Mollie, the oldest of my three dogs, is a bit of a big sister.
Sometimes, when Charlie and Maggie play, she joins in. She especially likes to play toy tug-o-war, pulling with her teeth, fiercely insisting that Mr. Pig or Monkey or Blue Dog stay on her side. Most often, however, she sits nearby, watching carefully. If she notices that things are getting too rowdy, or that one of the pups has an unfair advantage over the other, she barks and moves in to break things up. If she’s not in the room but hears me or another family member telling Charlie and Maggie to settle down, she comes running. Sometimes, it’s to support us as we try to bring order. Sometimes, however, she barks at us as if to say, “Why are you giving them a hard time?”
When snacks are given, Mollie waits to be sure Charlie and Maggie have theirs before starting in on her own treat. It’s the same with mealtimes; she wants to be sure everybody’s been served before she begins eating.
Mollie’s generally willing to share her space and her toys, but ear scratches and belly rubs…those are not to be disturbed. Charlie understands that he will have his turn and waits patiently, but Maggie is still learning and often crowds in. Mollie isn’t shy about letting Maggie know to back off, this is her time to be the center of attention. Don’t interfere, Maggie. If Maggie doesn’t respect the first warning, Mollie takes it up a notch, baring her teeth, leaving no doubt that her message is serious. Once all the pups have gotten some love, however, the happy pack is restored. All is well.
I realize that I may be engaging in a bit of projection. Mollie’s a dog, after all, guided primarily by instinct and routine. Nevertheless, I believe (and evidence supports) that dogs are capable of emotional action. Mollie behaves in ways that I, as the eldest sibling in my family, recognize. Protective and responsible (the good), sometimes bossy and controlling (the bad), with notes of jealousy and frustration (the ugly) – it’s a balance of feelings, expectations, and outcomes influenced by family position.
Here’s to the ups and downs of being the oldest, the first, the leader of the pack. And here’s to Mollie, who understands the assignment.