Shug, white dog #1, came to live with us when she was three weeks old. She has always been assured of her place in any world that doesn’t have thunder, fireworks or gun shots. She loves food, any food; food delights her even more than trying to kill the mailman. She is mostly pure, insane, bouncy joy. When Spunky, white dog #2, joined our tribe two-and-a-half years later, no one doubted Shug was and would always be Alpha. They were the same age and both came from the pound, but Spunky originated from some hill family that “kept ‘em ‘til the cute wore off, tossed ‘em in a pen until they were ‘bout gone, then brought ‘em to the pound to finish ‘em off.” Spunky was nearly dead. Her heart was riddled with worms, most of her teeth were broken and rotted. At bedtime she would crawfish under furniture, terrified if we reached down to pick her up. We could not say the word b a d in her presence, or she would fall over shivering, waiting for the first blow. A skulker, skinny as a shadow, she even had to be begged to eat.
Over the years, mostly plastered to my side, Spunky lost most of those teeth, gained a little weight and some confidence. She took to snarling Sugar up when she could, Spunky perched by me on the couch, Sugar dancing and prancing and ignoring her from the floor. This could go on for weeks, months even, until Shug had enough, usually over some bit of food, then it was all bring-it-on-Sistah, and dogs leaping in the air, gum gnashing and air biting until my husband or I could separate them. We would grab Spunky in our arms and toe Shug to back down. Often Spunky would be broken for days after.
During the last bitch-snapping my husband was able to grab Shug and move her out of the gum line of fury. Everything calmed down, but then we noticed a strange phenomenon. Spunky thought she had WON. She was now Alpha. Even stranger, apparently Shug thought so, too. Who knew?
“The changes you can cause when you don’t understand the underlying cultural structure,” my husband lamented. He was lamenting because we all quickly tired of Spunky as Alpha Princess. Where Shug knew her place in the world, and had always held it, she could allow minor infractions until she was having an off-day, and had to set some dog in her place. Spunky, though, had always feared the terror of power and craved it for herself. Now Spunky is constantly speaking to Shug about how things are supposed to be, growling and barking, sometimes to the point we can’t even hear ourselves telling her to SHUT UP.
Recently we were on the couch, eating and watching T.V., the dogs gathered round for their little bits. Spunky went into her I-Am-Boss-Of-You frenzy, snarling and lunging across my plate at Shug. “You did this!” I finally yelled at my husband. “Just PICK HER BUTT UP.”