March 8, 2015 by Julia
I was reminded of another entertaining piece of dog lore recently. In this case, it isn’t defining one dog or my relationship with them, it is about the relationship between two dogs – Dash and Xena.
I’ve been rereading Patricia McConnell’s Other End of the Leash when I came to the section on dominance. (If you haven’t read this book, use my affiliate link above and buy it ASAP, I think it should be required reading for any dog lover.) In one passage, dominance is defined as “priority access to preferred, limited resources.” I accept that simple definition though that short version doesn’t include one nuance that I find important: “preferred” resources are in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t matter much if one dog hoards all the toys if the other dog doesn’t care. So, for me, a dog can be pushy about a resource, but they are only exerting “dominance” if the other dog gives a hoot.
Anyone observing Dash and Xena in their day-to-day interactions would probably see Dash as the higher social status and more dominant dog (those two things are not the same, btw – another reason to read the book). Aside from being a bratty “younger brother”, Dash made clear claims to preferred resources. As an adolescent, he’d bullied Xena mercilessly for toy possession. By the time he was an adult, Xena barely played with toys around him. If she did start playing, one glance from him and she’d drop it and walk away.
Food was one area where Xena pushed back. She was a chow hound and didn’t have taken kindly to missing out on any goodies. Their few squabbles (all yelling, no injuries) were over food or the possibility of food. We were careful to dole treats out a short distance apart and there was typically no stealing, just each to their own.
But then there was popcorn. Not even Xena’s favorite treat, but for some reason that is where she drew clear line in the sand – she got priority access. When I gave them popcorn, the dogs would settle on either side or me and I would toss them each a piece in turns. This is how things would go:
Xena’s Rules of Popcorn Ownership
- If she throws me a piece and I catch it, it’s mine.
- If she throws me a piece and it lands near me, it’s mine.
- If she throws me a piece and it lands near you, it’s mine.
- If she throws you a piece and it lands near me, it’s mine.
- If she throws you a piece and you catch it, it’s yours.
It was always interesting to see this play out. There was no growling or snapping, barely even a nasty look between them. I don’t even recall them ever having a spat over this special treat. Xena quietly took her stance, Dash accepted it.
In some ways, Delta and Dash have a similar dynamic, the pushy younger dog and the tolerant older dog. It’ll be interesting to see if Dash chooses his “popcorn”.
What about you? Do you think dominance can change depending on the situation? Have any of your dogs had “popcorn” rules?