Alpha dog, Beta dog

April 14, 2007


We have two male Italian greyhounds named Cody and Giaco. Daniel “designed” Cody’s name by looking for vocal sounds that were short, simple, and able to be repeated many times — like when the dog is lost and you have to say Heeeeere Cody Cody Cody Cody, and not names like Heeeeere Alexander Alexander Alexander Alexander (too gay). So he identified Ko as an good sound, and “y” is a suffix that makes it familiar (Danny, Marky Rogy), and then the name Cody seemed butch and simple.

We had an African Grey parrot who died, Jaco, named after Jaco Pastorius, and we resurrected the name Giaco as in Giacometti – the swiss artist who loved to paint and sculpt figures with long thin limbs, just like Italian greyhounds.

Cody, despite being smaller and less muscular, is the Alpha male — he’s older and has a stronger bite. Giaco, who is faster and stronger, is the Beta male, and is very happy being the Beta male. (For the rest of the story, I just refer to them as Alpha and Beta.)

The dogs have a very strange eating ritual. When I put food in their dish and yell “dogs!” they look at me with this “yeah, so?” look. After more urging they go to their respective dishes and sniff. Then they sniff the other’s dish and Alpha starts to eat. Beta’s head is about 2 inches away from Alpha and his silently watches Alpha eat. After Alpha has had enough, he goes back to the couch, licking his lips. This is the sign that Beta can start eating. Beta goes to his bowl, takes out one kibble bit and puts it on the floor to examine it. After doing this a few more times he realizes the food is not poison and begins to eat.

When we go for a walk, Alpha insists on plowing a head, has to smell EVERYTHING, has to pee on everything, insists on leading me. Beta is the perfect calm, submissive dog. He walks at your side, insists that YOU go through the door first, and is ever waiting for your command or affection.

Every day at 3 pm, there are 2 faces that appear in my office, letting me know that it is time to play BALL! We have rubber Bucky-ball (rubber web balls) that I throw for the dogs every day. This is the activity that is most interesting to observe in each dog’s role. Beta is the throw-the-ball! throw-the-ball! instigator. As we walk out to the throw zone, the dogs are both barking with excitement, leaping into the air. I throw the ball, and they both tear after it. It is Beta’s job to get the ball. Alpha, being smaller, knows Beta will always win and the 2 of them have come to this agreement, thus Beta always gets the ball. When I throw the ball, Alpha watches Beta, not me. Part of the fetch the ball game is TUG. These web balls are great for dogs to sink their teeth into and for humans to grab onto an area for a good old group tug. Alpha does a tug growl everytime he tugs at the ball. Beta does to but it is softer. Alpha grabs onto one part of the ball and never let’s go, Beta keeps letting go and trying to be wherever my hand is, as though to follow the pack leader. Beta eventually loses interest in TUG, preferring to get back to his favorite game, FETCH. Alpha could tug all day long. Beta could fetch all day long. We’ve come to a compromise. Back to the action: after I throw the ball, Beta either let’s Alpha play tug, or tries to bring it back to me and a high speed. Alpha shadows Beta trying to get the ball away from Beta so that it can NOT get to me. Beta’s job is to give me the ball so I can throw it again, Beta’s job is to prevent me from getting the ball. Alpha prances around me just out of reach, relishing his power over having the ball. He eventually lets me have the ball, but only to play TUG. (If I get annoyed with Alpha’s refusal to give up the ball, I can say RELEASE and he will drop the ball — whereever HE wishes to drop it.) Beta then runs to get the ball and eventually gets it back to me, so that the process can begin again.

The other amusing scenario that happens when fire trucks go by, or old friends of the dogs, us the howling ceremony. It is very serious business, at least to the dogs. Alpha starts, Beta takes the cues to howl in sympathy, and the two howl, and howl and howl, until they’ve had enough or WE’ve had enough. Howling is just something they have to do.

Because the dogs sleep in bed with us, we had to get a king size bed. Alpha sleeps in one or our armpits, and Beta near the feet.

Having dogs is a joy.

[Photo by Roger Bourland; “Cody and Giaco”]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

citrus April 14, 2007 at 7:59 am

Love the picture. The Dog Whisperer would gasp at a few of the dominance thoughts, but the whole blog was great fun and lots of knowing chuckles.

Roger Bourland April 14, 2007 at 8:52 am

I know: we let Cody be alpha male MOST of the time, but we do bring him into line when he needs to be.

asha April 14, 2007 at 11:52 pm

“Having dogs is a joy.”

Uh, I think they have YOU.
Our mutual pal Adrienne used to have a wonderful greyhound, named Mahler. Every time I saw him I’d call him a “Giacometti on legs.” They are indeed living sculpture.

caroline August 6, 2007 at 9:18 am

This is just so funny. Alpha dogs have their quirks that are just so funny. I currently have a native filipino dog and she is just the fieriest dog I’ve ever had, more than my rotts! One word to describe her personality is: suspicious. and she is very bad tempered and very ‘vocal’, has a sound for every mood. If you provoke her or any noise provokes her, she’ll bark for a long long time just to show her disgruntled displeasure with matching scowl surly eyed look. She is also the most clever dog I’ve ever had, she pees on the bathroom, sans no training and wants to soil other people’s area not our apartment! and she is just a 5 month old puppy. I’m so fascinated by her personality, I did a dog personality test last night online and she came out to have a ‘high rebel’ personality lol, i did a test for my female rott too and she turned out to be a ‘sentry’ type or ‘beta’ dog lol I’ve had a male rott and bulldog who were both fiery characters, alpha dogs too but this little suspicious pup beats them all. she’s a warfreak lol she jumps ala last of the mohicans on my bed picking a fight with pillows, comforters, etc. she’s a fearless gladiator will take on any other animal 100 times her size. and funny thing coz she is very short haired, she looks like the phuo quoc vietnamese dog, yellow furred with a black ridge on her back, but she is a native filipino dog, she loves blankets, comforters pillows warm stuff. she hates cold weather! unlike my dogs before who’d be panting like crazy, she likes to be tucked in bed warm and just likes to snuggle under 2 towels and one comforter tucked fetalposition and grumpily curled in. lol and there’s another side to this alpha warfreak she’s so affectionate she curls on top of my pillow like a live furcoat her head resting on my head. 🙂

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