Our dog, Phynn, was a quintessential alpha female. Nothing got by her unnoticed. It was a relief for everyone when we moved to the country because Phynn no longer had to defend our house from the mailman every weekday at 1: “I TOLD YOU YESTERDAY NEVER TO COME BACK HERE!!!!!” On the floor beneath our front window, where she would work herself into a lather, was a large circle of scratches.
Part German shepherd and part blue heeler, Phynn loved to fight other dogs, and she loved to charge cats and raccoons. I lived in constant fear of the day a raccoon would turn around and fight back.
Phynn, to her credit, begrudgingly accepted her place in the household power structure and was obedient. So I felt fairly confident the day I brought home eight peeping chicks in a burrito-sized paper to-go box. I set them up in the basement in an old clothes basket: lining the bottom with shredded newspaper; adjusting the heat lamp; filling the feed and water hoppers. Phynn watched my every move intently, keeping one ear on the white box on the floor next to me. (She was like a cat in her ability to monitor sound coming from multiple directions.)
Finally, I opened the box. Phynn cocked her head, transfixed. Baby chicks peep nearly constantly unless they’re sleeping; plus, they were confused and apprehensive about what was going on, so they made quite a racket. I carefully transferred each one into the basket and dipped its beak in the water so it knew to drink.
Cut to the dog: Phynn’s head followed the trajectory of each chick like she was watching a tennis match. She started panting, partly because I had turned up the heat in the room and partly from the stress of it all. What were these things? And why were they in the house?
Finally, it was time to introduce the dog to her new flock. I singled one out and set it on the carpet in front of Phynn. The chick stood, frozen with fear, and peeped nervously. Phynn looked at it, looked at me, looked at it. She slowly opened her mouth and slowly, carefully, placed it over the chick. She did not close her mouth, but hung there above the chick, and then looked at me. The message was crystal clear: “Are these toys? Snacks? For me?”
“Leave it,” I said. She straightened and licked her chops, disappointed, and I put the chick back under the heat lamp. “Good dog.”
That was it—from then on, Phynn knew that the chicks were part of our family and never bothered them. Good dog.