Animals

Becoming the Alpha Duck

When #1 Son was little, he could spend most of a day bringing me books to read to him over and over again. He loved Curious George and Corduroy the Bear and Hop on Pop and Where the Wild Things Are and Blueberries for Sal, but one of his absolute favorites had to be Make Way for Ducklings. He delighted in the ducklings crossing a busy Boston street, protected by the friendly policeman who stopped traffic for them. We recited seriously the names of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s numerous offspring: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack and Qack. #1 Son was always a child I could count on to be close by, following like the ducklings, quick to grab my hand if I merely gestured toward him.

Later, when my family had grown to three children, I sometimes felt like Mrs. Mallard, trying to keep my little ducks in a row.

Now it’s the dogs I ‘m trying to keep in order. Molly is a bon vivant with a distinct sense of prioritites that generally don’t have much to do with me. Sam is more serious; he likes to watch the front door and check over any visitors to our home. He also seems to think that while Pure Luck is away, he is the Alpha in our pack. That’s all very well when he’s being sweetly protective, but not so great when he begins grumbling at the middle-sized dog who challenges him at the Dog Park, and then doesn’t “hear” me when I correct him. He’s a big boy, 122 pounds, probably about 28 or 29 inches at the withers, and he’s mostly black, all of which adds up to mean that people who don’t know him or Bernese Mountain Dogs give me the evil eye for bringing that “scary” dog into the park. He gets especially worked up when Molly, who is promiscuous with her affections, meets boy dogs she likes and begins romping about with them.

I realized I needed to become the Alpha in his eyes. Now how does a gentle woman of 5 feet manage that when his usual boss is 11 feet tall with a voice as big as all outdoors?

I started by correcting him when he groomed me. Yes, Sam has been licking my clothes ever since Pure Luck (or Papa Bear, as we call him in relationship to the dogs) went away for work. He’s really fairly responsive, and he does stop it when I tell him, but the licking was compulsive that first week or so. Next, I made him stop at the back door on the way into the yard and wait for me to say, “Go.” Finally, I stopped snuggling with on the couch (so sad!) and made him come to sit on the floor in front of me while I pet him from a chair.

The results have been great. He seems more relaxed. And when Molly met a new boyfriend at the dog park the other day, Sam expressed his displeasure but came right back to my side when I called.

Just call me Mrs. Mallard.

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