Thursday, January 9, 2014

Street wars – of underdogs and alpha dogs

All of us have heard about dogs being in packs. Usually these packs are one family, which is led by the alpha male and female and the other members are usually siblings or kins. Such packs have a strong system of hierarchy. Everyone has a rank and must follow the “pecking order”. This means that each rank has a particular role to play in the daily routine and survival of the pack. The lower ranks get to do the dirty jobs while the higher ranks get a better cut off the dirty jobs and the alphas do the thinking and reproduction for the whole pack. There are a lot of intricate rules and norms in such packs that cannot be dealt with in this article.
Having given a fair idea of a “normal” pack of dogs, I would like to draw attention to the other dogs. Dogs that have either left the main pack, or have been ousted out of one, or never had a pack at all. By never had a pack at all, I am talking about our street dogs.
Normally, when a dog has been thrown out or has left the pack, gets to another area outside the territory of the previous pack and forms a new pack of his own. But, what would one dog do if he has never been in a pack at all??
Street dogs go through a life very similar to humans living in the alley. If they want to survive they need to be on top and if they need to be on top, they need to fight. They need to fight other dogs weaker than them, equal to them and stronger than them. Interestingly, individuals come together to form loose groups and help maintaining dominance over a certain area. This group mind you, is not like the normal pack. Here it is every dog for himself, just aiding the others so that he has an opportunity to survive.
Street dogs are always into street fights, just like their human counterparts. They growl, appear to be bigger than they are, show dominance, bite, claw and lastly, even kill to keep themselves on top of the ladder. The way they make a pack is a very interesting to know. Mere observations can get you a fair amount of knowledge about the working of such packs.
Let’s start from the very beginning. There is no “pack”. There are only individuals hanging around here and there on the streets. Each individual has one small road for himself as his turf. I am talking only about the males with regard to street dogs as they are the ones who usually keep turfs like this and the females move around between turfs. Once in a while they get to meet the others at the edge of their turf. They have small tiffs and break off. Soon as they get more accustomed to each other, especially with the same female moving between territories, they form a truce, a kind of a dog treaty. This treaty states [though scent markings] that only the females are allowed, not other males and here I am in charge not you.
Soon these males have their own kins, which move out into newer territory. Many young dogs like this come into one space which is “no dogs land”. Here they play with each other, have mock fights and grow up. In this “no dogs land” too there are rules. The rules are such – the eldest of the lot has a say in everything, he has the first share in the food and the best sleeping spot, anyone who opposes him has to fight him and prove him wrong. These rules, mind you, are the stepping stone and more like a training schedule for the young dogs for the real deal ahead in life. Soon enough the youngsters either join in with other dogs or go on and find a street for themselves.
If they go ahead and find a street for themselves, then there will be no pack formation again. But many a time, they are clever enough to join other youngsters they have been playing with and form a loose pack. Initially, this “pack” has members of equal ranks; moreover none of them have ranks. But as time goes and they grow up a bit more, it all starts.
The bigger and older dogs, who have “won” many of the play-fights earlier, now challenge each other and this time the fight is for real. They show dominance by keeping their heads high, standing tall, keeping their ears and tails erect and growling. Other dogs who do not want to challenge them keep their tails between the hind legs, ears drooping and almost crawl while whimpering all the time. The real challenge starts when another dog does the same dominating moves.
At first the dogs “size up” each other. They stand tall, head held high, ears and tails erect and growling all along. If neither backs down, then the real fight starts. They growl louder and begin to assault each other by kicking and biting the vulnerable areas like the legs and the ears. If one of them begins to run after sometime, the dog left standing is the winner and proclaims dominance to the rest of the group by challenging them all. The winner is now the “alpha” male.
 Similar to his fights, others fight amongst themselves to establish a higher rank in the now forming “pack”. By and by, ranks are quickly established and a sense of hierarchy is maintained. The number in this pack may vary vastly. The first interesting part is that the street dogs, like their human counterparts, spread the pack over a large area [this depending upon the number of individuals of course]. In this way, any news be it food source, females, neighboring territory status etc. is quickly circulated to the whole pack.  The second interesting thing about these dogs is that even though the “pack” is formed and the hierarchy is maintained, everything is not fixed or permanent. The pack itself is loose; the hierarchy maintained is not exactly of the strict order. I would say this because upon observations I have come to understand that even as a pack, its every dog for himself. This is where the street dogs of the urban jungles differ from the ancestral wolf pack of nature’s jungles. Wolves, plan and execute, defend and kill as one whereas the street dogs act as individuals gaining an advantage in being in a pack, but look after themselves when it comes to fighting, fleeing, food and mating. They do not bother about other members of the same pack.
This sort of life goes on and on for the generations to come, and the dogs, like their human counterparts, think and act more and more individualistically and selfishly rather than as a group and selflessly.
Thus, is a small story of the top dogs and the under dogs of the urban jungle. Simple observations and a little understanding of the dogs will show us that they are no different from us and us from them.