Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 7-16-12
There’s a top dog in every pack. It doesn’t matter if it’s dogs, horses or even goats, there is a definite hierarchy. Of course the alpha male isn’t necessarily the oldest, the fittest or even a male. We have an old mare in the pasture with a couple of geldings; and she is definitely the boss. She’s always the first to the feed trough and the fresh water. She lays her ears back when the other two slink up there, and she lets them know in a hurry that they’ll have to wait.
My husband used to have a chocolate Labrador retriever named Bubba who certainly didn’t fit the profile as the pack leader. He was so huge that when he sprawled out on the floor, he looked like a big brown rug. He and my Lab, Honey, were best buddies for the 13 years we had them. She was frisky and lots more aggressive than he. She even bristled up and growled at my husband and my brother when she thought they were trying to hurt me. But when our babies came along, they were both gentle as lambs, letting the kids climb all over them and stick their finger in all their orifices.
Bubba was always laid back — except when it was time to fetch some ducks or when there was a loud thunderstorm. He hardly ever barked, and I never heard him growl but once. It happened when we were living out in the boondocks at the end of a dirt road when our kids were little. We didn’t have a lot of company, so it was a happy day because my sister had driven in from Austin to visit. She brought her dog, a blue eyed Catahoula named Zuni.
Zuni was not a sweet friendly dog like our Labs. Her muscular body, unusual coloration and demonic eyes gave her a menacing appearance. She was very territorial and protective of my sister. She was the kind of dog that made the UPS man have a bad day. I think my sister could have safely left an open bag of cash in the back of her pick up with that dog.
One afternoon my sister and I were out in the yard talking while our dogs lounged nearby. Suddenly both dogs bristled and started circling each other. That lasted about two or three tense minutes, although it seemed much longer. I backed away, anticipating a dog scuffle.
For some inexplicable reason, my sister whispered, “Sic ’em.” And the fight was on. There was a blur of white and yellow fur and lots of growling, biting and scratching. We both stepped away and yelled at them to settle down. We dared not get in the middle of the fracas for fear of losing a finger, or worse.
I never saw him coming, but suddenly Bubba appeared on the scene like a dark cloud that forms quickly and threatens bad weather. He didn’t run because he was too lethargic to ever hurry. But like a black-clad ninja dropping silently down to the floor out of nowhere, there he was. He wedged his huge body in between the circling dogs. A low rumbling sound emanated from his throat. I’ve never heard anything like it before or since. It was a bizarre vocalization, like a cross between a growl and a roar.
The effect on the agitated females was dramatic and instantaneous. They dropped their tails and the ridge of hair on their backs laid down. He glared at both of them sternly for a second and then walked away. His warning message was clear and didn’t need repeating. He never had to stop another dog fight, and his Alpha status was never challenged. Zuni came for other visits, but when she did, she was on her best behavior. ❖