MY mother went to see a man about a dog last week. She came back with a Samoyed. For the uninitiated, it's a behemoth of a dog, a breed that was bred to help with herding and pull sleds. Whiskey is our guest for the next week. His owners are on holiday and we are in locus canis parentis.
It is our job to make sure he doesn't die, which, let's face it, is the paramount concern when minding the children or animals of others.
I already knew quite a bit about Samoyeds before this 60-pound beast turned up on our doorstep.
You see, our own dog, Reno, a Japanese Spitz, is in fact a miniature version of the Samoyed.
The Samoyed looks like the next step in the Darwinian evolution of the Spitz. Hence Reno looks like Whiskey's son -- Whiskey's chronically lazy, clinically obese son.
Only Reno is older than Whiskey (much older). And Whiskey is leaner than Reno (much leaner).
Whiskey can sit, give the paw, lie down and roll over. Reno used to be able to do all of these tricks, but these days he can barely get into the car. He plods about at his own pace, while Whiskey strides majestically from room to room.
Whiskey should be in the movies -- or at least a Pedigree Chum ad.
In fact, Whiskey probably knows the doormen at Crufts on a first name basis. If Reno tried to get in they'd say, 'Sorry, mate, it's members only tonight'.
As you can imagine, Whiskey's arrival is making Reno feel a little bit small.
They say dog owners have a tendency to humanise their animals and ascribe them with anthropomorphic characteristics.
Granted, some can take this habit a little bit too far, but all dog-lovers know that dogs have a complex range of emotions that far exceeds hungry and very hungry.
Reno certainly does, as I discovered the other day. It happened while I was rubbing Whiskey's tummy. I looked across at Reno, and I swear he was crying.
The tears weren't rolling down his little face, now, but his eyes were definitely dewy. It was as though he was saying, 'What did I do wrong?'
He wasn't angry. No, he had resigned himself to no longer being the top dog. He had let Whiskey overtake him in the pack order of the house.
(Meanwhile, Whiskey and I have learned to conduct our love affair in private. He now comes to my room for his rubs while Reno is asleep. Ours is a love that dare not speak its name...)
We all know dogs are pack animals, but rarely do we acknowledge that humans are too. Remember that dogs slot themselves into the pack order of the home in which they reside.
They sniff out the hierarchy and most of them slot themselves into the number two position after the head of the household (generally the mother).
Some of them have the cheek to put themselves in pole position, which is where Cesar Millan comes in. But I digress.
Dogs immediately detect the unspoken order of a household, and they are generally spot-on. I wonder what happens when dogs are brought along to workplaces, as is the norm in achingly cool, young, creative companies across Europe. Do they curl up under the boss's desk?
Of course, the social hierarchy of the workplace is hardly tacit. There are top dogs and dogsbodies and, like our canine friends, we wear our titles on a chain around our necks, or an automated sign-off at the end of our emails.
Where it gets interesting, though, is the arenas in which we don't acknowledge the hierarchical structure, but where it exists nonetheless. Life is one big comparison trap, a constant ego battle.
One-upmanship is a hard-wired drive. We rank ourselves into file and order, by comparing the cars we drive and the homes we own, the length of our hair and the size of the bottoms. We do it not to bolster our status, rather to affirm our identity.
We even do it with complete strangers, whether it's the woman on the treadmill beside you in the gym, or the man on the yoga mat beside you in the studio.
"Don't look at the person beside you -- it's about your own personal limits," the teacher reminds you in that comforting mellifluous voice. Like f**k it is...
While many would baulk at the suggestion that they benchmark themselves against others, they have no problem admitting that they benchmark on others' behalf. These are the people who say with absolute authority: "She could do so much better" and "he's way out of her league".
The ego battle continues even in the comfy familiarity of a relationship, particularly in those frustrating first few months when your desire to up the ante collides with your terror of seeming desperate. As both parties try to affect a cooler-than-cool demeanour, an unspoken power struggle gets away. Someone has to betray their vulnerability -- give up their power even temporarily -- for the relationship to progress. Alcohol helps.
The sisterhood (or lack thereof) is another example. Thanks to our miserable little one egg a month (in comparison to men's life-time supply of sperm), men have the biological supremacy. Hence we women are pitted against one another. From an early age we learn to compare ourselves. I bet you can still remember who the "the prettiest girl in school" was.
And when we compete for a man's affections -- God bless us all. It is ugly and base and primal. I have seen women mark their territory in ways that would make lifting up their leg and peeing on their prey seem elegant by comparison.
And I have known women -- myself included -- to walk away with their tail between their legs when they are faced with competition that they simply can't come up against.
Just as we try to dominate the pecking order, we know when to submit to our place in the line.
We know the Whiskeys of this world when we meet them. Every dog has his day, but some have more dog days than others. Reno hasn't made an enemy of Whiskey (granted he hasn't discovered our late- night cuddle sessions yet.)
If they were enemies that would mean that they hadn't negotiated the hierarchical structure, that they were still fighting over the same bone.
It says something about the human concept of enemies - the people we snap and growl at and insist we 'just can't stand'. Invariably they are on the same file as us in the pecking order and the real issue is not contempt but competition.