Soon after we adopted our black cocker spaniel Leaf from the animal shelter we started taking him to a nearby dog park, so he could get some exercise. He was young, maybe a year old, somewhat uncoordinated, and getting used to his new home and us.

One day, when we arrived at the dog park, many dogs ran around the fenced-in outdoor area with its woodchip and grass floor and picnic benches for human observers. After settling in for the dog park show, we noticed that there seemed to be a pecking order with one alpha dog, Chief, ruler-in-charge.

It was fun watching the dogs play and take turns at tug-a-rope using an old, dirty, four-foot rope that had several knots tied at different locations through its length. Chief always ended up winning the tug-a-rope game and would often run around the park on what appeared to be a victory lap with the rope in his mouth.

Other dog park patrons told us that Chief was the undisputed king of tug-a-rope. The dogs viewed the alpha Chief with the highest regard as the game’s champion. At 85 pounds with a brown shiny coat covering a muscular canine body, he outran and out-played the other dogs. He was magnificent. People mentioned that they had seen Chief catch two tennis balls in his mouth at the same time.

Leaf glanced at Chief standing on the other side of the rope. Our dog wanted to play too. His face reflected determination and focus for getting what he wanted. At this time, we knew little of his background and were often surprised to discover different aspects to his personality.

His recent visit to the groomer had given him a gentlemanly appearance but today, Leaf seemed intent on showing the world he was more than a cute face. Even with his red neck scarf, roly-poly physique, and coordination lapses, the only thing that mattered to him at this moment was gaining control of that rope.

We did not want our new family member to get hurt with the Chief being so large and in charge so we watched carefully as Leaf sniffed the rope. We were kind of proud of his ability to show no fear and wondered how he might work this game to his advantage.

With no rules, no starting bell, and no umpire to oversee the battle, it was two tails wagging and two hairy contestants determined to win the grandest prize of the dog park — the cherished tug-a-rope. The thick, dirty rope lay lifeless, seeming to beg for action. Without a gesture or sound, both Leaf and Chief each knew it was time for the battle to begin.

As Leaf approached, Chief pounced on the rope. He grabbed the knot nearest to him and pulled with amazing power and control. Leaf’s leap was a little slower as he fell over his front feet onto his chin. He had failed at this first attempt to bite the other end of the rope.

Displaying a brilliant comeback move, Leaf’s second attempt allowed him to place a big chunk of the rope firmly in his mouth.

Leaf’s opponent feigned that he didn’t even notice that this pint-sized opponent had invaded his territory. Chief started to run his traditional victory lap around the dog park, holding the prized tug-a-rope in his mouth for all to see. With Chief dragging him, Leaf held the other end of the rope in his teeth, using all his strength.

Chief stopped running and yanked hard on the rope to force the interloper to let go. Leaf clung to the rope even tighter with his powerful jaws. Chief noticed the other dogs had stopped running and playing and were watching what was shaping up to be a battle of the century at dog park. Now, with his pride and alpha-maleness at stake Chief had to get things under control.

But Leaf would not give up. No matter how many yanks, pulls, and growls Chief employed, Leaf refused to surrender his end of the rope. Finally Chief stopped for a moment to collect his thoughts.

Leaf immediately saw this pause for reflection as an opportunity. He moved closer to Chief. With war strategy worthy of a military hero, Leaf stepped on the giant dog’s front foot. Chief was so surprised at this maneuver that he dropped his end of the rope.

Leaf ran off with the entire prize firmly in his mouth. Chief chased after him. Leaf managed to keep the rope to himself for only a few moments, but it was good to see him prevail.

In the two years since that experience Leaf has shown us that he’s a winner in spite of the hard start he’s had as a rescued dog, or maybe because of the survival skills he had to develop. His intelligence, ability to strategize, and determination give him the upper paw in life among dogs of all sizes and over people who aren’t nearly as smart as he is.

Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network

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