I noticed that after 6 to 8 dogs have been walking together every day for months they start forming into a sort of an organized pack. Some dogs start taking on specific roles.
There is one role which is repeatedly taken up by different dogs, and I think of it as the role of the caretaker.
The dog who assumes this role walks at the back of the pack. Usually, I keep the back position because I need to keep an eye on all the dogs. The caretaker dog walks behind me. This is the position of defense, because canids attack from the back. Whenever we met another pack of dogs, the caretaker would stay behind and wait until all the strange dogs had passed, and then would rejoin the pack.
The first and most prominent caretaker dog was Lola. She was a very large Boxer, very impressive, and she looked quite ferocious, although she was actually a very sweet, tender dog. She had a lot of influence in the pack and I will have lots more to say about her. I learned a lot about dogs from her, she was very smart and had a very strong personality. When we met a pack of dogs she would stand with her head held high and made quite sure that the other dogs were aware of her presence, looking imposing and serious, not aggressive. She kept a very firm eye on the strange dogs and waited until they had all gone quite a distance before rejoining the pack.
At one point Lola stopped walking with us and then something very sweet and touching happened. The oldest dog in the pack at that time was a Beagle called Henri. He was, like most beagles, very sweet and mild mannered. I noticed that when we met a strange pack Henri would wait behind in his chosen function of caretaker, but he would sit down and be very conciliatory, with a sweet smile on his dear face. He waited until all the dogs had gone and then he came to join us. Henri was a lover, not a fighter. But still, he took his position very seriously and discharged his responsibility to the best of his ability.
Eventually, Henri also stopped walking with us and after a while another dog took up the job of caretaker. Tahoe was a beautiful mixed breed dog that I had worked with since he was a puppy. Then the owners decided that they could not afford to have Tahoe walked and so I didn’t see him for a few years. Then, as I was driving by his home every day on my way to the dog park offered to take Tahoe ‘pro bono’. The truth is that I missed him and wanted to have him with me again. When he started again walking with us he had not been walked off leash for those years when I didn’t take him, and he did not understand dog language very well and was very shy. However, he was very intelligent and soon got comfortable with all dogs. And then I noticed something amazing. Young Tahoe took on the role of caretaker, in his own way. He would not wait behind, but go ahead and meet the oncoming pack. He approached the dogs in a very friendly way, wagging his tail and smiling. The dogs accepted his offer of friendship and never approached my pack at all but passed us quite close by with no incident.
So, the function of caretaker must be a very important one in the life of a pack and can be discharged in different ways by different dogs, each with his own style and personality.