It’s easy to forget that this relationship could ever be anything but wonder-filled and fun. Kainan the wolfdog is out in the yard with my other teenager dogs, gallooping about in a silly, carefree morning melee that resembles tag-you’re-it.
Why yes, I did make that word up. “Gallooping.” Just the way it bumps off your tongue perfectly describes Kainan’s unique gait as he works to control those gangly legs and big feet. Guh-LOOP-ing. He is on the cusp of graceful…I give him a few more months.
I think it is fairly clear that Jim and I are completely in love with this boy as we help him live out his wags to riches story as a member of our family. He is so charming; he has become my most generous muse for story after story. His distinctive howl serving as my new morning alarm clock has been the most natural fit in the world.
However, as I tell stories about him, as Kainan gains a bit of a following, I have to wonder if I am painting a clear picture about life with a wolfdog. Have my stories to date have created an all-daisies-and-sunshine image of life with this boy? Do I even fully understand what the realities of life with a wolfdog may be? After all, Kainan kind of just dropped into our world. We didn’t exactly plan to acquire a wolfdog.
For many people, these wolfdogs are beloved companions and I totally understand it. There is something so amazing about having a creature living in your home that is beautiful, loyal, and, at the same time, inherently mystical.
Whether or not you agree with the concept of crossing a domestic dog with a wild animal to create a species that lives in the gray area between the two (and I actually don’t agree with the concept on many levels…but we’ll chat about that another time), there is no doubt that people are fascinated by wolfdogs. In the right hands, these animals can be incredible teachers and are undeniably appealing. Ah, but there is that tricky “in the right hands” thing.
It reminds me of the late 1980s/early 1990s when Disney started the Dalmatian frenzy. Now, for all of my friends who adore Disney, I am not taking the dear man’s name and namesake empire in vain. I’m just stating fact. The re-release of the original animated 101 Dalmatians, quickly followed by the live-action version, and then the make-Dalmatian-fanciers-pound-their-heads-against-a-wall 102 Dalmatians movie had everyone seeing spots. People rushed to own their own little cartoon puppy. Lots of people. In response, lots of people happily created supply to meet demand. It was a catastrophe.
The dogs in the movie were charming. The Dalmatians snoozing all around my desk right now are also charming, beautiful canine characters. I can’t imagine my life without it being full of spots. They are affectionate, smart, athletic, and…well…hysterically fun. If ever a dog was born with a sense of humor, it is the Dalmatian.
But are they the right dog for everyone? Most definitely not. No breed of dog is right for everyone…just as wolfdogs aren’t right for everyone.
Despite what I would like to believe about my own popularity, truth be told, my stories about Kainan haven’t likely thrust wolfdogs into the spotlight (oh…I made a funny!) in a Disneyesque manner. My blog is just a few billion followers shy of Walt-status. However, I am speaking out…people are reading…asking questions…and a few have expressed a desire to live with a Kainan of their own. Who wouldn’t want one? How cool is it to share your home with the big, not-so-bad wolf? Right? Right?
As I watch Kainan gallooping (you’re starting to like that word, aren’t you?) from the yard, through the dog door, and into the house to collapse in a happy, panting puddle at my feet, I wonder if I just might be Nancy Disney? (Ok, that does have a nice ring to it.)
Uh oh. Time for Responsible Nancy to put on her educational hat.
Admittedly, life with Kainan so far has been pretty smooth. Ah, but Jim and I are not average dog owners. We are Crazy Dog People. Yes, I’m going to own that and make it a formal title. We take in dogs of all shapes and sizes. We train dogs. My business is dog-centric. We have even helped rescue wolfdogs in the past. We are not rookies.
However, all the experience in the world does not a good, responsible decision make. Anytime anyone is thinking of adding an animal to their world there are many factors to be considered. Homework must be done. Most importantly, you have to be willing to walk away if the animal in question is not a good fit for you.
I think anyone considering adopting a wolfdog should have to read Living with Wolfdogs, An Everyday Guide to a Lifetime Companionship by Nicole Wilde, author and canine behavior specialist. (Best last name EVER for someone who is a wolfdog expert.)
I have long admired Nicole Wilde as a dog trainer and I have been fortunate enough to attend dog training seminars she has conducted. She knows her stuff. Let’s pretend she is our retroactive adoption counselor.
Nicole (I decided we are on a first name basis) would say something like, “So…you think you want a wolfdog? Let’s have a chat about that idea.”
Nicole: Why do you want a wolfdog? Do you think you’re getting the ultimate watchdog? Wolves are actually very shy by nature and would rather retreat than confront an intruder.
Nan/Jim answer: I can tell you first hand that when our dogs go charging into the yard to scare off what they would have us believe must be an eight foot tall cyclops, brave Kainan is more than happy to hang back with the humans…perhaps standing behind the humans. It’s not a problem. We feel certain we can protect Kainan from the boogeyman.
Nicole: Wolfdogs are highly social, pack-oriented animals that require a lot of time, attention, and socialization. Are you willing to make that commitment?
Nan/Jim answer: Party with the wolfdog! Yay! He will likely have a better social life than we do.
Nicole: Wolves are very social creatures and don’t care to spend a lot of time alone. If the humans can’t be home most of the time, the wolfdog will need a canine buddy. Can you provide adequate companionship for a wolfdog?
Nan/Jim answer: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that question? The 20-someodd dogs in this house all decided to lick a body part at the same time. Alone is not an issue here. Space on the bed is. Kainan is already tickled pink with his ready-made family.
Nicole: Do you have neighbors? Do you like them? Do you want them to like you? If the sight of something that resembles a wolf in your yard doesn’t put a strain on your relationship, then the wolfdog’s howling just might.
Nan/Jim answer: Neighbors? What neighbors? We live on 72.5 acres of country bliss. Ok, we do have some friends who live to the west of us. While they have been very patient about marauding donkeys and pigs, we do have a secure dog yard and will see to it that Kainan does not make any unscheduled visits to their home. Any howling will just blend in with the resident coyotes.
Nicole: Wolfdogs are known to be amazing escape artists. Most require six foot fencing…and even a fence of that height may not do the trick. Just how secure is that secure dog yard?
Nan/Jim answer: We have indoor/outdoor runs in our house that keeps Kainan safe and comfy while we are away. We supervise him when we are home. So far he has shown no desire to test any physical boundaries because there are no couches visible on the other side of the fence. We will, however, modify our fencing if necessary. We hear that maximum security is the new landscaping chic.
Nicole: How do you feel about digging, chewing, and relentless curiosity? (Relentless curiosity…her words and they describe Kainan PERFECTLY.)
Nan/Jim answer: This one seems a bit redundant to the Crazy Dog People whose two darling Dalmatian girls have tunneled an underground condominium in the yard fit for the Royal family. “Curiosity” is not a problem. We have already been introduced to Kainan’s incredible ability to reach anything on any surface. Oh, and the wall in the upstairs hall is apparently quite tasty. As is the corner of one ottoman. And the magazine that just came in the mail today. And still, we wouldn’t trade him for all of the intact drywall in the world.
Nicole: Wolfdogs are very intelligent, can be quite independent, and do not respond to harsh training methods. Are you willing to learn about wolves’ vocalizations and body language? Will you explore alternative training methods essential for successfully living with and training a wolfdog?
Nan/Jim answer: We embrace the opportunity to learn more about our new friend. Obviously, your book is a great resource (no, we are not just sucking up!) and we are lucky to have great support from our friends at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. Our training methods are already centered on reward-based techniques, so you are preaching to the choir on that front. Kainan already knows sit, down, shake hands, speak, and sit politely while I deliver your dinner. Our wolfdog is smarter than your honor student.
Nicole: Last, but not least, have you checked to see if it is legal for you to own a wolfdog in your area? They are illegal in many cities.
Nan/Jim answer: While wolfdogs are not legal in the city of Tulsa, out here in Creek County, just outside of Mounds, Oklahoma, pretty much anything goes. We’ve even seen a kangaroo in a nearby paddock. Yep. A kangaroo.
At this point in the interview, I envision Nicole Wilde dabbing tears from her eyes, hugging us, and telling us that we are perhaps the most perfect home in the world for Kainan. And I think we are. We are very committed to him.
Of course a little warning from our friends at Freedom Song keeps bouncing around in my head and it’s the one thing that keeps me from getting too complacent about Kainan. Wolves and some higher content wolfdogs do not really mature until 22 months or older. That means we really don’t yet know how wolfie our wolfdog is going to be. His temperament could change as he matures. It could.
For now? Well, Kainan is wonderful, sweet, funny, affectionate, and seemingly quite happy to be with us. Honestly, it is all sunshine and daisies right now. Well, mostly sunshine and daisies. There is the issue of that one last piece of pink-frosted vanilla birthday cake goodness that, instead of being MY treat, went into Mr. Hey-Look-What-I-Can-Do’s belly.
Still…he’s totally worth it.