By September 29, 2005

It's a great week for new family members!

Lady Jaye and I have been searching for a companion for our buddy Porter for the last four months. The Richmond area has tons of hound dogs and pit bull type dogs. There’s nothing wrong with those types of dogs, but they’re not the cuddly little snugglemonsters we’re looking for.

After two weeks of emailing, filling out applications, and schedule wrangling, Lady Jaye and I met with a lady from a local rescue this evening. We had a chance to interview six spaniel-beagle mixes tonight from the same litter. I say “interview,” because I have a semi-formal test battery every puppy goes through. I tested Porter with the same methodology, and he’s been a perfect match for us. I also picked out Sunshine’s dog Sydney this way. I’ve also rejected quite a few pups this way, including the infamous Fucker McCloud in Oregon.

So, the test is based on the natural canine ranking system. There will always be an alpha (top of the pack) male, and an alpha female. There will always be an omega (bottom of the pack) male and an omega female. Aside from the alphas, it doesn’t matter within the pack if a male is dominant or subservient to a female. In our group of six puppies, the top dogs could have all been female. It didn’t work out that way, but as far as I’ve experienced the pack isn’t matriarchal or patriarchal except for the positions of alpha and omega for each sex.

Dogs further up the “alpha” scale will tend to be independent, rowdy, and adventurous. The top dogs will be the first at just about everything. The first to greet you, the first to scout a new area, the first to eat, and the first to chew up purses and shoes. They’ll also tend to be more physical than the other dogs, and more prone to barking, whining, etc. Alphas are great companion candidates for people who want a working dog, or a dog that doesn’t want to sit on the couch with them.

The other end of the scale is the omega dog. They’re the scaredy cats, the ones who always eat last, get their toys taken away from them, and will let you hold them FOREVER. While easier to handle and train, omega dogs have a penchant for separation anxiety. Which, to me, is just as annoying as the alpha dog who digs holes in your yard because he’s bored.

I like, and have selected, dogs in the middle end of their pack or sometimes a little “omega” more than “alpha.” In testing the six spaniel-beagle mixes today I had the opportunity to judge the entire litter against each other. Perfect.

Here’s the test:

  • Pick the puppy up and hold it for a few minutes. This will tell you right away if they’re a top alpha dog. A top dog will squirm, whine, and sometimes piss on you if you hold them too long.
  • Gently but quickly squeeze the puppy’s front paws. Rub its ears. Open its mouth. Does the puppy try to bite your fingers off? If it did, you have an alpha on your hands, and will need to do some serious conditioning to allow you to work its head like any good dog does. On this test (for what I want), any reaction other than irritation/aggression is acceptable. I disqualified the alpha pup and the next two pups down the authority line on this test. A dog that doesn’t like you touching its mouth won’t let go of your shoes when it’s older.
  • When/if the puppy calms down, flip it (slowly and gently) on its back in your arms, like cradling a baby, or that new PSP you just bought. Again, the more dominant/assertive pups will wiggle around and will definitely not like being on their backs. Omegas will flop like jellyfish. Moderate dogs will squirm at first, and then surrender to you and lie still for a bit.
  • Rotate the puppy and pretend like you’re going to set them down on the ground. Their four tiny tiny paws should be about an inch or so off the ground. Alphas will start running in the air, anxious to find some new treasure or steal a toy from a littermate. Omegas will hang limply, their four legs swaying in the breeze. Moderate dogs may either struggle at first and then submit, or be limp at first before trying to scramble free.
  • Set the puppy down and loudly scamper away from it. Alphas will either run off to do their own thing or chase you aggressively and (usually) bite and/or paw at you. Omegas will sit down or become scared by your tromping. Moderates will follow you around, tail wagging.
  • If the puppies are old enough, give them a toy, stick, etc. Then take it away from them. Do they hold fast, and start an impromptu game of tug-of-war? Alpha. Do they let go, sit down, and whine? Omega. Do they hold on at first, then let you have it, or let you have it and then chase you playfully? Moderate.

So, after running all of the puppies through the gauntlet, Lady Jaye and I picked out this little potato with legs:

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She looks sheepish in this picture, but don’t worry, she’s a great little gal! We decided that Rosie fit our family’s temperament the best. I ranked her fifth on the hierarchy, which is going to be just about perfect for our household. Porter was definitely a moderate, and I’m hoping for more of the same with Rosie. The girl pup above her didn’t like me playing with her mouth, and Rosie was just adventurous enough to put her above Lefty, her omega brother. All in all, the litter was pretty aggressive — the alpha male of the group kept biting my ankles, the little fucker.

We’ll pick Rosie up October 22nd or 23rd. All of the puppies will be fixed and given their main battery of shots before we pick them up, which is awesome. We adopted her through SHARE, which takes care of the neutering/spaying, shots, etc for $150. It’s an amazing deal, especially since we paid almost $400 to get Porter fixed in the DC area.

Look forward to LOTS of puppy pix in the future 🙂

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1 Comment on "It's a great week for new family members!"

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  1. configuratrix says:

    Yay!

    And your ranking exercises were interesting to read about.