That’s My Boy! (Sigh.)

Kainan faceI realized today that with the addition of Big Paul the draft horse to our family, I have been remiss in giving any updates on Kainan, our resident wolfdog.  Kainan has been a busy, wonderful, disgusting, and adorable boy lately, so obviously he deserves some blog time.

As you may or may not know, Kainan is a young wolfdog (a mix of malamute, husky, and wolf) Jim and I helped rescue last year. In the process of fostering him while he regained his health from extreme starvation, we kind of, sort of fell head over heels in love with him. He quickly became a permanent part of our family.

Now, after more than a year with Kainan, I sure can’t imagine life without him. He is an education and an adventure all wrapped up in a big, woolly, handsome package.

Recently, Kainan has dipped his toe into the pay-it-forward pool as an ambassador for Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue, a local non-profit organization

Freedom’s Song was founded to provide safe haven for homeless or in-need wolfdogs, and to educate the public about the measures that must be taken to live successfully with a wolfdog. They also work very hard to dispel the big, bad, evil wolf myths and to teach people the value of wolves in nature. 

As part of their educational effort, the volunteers at Freedom’s Song give programs at area schools and, if a calm, willing candidate is available, they like to take a wolfdog along for the students to see firsthand. Kainan is calm. Kainan is friendly. Willing? Well, yes…and no, no, no. I’ll explain THAT part later.

The busy, wonderful, adorable adjectives listed above describe Kainan’s performance so far at area school programs. I could not ask for him to be a more delightfully appropriate representative of his wolfdog family.

JenksWhile the Freedom’s Song folks give their presentation, Kainan remains with me in front of the audience. We never allow the kids to rush toward Kainan, or, conversely, allow Kainan to rush toward the kids. Some of the kids are nervous about meeting the big guy. At the conclusion of the presentation, the students who want to (and HOW could you not want to?) are allowed to come meet him, two at a time, in a calm, orderly fashion.

I have to tell you that Kainan would prefer I just take the leash off and let him roam the audience at will. The moment he sees the kids file in, it’s game on. Apparently the curious/outgoing gene won out over the shy/reclusive gene that is dominant with many of his relatives.

If I crawlWhile we wait for the meet and greet portion of the program, Kainan watches the crowd intently. He pulls on the lead a bit to see if I’ll give enough slack for him to at least reach the front row of admirers. If that fails, and this is the adorable portion of the program, he will lie down and try to belly crawl to the students because SURELY the stealth approach will gain him access to these wonderful smelling kids.

I like these guysWhen his moment finally arrives and the first kids approach, Kainan remains very calm and accepts their attention without a trace of shyness, and with no over the top antics. You might think we spent hours training and socializing him, but the truth is that Kainan is just a really good guy. He is even happy to pose with the kids for selfies. It makes me wonder how many Facebook profile photos feature our handsome boy.

Now let’s talk about the “willing” and “disgusting” descriptors. While Kainan has integrated into our home really well, and while he is amazingly appropriate and fabulous once at the school programs, it’s the getting-to-the-school portion of the event that poses a problem.

Kainan is not fond of the car. He gets carsick and always has. When I say carsick, you may picture a dog that gets drooly, a bit queasy, or one that may even throw up. If only that were the whole picture with the K-man.

Of course the first trick is to even get him into the car. Kainin weighs about 110 pounds. He does NOT jump willingly into the car. He does not even pretend to cooperate when you try to help him get into the car. In fact, he can make his big, lanky body go as limp as a well-worn rag doll when he sees the open door of my Jeep looming.

When we finally do get him into the car, it’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Mostly, it’s a potentially very, very bad thing. You see, within the first mile traveling in the car, there is a high likelihood that Kainan will do the unspeakable. You know, the thing that can make throwing up look pretty mild.

It starts with lots of drooling. Then you see him move to the back of the cargo area where he starts circling in a tight, hunkered little spiral. Oh. Dear. Dog. NOOOOOOOOOO!.

The sight of a giant wolf dog doing “the” circle in the back of your car causes panic to crawl straight up from your stomach to prickle through the top of your scalp. You can call to him, you can plead, you try to pull over in the nick-of-time, but you won’t make it. You can’t stop the inevitable.

On our first trip to a school assembly, I was flying solo. Jim helped me toss the big guy in the car and we headed out. I hadn’t fed Kainan breakfast so I was actually confident that all would be well. Foolishly, naively confident.

Within the first 3/4 of a mile, with the drool flowing freely, the circling commenced. Everything pretty much went into slow-mo at this point. Picture me, eyes wide and glued to the rear view mirror, my mouth forming an exaggerated “O” as a drawn out “Nooooooooooooo” spilled out.

I immediately pulled over on a side road to try to head off the tragedy. I was too, too late. So very late.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to put a big tarp in the back of the car. This would be a quick and easy clean-up. Just a tiny little speed bump on the road of life with Kainan.

I got out, leashed my big boy and let him hop out of the Jeep (do you see my mistake here?). I pulled the tarp out of the cargo area, cleaned it up as best I could, refolded it, and proceeded to load everything back into the Jeep – all while holding firmly onto a wolfdog whose main mission was to stay as far away from the vehicle as possible.

The tarp and cleaning supplies went back into the Jeep really easily. Kainan? Not so much.

So here’s the scene passersby were treated to: A slightly crazed looking woman standing perplexed at the back of an open Jeep, with a huge, drooling wolfdog miserably hunched at the very end of a six foot leash.

The old “load up” cue was falling on very deaf wolfdog ears. If he could speak, I believe he would have said, “No way in hell, woman.” Desperate to stay on schedule, the show had to go on, I proceeded to try to lift Kainan into the Jeep. I’m a big, strong gal, but I have to tell you that when a 110 pound wolfdog decides to go not-a-bone-in-my-body limp on you, the scene turns immediately into a slapstick comedy.

I lifted his front end toward the cargo area. Kainan’s rear end promptly fell out from beneath him like strings of well-cooked spaghetti sliding from a fork. We both ended up panting, flat on the ground. Regroup, circle, and try again. And again. And again. Finally, with no small amount of baby talk mixed with a good amount of cussing and grunting, I shoved a pouting wolfdog into the Jeep.

“Goooooood boy, Kainey! Goooooooooooood.” As we got back underway, I made all sorts of promises about how much fun he would have at the school. His reply was a shiny, slimy smear of slobber on my right shoulder. Ugh.

12107069_10153266912854422_6858737632247608306_n

Kainan on a practice ride with Jim. Eyes a bit glassy, big guy?

Carsickness is not an unusual problem in young dogs. It takes time, a little training, and a bunch of short, happy car rides to help relieve the problem.  In Kainan’s case, on our most recent trip, I also used some essential oils for calming and stress relief. I chose peppermint, lavender, and Stress Away oils that I rubbed onto my hands and petted on Kainan’s neck and chest about 15 minutes prior to the car ride. I also put some lavender on a paper towel and stuck it into the Jeep’s air vent, which I had blowing on high and cold to keep Kainan comfortable and to also diffuse the lavender scent throughout the interior of the vehicle.

If nothing else, I was sure relaxed.

My other secret weapon? Yummy bites of chicken that I doled out as long as Kainan remained calm and settled in the car on the thankfully short ride to the middle school.

Guess what?

No drool. No throwing up. And thank-the-dog-gods, NO number-two in the back of my Jeep. Progress!

Kainan had a great time at the school. He got lots of attention, hugs, and pats. It was a good experience all the way around. I think it was even a tad easier to get him back in the Jeep for the car ride home.

By golly, Kainan is going to make a great ambassador AND, evenutally, a great Jeep dog. I love being able to give back to Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue. They do such important work for these amazing animals and were ready and willing to help Kainan when he was rescued. If Kainan can contribute to their mission with his wonderful, adorable qualities, we’re happy to work through the disgusting part to help them out.

Education is the key to understanding and to successful co-existance. A new generation is learning about wolves and wolfdogs. A young wolfdog is learning about the rewards of riding in a car. Here’s hoping for success on both fronts.

 

The Training? It’s Going Really Well. Just Ask the Wolfdog.

Sock thief

The key to any great relationship between a human and a dog is consistent, positive-focused training. Today’s dog trainers work to establish meaningful communication with their students while finding creative ways to encourage desired behavior and replace undesired behavior. It’s a far better path than the old days of correction based training.

I’m pleased to report that I think Kainan has really caught on.

Kainan, the wolfdog who moved into our world just over a year ago, is a smart, sneaky, playful, mischievous, furry force. At about 110 pounds with a reach that would make any NBA player jealous, the boy can wreak a little havoc around the house. Keeping things out of reach of the dogs has taken on a whole new meaning and action plan now that this guy is around.

I swear the other shorter canine residents see his potential and cheer him on.

“Hey Kainan, I think I smell barbecue…yes…check way back there on the counter.”

“Kainan! I think the hu-mom just left her freshly toasted bagel by her computer…unattended!”

“Whoa…do you see that K-man? A whole bag of marshmallows. I can’t reach it, but YOU can.”

Why yes, all of this has happened and then some.

He also steals things. Television remotes. Shoes. Shirts. Door mats. Bowls. Silverware. Pillows.

And lately? Socks.

IMG_5028We are in a huge sock phase. Clean socks, dirty socks, it matters not. He finds them, though I SWEAR I keep my laundry out of reach, and then it’s game on. The sock becomes a toy that he tosses up in the air and then pounces. I’m sure, in his wolf-inspired imagination, instead of a sock, he’s capturing some elusive, wild prey…that happens to smell exactly like my feet.

Far be it from me to ruin his fun, but I’m running dangerously short of matching socks (I just solved one of the great mysteries of the universe for you. Where do all of the missing socks go? The damn wolfdog has them.)

Time to get some training going. Chasing him down, cussing, and scolding just makes it a grand game of keep-away for my big elusive-as-hell-when-he-wants-to-be friend. So how do you turn a sock fiasco into a positive training exercise?

IMG_5030I decided that every time I caught him cavorting with a sock, I would tell him to come and sit. If, instead of bolting out the dog door with the prized sock, he complied with my request, I would offer a trade…a cookie for a sock. Comply, surrender the precious sock prey, get a little treat. Win-win. Right?

And so the training started. Kainan bolted through the living room with a sock, I issued a pleasant “Kainan come! Sit!” Kainan did just that. Nancy retrieved a slightly slobbered sock, Kainan received a yummy cookie. Yes! Good boy.

Mere moments later, Kainan showed up with another sock. Training must be consistent, right? Repeat the above paragraph.

Then Kainan showed up with another sock.

And another.

And another.

Getting the picture here? Pretty soon he was just directly bringing me socks, sitting, and looking expectantly at the cookie jar. Nary a cue from me required.

I’d say our training program is going really well. I know Kainan thinks it is.

He thinks I’m coming along quite nicely.

Sigh.

365 Days Later: Bigger, Not Badder.

goofy Kainan

It has officially been one year since the day a scrawny, malnourished, exhausted stray wolfdog stepped foot into our home.

He did not huff and puff to gain access. He did not stalk us in the woods while we were on any sort of journey to visit aged relatives. He simply looked into our eyes and we threw the door wide open.

If you have not read my early posts about Kainan the wolfdog, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. Kainan was found stray in Tulsa, OK (where wolfdogs are not legal to own/house/wander) by friends of a friend. Said friend somehow thought (not a huge stretch) to contact me, my most significant other, Jim, and our equally-bleeding-heart veterinarian/friend, Lauren. That put the wheels in motion to get the young wolfdog quick care and boarding at the animal hospital while we all worked on the “what’s next” portion of this tale.

I went to visit this boy while he was boarding. Past experience in working with wolfdogs at our city animal shelter told me that he might be very stressed, fearful, and filled with mistrust. Wolfdogs don’t do well in kennel situations; wolfdogs often don’t warm to strangers very quickly.

20140901_103907What I found, when I approached his kennel run in the hospital ward of the clinic, was a calm, tired, pup with sores on all of his paws and a soft, trusting glow in his eyes.

Little did conscious Nancy know, but subconscious Nancy was already head over heels in love.

Fast-forwarding through the ensuing events, a local group, Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue, had seen photos of this boy, agreed he was a dog with wolf content, and were making arrangements to take him into their foster program. He would need to board for about a week before they could take him.

Jim and I agreed we would sponsor his boarding at the vet where he could also rest and recover from his days trying to survive on his own.

We agreed on that until Jim had a better idea.

10628313_10204848789243189_794661893457081233_n“I’m going to pick the wolfdog up and bring him home for a few days until he leaves for the rescue.”

It was that simple. We were going to temporarily foster a wolfdog that we knew little to nothing about. Well, sure. Count me in.

So the young wolfdog came home and moved into one of the indoor runs we have in our house. This house was built for our serious dog habit, so we were well equipped to keep him comfortable, safe, and separated from our own herd of dogs. Because we should keep him separated, right? Big, bad wolf?

We agreed on that until Jim and a better idea.

“I’ll just bring him out on leash to see how he does with everyone. He’ll be more comfortable on the couch.”

2014-09-01 10.42.34And he was. And we all were quite comfortable. And that’s when subconscious Nancy peeked out from the depths of my brain to suggest that maybe this could work out. Then she skittered right back into hiding.

Seed planted.

We were to meet the fine folks from Freedom’s Song (say that three times fast!), on a Sunday afternoon to turn the wolfdog over to them. In talking with them on Saturday to plan a place and time for the next day’s transfer, I learned that our boy…um…the boy…would be going to a very good foster home near Oklahoma City. He would be housed in an outdoor pen and introduced to another wolfdog buddy. There he would gain weight and strength while awaiting adoption.

“Outdoor pen?” subconscious Nancy queried. “This boy has been lounging on your couch in air-conditioned comfort. He melts in the heat. It’s in the 100s right now.”

“But I’m sure he’ll be fine…” and with that she disappeared back into the nether regions of my cranium once again.

JIm and I talked about it extensively, for like, oh maybe five seconds.

10551488_10204877036749359_4110038824873177390_oSend our…um…this boy to live outside while he is still recovering from severe malnutrition? Oh hell…um…I mean…oh, maybe no.

Definitely no.

So I called the lovely representative at Freedom’s Song back and suggested that instead of him moving to another foster home right away, Jim and I could foster him until he was a healthy weight and ready to acclimate to the heat.

I heard a long pause on the other end of the conversation. And I knew what she was thinking.

Her inside voice was saying that these people have no idea what they are getting themselves into. And as any good rescue person does, she was running through a mental checklist of reasons why we might not be suited to keep a wolfdog and working to say the words as nicely as possible.

We talked about containment. We talked about our other dogs. We talked about the fact that we had no idea how he would behave once he was no longer weak and starving.

10678831_745359785524595_8164635533662719818_nThe Freedom’s Song folks are good at their work. Not once did they tell us we couldn’t do this. They simply told us all of the “what ifs” and the potential truths of life with a wolfdog…even just a temporary one.

“Temporary?” Oh shut up, subconscious Nancy.

We met with them, we listened to them, and we promised them we would not let them – or the wolfdog – down.

After a couple of agonizing weeks of debate and just referring to our boy as Big-Bad, Jim and I finally named our new foster friend Kainan. Don’t ask me how or why…it’s an entire story. You can read it here if you want to know the painful truth of how hard we find it to name something. Human parents, how do you do this? What a responsibility.

During the same time the great name debate was raging, Kainan gained weight, and strength, and increased energy. Whereas initially he could only sit and watch the other dogs race around him in the yard, after a few weeks of care, he slowly started joining in the games.

Kain and BernieFrom that point forward he has done nothing but thrive. At eight months of age and a frightening 38 pounds in August, Kainan blossomed into a regal wolfdog of 100+ pounds by the following January. From a tired, lethargic boy with sore paws and no stamina, he became the instigator in rowdy games of dog tag.

And through it all, that calm, steady glow in his eyes never shifted.

Did we say temporary? No. He was not to be a temporary guest. Kainan was home to stay. Our home was to be his home forever.

Subconscious Nancy emerges victorious into the light to high five conscious Nancy.

What we have learned in 365 days with a wolfdog in the house:

  1. Guard your television remotes. Your shoes. Your couches. Anything and everything he might be able to reach needs to be locked down or moved out of his reach. Mischief and thievery abound with a wolfdog in the mix.
  2. There is no such thing as “out of his reach” when you have a wolfdog in the house. Maintain a good sense of humor. Scold yourself for not supervising closer. Always remember he is far more important than any “thing” could ever be.
  3. The landscape of your yard will change. If you thought dogs could dig impressive holes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We now have the potential for a multi-chamber, multi-level storm shelter in the back yard should we decide to finish it out.
  4. If your rather large wolfdog decides he wants to sleep on the bed, you will find yourself on the couch. Unless he has already chewed the couch.
  5. Duct tape can repair couches. Sort of.
  6. Wolfdogs are not brave, aggressive, or one bit scary. When our dogs charge into the night, racing to the darkest corners of our yard in full baying alarm, Kainan stands in the safety of the porch light, ready to head back into the house if there really is a boogie man out there.
  7. Wolfdogs apparently don’t bark. Kainan does not have a “bark” but he has lots of other ways of talking. He wuffs, he mumbles, he woo-woo-woos, and he howls. OH how he howls. It’s a more hauntingly mellifluous vocalization than any of our other canines can begin to muster and one that brings the resident coyote choir to a respectful silence.
  8. Wolfdogs are affectionate. They love tummy rubs. They love to have their backs stroked. They love to have their ears rubbed.
  9. Wolfdogs can be very independent. A bit of a split personality? At times, yes.
  10. Wolfdogs love to play. They love to pounce their dog friends. They love to chase and be chased. They love toys. Toys might be your couch…be warned and be aware. Learn from our mistakes, Grasshopper.
  11. Wolfdogs are smart and learn quickly. What you help them learn is important. It is as easy to accidentally teach bad things as it is to intentionally teach good things. I’ll let you mull on that very loaded sentence. (My example would be the people who turn a very wild, excited dog loose at the dog park and only call it to them when they are ready to snap the leash back on to head to the car. Get ready for a grand, 30 minute game of keep-away. They just taught their dog that “come” means “game over.”)
  12. Wolfdogs are amazing, mystical, loving, woolly, gentle, clever beings that are certainly not the right fit for every household, but one of them is very much a grand fit in our household.

Of course I do not speak for every wolfdog here. Obviously, my experience is limited to living with this one very special boy. The grand prize in the wolfdog lottery, in my opinion. Not all wolfdogs adapt to living in a home with other dogs so beautifully. A chewed television remote or two…or five…can be the least of your concerns with some wolfdogs. They are not for everyone, some do not easily adapt to domestic life.

BW Kainan

A wagging tail, a happy wolfdog.

But we have Kainan. Our special wolfdog. Every day I bury my face in the thick ruff of fur around Kainan’s neck and inhale. It’s cathartic and uplifting. There is no musky dog smell. Kainan smells of earth, of fresh grass, of warmth. He looks straight into my eyes with a steady gaze that melts my heart again and again. He gently grabs my hand with his powerful jaws in the role of the playful predator. He’s never left a mark.

There is a connection with this animal that is quite profound and eludes description, but I sure hope every animal lover finds something like it, whether with a dog, a cat, a horse, or…in the right circumstance (Don’t worry fine folks at Freedom’s Song, I listened!)…a wolfdog.

In the meantime, I think it may be appropriate to rethink the fairy tales of my childhood. In my story, the wolfdog is not bad at all. In my story, the three little piggies, the giant wolfdog, and the girl wearing the hoodie all become dear friends who go share some porridge with a blonde girl and some bears.

Kaine and meAnd they…we…live happily ever after.

Happy one year Kainan. Jim and I look forward to continuing this real-life fairy tale for years and years to come.

Talk to the Animals? I’d Rather Listen.

Toby boss 2

There is a lot of talking going on in this moment…but not a sound was made.

As humans, I think we are a rather arrogant species.

We are!

We spend a lot of time talking about how to train animals, to make them understand our language. We come up with all sorts of tools and gadgets to make animals do our bidding. Sometimes we yell, we bark out commands like a drill sergeant. And all of our efforts are often met with confusion and stress.

Boy. We’re really missing out.

Animals of all species have rich language. They communicate subtly and effectively. The twitch of an ear. A glance. A flick of a tongue. The curve of a back.

If only we could just hush for just a bit. If we could just learn to stop filling the silence with a lot of words that are often not given the chance to have meaning, we could learn so much. We could work together with our companion animals so much more effectively.

The horse trainer who understands an ear turned one way or the other, or the message of a horse making chewing motions and licking his lips, is the trainer who will work with a horse fairly and without force to form a meaningful bond.

A dog trainer who understands a deliberate glance away, a quick sit, a dropped head, or a big yawn, is a dog trainer who can work to make a huge difference for a stressed dog.

A human who understands what it means when a wolfdog gets up from his spot by the desk, walks all the way downstairs to find “something,” and returns just a few moments later to place a dog food bowl in said human’s lap…well…

Yeah. I got up from my desk and fed the dogs breakfast.

Sometimes animal communication is anything but subtle. Sometimes the language gap is bridged rather brilliantly.

Well done, Kainan, you clever boy. I heard you loud and clear.

Interested in learning more about how dogs communicate? This is a brilliant article written by Turid Rugaas on calming signals. She also has a great book entitled “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals.” Anyone who wants to learn to work with dogs…or just improve your relationship with your own dog should read this book.

The Epic Battle at Tails You Win Farm

20150425_083651 (1)He goes to war with relentless fervor. A solitary mercenary for a cause known only to him.

His enemies, his prey, were, in another time (about five minutes ago), his best friends—this, the cruel reality of the battle.

He stalks. He gives chase. He pounces. His prey is always held fast within his intense focus, whether running away, or creeping up in a futile ambush attempt from behind. Nothing escapes his keen senses, his unwavering instinct.

20150302_191225And there are many, so many foes to slay.  One after another, after another is mercilessly worn down until all soldiers for the cause have fallen into certain, unyielding nap-time.

Then, and only then, the giant warrior succumbs to the need for rest himself.

Sleep soundly, my dear battle-weary soldiers. For you must certainly rise to play-fight yet another day. If not for you, I fear the couch will most assuredly fall victim, yet again, to the wrath of his boredom.

Cinder and Kaine  Kain and Bernie

20150425_083726  bed party

Drama on the Farm: Grooming, the New Contact Sport

Kainan faceIt’s spring at Tails You Win Farm. The trees have brilliant green leaves unfurling. Flowers are bursting into bloom in defiance of our fickle, here-gone-here-again winter. The pasture’s pallet of tan and brown has a beautiful undercoat of soft green pushing upward toward the warming sun.

And speaking of undercoat, we have two Australian cattle dogs, one husky/malamute mix, and one rather large, wooly wolfdog who have now decided it’s safe to shed their excess winter plush.

It starts rather innocently. You notice an odd tuft of fur sticking out of an otherwise smooth coat, so you naively give it a tug. Oh what a tangled web we UNweave when we first start to pluck those irresistible bits of fur. That first little tuft is like finding a thread on the hem of your favorite shirt…you just can’t resist the urge to pull it and then everything unravels.

All. Over. The. House.

I am convinced that the dogs have the ability to control when and where they release the fluff. My yard is not covered with dust-bunnies of canine origin. My living room is carpeted with the stuff.

In an effort to contain the shednado that is overtaking our home, I sat down last night, with brush and trash bag in hand, to hopefully make a significant dent in each dog’s quickly departing winter undercoat.

Dogs love to be brushed. It’s a great way to have some quiet, soothing connection time with your furry friend. The husky/malamute dog rushes to me when she sees that brush come out. She flops to the ground, moaning in anticipatory delight.

The cattle dogs also love to be brushed, though it requires a bit more skill on the part of the brusher because these brushees are moving targets. They wiggle this way, they squirm that way, they roll over. It’s as if they want to be sure you get every spot, but they can’t decide which spot to offer first.

And then there is Kainan, the resident wolfdog.

This is my first shedding season with dear Kainan contributing to the swirling, clinging mess. But the big guy loves attention, he loves it when we pet him and ruffle his impressive coat. Come here, big guy, let’s get you brushed.

I had no way of knowing. I had no time to prepare…to come up with a combat plan.

Combat, you say? YES. Combat.

Kainan did not flop to the ground in a comatose state as his husky mix friend did. He did not squirm from side to side in delight, as the cow dogs did.

He saw it as a contact sport.

A really, really, did-I-mention really fun, rowdy contact sport called “grab the brush.”

I brush down the right side of his back, he spins and lunges for the brush—eyes glowing with mischief, ears pricked forward, body swinging in playful joy. I brush down the left side of his body, he swings for the brush. I quickly realize that I can’t sit comfortably to brush Kainan.

I’m up on my feet, in warrior groomer pose. Game on, big man.

I spin, and swipe the brush down his chest. He rears up and fakes right, then goes left to grab my retreating hand and brush, but AH HA! There is a huge wad of hair in the brush.

Point to the human.

I swing left, dodging his next advance and manage to swipe the brush down Kainan’s right thigh. He whips around and grabs the brush, running a few feet away to drop his chest to the ground, his butt still high in the air with waving tail, brush clamped in his grinning mouth.

Aurgh…he got the brush AND landed in a perfect play posture.  Two points to the wolfdog.

This dance went on for about 10 minutes until I finally whisked the soon-to-be-doomed brush away to safety on a shelf that I believe to be out of reach of the beast. I believe. Maybe. Well, we can hope. For the sake of the brush, we can hope.

Memories of less fortunate television remote controls flash through my mind. I offer a moment of silence.

We may have a little work to do on the “accepts grooming calmly” front, but honestly, I wouldn’t trade the hilarity of the failed attempt for anything.

Cinder and Kaine

Kainan playing with foster dog, Cinder. It’s play. I promise!

Just eight months ago Kainan came to us weighing only 38 pounds. He could barely walk ten steps before he needed to lie down for a rest. He was beyond weak. He was emaciated. In hindsite, I truly believe he was days away from death.

But he always had a little sparkle in his eye.

Today this boy weighs 110 pounds. He is healthy. He is very happy. And so are we.

The sparkle in his eye is now a full fledged gleam.

Grooming be damned. Surrender to the spring shed. Throw the hair up in the air like confetti.

Party on, Kainan.

Wolfdog in the House: Busted.

10350350_10205453432278887_1906984399020605388_n

The face of innocence? I. Think. Not.

Sing with me!

“Bad wolf, bad wolf,
Whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

In this case, “they” are not the police. They are Jim and Nancy. Bad wolf? Well, If you’ve been hanging out with my blog in the last month or two, you know who that is.

Let me set the scene for you.

Jim and I were upstairs in the office/loft/lounge/dog room (every room in this house is multi-purpose…every room in this house is a dog room). We were enjoying a little rare quiet time. The dogs were fed and napping. We were catching up with the world on our computers.

Then I heard what, for a nanosecond, I believed to be Jim playing a little online video clip.

“Kainan!” Jim roared as he launched out of his desk chair, “Leave it!”

What the…the dogs and wolfdog are all right here. Wait. Where is the wolfdog?

Gone, that’s where. That animal is pure ninja. Here innocently napping one moment, gone the next without a sound. But, what about that audio (still playing in the background) suggested bad-Kainan?

“He’s got the remote!” Jim’s voice bellowed as he bolted down the stairs to grab the spotlight we keep by the backdoor for just such emergencies. I too leaped into action at this point.

Here’s how it works…whoever busts Kainan’s latest “grab and dash” heads into the yard to talk the wolfdog out of whatever he shouldn’t have in his mouth. The other partner grabs a handful of treats to distract the resident also-leaping-into-action dogs who would otherwise interfere with any search and rescue attempts.

I couldn’t see what was going in the dark yard, but here’s the audible version:

“Kainan.” (stern male voice from one corner of the yard)

“Leave it.” (even more stern now, from the opposite corner of the yard)

“KAINAN.” (caps mean even MORE stern, back to that original corner)

“GIVE. ME. THAT.” (somewhere in the middle)

Jim came back in cradling the remote control; this time rescued unscathed by wolfdog teeth. Other remotes have not been so lucky. (Moment of silence)

So how did Jim know EXACTLY what was going on? Well, apparently this is not the first time that Kainan has inadvertently turned on the television while stealing the remote control. And this is why said remote now lives in the drawer of the bedside table.

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Kainan. Busted and pouting.

I’m pretty sure I could maybe, sort of, possibly be the one to blame here. I was the last one to use that remote. I may…there is no actual evidence…but, I MAY have forgotten to put it back in the drawer after using it.

Kainan slunk back inside trying to look contrite, but I didn’t buy it. He was obviously just waiting for the next time we let our guard down.

Bad wolf, bad wolf…or is it bad dog, bad dog? Either way, whatcha gonna do?

Well, I, for one, am “gonna” remember to put stuff away…out of reach. Which reminds me. I watched that TV just last night. And I put the remote…I put the remote…

Wait. Do I hear the theme for Good Morning America? Dammit. Gotta run.

KAINAN!

Wolfdog in the House: Kainan 1, Couch 0

20140930_093441revThe title of this post could also be “When Bad Things Happen to Perfectly Good Couches.”

Now, before I detail the event that I am wild guessing you have already surmised, let me back up and share with you the one caution I always send home with anyone who adopts a dog from me: There will likely be a honeymoon period. During the adoption honeymoon, you will think you have adopted the perfect dog.

You will be amazed at how clever your new dog is. You will brag that he has not had one accident in the house. You will tell all of your friends that you can’t believe this dog ended up with a rescue group or in a shelter. You will develop a false sense of trust. You will let your guard down. Yes, despite my sincere, expert warning, you will relax.

And then it’s over. The honeymoon ends. It may be after two or three weeks, or even a month. And it will end in some potentially profound, eye-opening way after your “perfect” dog has settled in nicely and has started to feel secure. Oh yes, they let you believe that they are furry little angels and then…BAM. They blindside you.

In reality, the end of your honeymoon actually may not be anything too tragic. Keep it all in perspective.

A chewed shoe? Big deal. Wearing two matching shoes is SO last season.

A little accident on the floor? Clean it up and pay closer attention.

He snagged the sandwich right off your plate when you turned your head? Well, that’s just funny. Make another one.

Yes, your new dog may pull a little stunt or two…or your new wolfdog just might eat your couch. Ok, not the whole couch, but that’s only because morning dawned and a wolfdog can only consume so much couch in one sitting.

Now, I can hear wolfboy’s loyal fans asking, “Who’s to say it was Kainan who ate the obviously delicious leather couch?”

20141024_081500It’s true. There are potentially several likely suspects in my home. And it might have been a bit of a mystery, except that just I was snapping a photo of the damage so I could share the joy with Jim (he’s out of town…I blame him for this…if he had been home, he would have fallen asleep on that couch and this never would have happened), lo and behold Kainan photo-bombed the couch and grabbed another bite.

This tells me that he has no idea that couchicide is a major crime. It appears I have some training to do before I dare purchase a new chew toy disguised as furniture. Meanwhile, thank goodness designer duct tape is now all the rage in home decor. (Well, in MY home it is. Don’t judge.)

I will miss our honeymoon, dear Kainan, even though the honeymoon itself was filled with stolen items, mischief, and a bit of occasional mayhem. It all seems so trivial now…so very trivial.

Hey Kainan, guess who is going to revoke your “sleep loose in the house” privileges for the foreseeable future? The old ball and chain she-human, that’s who.

Yes, the honeymoon is over. But hey…I was growing tired of that couch anyway.

(He’s still worth it.)

tape

Wolfdogs in the House: And Then There Were Two

2014-10-18 23.22.50The sound emanating from the dog room had a mournful timbre—an intense, beautifully eerie vibrato. Kainan’s head swiveled with ears riveted as he listened intently. Then he threw his head back to answer the tenor’s cry in his own rich baritone.

If I had heard this duet while walking through the woods at night, well, I would have been entranced and in need of new undies all at once. I would love to book this act for Halloween night. There are no sound effects in the world to rival this hair-standing-on-end opera.

So yes, the title of this piece reads “Wolfdogs in the House.” Yep. You read that right. WolfdogS.

Just over a week ago, my Facebook feed started blowing up with people sharing a photo of a dog that was at the animal shelter in Owasso, a nearby town. The dog had a certain “look,” if you know what I mean. And because of his look, he was deemed illegal within the city limits. He was in trouble.

When it comes to rescuing animals, the Facebook alert system can have the same effect as the beam of bat-infused light that prompts Bruce Wayne to squeeze into his tight, abs-built-right-in suit and then bolt off to once again save the city of Gotham. My slightly less theatrical bat signal came in the form of a private message from my friend Stephanie at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue.

10726645_766054940121746_1459711085_nThe question seemed almost tentative and was followed quickly by a pleading-eyes photo. I could imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning in the background, “…in the arms of the angel.” I could even feel Stephanie holding her breath as she awaited my reply.

“You got room and willing to do it again?” She asked.

I understood her hesitation. It was just over a month ago that Jim and I welcomed Kainan, our resident wolfdog, as a permanent member of our family. Right after that yes-he-can-stay decision, Kainan started stealing everything. He developed a taste for sheetrock. He took it upon himself to join our rank amateur dogs in redesigning the landscape of our backyard.

Oh yes. I understood her hesitation all too well.

But one look at that photo and of course I agreed to go get this boy out of the shelter. I am admittedly an easy mark. We agreed that I would spring him from the shelter, get him checked over by my veterinarian, and then house him for a few days until I could deliver him to Stephanie’s house.

On the following Thursday, after his required 72 hour holding period had expired, I made the 30 minute drive to the Owasso animal shelter to liberate our new temporary (picture that word chiseled in stone) boy. The shelter staff…who first reported that it was a female wolfdog and later changed that report to “oh, wait, it’s a male,” (ummm…so girls have…and boys have…yeah) had told us that the wolfdog was thin and very frightened. I was not worried. I have always had good mojo with shy/frightened dogs.

When they first brought him out to me, I could tell that he was nervous and unsure…you know, the old “what the hell now” expression clouding his expression. I sat down in a chair, not directly facing him, and within a few moments, he carefully sniffed me and decided that I might be OK. Considering that at any given moment I probably have the scent of no fewer than 25 dogs wafting around me like the dust cloud that follows Charlie Brown’s buddy Pigpen, I have to believe I’m a tad appealing.

As I helped WD2 into my Jeep I will admit to a tiny “what have I gotten myself into now” moment. Another wolfdog in the house? With all of my dogs? With Kainan? Well, hello hindsight, my taunting friend. You’d think I’d learn, but hey, planning things in advance can be so crazy overrated, right?

First stop with WD2 was a visit to my dear veterinarian friends who have basically grown numb to me walking through their doors, unannounced, with yet another dog or critter, domestic or otherwise, in need of their attention. I believe I even heard one of the staff members close a phone conversation by saying, “I have to go. Gallimore just walked in with another wolf.”

I think I’m becoming a bit too predictable.

WD2 was nervous, but behaved well as Dr. Henson gave him an exam. I remember one moment when the good doctor, who was crouched down directly in front of WD2’s muzzle, said, “Do you think he’ll tolerate a blood draw for his heartworm test?”

“Uh. Sure?”

I’m fairly certain my wishy-washy answer did not give Dr. Henson the rush of confidence he hoped for, but we had one great tool on our side. WD2 was thin and really hungry. I held a piece of food for him to nibble while Dr. Henson aided by Chris, the fearless veterinary technician, quickly drew a small amount of blood from WD2’s front leg. He never knew what hit him.

One hurdle down, it was time to head home and get this guy into the house. By myself. With 20-someodd other dogs vying to be the first to sniff his nether regions. Yay.

In just the span of time we were in the car together, I was already seeing some differences between WD2 and Kainan. They were equally wolf-like in appearance, but behaviorally, Kainan had always been pretty easy going. This might have had something to do with the fact that, at just 38 pounds when we initially rescued him, he was nearly starved to death and very weak. But even with more than 30 pounds gained (and still gaining!), he was still a relatively placid, albeit more playful, boy.

20141018_104434WD2 wasn’t in much better shape at 46 pounds, but he was different. He paced the back of my Jeep. He tried to dig into the floor. He wanted to climb into the front seat. He wanted to climb into my lap. He tried to “borrow” my purse. He immediately started chewing on the tarp that covered the floor of the cargo area (the tarp in place because I learned the hard way that some newly rescued dogs do unspeakable things in the back of your vehicle. The very hard way. )

It was a drive home that required me to watch the road and the rear view mirror in equal parts. Of course I knew that WD2 was stressed, so it was not fair to judge him too quickly, but still, there was just something that felt very different to me about this wolfdog. The old gut instinct was waving a red flag. It wasn’t a fearful feeling, but maybe a feeling that this guy was more of a handful than my sweet Kainan.

More of a handful? Those words struck terror into my heart. While we loved having Kainan as part of our family, living with him had not exactly been a walk in the park. His curiosity, mischievous nature, and propensity for kleptomania required constant supervision. I could not imagine Kainan squared. I could imagine the policeman being interviewed on the evening news, “We’re really not sure what happened. It appears that the house was somehow chewed down from the inside out. We found the human residents just sitting in a corner rocking and babbling nonsense.”

I did arrive home safely and managed to get WD2 into one of the indoor/outdoor runs in my dog room. As my herd of anything-but-subtle dogs flooded in to check out the newcomer on the other side of the fence, he displayed classic, wimpy wolf behavior. If you have read some of my previous posts, I mentioned that wolfdogs are not brave or confrontational. Beyond their impressive appearance, they make terrible watch dogs.

True to his wolf heritage, when confronted at the fence, WD2 pressed himself into the back corner, immediately sat, kept his muzzle pressed down to his chest, and bared his teeth—not in a menacing growl, but in a submissive grin. All of these behaviors were a clear message to the resident canines: Please, oh please don’t kill me.

Then Kainan came in. He stood very still and erect as he stared at the newcomer. Long lost brother? Grand reunion? Well, initially Kainan seemed kind of excited to see WD2. Excited until the moment I went in the dog run to sit with and sooth my new foster wolfdog. For the first time in our relationship I heard Kainan issue some low grumbles at the fence. Awww…he didn’t want to share his she-human with another wolfdog (come on…just let me have this one).

WD2 started to relax and began sniffing noses with the other dogs and the nose-out-of-joint Kainan.  I believe WD2 really wanted to come out to engage in a rowdier-than-I-was-ready-for play session with some of my dogs. There was play posturing at the fence, but Jim and I decided that since this was just a short stay (seeeeee…we don’t keep them all!), it might be best to just keep everyone separated.

2014-10-23 14.16.19WD2 continued to show me that he might have a bit more wolf attitude in the wolf to dog ratio than I was prepared to handle. I watched him as he tested every part of the fence in his run. I watched him nose the gate latch to see if he might be able to open it. I watched him look up to the top of the six foot fence and I immediately wondered if I would be running out to buy material to add a secure top to his run.

At feeding time, as I entered his pen, WD2…every bit as hungry as Kainan always was/is…immediately stood on his hind legs, putting him easily at eye level with 5’9” me, wrapped a front leg firmly around my shoulder, and, in this secure tango hold, proceeded to grab at the food in the bowl. Nothing about this was threatening to me personally, but he was being very rude. Food spilling everywhere, I wriggled free from his unwelcome embrace and backed out of the run to regroup.

Wow.

I forgave some of this behavior. WD2 had experienced a hard week with lots of change, so stress and starvation undoubtedly played into his overly enthusiastic attitude at mealtime.

But still. There was just something different about this animal. Maybe that word was the key: animal. WD2 seemed more primal than Kainan—a bit more flighty and unpredictable. I never felt he was dangerous, but I certainly believed he could be a great challenge to live with and to keep safely contained.

20141018_104256On the following Saturday, I made the drive to Jones, Oklahoma with WD2 actually relaxing in the back of my Jeep. He was a very good boy for the drive there and when we arrived at his new foster home we were greeted by a chorus of howls from the other residents of Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. It was a beautiful serenade, though it put WD2 a bit on edge.

Stephanie, her daughter, and their young wolfdog Yuma welcomed us. Again, unlike the very gregarious Kainan, WD2 was a bit hesitant during the introductions and took a few moments to warm up. Once he seemed comfortable with his new human friends, I hopped back in my Jeep, happy in the knowledge that I had played a part in saving this beautiful boy, but happier still that he was now someone else’s beautiful boy.

During the 90 minute drive home, I had time to think about my expanding knowledge of wolfdogs. This brief time with two wolfdogs in my care provided some very clear lessons that confirmed everything I have read as well as what I have been told by my Freedom Song friends. First, temperaments in wolfdogs vary greatly. Some—like Kainan—are very tractable and can make wonderful companions, while some display more classic wolf behavior.

Second, had WD2 come into our lives BK (before Kainan), I doubt there would be a wolfdog living in our midst. Though he was sweet, based on our brief relationship, I did not feel I could have successfully integrated WD2 into our home. Third, and perhaps most important, WD2 taught me that we truly won the wolfdog lottery with Kainan…he is smart, affectionate, a wonderful companion, and a great ambassador for his kind.

Of course, as I see him dart out the dog door with something red in his mouth, I am reminded that his lovely disposition doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges.  Ah, and now Jim is yelling something about a favorite shirt. Uh oh. Time to run. Literally.

Heeeeere wolfdog. Gooooood wolfdog. (Really. Good wolfdog.)

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Kainan and our Australian cattle dog, Boog. An easy, welcome fit into our home.

Wolfdog in the House, Day Nine.Five: Let the Training Begin!

2014-09-05 22.55.29It’s breakfast time and with the first empty bowl I pick up in preparation, I am greeted with a huge display of loud, frantic growling.

Oh no, it’s not Big-Bad the wolfdog. He’s standing quietly in the middle of the eager-to-eat pack of dogs, patiently waiting for the chef (that would be me—these are the only creatures on the planet who consider me an excellent cook) to dish up another delectable meal.

The ruckus is coming from Robby, another of my foster dogs. I have no idea what breeds came together to create Robby, but whatever they are, they are demanding and vocal. Frankly, though he really is a sweet boy, he can be a tad rude at times. Ninety-nine.nine percent of the time mealtimes are “those” times.

“Robby,” I say calmly, but firmly, “Go sort.”

Upon hearing the cue “sort,” Robby turns and scrambles toward the bedroom where he will wait for his breakfast quietly—blissfully quietly—in a crate. Yes, he will stand there, door wide open and wait. This is the resolution we have arrived at for his feeding time frenzies.  It’s my favorite dog training rule: If your dog displays a behavior you don’t like, teach a behavior you do like that can replace it.

Robby in the dog room doing a rather impressive impression of the Looney Tunes Tazmanian Devil falls in the Don’t Like column. Robby turning and racing off on cue to wait calmly in his crate for his morning meal? Do Like column with a gold star—and most days he does it without me even asking. This also means that I have stopped cursing his name and not-so-secretly wanting to strangle him.

And this is what dog training should be. It should be creative. Every dog should be a puzzle to be solved. Problems should not be met with anger, force, punishment, or aggression; they should be met from the viewpoint of a teacher.

I wish I could tell you that I always approach every “opportunity” my dogs throw my way with such zen-like patience, but I’m human. Oh-so-human. My first reaction to Robby’s canine tirades was to scold him and try to have him stay in the dog room in a calm fashion. It was a huge fail and in trying to deal with Robby right then and there, I was frustrating the other dogs.

Ok, Nancy. Step back, look at the situation, come up with a plan that reduces stress instead of increasing it. That’s how we arrived at the “go wait in your crate” plan and it works like a charm. Robby knows his job. He knows I will arrive with his food and I will get to praise him for being such a good, good boy. A+++ for both of us.

So back to Big-Bad and the integration of the wolfdog into our home. It’s gone well. Really well, in fact. It would be easy, at this point, to be lulled into a false sense of what’s-all-the-fuss-about-wolfdogs attitude.

Big-Bad is calm and friendly. He gets along amazingly well with our dogs. His primary play-buddies of choice are Cinder and Gretel, the two German shepherd mix girls that we found and are fostering. His body language is a joy to watch as he plays with his new BFFs.

He displays clear, easy communication. His body stays loose in play, with lots of soft curves as he dances with the other dogs in the give-and-take wrestling match of good, appropriate play. His tail stays relaxed and wags lazily from side to side. He places his large mouth across their backs, their necks, or reaches up to take hold of a leg, just as they do to him, and he is always gentle, displaying perfect restraint.  If one of his friends tells him to back off, he does so, immediately bouncing backwards with his head held low, tossing it from side to side in a playful, good-natured display.

In the yard, he is starting to join in their games of tag, though we have yet to see him really run. The sores on the large pads of each of his feet are healing, but they are still tender. He currently joins in these games by trotting smaller circles inside their large, looping race track around the perimeter of the yard. As they spiral inward around him he waits for his chance to jump in the action as they all fall into a jumble of panting, sparring silliness. Soon I know he will likely lead the race and Jim and I sure look forward to seeing this boy in a full gallop. It will no doubt be a thing of beauty.

For now, as his body heals and gains strength, it appears that our wolfdog is very pleased with his new lot in life. He is very content. He seems relaxed. He has a happy light in his eyes. He does not get frantic about anything. When the other dogs erupt in one of their “We are sure there is a tiger in the back pasture” rampaging sprints through the dog door, Big-Bad just watches them with an amused expression. It’s as if he has some internal sense for when a situation truly merits a reaction…and when it’s really just our donkeys trotting across the field.

It would be easy to assume that we won the wolfdog lottery and that our boy is just going to be easy-peazy. It would be simple to just sit back and watch this new relationship unfold. But that would also be irresponsible.

Jim and I are not rookies in the dog world and we do have some experience around wolfdogs. We also have the benefit of counsel from our friends at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. Our chats with them combined with our own knowledge help me remember that the wolfdog we have today, may be a very different animal from the healthier, stronger, older wolfdog we will have in the days, weeks, and months to come.

So as we enjoy seeing every play bow, as we help him settle into our home and lives, it would be foolish of us to play “wait and see” with this growing boy. Now Nancy and Jim the trainers get to step forward to embrace this amazing opportunity.

I have officially started testing the waters a bit with this guy. He is, after all, only eight to 10 months old—a puppy that won’t see full maturity for another year or more. And we have to remember, there are two voices sharing the conversation inside Big-Bad’s beautiful head. One voice is that of a playful, silly adolescent dog. The other voice is his more primal side; the voice of his wolf heritage.

Right now I imagine that the voices in his head sound something like this:

20140907_090606Dog: This place is GREAT! Food, fun, friends…what more could a guy want?

Wolf: Yes, this place is great. But those friends…are they going to try to steal your food? Grrrrr.

Dog: Oh no! Those are my friends! Plus, She-human makes sure we all have food. There is more than enough.

Wolf: Really? But don’t you want a little more? That small spotted dog over there…bet you could take hers.

Dog: Well, no…I can’t. I shouldn’t. I won’t. Plus, it’s time for us all to go into the yard to play!

Wolf: Yeah, about that yard. It’s ok, but have you looked beyond the fence? There is all that open room, and all of those trees in the back. Don’t you want to go out there to explore?

Dog: Dude!  There’s no couch out there. Plus it gets really dark at night…and the food and belly rubs are inside. The yard is fine. I love the yard.

Wolf: Ok. Fine. You enjoy your fancy-pants life here. We’ll talk again in a month or two.

So far dog seems to be winning over wolf, but that can change. There are reminders every day of the wolf within. First, one look at Big-Bad says wolf. Anyone can see it. And then there is his bark, or lack thereof.

Big-Bad doesn’t bark, but boy does he talk. He says arrrr, and raaah, and harrumph, all in a deep, James-Earl-Jones-esque timbre. And then, in an easy leap up the scale to a new octave, he throws his head back to let loose a joyful AR-ROOOOOOOO. Dogs and humans like try to imitate his song, but he is the master. He doesn’t sing the song, he lives it.

As we continue to get to know each other, I have starting testing Big-Bad’s limits a bit. I have examined his teeth. I have handled his feet and doctored the sore spots on each. I have trimmed his toenails.  He accepted this attention better than certain dogs I know (glances accusingly at several dogs in the room…).

Jim has taken him for rides in the car. He has introduced him to new people and even kids. Beyond being a bit unnerved by some squealing kids running toward him in the park (they unnerved me too), he has been flawlessly friendly to everyone.

We have asked him to sleep in his secure run in the dog room. We have asked him to sleep in a large crate in our bedroom. We have allowed him to sleep loose in the house. He has complied with all of these arrangements…though being shut away in the dog room was initially met with some plaintiff wails…”I’m soooooo lonely back here. Hellllooooooo? I don’t want to be aloooooone.”

I hear you on that one buddy…you are a pack animal through and through. That lobo-solo crap is a bunch of bunk. In fact, the night we did ask you to sleep off in the run, I believe I awoke a few hours later to find you snuggled on the couch with the He-human. Yeah, he didn’t think you should be alone either.

So the one remaining test for me was his attitude about mealtime. Many dogs are prone to guarding high-value resources and food certainly ranks at the top of the resource list. For the first week here, I let Big-Bad eat in his run without being disturbed.

Once he had a chance to settle in, I decided it was time to test the waters a bit. We had already been asking him to sit for food treats, as well as prior to having his food bowl placed on the floor. Two days ago, I did that routine at feeding time, but then took it a step further and stayed with him, reaching out to lightly stroke his back while he ate.

Ah-hah! First challenge revealed. As I ran my hand along the soft fur of his back, Big-Bad froze. His body became rigid. He kept his head low, over his bowl, but stopped eating. His ears pinned back. His eyes took on a glassy look as he rolled them to look up at me, exposing little moons of white on the sides.

There it is. I found my first “opportunity” with my wolfdog. It wasn’t extreme, he did not growl, or try to snap at me, but I also did not press him. I gave him one more pat and then calmly left the run to let him eat in peace. Though he has gained 12 pounds in his first 10 days in our care, he is still quite emaciated and each meal is a big deal. I didn’t want to confront him, or exacerbate things by snatching his food away. I wanted to develop a training plan.

He displays no ill temper during food prep time. He does not get grumpy with the other dogs; he waits patiently for me to dish meals up. He has already learned to run into his dog run where he sits before I will serve him. Now he will find a few new steps added into his mealtime routine. I will work with him gradually, while keeping things fair and easy as we learn to trust each other. He will learn to trust that I won’t steal his food, and I, through training, will learn to trust that he won’t react badly to my presence during mealtimes.

My first step in the teaching process has been to simply stroke the length of his back two or three times right after I let him have his meal. It’s very casual, it’s as I turn to leave the run. I pet him a few times with my back to his head and bowl, I praise, I walk out. He has accepted this attention beautifully, with no stiffening, no adverse reaction.

Next, I am going to introduce him to clicker training (Today! We will start today!). I’m very excited to start this method with him because I know he’s going to respond so well.

If you are not familiar with clicker training, here is a really, really condensed explanation of the theory behind it. Basically, the animal learns that the click sound is a bridge between the display of a specific, desired behavior, and a reward to come. So, for example, if a dog who has been properly introduced to the clicker comes and sits in front of a person instead of jumping up in greeting, he would get a click and a reward (generally a food treat in the training process, but it can be anything that the dog finds rewarding).  The trainer is capturing and marking the desired behavior at the precise moment it is offered and rewarding it, thereby increasing the likelihood that the dog will offer the behavior again.

With Big-Bad, I plan to introduce the clicker and then use it at mealtime. I will have him sit, I will click, and I will give him his food bowl. We will do that a few times. Then I will stay while he eats and I will pet him lightly. Each time he displays relaxed behavior when I pet him, I will click and then drop a higher value food treat into his bowl. He will find that my attention is not only non-threatening, but that it also earns him something even yummier.

The next step will involve a wonderful tool called the Assess-A-Hand, developed by renowned trainer Sue Sternberg. This is a great tool that is used by shelters and trainers across the nation. Basically, it is a fake hand that allows you to test and train with a dog that has resource guarding issues without putting any of your own digits at risk. I am a big fan. BIG.

Assess-A-Hand

Information on Assess-A-Hand is visible ON the Assess-A-Hand. This doggy looks like he might bite it. Poor A-A-H!

In a few days, a bit further down the training trail, I will have Assess-A-Hand touch Big-Bad lightly on the face while he is eating. Brave little Assess-A-Hand will also reach into the bowl, perhaps even sliding it a bit away. Each time Big-Bad accepts this attention appropriately, I will click and add a higher value food treat into his bowl. I won’t push him too hard, I will teach him gradually. I’m so excited to start this process.

The important thing here is that we are not going to wait for him to possibly develop serious resource guarding issues; we are going to preemptively teach him that such behaviors are not necessary.  There is no need for him to act out aggressively, and there is certainly no need for me to respond in kind. It’s a line of thinking and methodology I have learned from amazing mentors in my never-ending, always-evolving journey as a certified professional dog trainer and it works.

I think I’ll also get some M&Ms so I can click and treat myself too. Fair is fair, after all.

Oh, and his name! I bet you’re dying to find out what we finally decided for his real name…yeah, us too. Sigh.

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Photo proof of a relaxed wolfdog…as well a proof that I really need to clean the dog snobbers off of my windows.