WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Alpha Dogs

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Our family hit a stride.  My husband and I realized our children were healthy and developmentally appropriate.  Home repairs were current.  The iPhones were updated.  Life felt exceedingly manageable, so we got two puppies.

Had our most recent and beloved dog Stella been of typical canine stature, she would have dragged us down the street, then put us in a pickle when she sat, refusing another step.  But since Stella weighed ten pounds (11ish post-holiday), we ignored her yanking and carried her when she played statue.

These puppies will outweigh their predecessor by thirty or so pounds and they are two versus one.  Consequently, we decided to invest in training.  It’s not really working out. 

Our first trainer fired me because I scoffed at “littermate syndrome.”  Said condition describes overly bonded sibling puppies who hardly function when apart.  Best I can tell, it’s akin to a gluten allergy.  It exists, but at higher levels among those with too much time.

Next, I tried a puppy class.  The teacher advocated clicker and treat training.  I couldn’t coordinate the clicker, the treats, and the puppies.  She suggested I return training to the professionals.  

Enter the newest in-home trainer.  This one pinged me for lacking “Alpha Dog” status.  Alpha Dogs calmly praise pups’ appropriate behaviors for 1.5 seconds or less; my effusive cheerleading lasts over 22 seconds.  Alpha Dogs walk into puppies blocking their paths; I tiptoe around them.  Alpha Dogs set pace and direction; the puppies lead me.  She’s right.  I’m not an Alpha Dog.  I’m not even a Beta Dog.  I’m probably down with the Delta Dogs. 

Although I appreciate these professionals’ perspectives, their syndromes, clickers, and Greek rankings make things harder rather than easier for me.  They remind me of the lactation consultant who told me breastfeeding wasn’t brain surgery, then made it just that with her rules about my bosoms, baby, and nursing pillows.

All that stuff goes against what I know:  There are bazillions of pathways to what we want, and plenty of those fit versus fight who we are and who we want to be.  Plus, the majority of those paths have room for do-overs and personal flair.

So, when the kids forget to treat the pups for an appropriate behavior or when I do a herkie because they sat on my fourth command, I’m going to know it’s all just fine.  And I’ll keep stepping around my snoozing puppies, because everyone knows to let sleeping dogs lie.

CreativityWhitney Cain