Tuesday, July 13, 2010


When I adopted my first schnauzer, Lincoln, from the SPCA almost eleven years ago, they told me he had severe separation anxiety. So severe he could NEVER be left alone. No wonder he'd been bounced from shelter to shelter over the course of three weeks before I refused to be scared off. (He had other issues as well: depression—which vanished after a few days with me—,obsessive-compulsive disorder and a neurological issue that made his legs weak, with the front legs curving outward, and gave him Parkinson's-like shakes to the head and upper body.) My friends claim I'm drawn to neediness. Based on my months of volunteering at the SPCA, Lincoln was as needy as they got.

After three years with just him, I thought a companion might alleviate what remained of the separation anxiety. But, with all his issues, I wanted to be sure the new schnauzer pup would not rule the roost, potentially eradicating all the progress I'd made with Lincoln. Thus, when I went to check out a litter, I brought Lincoln in the house with me to see how he'd interact with the puppies. Only two remained available for adoption, both males. One of them was lively and assertive. It was clear this bold pooch would dominate poor Lincoln in no time. The other pup was submissive, sweet and gentle. He seemed the perfect companion. And so I adopted Hoover.

If anything, Hoover must be good for Lincoln's self-esteem. While survival of the fittest may apply in most contexts in the animal world, it does not apply in my household. Lincoln rules. I suppose I'm glad of that. But as I watch them interact, it perplexes me how completely this is the case. Lincoln isn't just the alpha; he's ALPHA—all caps, bold and underlined.

The latest example occurred five minutes ago. I took a shower upon returning home from the gym. When I went to find the dogs, Lincoln was lying inside by the open sliding glass door that leads onto the deck. Hoover was on the deck, looking to come in, but not daring to do so since ALPHA Lincoln denied access. Hoover saw me and wagged his tail. He wanted to come to me, but still wouldn't dare slip by the elder dog. Let me be clear on this. There is nothing Lincoln can possibly do to harm Hoover. Even if Lincoln wanted to chase Hoover as the younger pooch scooched by, it would be too little too late. Lincoln's legs have gotten even weaker with age and it takes great effort to stand from a supine position—especially on my laminate floor. It is not a challenge for Hoover get around him. Yet, based on a doggy sign language that eludes me, Hoover dared not pass. I had to hold Lincoln in place before Hoover would come inside.

The classic example of ALPHA Lincoln occurs every night when it's time for bed. I lift Lincoln onto the bed. (He's NEVER been able to jump on a chair or the bed.) Hoover stands at the doorway to the bedroom and won't enter despite a look on his face that tells me he desperately wants to join me. I call him, but Hoover won't place even a paw on the bedroom floor. As soon as I cover Lincoln's eyes, Hoover runs in and jumps up. Every night, the same routine. And once on the bed, Hoover insists on lying on the opposite side of Lincoln. I have to be between them.

Almost thirteen now, Lincoln's health has declined significantly in recent months. It has no bearing on his alpha status. He is forever ALPHA.

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