Leader of the Pack

This year’s Westminster dog show was recently won by an affenpinscher named Banana Joe, a little dog with black hair that sticks out all around his eyes, his nose, his face. At first I thought he’d gotten his paw stuck in a light socket, electrifying his mane, giving him that look of being scared half to death. I’d thought I’d seen Banana Joe before, or another animal that looked just like him. Then I had

Cover of "The Wolf Man (Special Edition) ...

Cover via Amazon

it – The Wolf Man, the 1941 movie version with Lon Chaney. The hairy resemblance was so close, there’s no way Banana Joe isn’t descended from the wolf man.

Show dogs are groomed to get attention, some outlandishly so. This year there was, among others, a giant cream-colored mop and a sissy with a French “updo” reminiscent of that poufy ball of hair on Sarah Palin’s head. Based on his looks, Banana Joe seemed an unlikely “best in show,” but he was a real crowd pleaser. Mr. Personality plus.

If there’s one thing you can say about all show dogs, it’s that they’re well-behaved, despite the attention, the noise, and strangers poking and exposing them – the humiliation of public display. Fingers in their ears. Their teeth and gums examined and pulled. Measurements taken, bearing evaluated, hindquarters prodded, tails raised, anuses exposed – all ignobly displayed as hoards of onlookers watch. Only vets get more personal than this, sans an audience numbering in the millions.

Years ago, Bill was asked to help another agent search for a Norwegian Elkhound, a dog whose tail naturally exposes the anus to best advantage.  The dog had been

Norwegian Elkhound by the river

Norwegian Elkhound by the river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

stolen from a dog show in Maryland. This theft represented an unusual violation of the ITSP (Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property) statute. While the FBI doesn’t get involved in dognapping cases as a rule, the statute’s guidelines include stolen property worth over $5000. The elkhound more than met that qualifier.

To the untrained eye, these dogs look pretty much the same, a lot like Siberian Huskies, but the missing Elkhound had one distinguishing feature that set it apart from other Elkhounds in much the same way as a fingerprint. The owner provided a photo of the feature by which they could ID his dog – it was a photo of his one-of-a-kind anus. Is this a career-maker, or what?

But for all they cost to own and maintain, the money these show dogs bring in, and the status they garner in the eyes of canine elitists, in the end, they’re still just dogs. Dogs with animal instincts sometimes tough to contain.

It’s these unleashed instincts that Cesar Millan, the reigning dogdom behavior specialist, turns his

Cesar Millan, the dogwhisperer

Cesar Millan, the dogwhisperer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

attention to when dogs become problems for their owners. Millan can’t help a dog modify its behavior if its owners don’t alter their own habits to gain dominance over their pets. Dogs are pack animals and their owners are part of their pack. But it’s the owner, not the dog, who should be leading it.

I’m acquainted with two families whose dogs are poorly socialized and pretty much completely undisciplined. They hump anyone with a leg, they jump all over people, they bark uncontrollably if shut in another room, and most things, including food, must be put out of reach – all because their owners can’t say no with authority.

Those dogs have been irresponsibly raised and are largely uncontrolled; they don’t stop the unacceptable behavior when told to do so. If you’ve got to carry a dog around to keep him from misbehaving, if your dog doesn’t respond to “no” the first time, if your dog puts his nose or paws on the table or helps himself to whatever he wants, you’ve got a problem others can see even if you can’t.

And if your dog growls at you when he doesn’t get his way because he knows he can count on your refusal to take control, it’s long past time to call Cesar Millan and learn to take charge. To become the Alpha Dog.

Mojo and Laura

Laura took Mojo (her mostly shepherd, partly sheltie mix) to the dog park a few days ago and while Mojo was otherwise engaged in the surrounding flora, a dog somewhat bigger than Mojo took a running leap and jumped on Laura. She barely managed to remain upright. The dog’s owner just laughed saying that’s why he wore his ratty coats to the dog park – in lieu of apologizing for not controlling his dog. She wanted to say she expected pet owners to keep their dogs under control, this being a dog park notwithstanding, but thought better of it given any number of the surrounding dog owners might take offense. She’d never let Mojo jump on someone else. I’d be surprised if he even tried.

Mojo understands his limits. When in doubt, he looks to the alpha dog of his pack – Laura – for confirmation. Not the other way around.

You don’t do a dog any favors by catering to its every whim, by allowing it to growl at you, by letting it gain the upper hand. You are supposed to be the alpha dog and assume the responsibilities that come with that position. In principle, the same thing applies to children. Providing you take charge, children follow your lead. If you don’t, children develop as alpha dogs, and your life revolves around doing their bidding.

There are way too many situations like this where lopsided family dynamics have taken root, sending forth thorns instead of flowers.

And you can say your dog won’t bite you, but one day he just might. To remind you who’s the boss. It does happen occasionally because they are just dogs, animals that live by their instincts if they aren’t trained to curb them.

The Banana Joes of the dog kingdom aren’t alpha dogs. They do the bidding of their owners and trainers. They do what they are told, and when. You don’t get to be top dog by being unruly or ferociously independent.

And for the hard cases, there’s always Cesar Millan.

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