Who’s Alpha?

My first foray into a wolf pack was courtesy of Jack London. His tales of Buck in The Call of the Wild, and White Fang himself in White Fang captivated me. My dad continued to remind me that wolves were not German Shepherds, as our family owned one lovely German Shepherd, aptly named Dickens. She was a dreamboat of a dog.

When I was eleven, Dickens and I went to obedience school every Tuesday night in Palo Alto, California. As we heeled around the ring, I pretended that at the end of that black leather leash was a wolf, a salivating and dominant beast, whose madness and insanity could be released at any moment by me—Alpha Girl.

At home, when no one was looking, I would curl her soft leathery black lips into a sneer and, like the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, I would emit a deep alpha-like guttural growl. Only the hamster, Butch, seemed concerned.

The years tumbled by and before long, I was a young teacher of 21 years old, standing in front of my first English class, some members of whom, looked older than I. As I walked (slunk) to the front of the classroom (mouth of the cave), I introduced myself (growled) and announced that I, Mrs. Sabraw (White Fangette), would be their English teacher (Alpha Wolf) for the year. The bluff worked.

Now don’t misunderstand me.

I didn’t scrap for food or hit anyone. Being Alpha in a classroom, family, or prison yard is an art. I must admit, that for the next thirty years of teaching, most of my students thrived in my pack.

I wasn’t ready for Udo.

Udo is now deceased although his ashes sit like the Bust of Pallas in a cedar box on my library shelf wedged between Freud and Frankenstein. He was our family Rottweiler, and as my son Ben christened him, The Best Worst Dog we ever had.

I sobbed a bucket when he died on an operating table several Junes ago. Yes, he was quirky. Yes, he had issues (don’t we all?). Yes, he was a wannabe Alpha. Yes, I am glad I now have a Labrador retriever.

Like Udo, all of us need to know our limits. Constitutional scholars call this The Rule of Law.

Chaos in the classroom stifles learning.
Inconsistency in the household hatches manipulation.

It’s OK to be an Alpha.

Photo by Cheri Block Sabraw 2007 Northern California ” Udo’s Last Look” Note: I took this photo before Udo went down for surgery for a cancerous tumor. He died on the operating table. This was his last view of his property (and boy was he concerned about his property)

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Who’s Alpha?

  1. DogsDeserveFreedom says:

    HI. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks

  2. Kala Pohl Studio says:

    I really enjoy your blog and glad I found it:)

  3. Kevin says:

    Complete order in the classroom often suppresses growth as well. Some balance is necessary, some equilibrium between the natural way of things and what humans desire.

  4. Peter_Applebaulm says:

    There are remarkable similarities that unite a healthy human/dog relationship with all manner of healthy host/guest, master/slave, parent/child and even teacher/student relationships.
    Thanks for teasing out the subtle ethics of these micro-political dichotomies.

  5. tsblock says:

    Just today I stopped being “alpha” with my often disobedient teen ESL class. It was not a deliberate decision on my part, but it worked. I think it might have had some sort of reverse psychological effect on them. They enjoyed the class and so did I. Balance is definitely a key component to successful teaching. However, I think the best teachers are those who know when to switch from “alpha” to “equal.” If you are wrong, it’s like trying to hit a curve ball when you thought a fast ball was coming.

  6. Ross says:

    I love the picture of you curling back Dickens’ lips and growling for her…

  7. lowercase-v says:

    i absolutely love dogs. they’re some of the greatest creatures ever to exist.

  8. Douglas says:

    My best teachers came from a mix of “alphas” and “equals”. No one style was better than the other, I think. In all cases, it was the person who I saw as honest and sincere that held my interest and taught me well.

  9. Glorybelle says:

    Hi Mrs. Sabraw! I am so glad Blogger highlighted your blog, otherwise I would’ve never known about it. I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a sophomore student of yours at MSJ. I think you’d remember Crissy Connich though, who was (and still is) my best friend.

    I really enjoy your blog… very smart, very witty and also poignant. Today’s entry made me think about my own childhood dog (a German Shepherd). And presently we have a Chocolate Labrador Retriever… but he knows he’s not the Alpha, although he’d like to be.

    I like your last line: Inconsistency in the household hatches manipulation. Brilliant! Thank you. 🙂

  10. apol says:

    great post…loved reading this…


  11. Moonfairy says:

    That is totally true…my parents were inconsistent (largely due to military work hours of 36 on 12 off) so my dad was never on the same page as my mom and when you’re a kid you never know when it’s okay and when you’re going to get smacked accross the face…at least, that’s what it ended up being for me…I’ve definitely gotten over that one though! Having my own kids taught (and hubby!) that we HAVE to be consistent…We’re CO-ALPHA’S!!!

  12. Illegal Tree says:

    If you did scrap for food,(just lunge at Johny and take his lunch) in the Classroom, you would be Alpha Teacher for life!

  13. Mrs. Tomacina Wuthrich says:

    Thank you for such a warm posting.

  14. seebist says:

    cool! i love this post haha.

  15. Arlargar says:


  16. SAB says:

    Extending the discussion to, yes, politics, the one attribute that distinguishes our canine buddies from politicians, is that dogs are transparent and loyal. When they are depressed, as my French Bulldog gets when we leave for work, they look depressed. When they are doing the alpha thing, they just go for it; and when it is time for them to knock it off, they can be transparently sheepish. Moreover, they are as loyal as the elephant in Horton Hatches the Egg (kudos to Dr. Suess)

    Politicians, on the other hand, are like cats (sorry to cat owners); they rub up against you, making you feel important and as if they value your friendship; as soon as you start fawning over them and feed them, they split. Never come when called and have no sense of loyalty. When the pizza man rings the bell, my French Bulldog-Harley- runs to the door with his hair on fire to protect us. The cat sits back and is thinking, “wow, what’s his problem; as soon as I have these people (voters) where I want them, I will sneak a slice of pizza, maybe treat myself to some of their hard-earned milk or tuna and then I’m going out on the town to find some casual sex. And when you bust them on the milk thing, they blame the dog and suggest that you are discriminating against them because they are cats. Then they start calling all there cat buddies, including the idiots on MSNBC and call a news conference. Before you know it, the entire neighborhood of cats is on your doorstep demanding to see your union card…..Oh well. I have taken this way too far but the use of political correctness as a weapon by the Cat community has got to stop. We need to reveal who they truly are and what their goals are.!!!

  17. Sam says:

    Congrats on being a Blog of Note! You deserve it!

    I’ll be looking forward to future posts.


  18. lakeviewer says:

    This is a fun read for a retired educator. While I appreciate your insights and analogies, I can tell you that, in retrospect, teaching is an act of love more than anything else. Your teaching will reflect what you want your students to be: thoughtful, insightful and caring human beings. Thanks for a thoughtful blog.

  19. Internet Love Caravan says:

    I am a parent that often volunteer time to my son and grandson schools. The present of parents in schools does make a differnece.

    Men took over monitoring morning arrival and evening departure at my grandson’s elementary school and WOW! No chaos at all.

    Students’ appeared and disappeared; orderly and quickly to their destinations both in the mornings and evenings; which freed school admins to work on other tasks.

    My son is now in high school and many of the students remember me from his elementary days. I am effective when it comes to students who horseplay a little rough. When I am present they will tone down their agressive energy.

  20. Sandra says:

    Visiting from Blogger/Blog of Note 🙂

  21. Melissa Lorenz says:

    Hi Cheri!

    Over 18,000 visitors…And I knew you back when. 🙂 Now that I am not at Millcreek, your blog has become even more important to me as it helps me stay connected to you in some way. Over the years, I learned many life lessons through your stories and look forward to learning a many more through the blog. Keep up the good work! Give my best to MCA.
    Miss you

  22. Whitethorn Kid Journal says:

    Hi: I would like to link to your blog because I think we have a bit in common. I love nature and I was raised near the lost coast in California in the 1940s. I have lots of true tales and information about logging and loggers as well as how to catch a chipmonk using figure 4 sticks. I also lived a wild child life up there in Whitethorn where I learned to track, shoot and fish. One of my more interesting stories is what happened when a shoelace salesman came to the Whitethorn bar to sell shoelaces to the loggers. A totally funny ending. Whitethorn kid.

  23. ~*Liz*~ says:

    I just found your blog…and so glad I did. Great stuff!


  24. Anonymous says:

    I found your blog when it was in Blogger’s noted Blogs. So glad I did. I love your blog, your writing, your depth and your humor.
    Keep it up.

  25. Chourou says:

    Hi Cheri,I am stopping by.
    The story of “Alpha”,I really appriciated.And I’d say that it somehow riminded me of ALPHA WAVE,which comes to everyone’s brain when enjoying adequately deep sleep. Alpha wave seems to be indispensable for us to refresh and get back energy to live,thus so important that how to output it in our brain can be a key to get wellness.

    It dominates us in a sense.

    So it’s definitely OK to be ALPHA.(^ ^)/

    Oh,I…I am wondering if the mention above might be stupidly far off the point…???

  26. Jamminsoul says:

    You described my first day of school every year. I will now view myself as “Alpha” instead of “Mad Dog.” Mad Dog is just a look, Alpha will be an attitude.

    Loved the post!

  27. addhumorandfaith says:

    A very wise point clothed in the words of a very interesting story.

  28. miss alaineus says:

    it’s good to be the alpha teacher, yes indeed.

    i really enjoyed reading your blog.

    come visit the alemanac anytime!


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