The Internet (which is a series of tubes) reaches me once again

There are 300 messages in my inbox, so if you e-mailed me recently give me a couple of days to catch up. But at least we now have the Web and e-mail again.

Small update on house: Nothing good. Our contractor’s bid and the insurance bid are wildly different. We are pretty sure that this is because our contractor is following our doctor’s orders and it’s pushing the price of all the materials way up. This is totally non-negotiable from our point of view–it’s Honour’s MD and she CANNOT be exposed to mold, damp, smoke, or VOCs from paint or finishes. And low-VOC paint is $40 a gallon, the subfloor needs to be replaced to prevent molding, etc. I just feel like crap because I don’t want to fight this fight, don’t want to be accused of trying to bid things up dishonestly, etc.

I had a question about how Clue and Ginny are getting along, which gives me the chance to expound a little bit on pack order and get my mind off this garbage.

In my experience, dogs in a healthy pack split up the major roles along the lines of talent and personality. The more flinchy dogs sound the alarm, the more possessive dogs find and guard the food, etc. Even traits we tend to think of as negative have valuable uses in the pack.

Also in my experience, a bitch is ALWAYS the ultimate pack leader. It is usually the oldest bitch. It works best when she is very, very calm and confident, with very little possessive or shy or nervous tendencies.

However, that doesn’t mean that she does everything, or that she tells everybody to do anything. My pack leader bitches have spent most of their time sleeping and relaxing, to be honest. The dogs who are naturally more active or reactive will do more patrolling; if they are alarmed by something they bark, you see a millisecond (you have to watch for this very carefully because it is nothing but a glance) where every dog in the pack looks at the pack leader, and what she does determines the reaction of the group.

If she stands up, they all alert. If she runs to the fence barking, they all join her. If she flops her head back down they all relax.

The other thing that happens when you have a very clear leader is that she virtually never gets in conflicts. The middle-rankers squabble constantly, but the undisputed leader never does. If she walks over to something they all just back away. She doesn’t have to fight for anything.

Clue is very definitely the pack leader at our house. She is by far the most naturally stable dog we have (not that the others are bad, or weird, but she’s the one who reacts to everything with calm and never escalates the issue) and she does an excellent job of keeping the group functional.

Part of what makes Clue a good leader is that she puts up with a TON. She allows the other dogs to get away with quite a bit and has a finely tuned sense of when she needs to step in.

And that’s where Ginny comes in. Ginny, for all her enormous virtues, is a dog who is obsessed with STUFF. And STUFF, to Ginny, encompasses a huge amount. She spends an enormous amount of time figuring out exactly what the most comfortable and highest spot is in the house, and makes that her perch. She is fastidious about her toys and her chewies and her bed and will arrange everything for minutes on end. She hates being dirty and is very vain (and yes, this is a real thing in dogs–I am convinced of it). And affection from humans is also a big deal for her, and over the course of an evening she will move from lap to lap, depending on who she feels needs to be reminded that she is the prettiest and the most lovely. Food, for Ginny, is wholly emotional. She will not eat until another dog is in the room, because she wants to turn it into a big growly display of how she has food and the other dog doesn’t. If the other dog is given food or stops paying attention, she’ll stop eating and will not resume. I’ve seen her fast for days rather than “waste” food on eating for nutrition.

When any of her STUFF is threatened, she turns from a flirt and a princess to a big fat jerk. Never with humans, mind you–it took me several months to get her to this point but she hasn’t so much as rolled her eyes at any person in a very long time. But with dogs she will growl and roar and jump on them and do her best to terrorize her way into owning everything.

She’s basically like Miss Piggy, if you want a cliche figure to look at. Soft and sweet and with a very high opinion of herself, but woe betide you if you try to take something from her.

This gets VERY interesting when you see Ginny and Clue interact. Because Clue ignores about 95 percent of it. Clue has never been possessive about anything, so if Ginny comes over and grumbles about a bed, Clue sighs and moves over. Clue will hang back and look exasperated, but not do anything, while Ginny postures over toys. Clue keeps an eye on her but doesn’t object when Ginny takes an hour to eat a half-cup of food and snarls the whole time.

A casual observer may therefore think that Ginny is in charge. But then, about once a week, Ginny does something that finally crosses the line. And Clue finally decides that she needs to to send a message. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what does it, because to me it looks like one more time where Ginny is making a big noise about some little thing. But Clue knows.

And in about two seconds, she has Ginny flat on her back and is standing there with one front paw casually on Ginny’s chest. She stands, gently wagging her tail, for a minute or two and then lets Ginny up. And Ginny has her ears flat back and slinks away to a couch cushion and glares poisonously around for a while, but she knows she’s been told where to get off.

The only other time you see the true shape of things is when I am feeding Clue or giving her treats. When I feed Ginny and Clue is in the room, she (Ginny) growls constantly and makes a big deal. When I feed Clue, Ginny hangs way back and pins her ears down. She doesn’t make a sound.

Right now, Tabitha is filling a snack cup with cheerios so she can eat them in front of the TV (cream carpet = mandatory snack cups). Ginny is sitting next to her looking intently at the cheerios, looking like she is desperate for them. She looks at Clue and growls, then dances on her paws and begs again. Tabitha just handed her a cheerio and Ginny took it, then spit it out. She’s continuing to beg. This is what I mean by food being emotional–she doesn’t want those cheerios and won’t eat them if given. She just wants to make a big statement in front of Clue.

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