We are family, puppy-style

Flopping over onto her back to wiggle and show her belly is part of the way Bailey tells Scout she loves him.

One thing that’s been fun about having three dogs (in addition to three times the poop and barking) is watching how Bailey interacts with Scout and Bandit.

Two dogs was a learning experience itself. I’d never seen dogs wrestle and play the way Scout and Bandit did, or experienced two dogs figure out what roles each played in the little canine heirarchy in which they live.

But adding Bailey completely adds a new dimension.

She is, for example, attached to Bandit at the hip. Wherever he goes, she goes. Whatever he does, she does. She’s learned both his good and bad habits (having two counter surfers in the house is really some fun, let me tell you). They fight over toys, they sleep snuggled together, they go outside together and come in together. I haven’t figured out if she’s in love with him or if they’re just best friends.

Bandit and Bailey, two peas in a pod.

But Scout? Scout’s a different matter. Bailey’s approach to Scout is totally different. It’s as if she’s always trying to win him over, and she’s not going to stop until it kills one of them.

Whenever she approaches him, it’s with back end wagging, tongue ready to lick his entire face. If he’s lying down, she forces her affections on him, licking his entire head, pawing him on his nose, and then flopping over onto her back to expose her underbelly, all the while wiggling and wagging with joy. He responds by trying to avoid her affection, and when turning his head doesn’t work, he bares his teeth. She just increases her wagging and licking.

(As I sit here writing, she’s lying near Scout, chewing on a bone, and inching her way closer and closer to him, until she’s near enough to roll over onto her back and sneak a kiss attack on him.)

Dog behaviorists used to call that submissive behavior, but that was based on research done on wolves in captivity, wolves that weren’t family or part of a natural pack. Now that we’ve been able to study wolves in the wild, we know that the dominant/submissive approach to canine behavior is wrong.

Wolves live in families, packs of wolves that are biologically related to each other. While the mother and father lead the pack, it’s more like benevolent leaders than dominant dictatorship. There isn’t necessarily a constant struggle for leadership as there is a natural family dynamic of some adolescent wolves growing up, helping to take care of pups, mother and father keeping everyone in line. Fighting and dominance behavior are used when dealing with other packs.

So scientists now think that the kissy wiggly behavior that Bailey exhibits toward Scout is really a way of saying, “I love you, we’re family, I just want you to know that”, a way to strengthen a family bond rather than bowing to a dominant king.

I’m still trying to figure out how Murphy the cat fits into this dog family.


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