A lot has been written about how, as a dog owner, you should be the ‘Top Dog’ in the pack. This tends to work in families too. When you live in a family like mine which is dominated by testosterone, it helps to be the Alpha Female -Lap Cat graciously takes her place in line, as long as she has a lap to sit on and plenty of food (so who’s the mug?). Often G strides into the house of utter chaos determined to make progress, despatching Eldest Son who from time to time locks horns in the battle to be Alpha Male upstairs to battle with his pit of a bedroom, sending Middle Son into a sulky huddle over his revision and quietening Little Mans constant questions with one look. This of course would work perfectly if I hadn’t at that precise moment decided to serve up dinner, and then it all becomes farcical. Generally though, we try and work on a ‘You’re right of course darling (and I will tell you later why you’re wrong)’ basis.
This also includes dealing with Muttley. As regular readers will know, G is not a natural dog lover, but perseveres within certain ground rules. Thus I established firmly from the beginning that I was to be Muttleys ‘Top Dog’, and any nonsense from him would be dealt with by me. Responsible stuff…so within two days of ownership I was panic calling around various dog trainers who all advised me that I needed to get to know the dog before training and in any case courses didn’t start until after Christmas. We have muddled along for nearly two months and seem to have established some sort of hierarchy. Of sorts.
Never is it more apparent whether or not it is working than when you are on a walk. As I have said before, it is always an adventure on the army grounds where we ramble – G has in his time come across a man in full black tie, with a music stand and sheet music singing opera (I kid you not). Another time he saw a man furiously bashing away at a full drum kit (we wondered how he actually got it all set up). Quite obviously the Top Dogs in their houses had shouted Enough! Then there is the Army – and all their little trenches, ‘war’ litter, which the boys love, bivouacs (we’ve heard about those already…) –and the differing terrain on which they use to train, sand, deep pits for the tanks to practice in, rocks over which to scramble and miles and miles of scrubland. When I am out with the two younger boys, who have equally as active imaginations as mine, walks take on strange twists and turns (mainly because we try new routes and get lost), and we discover old soldiers trenches (which of course have to be explored), an enormous quarry of charcoal inexplicably placed in the middle of the scrubland becomes the landing site of an alien spaceship, campfires containing no end of half burned ration packs become the objects of intense scrutiny. Muttley bounds on ahead with absolutely no idea where he is or where he is going but enjoying the thrill of just being there and in the confidence that one of his pack will eventually get him where he needs to be. And Middle Son comes into his own as Top Dog – leading the way back home like a bloodhound, just in time for lunch…
But the fact of the matter is that there is another (retired) dog in our family who was Top Dog for years, ever since she was given to me at the age of 7 by Auntie H. This is Tessa, who started off life as a fluffy toy, but throughout the decades has lost an eye, had her ear sewn on twice, an eyebrow glued on and all the fur has been rubbed away through lots of wear and tear. She has travelled extensively – back and forth to Africa throughout my boarding school days, school trips, holidays (I’m afraid she even hid in the suitcase during my honeymoon), has been with me to Uni, at my side at all exams and in my briefcase at all interviews. Eldest Son, at the age of 18 months, plucked out Tessa from the rainbow array of cuddly toys at his disposal on his first day of preschool, and she has lived with him ever since (of course now she is carefully stowed under his bed). So this grand old dame has been on two survival Bushcraft weekends, a number of scout camps, has applauded him on to victory in various athletics championships and is proving herself quite adept at French. Middle Son is sitting entrance exams for secondary school – his first was on Friday, and being ever so cool seemed outwardly very calm. However mothers know their kids and I asked him whether he had a good luck charm to take in which he poo pooed. Eldest Son said, a little too casually ‘Would you like to take Tessa? She worked for me?’ and immediately his offer was taken up.
As Middle Son walked up for registration at the big scary new school I asked if he was ok – ‘Yep’ came back the answer ‘I’ve got Tessa’. And without a look back at me in he walked patting his pocket where the little dog lay.
Maybe her days as Top Dog are not over, maybe we all have a chance in life to be a Top Dog to someone.
Meanwhile, I got back home and let Muttley outside whilst I washed up the breakfast dishes. Looking out into the garden I saw the puppy, who had somehow got up the ladder onto the trampoline and was bouncing by himself contentedly chasing a ball – the madness continues (but what a top dog)!!!