Being alpha means being strong, confident and brave so I knew I was in trouble with Sandy. She wasn’t looking for a new family. She was unimpressed by my former alpha skills. She was too smart for my own good.
I am not a physically strong person. Of course with a puppy I start out stronger. Then I work really hard to never let them figure out that their strength has surpassed my own.
Sandy was well aware of our strength differential. One walk was enough to show her that. She is much stronger than she looks.
She plays a wicked game of tug, too. Wicked enough that I once had to have the chiropractor work on my shoulder.
Because I lack physicality, I have always relied on my brain. I read a book (Ha-ha! Human superpower!) And by reading this book, I learned a trick to win at tug of war. That impressed her, although she was suspicious and looked at me like I’d pull a fast one. I’m okay with that.
Whatever it takes.
Let me be honest: I’m not brave. I freeze. I flee. But fight, not so much.
Unless you threaten those I care about. Then I am recklessly, stupidly brave.
And that’s how I ultimately won over Sandy
She was a polite guest because being polite got her treats and attention. She obeyed if she knew I was really serious about it – like no paws on the kitchen counter and no treats in the kitchen unless she was sitting on her mat. (Odd that her focus was the kitchen – beagles!) She went along with the “training” which I am pretty sure was just reviewing what she already knew – sit, down, stay. She didn’t always care to comply but of course if there was a treat, she would do it in a heartbeat.
She manipulated me however she could, giving me the puppy dog eyes or pretending not to hear if she didn’t like my idea. Or if my ideas were not accompanied by enough treats.
She had zero interest in chasing a ball.
She would chase a frisbee, but she refused to release it. She tried to turn it into a game of tug. If I refused, she chewed the frisbee.
She pouted because I did not want to wrestle.
She was upset when I refused to let her run into me at full speed. These were games I assumed she played with the her former owner, a much larger and stronger human than I. I am not built for such games.
We had been together for months and still I wasn’t her alpha, barely even her pack. She listened well enough to get what she wanted and I struggled for a real connection.
None of my plans had worked.
Then, just being me, it happened:
On our daily walk, there was a nasty dog doing some serious growling in our direction. He was on the other side of a fence, but there were some gaps that made me a little nervous.
But I know better than to show it.
More important, I was angry at the threat to Sandy who was clearly nervous and whining.
I switched sides with Sandy, putting myself between her and the threatening dog.
“I got this,” I told her with much more courage than I felt. But I meant it. I would handle this and I would be the first in line if something went wrong. I was protecting her. I was being alpha when she really wanted an alpha.
She was impressed. She walked a little taller beside me. And walked a little closer to me.
Since that day, she has accepted my position and even worked with me when she understood my goal. Although she is totally okay with manipulating me whenever she can.
Sandy is aware of my lack of speed and strength. She marvels at my abysmal sense of smell. She knows I cheat at tug of war.
But it turns out you don’t need those things to be alpha, you only need the audacity to stretch beyond your abilities to protect those you care about.
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© Copyright Suzanne Grosser