Yesterday there was a gathering of some of Nollind’s family out here at the farm and it got me thinking about family and what it means to me, a dog. When I was a pup, my family probably looked something like the photo below, although I really don’t remember much besides a comforting heartbeat and the warmth of my littermates. You see, domestic dogs are usually removed from their family of birth at just 6-8 weeks old, never to see them again. This probably seems sad to a human, but we don’t experience family the way that humans do.
As part of the biological family Canidae, we’re pack animals. A pack is like a family but all of the members aren’t necessarily related. In the wild, packs are for hunting and for safety. As domestic dogs, we don’t need to hunt, although two dogs against one gopher does make things lean in our favour, but safety, definitely important. Take yesterday for example. A huge thunderstorm rolled through while Nollind and family were enjoying their dessert around the dining room table. I jammed myself between Teresa’s and Nollind’s chairs, my pack members, and felt safe there. If I’d been outside on my own, I probably would have … well, I’m not sure what I would have done. I don’t like to think about it.
Teresa and Nollind are great alpha pack members … for bipeds. They’re always looking out for our well-being, even if we don’t always like what that means. They include us in every activity that’s dog-friendly or permissible and sometimes don’t participate in the ones that aren’t. They expect us to stay home when we’re off-leash, come when we’re called, sit and stay when asked to, but don’t treat us like little soldiers expected to ask “how high?” when they say jump. We are treated as members of the family and I think we act in-kind and behave ourselves most of the time.
Chico is also a part of my pack, even though I didn’t really choose him. My alphas chose him, I respected their decision, and it’s turned out okay. He’s a great wingman when it comes to coyote chasing (although we’re mostly kept from doing that) and, I have to admit, a better hunter than I’ll ever be. By the time I realize that the gopher we’ve been trying to flush out is right under my nose, he’s already grabbed it. Between the two of us, I’m the alpha, and he knows it and respects it. He knows he can’t clean out my bowl until I give the go-ahead by leaving the room. I mark on top of everything he marks and he doesn’t dare go back and re-apply. He’s a little grabby with the toys but then I’m not terribly attached to material things.
I’ve learned that family is much different in the human world, at least in most cases. I have heard of family members who leave their group, never to return or be heard from again, except maybe at Christmas. But Nollind’s family isn’t like that. They’re not often at the farm but I know they’re in contact regularly, and see each other in the city. I’m thinking it must be nice to watch each other grow older and find their way in the world. I sometimes wonder what became of those warm little bodies that snuggled in beside me, or that comforting heartbeat. Is it still beating? Anyway, I’m getting a tad sentimental so it must be time to wrap this up.
Happy Canada Day to you and your families and packs!