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Dear Matthew Alice:

I have a question about dogs. Why is it that sometimes all two dogs have to do is look at one another for there to be a fight, while at other times they seem to get along fine? In other words, why isn't the Westminster Dog Show a regular donnybrook? Or maybe it is and they cut those parts out when they televise it.

-- Dogged if I know, downtown

It's not unheard of for Champion Toodles of Wickham-Duke of Earl to go for the throat of a competitor. But it's pretty rare. Your average hanging-around dog has plenty of attitude, a territory to defend, a reputation to maintain, an occasional honey to seduce. Any other hanging-around dog who approaches with a matching attitude will probably set off a fight. The two-dog stare-down followed by the big growl match, then the teeth baring, snapping, and full-on wrestlemania. But if the approaching pooch adopts a properly subservient attitude, perhaps even too subtle for us to detect, the fight is unnecessary. Dogs like to know who's boss; if it's not clear right off the bat, they might settle it with a fight.

The expensive purebreds at a dog show have known for years who's boss: the guy at the other end of the leash (owner or handler). They're so well and thoroughly trained to behave themselves and follow commands that it's rare for them to indulge their nasty urges. Any hard-to-control canines would be weeded out in the training process, and only the Stepford pets make it to a show like Westminster. But if we're lucky, even now the Fox network is assembling Westminster outtakes into a program they'll call America's Bloodiest Show-Dog Fights.

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