Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pack Dynamics: Just A Dog.

The pack dynamics have changed once again and it’s always surprising how surprising it is. Lilith was as laid back a puppy as I have ever seen but she wore Lucas out. I assumed Lucas and Lilith, hitherto known as the “L Hounds” were a matched set and that something between them clicked. They’ve been inseparable since her arrival, minus the three days he hid under the table because I brought in a new puppy. Sam hated Lucas, he hated Lilith, and now he hates, Wrex, the foster puppy. Lucas loves the little dog. Lilith has remained aloof.
Lilith’s aloofness is very surprising. She’s much younger than Lucas and Sam, much closer to being a puppy, yet she’s shown no puppy bonding. She hasn’t been outright hostile either and for that I am grateful. My little girl dog doesn’t like The Puppy Wrex in the least however and she doesn’t show signs of warming. I expected Sam to be the problem that Sam has always been. Lucas, I thought, would be perfectly willing to accept a new packmate because that is what I expected him to do. This is what Lucas has done. When I installed a doggie door all three stood staring at it until I called Lucas. He was first through the swinging door because that’s what I wanted.

Over thirteen years ago, Bert shocked me when he became Sam’s older brother and best friend overnight. Literally, the dog went from being a Demonic Terror to a doting sibling between the setting of one day’s sun and the rising of the next. But no amount of love or tenderness from his pack has succored Sam from the torture heaped upon him before Bert found him. I wish I had known more when Sam was found but he has taught me more than I thought there was to learn. Sam has paid my tuition with scars unseen that do not heal. But I have given him thirteen years of life no one ever thought that dog would see.

At least three times that I know of Lucas intervene on behalf of Lilith when she was very young. When Sam would do his crowd and growl thing, walking up to Lilith and growling at her while really close, Lucas would simply walk between the two, put his nose in Sam’s face, and ease forward as Sam retreated. Lucas’ body posture was totally relaxed and he never growled at Sam, not even a hint of a growl. The message Sam received was very clear and unmistakable; if violence is what you’re looking for I am right here, you know. Even in his dotage Sam has the wherewithal to realize that Lucas can very easily kill him if it ever came down to it. But that isn’t the meaning Lucas is sending. He simply wants everyone to get along. Lucas isn’t about domination or power or fighting.

Yesterday Wrex came in blindside and knocked Sam off his feet. I’m not sure if Lucas was waiting for it or happened to be at the right place at the right time, but Lucas landed chest first on top of Wrex flattening him out like a pancake. I’ve never seen one dog do this sort of thing to another but I think this was Lucas’ way of telling Wrex to stop knocking Sam down. Lucas and Wrex play and they play hard, but Lucas has never hurt either Lilith or Wrex while playing. He is my Gentle Giant. He is a playmate and peacemaker. He’s the ultimate older brother guiding the younger siblings through life.

Do you think I am wrong here? Do you think this is just projecting or some sort of anthropocentric transferring of values? If dogs are instinct driven creatures honed into obedience through discipline then why did Lucas stand Sam down? Why not attack him? Why bother defending Lilith at all? But in conflict, Lucas showed calmness and determination. Why though? Could it be because Lucas knows I value both Sam and Lilith and this was his way, through intervention and mediation, to resolve the issue?

Lucas is “just a dog”.

So why did he pounce on Wrex? This is more catlike behavior than dog fight behavior but could it be that Lucas took an avenue of action that wouldn’t ratchet up the tension? In a classic dogfight scenario Lucas would have growled, snarled and then snapped at Wrex with his mouth. But Lilith might have joined in if Lucas would have done that. So did Lucas turn to his mass and simply push Wrex down, with Lucas on top of him, in an effort to keep conflict at its lowest level, but at the same time, teaching young Wrex that not only is the youngster being watched, but Sam is valued by Lucas.

I keep hearing that dogs are loyal and obedient. I think that is an overused and misunderstood concept. I never trained Lucas to defend the other members of the pack in the manner in which he does. What shows obedience better? A blind response to orders given under threat of punishment or showing an understanding of what’s good for the pack as defined by the one who brings home the bag of dog food and provides a warm bed on cold nights? What’s loyalty without this understanding?
Bert was reckless with his behavior until a tiny starved and beaten little puppy arrived and then suddenly he was nurturing. When Lucas joined the pack it was Bert who first played with the puppy. When Lillith arrived it was Lucas. Is this something they carry within or do they learn it? Do they have this inside and it’s brought forward by those who raise them?

What does it mean that these things; loyalty, obedience, protection, and love, are not traits that are taught but intrinsic values that these creatures possess in an abundance? These are naturally occurring properties that come as natural to dogs as eating, drinking water, and chewing up shoes.

What does it say about us human when we create environments for ourselves and other creatures that exclude, harshly so, the properties that dogs enjoy without effort?

We have so very much to learn from them.

Take Care,



  1. We do have a lot to learn from them. I think it an instinct for them. You have not taught them to protect you specifically but they do. You are pack, pack protects itself that is what it is for. The most consistent thing about your pack is that there has been a kind and gentle Second in Command. First Bert now Lucas. You are the reason for that. xo

  2. Dogs are faithful and loyal, not just to the leader but everyone above them in the pecking order of the pack.

    1. I would have to agree with that, Bruce!

    2. When will you apply for tax free status on your shelter? ;o)

    3. I am beginning to wonder if that isn't a good idea.