Posted by: CatherineD | September 7, 2009

Being the Pack Leader

After yesterday’s video of Lily and George playing, some of you asked, “Who is the alpha?” Good question, and it also is the perfect segue to today’s post.

I just finished reading Cesar’s Way, by the Dog Whisperer’s Cesar Millan. I have been meaning to read it for years, and I knew that if I didn’t read it now (before Daniel comes home), it would never be read. It is an amazing book, and I would recommend it even if you don’t have a dog! He is a great story teller, and I found the autobiographical parts fascinating. His life is the perfect example of how hard work and determination can really pay off.

It was important for me to read his book, because Lily is a bit of a spitfire, to say the least. And I was hoping that by reading his book, I could gain some insight into Lily’s behavior and hopefully become a better ‘pack leader’. I knew that most of her issues probably stemmed from the fact that we were doing things wrong. Boy, talk about an understatement! We were doing EVERYTHING wrong! Lily is the sweetest, cutest most lovable dog I have ever known, and because of this, we really spoil her. She is our baby, and she knows it! And somewhere along the way, she has decided that SHE is the pack leader. Her issues are not anything dangerous, thank goodness, but just really annoying (like incessant barking, begging for food, and – ewww – chewing on our socks and underwear).

So, we’ve made some changes in our relationship with Lily, and it’s really hard – but upon Cesar’s recommendation we’ve decided to treat her less like our baby, and more like our treasured dog. She is so smart, and I’m amazed at how far she’s come in just a few days. Dogs really do crave a strong pack leader, and if they can’t find one, they will take over themselves! In answer to the question about who is alpha – Lily likes to think she is alpha, and she works hard at it all the time. George doesn’t really care either way and for the most part he’s really easy-going, but when he’s had enough – he’s had enough! He smugly knows that he is the one with ALL the power.

I only wish I had read this book years ago. I can’t help but think that my dog, Makena, would still be alive. She was a beautiful mixed breed I adopted from a rescue organization, and we don’t know for sure, but we think she was part Rhodesian Ridgeback. When I adopted her at about 6 months old, she already had a lot of emotional issues. She was extremely afraid of people, cars, loud noises, and [I know now] that the first mistake I made was to coddle her and comfort her when she was afraid. So, 8 years and 85 pounds later, her issues had compounded, and she had become unpredictable and aggressive. She had already attacked George and Lily numerous times, and in her old age (along with other physical and mental ailments), it was just getting worse. We knew that we definitely couldn’t trust her with a baby in the house. After talking with the rescue organization from where she was adopted (they wouldn’t take her back with her history), we knew that the chances of her being adopted at her age, size and history were very slim. About 6 months ago, we made the difficult decision to put Makena down. After reading Cesar’s book, I feel like many of her problems could have been avoided – if only I had known how to deal with them. Makena really was my first baby, and I miss her so much. She was so loyal to Brian and me, and she loved giving ‘hugs.’ Makena – I hope you had a good life. You added so much joy to mine, and I hope you know that I always wanted what was best for you.






  1. That books sounds fabulous! We did a lot of reading on prepping the dog for the baby. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, and some of it we should have been better about following through on. I’m lucky in that Roxy is very tolerant!

    Makena was a beautiful dog! I don’t think that any of what happened with her was your fault though. I could go on and on about how the homeless pet situation would function in a perfect world, but I won’t do that to your blog!

  2. Aw, I’m so sorry about Makena! She’s beautiful! Christine is right that you shouldn’t blame yourself for her many problems. Sometimes, it’s just the way animals are wired. I also think that we humans try to treat animal problems with human solutions and they don’t always work so well, but you have to tell yourself that you did the best you could for a troubled doggie and hopefully find peace in that 🙂

  3. Thanks for the story. As dog owners I think we constantly second guess how we’ve responded to our rescued pet’s issues. I know we do constantly with Al (who has some weird anxiety issues). Maybe we should pick up that book too before baby comes. Sorry about Makena, she looked like a great dog (although I can understand your concerns).

  4. Thanks, guys, for all the kind words. It’s true – I’m always second guessing myself.

  5. Cesar’s Way is great – I learned so much from reading it – mostly that we were doing everything wrong! (See if interested in more of my thoughts on Cesar!) We totally realize that we are the source of many of our problems with our dogs, because we’re too lenient and we’re inconsistent. But it’s not ALL within our control. Don’t be too hard on yourself about Makena – we can only do so much. Sometimes the past experiences are too much to overcome.

  6. […] trying to coax a stray dog to come to them, but between Lily’s barking and our scolding her (Cesar would not be pleased), I think we ended up scaring it away. Anyway, we ended up introducing ourselves to the couple who […]

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