the treats.  I remove privileges with no fanfare, just cool and calm.  They get the message, believe me. 

When you get worked up, yelling, crying, all red in the face, you are giving your power away, folks.  Be it with humans or animals.  When you give into your emotions, you start giving up your power.

Is there a time and a place to strategically use your emotions?  Yes.  I raise my voice to an animal or a child on very rare occassion, but it happens when I want to really make an impression.  Intensity of voice and redness in the face are also rare and chosen to make an impression.  Crying?  If I ever cry, you will never see it.  Ever. 

In situations that are about leading, don't cry folks.  If US Speaker of the House John Boehner were a woman, he'd be voted out of office in a minute.  The man cries so much I wonder if he needs medical attention.  Tar would rule that poor man so fast it wouldn't be funny.  It would be pitiful and the ol' boy would probably cry.  Don't cry in matters of leadership.  Ok, back to the more specific topic at hand...the power struggle between Killer and Spot.

When I've made a leadership deision and removed the toys and treats, Killer looks very contrite and cute. It's a ploy.  Killer ain't no dumb dog.  He looks like, "Well, gee, I didn't know. Can I please have a biscuit if I roll over now?"

If he or Coffee are ever really misbehaving, like when Coffee jumped on my white 1200 thread count sheets the other night, it's the "roll over" command.  I don't have to get down and force them to roll over like you do a puppy.  I just give the command and the look.

I'm working on this with Pip, but he's a defiant little beast.  He requires me to physically roll him over and hold him there giving him the puppy treatment.  Plus "the look" doesn't work on Pip because he's blind.  So, it's the puppy treatment.  He'll learn one day, by golly. 

Why?  Roll over is total submission for a dog.  It's playing dead.  It's defeat.  It's saying, "I give up."

I don't yell.  I don't hit.  I give the look and sternly say, "Roll over."  They don't get a biscuit for it either.  I don't care how contrite and cute they look.

Of course, Spot never misbehaves.  He's the perfect dog.  He's absolutely obedient and considerate.  He knows which side his bread is buttered on.  Spot never gets in a power struggle with the true alpha around here--ME.

Even though I manage the behaviors and calmly assert myself as alpha, I know that Spot is getting old.  I know he won't realistically live forever.  But, I'm considering bionics for him.  Yep, Spot could be the bionic dog and live forever.

It's that or they better get a really big needle and put me to sleep when they put Spot down.  I've told Doc this.  He said, "I better start looking for a big needle then."  He believes in giving an animal some dignity.  He wouldn't bionic Spot up for me.

Gee, I'm gonna miss Doc.  Cause Spot and I are going to live forever...just like the theme song from that old movie Fame!

Have a good weekend folks!  Thanks for reading!

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