In my previous blog I left off with Lexi’s owners giving us their blessing to adopt her. We knew full well what we were taking on in the health department since I worked at the hospital where she was receiving her care. However, I was unprepared for the battle of the Alpha.
In every wolf pack there is an Alpha. This is the one that rules, commands, instructs, and leads. There can only be one, and when another comes along and attempts to take this role, a fight ensues. The winner becomes or remains the Alpha. In the wild, an Alpha role is a very ‘strong-arm’ role. In a human home environment the Alpha is usually not so physical and sometimes not very apparent. In our home my husband is ‘Alpha” in some areas of our life and I am in others. In our home it is never a physical position, but one of capability or personal characteristics. My husband has years of training and experience for the role he plays at work. I cannot do what he does. One key thing I do have experience with is dog training. So it was natural for me to take on this role and be the ‘Alpha’ in this area.
Upon Lexi’s arrival into our family I had some preconceived ideas about her. One was that she would just simply fit into our home. She was well trained in behavior and protection. I figured all my training experience would stay locked in my mind and not be needed. I wrongly believed she was going to hit the ground running without any guidance from me. I had assumed she was preloaded with all she would need to follow me. Boy was I mistaken.
Lexi was preloaded with the DNA of a pack leader unless she had a strong Alpha to lead her. Her previous female owner was exactly this type of leader. I, however, was not. At least not when Lexi arrived. Lexi is a good sized, 85 pound German Shepherd. Most people mistake her for a male dog because she is more handsome than pretty. I was unprepared for her strength and her very strong, powerful bark. Thus, in the beginning, I was more afraid of her than I was in control of her.
After a few months of having her we decided I needed training to be able to handle her properly. We knew my weakness in leading was giving her the strength to become the leader and defender. This was not appropriate for her role in our home. We tried a trainer that was good and had some helpful ideas for us. We didn't know it at the time, but this was only a stepping stone.
We brought Lexi home in January 2013, and in May 2013 we got a call that changed our future. My husband was offered a job in Germany and they wanted us there within two months. Fortunately, they allowed us a bit more time to prepare and agreed to August. Oh the stress of preparations...
I cannot imagine what this was like for Lexi. I know she didn’t have a clue as to the specifics of what was happening but let's look at it from her view. January she is in a new home, unsure of her position and role, July she moves into a hotel for 2-3 weeks, August she leaves her new owner to go to someone new for one night and then get on a plane overseas, lands in a foreign country, is driven by stranger to meet up with us, stays in hotel for three weeks and then moves into a new home with strange furniture. It would be three more weeks before our furniture and belongings arrived. It was then that Lexi knew this was home. All the familiar smells and some of the comforts of her first family too. We began to settle in.
We found a trainer for Natural Dogmanship 90 minutes away. This special type of German dog training was what we did with our dog Bear. It teaches the owner to be Alpha and teaches the dog to follow. They use no physical force and only the normal collar and leash. It is all about relationship. This is what I had been hoping to find in the States but did not. Once Lexi and I started this training our relationship began to flourish. I was gaining confidence and she was gaining understanding of her role. Within a very short period of time a bond was forming between us.
Right around this time I realized that I had not allowed myself to ‘love’ Lexi. My husband and I took her on to help her and her family, not because we wanted a dog to love. We truly had given a huge part of our hearts to our boy Bear and with his death, that part left us. As Lexi and I started working together, my heart began to soften. That is when I really started to see a change in Lexi’s responses toward my commands. She was so watchful and expectant. When I understood that she needed my love, and I hers, we started seeing major changes in our behavior. It was no longer a battle of strength, but a partnership to succeed. Our walks were about fellowship and bonding, growing and learning, fun and adventure.
I still have much work to do in myself to continue being the strong leader she needs. With every success, and there are many, I am given new confidence to strive for more.
I am so happy our thoughts have changed from, "We would never consider giving her up, due to our commitment" to "We would never consider it because we love her."
We have finally allowed her to fill the void within our hearts and we are so grateful we did. We think she is grateful we did too.