Most any social system will have a hierarchical order to things. Even in a small social system, someone is in charge – someone is the top dog. This is true of people, it is even more so of animals.
Dolly Dawg was a free range mountain dog since before we got here in December of 2001. Someone had tried to train her as a hunting dog, failed, and disposed of her by dumping her here on Piney Mountain. After we moved into our place we spotted her sitting in a clump of boulders sixty or seventy feet up the mountain slope from our home, watching us as we worked at getting settled. But she would not approach, and would slink off into the trees if we paid much attention to her.
So we began accidentally leaving a pie plate of kibbles out by the tree line. While our backs were turned we would hear ravenous crunching. With time, kibbles, and a great deal of patience we became friends. We christened her Dolly because of her eyes, she looked all made up and ready to go out: Dolled up: Dolly. Eventually she decided that we could stay and she would look after us.
We learned that Dolly was queen of the mountain, all other free range dogs deferred to her. Some came to play with her, to hunt with her, to lounge in the sun with her. She was a beneficent monarch.
Others have come and gone, and in each case Dolly took them into her care, taught them the rules, and helped them settle in… as long as they did not challenge her authority. And no one did … until Cochise.
Cochise is an American Bulldog. This breed is exceptionally loyal to, and protective of, its people. It also likes to know its place in the social order. Cochise is our first foster dog, staying with us for medical treatment that cannot be adequately supervised at the shelter. Being sick, and being someone else’s property we must keep him confined. We installed a 10’ x 10’ kennel and dog house for this purpose. As is often the case with rescue dogs, he became very attached to us as soon as we brought him home from the animal shelter. He’d practically knock us over by leaning against our legs as he gazed up into our eyes. He hates being separated from us for any length of time. Fortunately I work here at home, so that desire can be accommodated.
But, the first time Dolly came with me to visit, Cochise injured his gums trying to chew through the chain-link to get at her and drive her off. Dolly responded in a loud and heartfelt, but less violent, manner. It took some doing to get Dolly to break off from the argument and leave with me, and it distressed Cochise to see me leaving with Dolly, leaving him alone in the kennel.
With time, and a good deal of patience, I got these two to get along. Each was convinced they were protecting me from the other, so I had to show them that neither was a threat. They could be friends and we could all spend time together. But Dolly was Big Dog here.
By the time Cochise was ready to undergo his medical process Dolly had become Cochise’s mentor, helping him learn the ropes. Now she became his nursemaid, staying close to him while he was so sick.
Dolly was getting on in years and a while after Cochise recovered, Dolly died of heart failure. Cochise missed her and stepped into the role of Big Dog and Mentor. He has since helped us train the other foster dogs who have come through here after him. He is a good trainer to them, a wonderful companion to us, and a devoted Big Dog to the neighborhood. No one messes with Cochise: Cochise is the chief.
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