When the alpha is challenged in the pack, how involved should a two legged mom become???

An incredibly interesting thing is going on here at my house, between Duke and Mack.  There seems to be an attempt to usurp the alpha male which I find fascinating, because I would have thought the fight would have been taking place between Kohl and Duke.  The two males who will be left behind in the pack once Mack goes.  But, I’m surprised to witness that the actual challenge for alpha is Duke going after Mack.  Truthfully, I don’t know a thing about the pack mentality, other than when the alpha begins to show signs of illness, or weakness, the other top males tend to fight one another for the leader role.  Or at least that’s what I remember from Mutual Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and all the cat prides they followed.

So what is going on here with my aging, old guy Mack being pushed around, and in some cases attacked by Duke?  It’s getting so bad that last night I literally had to jowl pinch Duke into submission, which wasn’t easy, since after he attacked Mack over a pile of kibble Mack had located on the floor, he lunged at me when I stepped in to push him off of the food, and Mack.  His respect, and what little obedience he did hold in his tiny little body are all going out the window.

Even though, as you all know from reading my blog that Duke is our “difficult” dog child, this escalated, and more frequent bad behavior is not normal for him.  Keeping in mind that he’s the one that gets pissed off, and pees wherever he feels like, usually on the most expensive thing he can cock his leg against, and listens at his leisure, this new attitude of his is still unusual, and upsetting.  In one day, yesterday, he managed to have four fights, two with Mack and two with me.  It is becoming unnerving as I get ready to leave in a week, for a week.  I just wonder what he will do to his older, ailing alpha male while I’m away?  And what amount of dog urine will Dominique, and our dog sitter have to clean up over the course of seven days?

A part of me feels sorry for him, wondering if he’s in pain with his little torn ACL and therefore acting out due to discomfort.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m in pain, I’m a crabby bitch.  Just feeling uncomfortable in my body and unable to do anything about it causes me to be mean to anybody who crosses my path.  I would buy this thinking, but apparently he has little to no pain at this point, which is what all three of the vets I’ve discussed the delay of his surgery with, have told me.  They say the initial injury would have been painful, which I can vouch for.  I recall him panting and unable to sit, or lie down comfortably for the first two days, but then it was as if nothing was even wrong with him, to the point where keeping him calm, and not running all over the property like a madman has proven quite difficult.  So I can’t give him that get out of jail free card, and if it was pain related then why are his attacks only against Mack?

It truly makes me go “hmmm.”  Poor Mack can rarely eat in silence anymore without Duke sliding up to the food dish, where he literally pushes Mack off the food.  Our old guy, slowly backs away from the bowl, and cowers in the kitchen, watching as Duke, who, most often doesn’t even eat the food.  He simply lies down in front of it.  That’s it; while poor sweet Mack sits shaking in fright.  And don’t suggest I close off the food area so only Mack can go in and eat, because the truth is Duke is a crafty little shit, and doesn’t pull this every single time Mack goes to the bowl.  There is no rhyme or reason to Duke’s oppression of his alpha.  So when it happens I handle it, then look at Mack and wonder why doesn’t he assert himself?  Why does he allow this to happen to him?  I mean Kohl knows that he still is not to fuck with his alpha, he wouldn’t dream of it.  In fact, Kohl is the exact opposite of Duke and would lay down his life to protect Mack, as was witnessed by the damage he caused to the two dogs on the walk who went after Mack back in the summer.  It’s so confusing to me, on one hand I have a young male, who you would think was chomping at the bit to be alpha, throwing down his life to guard and protect him, and then another middle age male ready to take the throat out of his aging pack leader for his own gain?  It is bizarre to me.  Even when no food is involved, Duke attempts to cause Mack to fall.  As you know, the DM that Mack has is causing his back legs to slowly give out on him, so standing for any length of time is proving more and more difficult.  And instinctively Duke seems to know this, as he will enter a room where Mack is and move toward him, intentionally walk into him, knocking him off balance.  Mack sensing that this is now becoming a pattern, will growl as Duke approaches him, warning him to think twice.  Which sadly these days doesn’t even deter Duke, and then Kohl steps in.  Duke heads toward Mack, Mack growls, Kohl springs to Mack’s aid placing his body between Mack and Duke, ensuring that Duke cannot knock Mack over without getting through him first.

If it wasn’t so upsetting to witness this cruelty against my oldest male, I would say it is all quite fascinating to watch.  But sadly, it does break my heart that Duke doesn’t seem to have the same respect for Mack that Kohl has.  Which causes me to draw this parallel between man, and beast.  When I look at it that way it sort of makes me think that this is quite similar to what we’ve just witnessed in the world of politics.  Ass Pimple, middle aged inferior male, attempting to get Obama, alpha male, impeached for not being a “born American”, for most of his presidency.  Mean while young, virile American males the country over, voted, campaigned, and stood behind Obama and honored his Presidency.  The weaker male knows not how to bide his time and take his rightful place at the top honestly, so instead he uses dirty, unfair tactics to “win” as Duke is attempting to do here, within his own pack.

Interesting.  Very, very interesting.  I guess the animal kingdom isn’t all that different from mankind after all.


  1. There’s a difference between being an Alpha, and being a bully. From what you have said, it would seem Duke is being the latter. He knows he can push Mack around, but he backs down when Kohl steps in. If he really wanted the Alpha spot, that wouldn’t happen. Duke isn’t in top form due to his injury, Mack even less so. I suspect that due to the injury, and due to the changing “politics” in the pack, it’s why Duke has amped up his marking in the house. I also suspect Duke’s snapping at you is simply his still being in his bully mode when he did it. I’ve raised and trained dogs (for commercial hunters on the Missouri River flyway) since I was fifteen. And my daughter and I have shown Chesapeake Bay Retrievers for twenty years. When “The Call of the Wild” rears its head, the entire scenario changes, as you well know, and sometimes there is no reasoning to it. Take care, and good luck!

  2. I witnessed somewhat the same behaviour when my older dog was weakening due to lymphoma. My beagle Sadie started pushing Shadow away from her food bowl which she would not have dared before. I was afraid she was turning mean but after sHadow passed Sadie obviously missed Shadow and reverted to her normal sweet disposition. Think I understand it better after reading what is going on between Mack and Duke. Wish I had some good advice but as you say same mentality exists in humans.

  3. Hey Shantelle☺ Love,love, love reading your musings! I wish I could say out loud what I am actually thinking! Lol I can so relate with what is going on with the dogs. My younger dog was attacking our poor ailing dog as he was getting sicker. I would literally have to tear the younger one off! It was absolutely heartbreaking as the older one wouldnt fight back. I assumed it was because the younger one knew he was sick and perhaps wanted to put him out of his misery?? I have seen this at other homes as well when I petsit. I feel so bad for what you are going through. It is so heartbreaking when our furbabes get ill. Just wanted to say hi and let you know how AWESOME I think you are!!!! Would love to see you in the spring when I FINALLY get down to Jenanne’s!! Xoxo

  4. Our greyhound girl had a back injury. She would fall down and not be able to get up. I would work a towel under her and use that to support her body so she could stand. The process was painful for her, and she would bare her teeth and turn as though she were going to bite me, but every time she turned her head away and never even nipped me.

    Now I don’t pretend to know everything about canine behavior, but the fact that Duke has lunged at you is very troubling. It is unusual for a dog to attack his human mom, so there might be something else going on. Please check with your vet about this behavior and what it might mean, and don’t put yourself in harm’s way trying to break up a fight. Throw cold water on Duke and see if that stops him.

    Stay safe,

  5. Ok, now you’re talking my language. I’ve had multiple dogs most of my life and the alpha dog jockeying for dominance was prevalent in all cases. In my experience, it was with females and they didn’t act any differently than your males. My alpha was a mixed breed G.Shep/Collie/Beagle/Basset, named Fuzzy, who went about 65-70 lbs and the challenger was a G. Shep. that went about 90 lbs., named Gypsy. Fuzzy ALWAYS won in their constant 7 year fight for dominance. Many many times I, the Big Dog, had to step in! I cannot tell you how many times I had to do that, and when I did, there was hell to pay for the offender and that typically was Fuzzy. She would stand in front of Gypsy’s bowl and to stop her from eating when she was a puppy, even though she had just eaten her own bowl of food. She would run at her in the yard or run over her completely in the house. I would discipline her by…now don’t get offended by this…grabbing her collar and twisting it while lifting her up on her hind legs. This effectively cut off her air and she would HAVE to listen to me while I was in her face shouting,” NO” or “COME WHEN I CALL YOU” or whatever the bad discipline was I was trying to correct. After I released her, I’d yell “GET IN THE KITCHEN”, and she’d high tail it in there, sit on her bed and stay there for a couple of hours until I told her she could come back to me. Then we would have a heart to heart talk. Believe me, I only had to do that a couple of times and she’d straighten up.

    When I wasn’t looking, well, that was another story. She was a sneak! One time, when the 3 of them, (I also had a boy dog, a sheltie named Buddy who was passive), were chomping down on their bones (treats as they were called), Gypsy got up, went into the kitchen to get a drink, and as soon as she did, I saw Fuzzy’s eyes follow her. As soon as she turned the corner to the hallway, Fuzzy got up, grabbed her bone, took it back to where she was lying, and laid on it. Then proceeded to chomp away on her own bone, like nothing ever happened. When Gypsy came back into room, she looked for her bone and then at me like, “where did it go”? In a stern, Big Dog voice I said , FUZZY giver her back her bone on the count of 3 or else. (They were all taught the counting thing). 1…..2……she got up very slowly, huffed, then took her bone and went into the kitchen to eat it, just like a scolded child! I was amazed at that!
    My stern discipline and defense of Gypsy, was the ONLY way she would stop her aggressive behavior. Years later, I cannot tell you how many times Fuzzy was the one that was bloody, when Gypsy got older. She would go after Fuzzy’s ears or one time, her side. I told Fuzzy when Gypsy was a puppy, that one day she is gonna kick-your-ass!!! So, you’d better straighten up! Sure enough, even though Fuzzy was still the alpha dog, she was the one that ultimately got the stitches or limped because Gypsy ran into her in the yard and blew out her knee.

    I know that was long winded but, I HAD to stand near Gypsy’s bowl so she could eat while she was young and couldn’t stand for herself. I HAD to constantly step in during a tussle that would start out innocent enough, then turned aggressive. I WAS physical with my dogs, but I was assured that in public, they were very well behaved, with or without, other dogs around. I didn’t take bad behavior EVER!!!!!

    So GF, you are going to have to be BIG DOG and start pinching Duke’s little puggy butt when he acts aggressively toward Mack. Because I can tell you, that when he is in a cast, Kohl may start taking advantage of him. This behavior is also LEARNED and MUST be stopped at the FIRST alpha dog stand!!
    Also, for Mack’s sake, put him in a room by himself with a food bowl and water so he can sleep and eat or drink in peace. He can’t take the abuse Shantelle!!! You have to protect him from being attacked because just like Ass Pimple, Duke will show his dominance constantly up until Mack is not longer here. I’m sorry to say that to you. But Kohl is really the one you have to teach at this point that you will not tolerate this kind of behavior by disciplining Duke sternly and protecting Mack.

    My heart goes out to Mack! I feel for him and his old body. All my dogs lived in a span of 15 yrs. 3 months to 17 yrs. 6 months old. It’s tough enough to watch them decline, but it’s worse when you see this behavior, whether it’s instinctive or not. YOU CANNOT TOLERATE IT!!! You MUST protect Mack however you can! (and Dominique’s sanity when you’re gone).

    Theresa, a.k.a Big Dog

  6. This is a hard one, Duke taking over the role of alpha male is pretty normal I think, but to go after Mack that way is surprising to me as well.
    He seems to want to haste his demise, I think you would probably see that in nature, but a dog he has lived all his life with…..
    Is it possible he is challenging you like a jealous child trying to get your attention? Who knows what goes through their minds.
    Does your vet have any suggestions? I would tell you not to worry but I think this attitude of Duke’s may get worse, you may be the female he is fighting for.

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