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Pretty Nearly Top Puppy

Janet Hanks

If you are not blessed with dog ownership, perhaps you’re not aware that all dogs are pack animals. They require a hierarchy in order to function, and one of the things dog owners must do, if they don’t want to be at the mercy of someone who chases tennis balls for a living, is establish themselves as the Top Puppy.

We did this with our pup right off the bat. We kept him on a short leash and took him everywhere with us, even in our own house. He’s pretty smart, so he soon recognized me as the Top Puppy, and my Beloved as the Pretty Nearly Top Puppy (PNTP). So far, so good.

Last weekend, the PNTP was away on a retreat. By Saturday morning, the Wowpup had figured out that someone was missing, and his immediate reaction was Just Say No To Purina Lamb and Rice. This means he was also saying no to his tummy medicine, but that wouldn’t come back to bite us until the PNTP was home and available to step in dog yark on an early-morning quest for water.

On a good day, when we’re all home and normal, the pup will not eat unless one of us is in the room with him. He doesn’t offer to share, mind you; he just wants an audience while he eats, kind of like Louis the Fourteenth. When one of us is gone, though, he won’t eat at all, no matter who is in the room, or what kind of bribery they are offering.

The Pretty Nearly Top Puppy is MISSING,” his eyes say to me. “Aren’t you going to organize a search party or something? Who can eat at a time like this?”

I explain that the PNTP is fine and will be home on Sunday, but this cuts no ice with the dog. He can count to two, and he’s sticking with what he knows. No amount of bribery can induce him to eat. (Last year, when my Beloved was in Zimbabwe for two weeks, we had to resort to bacon, and even that was minimally effective.)

I go off to do laundry, haul out my summer wardrobe, and make the bed. The dog stomps off to the landing, doing the whole Faithful Dog Trey shtick, including the occasional whine and sniff at the door. He condescends to eat a Milk Bone, offered by me in passing, but he is not happy with the situation, and he lets the treat lie by his foot for a while before he eats it. He puts his head on his paws and sighs in a heartbreaking manner.

On Sunday, in an effort to cheer him up, we have lunch with my mother. Since she never has to clean up anything untoward, she offers him bites of her steak. He eats these because 1.) they are people food, which he never gets at home, and 2.) he doesn’t want to appear rude. As soon as we get back to the house, he sits on the landing, watching the door.

By the time the PNTP got home, the Wowpup had almost given up hope. When he realized his pack was back together at last, he did the happy puppy dance, cavorting in a truly gratifying manner. He followed the PNTP everywhere, pausing only to scarf the food that had been sitting there since Saturday morning. Then he went upstairs to bed, because it was late. (Yes, I am that person. I let the dog sleep on my Beloved’s side of the bed when he’s gone. Not only that, but he sleeps with my Beloved when I am at work, which means whole days pass and our dog hardly stirs from the bed. I digress.)

The PNTP came in shortly after, and looked at the tableau: me under the covers and reading a book, the pup on top of them, on his back with his feet in the air. The PNTP gave him a nudge. “Hey,” he said, “This is MY bed. You have a dog bed right over there.”

The Wowpup opened an eye. “Oh,” he seemed to say, “You’re home?

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