The Trials of a Top Dog

We live in a hierarchical society. Which is too bad because I’ve never wanted to be anybody’s boss or to order anyone around. That mindset may be fairly common among women of my generation—I’m in my 80s. The one time in my life when I clearly was top dog, I didn’t like it at all.

My husband and I got our dog, Korku, when he was a puppy. A couple of months later, we asked a dog trainer to spend an hour or two with us. We really wanted to do right by this pup. The trainer watched the three of us interact for about 15 minutes and then announced that, as far as Korku was concerned, my husband was the pack leader and I was more like a litter mate.

For the next 12 years, Korku’s litter mate fed him, walked him, drove him to the vet and sometimes resented the way he kowtowed to the pack leader. Then my husband died. A few weeks later, I realized that Korku had promoted me to pack leader. I wasn’t happy about it.

Before that, when I sat down beside him on the sofa, he would snuggle up. Now he immediately hopped off and went somewhere else, not wanting to intrude on my territory, I suppose. And God forbid I should sneeze or cough—he’d tuck his tail between his legs and leave the room. The Big Dog had barked at him and she sounded cross. It was like living with someone who insisted on calling me “Ms. Davis” when I’d told him again and again that my name was “Mom.”

But there was one thing he did for me that was really sweet. Every night when he saw that I was getting ready to go to sleep, he turned down the bed for me. He jumped up on it, dug industriously until he uncovered the pillows, rearranged them to his satisfaction—which sometimes required dumping one of them on the floor—and then curled up like a four-legged hot-water bottle in the spot where I was about to sleep.

As soon as I sat down on the edge of the bed, Korku jumped off and went to his own bed. He lay there looking up at me, and unfortunately I knew just what was going through his mind.

He was thinking, “Good night, Ms. Davis.”

Korku died a couple of years ago, and I now have a cat. It’s a more comfortable relationship because we both know she’s the boss.