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November 28, 2014

Phillip Tutor: A bone to pick with the dogs in the house

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Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014 6:55 am

Dogs are better than people not because of what they are, but because of what they aren’t: no politicians, no in-laws, no lawyers, no deadbeats, no haters. Humans own too many failures to compete with dogs’ inherent superiority.

Three dogs live in my house. They let our family stay there.

One of the dogs is a pure-breed with papers.

Two are rescues.

All three are females.

One’s a puppy.

One’s about 3.

One’s about 9.

All of them are spayed.

One of them, the 9-year-old rescue, is a mother many times over.

Two of them sleep in a bed.

One of them sleeps in a cage.

Last week, we bought the puppy — the biggest of the three — a big chew bone. It’s the size of a 33-inch Louisville Slugger if you sawed it in half. The puppy’s been here three months and already she has eaten eight pairs of shoes and sandals. Eight clearly is enough.

The puppy, however, doesn’t care much for the bone.

The 9-year-old rescue and the 3-year-old pure-breed do.

Dog owners will get this.

Chaos has ensued.

For nearly a week, the 9-year-old and the 3-year-old have taken turns guarding the bone, chewing on the bone, licking the bone, playing with the bone, arguing over the bone, posing for pictures with the bone and proving to the puppy that the bone she may think is hers really isn’t.

The 3-year-old likes to chew on it, even though she’s half its size.

The 9-year-old isn’t much of a chewer, but she’s the Alpha dog and posts a schedule each week on the fridge that lays out the other dogs’ schedules. She tells them when it’s OK to play, bark and eat. She makes the rules and enforces the punishment. You don’t want to get on her bad side.

The bone is now hers. She lays down on the floor next to it, sentinel-like. The other dogs park nearby at a safe distance, watching her guard the bone.

Hours this goes on.

No barking, no whining, just watching and waiting.

It came to a head two days ago when the 9-year-old deserted her post and one of the others bone-napped the bone and took it to the couch. An argument ensued. Jealousy raged. Three female dogs wanted the same bone — not because it was a bone and all dogs like bones — but because the bone had become a power source in the house.

She who owns the bone sits in the big chair.

There is no civil court for dog disputes, so today the bone rests atop a kitchen cabinet.

Peace has returned, for now.

This little illustration of canine psychology and behavior backs up the story making the rounds this week about dogs’ ability to display the human emotion of jealousy. The Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio have all reported on professor Christine Harris at the University of California, San Diego, whose new research shows that dogs are jealous of their human owners.

Her experiment went like this: using border collies, the professor observed the dogs when their owners petted and talked to a realistic-looking stuffed-animal dog; the real dogs, she says, often pushed away the fake dogs and sought their owners’ attention. When the owners replaced the fake dogs with jack-o-lanterns, there was no reaction.

Thus, “Dr. Harris concluded … that the dogs showed a ‘primordial’ form of jealousy, not as complex as the human emotion, but similar in that there is a social triangle and the dog is trying to make sure it, not the rival, receives the attention,” according to The Times.

You don’t say.

Not to make light of the professor’s work, but anyone dogs have trained well knows their emotions are real — they hurt, they cry, they grieve, they remember. Their joy is contagious. Their bonding is intense. They crave attention, as do most humans. And when they don’t get it, they seek it out in their own canine ways.

Whether it’s jealousy over a bone, or jealousy over something as human as affection, dogs suffer from it just as we do. If not, that big, ol’ chew bone wouldn’t today be atop the kitchen cabinet, where it’s likely to stay.

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