Terrible, Terrible Twos

the chaseI can’t say they didn’t warn us. They did.

“You won’t really know what you’ve got until he turns two.”

Those simple words from our wonderful friends at Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue have stuck with me for the last 18 months. Now they’re proving a bit prophetic.

And what they meant was, with wolfdogs, you really don’t know whether they will think more like a wolf, or more like a dog until they mature. For some, I guess, the wolf side of the brain can prove to be a bit of a challenge. It’s possible we’re finding that out.

I  can’t say that I didn’t see it…and feel it…coming. Over the past several months I have seen a shift in our wolfdog Kainan’s attitude from time to time. It was subtle at first. You had to pay attention. And it was easy to write it off as just a little incident.

Since joining our family as an adolescent wolfdog in August of 2014, Kainan been remarkably easy-going. Though he dwarfs all of our other dogs – now easily outweighing the largest by about 40 pounds – he has been an affable boy, romping and playing like a gentle giant with dogs half his size or smaller. His current most devoted playmate tips the scales at a mere 38 pounds.

He also defers to our 10-year-old, “top dog” Dalmatian, Howie. He bows down to Howie on a daily basis, groveling at his feet and licking under his chin in absolute submission to the older dog. Howie is very large and in charge in Kainan’s eyes. This behavior is not because Howie is an “alpha dog” who has forcibly rolled Kainan over and asserted his dominance. That theory is tired and outdated. Kainan’s behavior toward Howie is healthy, voluntary submissive behavior and it’s a good thing.

But in recent months I have noticed it, I’ve seen a little shift. Dogs that were once included in Kainan’s merry little circle of playmates, are now excluded. If you know the subtleties of dog to dog communication, you can see the change in attitude a mile away.

Kain and Bernie

“Good play” with Bernie

I think I first noticed it with Bernie, our pit-mix boy. Bernie was one of Kainan’s initial best buddies. They would romp and play like big, goofy puppies. Until one day I saw it.

I looked outside and saw Bernie sitting in the very back corner of the yard, sideways to the house. His body was curved, his back rounded, his head dropped low, his ears pinned back in a worried expression. I could see he was licking his lips and glancing sideways toward the house and then looking quickly away. These are all signs of stress, all signals to another dog that he is no threat, that he is not challenging, and he wants no trouble.

Having never seen Bernie display this behavior, I quickly looked to see what was causing his concern. There, standing tensed and focused between Bernie and the path that leads to the dog door, was Kainan. His ears were pricked sharply forward. His head was dropped level with his back. His body was tensed and in a partial crouch as if ready to spring. His eyes held a hard focus on the worried dog across the yard.

I immediately went out into the yard and called Kainan to me. He did not respond quickly or very willingly. I had to go to him. His focus was intense, but just by breaking the moment, the spell, I was enough distraction to allow Bernie to run to me and then into the house.

What the heck had I just witnessed?

Time to pay closer attention. We had dropped our guard. We had been lulled into a false sense of security by silly, adolescent Kainan. Now mature Kainan had moved in and it was time to take notice.

Kill the wolfdog

“Kill” the wolfdog.

For a bit, I saw nothing further. He was Mr. Frolic. He had a little pack of girls comprised of three Dalmatians, one husky/malamute, and one mixed breed dog who raced and wrestled with him nonstop. Even with his huge size advantage, he was gentle with his girls. In fact, more often than not, he chose to be the prey, allowing them to chase him down, tackle him, and “go for the kill.” It was hysterically ferocious and comical.

And so my guard slipped back down.

Then it happened. Our little whippet girl, Lacy, dainty and all legs and speed, popped out of the dog door with a bunny-like hop and Kainan grabbed her. He reacted as if by instinct. Grab the prey.

Jim was just inside the house and was out the door to break things up in an instant. But it still happened. And our little Lacy got some puncture wounds in the process.

You could explain it away. Lacy moves very erratically and very quickly. If she popped out right on top of him…well…you can almost understand what happened. But still.

So we watched. We redirected Kainan when we felt his focus was inappropriate. We kept a close eye on Lacy.

And then it happened to Nora, our senior Dalmatian. We’re not sure what caused the incident, but Kainan went after her. Again, Jim was there quickly. Nora was not badly injured.

But still.

We had a problem. And it was a problem we always knew might surface. Wolfdogs are not dogs. Wolfdogs are not wolves. And there’s the tricky part.

You don’t know what you’ve got until they turn two.

I have watched the well-educated, experienced people who run Freedom’s Song. They too live with wolfdogs. I know that not all wolfdogs are social to people. We are very lucky that Kainan is. He is quite friendly and very appropriate around people.

I have also never seen him act aggressively when we see other dogs. He has been out and about with us to a few places where we have encountered other dogs on leash and he has been fine. We don’t let other dogs rush up to him, we don’t ask for trouble, but Kainan has consistently remained calm.

Now, this behavior at home, well, it actually makes sense to me. This is his space. This is his home territory. We have asked him to share it with a number of other dogs. And we have dogs come and go from time to time as foster dogs come in and eventually leave for homes of their own. It’s a busy place, and can be a stressful situation for some dogs, but we are generally good at finding balance and keeping the peace.

So now it appears that Kainan has a little circle of friends that he prefers…I call them his gang. And it also appears we have some dogs that he does not want in his circle. So who makes the rules? Wolfdog or humans?

Calm before the pounce

Still good play…I promise!

Well, it has to the be humans, but we have to have respect for Kainan’s view of the world as well. As I tell every training client who has dog to dog issues in their home, just because YOU like a dog and want to add it to the family does not mean your dog is going to like it as well. Humans don’t like every other human they meet…I don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be asked to live just any other person that comes along.

But humans ask their dogs to do that all the time and then seem appalled when the dogs don’t agree with the decision.

So what to do?

Well, I jokingly say that Kainan is currently grounded. He is not allowed to play unsupervised with all of the other dogs loose as he once did. We have supervised sessions several times a day with Kainan loose with all of the dogs, and then we give Kainan his own space with his little gang.

Fortunately, our world is physically set up to handle this new routine. We have sturdy dog runs that allow access inside the house and to outdoor space. We have two dog yards. We can allow Kainan to play with his little gang, while keeping the other dogs separate and safe.

And we are dedicated to doing a lot of work with Kainan. Jim and I have worked out a plan for reminding Kainan the benefits of offering desired behavior. We are focusing on spending a lot more one-on-one time with him. We are working to teach him a strong recall – no matter what the distraction in the world around him.

We’re also giving him constant feedback when he is loose with all of the dogs. My own belief, backed by a recent online course presented by Dr. Ian Dunbar, advocates giving dogs like Kainan consistent input. If he’s playing nicely, he gets lots of praise and reinforcement. If we see that he’s starting to be a bully or he’s starting to get too rowdy, we call him, we interrupt the action. He gets told “uh-uh,” and redirected. The moment his behavior shifts back to calm and loose, he is praised.

If he crosses any tiny line, it’s game over. He is removed from play.

There is no hitting. There are no shock collars (and BOY are there a lot of people who love to go there…that’s a topic for another day). There are no harsh prong collars. There is no physical punishment beyond limiting his freedom.

There is feedback. Lots of meaningful, timely feedback. And we are patient. And we are fair. And we are learning.  All of us. Kainan is as much our teacher as he is our student.

We love Kainan and we are committed to his welfare and his well-being. That means it’s our job to understand his way of thinking. It’s our job to help this home and life work well for all of us. We don’t want to “dominate” Kainan, we want to provide leadership. If we are good and fair leaders, then everything else can fall into place.

We will make wise choices too. We may have to rethink what types of dogs and how many dogs we can foster. We can do that. Our own dogs come first.

We hope this is just a phase for Kainan. He is not one tiny bit aggressive. In fact, one stern look from me or Jim sends him sprawling to the ground in an apologetic pile. He is just mature now (and yes, neutered, but that doesn’t change who/what he is!), he has instincts, and he is testing the boundaries of  his world. We hope that with fair, positive-focused training, Kainan will be work through his terrible twos to be able to be free-roaming with the other dogs again soon.

But if he can’t…if living with a number of other dogs is just not right for him…we will deal with that too. We will make sure he has always has a great life that is fair to him, while also fair to the other dogs that share our home. We made that commitment to Kainan when we took him in and we will always stand by it.

We know he is new territory for us. We still have a lot to learn, and so does Kainan. But I know it will work out. Everyone is OK. Kainan is happy and being very compliant. Oh, and he really loves turkey hot dogs for his training treats.

This too shall pass. He is still very much our big, fuzzy, lovable guy who, 9.5 times out of 10, gets along great with our furry family.

But oh the terrible twos. I’m so ready for three.

Kainan and shadow 2

The Night Shift.

Home from the hunt

If you look closely, you will see what Kainan sees. One to the far right, one to the far left. The night shift is heading home.

The young couple heads home from the night shift. Traffic is light. Most of the world is still stretching and shaking off the last fog of sleep.

They have had a busy night. They always have a busy night. Their work follows routine, familiar trails where the likelihood of finding field mice, bunnies, and other small prey is high. It’s hard work, especially in the winter, but now the days are a bit longer, and the warmer temperatures mean bounty. Their full bellies will now provide sustenance for the warm, squirming secret they have tucked safely in a deep burrow by the big pond.

Now it is time to rest. Time to recover. Time to enjoy the safety of their haven. Tonight, when the moon peeks above the treeline, it will be their cue to clock-in once again. They will announce the start of their work night with a mellifluous chorus and the neighboring workforce will answer. It’s an ancestral ritual, passed through generations. It is a confirmation of life, of boundaries, of territory.

On this morning, just as at sunrise yesterday, the young coyotes dart carefully and purposefully from the cover of the trees across the open pasture. It is this last part of their path that leaves them open, vulnerable in the morning spotlight.  But they are not afraid. They know this place; they know the others who share their home.

The dogs come rushing out of the house, but the coyotes know they will stop. They have a fence they will honor. The wild ones pause, sitting to watch the silly dogs racing up and down the fence shattering the early morning peace with their frustrated cries. The coyotes know the dogs will soon become bored with this game. They will go back to the house to do whatever it is domestic dogs do.

But they know one will remain. He is different. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t race around aimlessly. He just watches with quiet intensity. This one both fascinates and unnerves the coyotes. There is something about him that is like them, but also very different. He is huge and powerful in comparison to their lithe, agile frames. Even from a distance, they are able to meet and hold his gaze, for just a moment, before moving on. They know this one.

Often, during their night shift, they sense him there. He lies in the big yard, but he does not sleep like the other dogs do. He watches. He samples the wind with his long snout. His ears remain alert and pinpointed to their every move.

Yes, this one is different. He seems to understand the need that drives the coyotes every single night. He will sit and watch them in rain, snow, or cold. On some level, he seems a part of their world. But no, he is on the wrong side of the fence. He lives in the house.

The big wolfdog watches. Every morning he sees the coyotes cross the field. Part of him wants to race the fence and bark at them with his housemates, but he never does. He sits back and studies. He knows by the scent on the wind that this pair has young in a burrow just behind the big tree on the north side of the pond. He knows they work long nights. It is a job called survival.

On some deep level he is drawn to them. Sometimes he adds his deep howl to their evening chorus, speaking a language that was born to him. He could go. The fence that separates his world from theirs is not insurmountable.

But he doesn’t go. The other half of his brain always wins. He watches as the coyotes disappear into the camouflage of dense brush that leads to their home. Then the big wolfdog turns back toward the house, where he hears the call that puts his wild side to bed for the day and summons the playful dog.

“Kainan! Breakfast!”

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.

All Duck Jokes Aside…

11222641_10207088710479820_3429991043406163465_nMay has been a great month. If you’re a duck.

Ohhhhhhh. HAHAHAHAHA. Wooooo…snort…hahahahaha! That’s a good one. Yeah. Hysterical.

For the record, I am not a duck.

The month of May in my-neck-of-the-woods Oklahoma is rather famous for being a thunderstormy time of year. Rainy days are not a shock during the fifth month of the year around here. Usually.

Day after day after day after day of rain is, however, a different story. I think we have had something like 30 days of rain in the last 24 days.

I may have that wrong.

Whatever the actual number, it’s a lot. It’s way more rainy days than not rainy days.

1509948_10152813494209422_1517234258837950771_nWhat this means for me: Mud. Lots and lots of mud. Lots of dogs sporting lots of mud.

I’ve tried to look at the situation from an artistic standpoint. You know, you look at clouds to see what shapes you can find? Well, I’m looking at the mud patterns on the dogs, on the floor, on the furniture, on my clothes, on my bedspread to see what I can see.

So far I just see mud.

And with all of the storms and wet and gunk, we’ve had to limit the dogs’ yard time to keep the whole fenced area from turning into a giant swamp.

What this means for me: Bored dogs.

Oh the dogs are bored. The energy they normally burn during several romp/wrestle/run sessions in the yard is now pinging around inside their little and not-so-little bodies like a bunch of bumble bees trapped inside a mason jar.

All attempts to entertain the beasts have failed and they are making up their own games.

What this means for me: Stuff is getting torn up.

The couches are no longer getting destroyed…that’s so yesterday. But with Sir Look-What-I-Can-Reach (aka: Kainan the wolfdog) in the house, mischief and mayhem are the order of the day. Or shall we say night.

Yeah, when the humans fall off into a muck-induced coma/sleep, Kainan apparently heads off in the house to find ways to entertain himself. Let’s see…victims include one half of a birthday cake (it was WAY out of reach…or so we thought…lemon…Boog the now seven year old cow dog was not pleased. Happy birthday anyway, Boog), one set of earbuds, electric dog clippers and blade guards (clippers survived…blade guards are lost somewhere in the grass we can’t yet mow because, you guessed it, it won’t stop raining), one Baylor Bears shirt that was to be a gift for a new high school graduate headed off to college next fall, two dog beds, one Dirty Dog door mat (yeah, that is ironic), and who knows what else.

I just really can’t keep track any longer.

We were warned that wolfdogs are smart and that they are mischievous – a dastardly combination. But just as no one can really explain how much a kidney stone hurts, no one can really tell you just how much havoc a wolfdog can wreak in your home.

I know, I know…dog trainer, heal thyself.

Brooke and Cookie go to ChinaI just think the rain may have melted my resolve. I think my guard has not only dropped, but has been sucked into the vortex that was once the underground condo the dogs were excavating in the backyard. The condo, by they way, has not held up well in the monsoon. We think it’s a combo of some structural issues and a sincere lack of French drains. The dogs are back at the drafting table. The condo may now be a Jacuzzi.

If the rain doesn’t stop soon, I fear even more drama could unfold. You see, the mechanism that operates our front gate is solar powered. That means it needs sunshine to continue to function. And we aren’t seeing much sunshine these days, months, years.

I could be wrong about the months, years part.

What this means to me: We could be trapped here.

bob 2Oh sure, we have food and water to last a bit, but if we truly end up stranded here, I have bad news for Bob the sheep. We have decided that in the event of extreme emergency, Bob will be the first animal consumed on Tails You Win Farm.

Bob hopes I could be wrong about that. 

Obviously I am kidding. We will not be eating Bob. Unless there is a zombie apocalypse.

What a zombie apocalypse could mean for Bob: Shish Ka-Bob.*

On the find-the-silver-lining front, all of this lovely freaking rain means that we are NOT currently experiencing a drought. We have very full ponds so all of the frogs, fish, turtles, geese, and, yes, ducks are quite deliriously happy.

1907455_10152813492479422_6046102528494206089_nBut even Jerry Swinefeld, our resident hog, is actually sick of the mud. I’m sick of the mud. The dogs are sick of the mud.

Truly, I’m not whining. Really I’m not. I’m not complaining. I’m feeling nothing but gratitude for nature’s bounty.

I could be wrong about that.

(*Nooooo…we will not really eat Bob.) 

Spring has Sprung. All Over the Darn Place.

IMG_1903_2Aren’t April showers supposed to bring May flowers? Well, apparently we’re a tad behind here in Oklahoma because May monsoon has arrived and shows no signs of surrender to any sort of fair weather inspired floral displays.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the rain. I am . Most days.

Good rain showers now mean that we will have a great hay harvest this summer…hopefully two cuttings so we will have plenty for our own animals and perhaps enough to sell at a good, fair price to the neighbor who has cattle. We always like to have enough for everyone.

Good rain showers also mean reduced fire danger. Going through a couple of summers of drought will put that in very clear perspective for you. We have had “volunteer” fires sweep onto our property in the past, and were very grateful for our fine volunteer fire fighters who swarmed the place with great enthusiasm. Do you ever wonder if volunteer fire fighters are really closet pyromaniacs who stay just to the right of a very fine line? No matter. Those guys were awesome.

Good rain showers also mean salvation for my bandaided-following-extensive-beaver-damange pond. Last year’s remaining puddle has been restored to its full glory complete with beautiful, flowering lily pads adrift. Side note, if you have a body of water on your property that you enjoy and you one day see a cute little beaver swimming around in it, do everything you can to encourage that little flat-tailed, tree destroying, pond draining bastard to move along. You may (as I did) initially find him charming, and then he will destroy every bit of scenery you hold dear.

Back to gratitude! Yes, gratitude. The pond is full to the brim and lovely, not a beaver dam in sight.

Good rain showers also mean mud. So much mud. And I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to find gratitude for the mud.

The mud on Tails You Win Farm seems to somehow have a life of its own. No matter how hard I try. No matter how much I clean. The stuff just keeps creeping in. A smear here. A glop there. On this chair. On my shirt. Coating our shoes. Changing a Dalmatian into a chocolate Lab.

Just yesterday, on Sunday – you know, that fictional day of rest – I spent the day in an all out battle. I vacuumed, I scrubbed, I washed bedding, I broke out my beloved professional floor scrubber. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more.

Finally, several hours into my frenzy, feeling that I had accomplished the ultimate conquest, I turned to survey my sparkling home and saw…saw…

20150517_145141Oh Kainan. Buddy. Good thing I love you more than I love my almost-clean-for-a-second-there home. I shall live to clean another day.

Maybe, just maybe, I can find gratitude for mud because you and your dog friends obviously have such great fun playing in it. I’ll work on that. Maybe I’ll just throw in the towel and play with you.

Mud pies for everyone!

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.

When “Bad” Things Happen to Good Wolfdogs

Kainan and shadow“This is going to hurt me far more than it’s going to hurt you.”

Did you hear that one growing up? I did. That line either meant that you were about to get punished OR you were possibly going to the doctor to get a shot.

For the record, although I grew up in the “spare the rod, spoil the child” era, my parents never actually spanked me. The threat of a pop on the butt was quite enough to keep me in line, thank you very much.

I did get one spanking in my tender youth. Scarred me for life. It was in the second grade and it was a rainy day, so no playground time. Instead, our class was supposed to be playing quietly…QUIETLY…in the gymnasium.

We didn’t pull off the quietly part very well. The gym teacher walked in and found us all running and screaming like little demons. She told the entire class to line up and proceeded to give us each a light, but meaningful swat on the bottom (yes, kids, there was a time when teachers were allowed to give spankings AND they had rather impressive paddles hanging on display in the classroom).

I was terrified. I kept moving back in the line until I was the last kid standing. The gym teacher was HUGE (in my seven year old eyes) and I was the second smallest kid in my class. It was the “tap” heard ’round the world, in my memory.

And I’m pretty sure it didn’t hurt either of us very much.

So yesterday I had to deliver that line to Kainan. “Oh buddy, this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.”

You know you ALWAYS end up saying the exact things your parents once said to you. You remember…you rolled your eyes at the time and now YOU’RE using the same damn lines! Vicious cycle, this growing up thing.

Obviously I was not about to give Kainan a spanking. Do what you will to your kids, but do NOT strike my wolfdog.

I was delivering him to the vet for “a small surgical procedure.” YOU KNOW. That procedure.

Yes, it was time for our big, handsome wolfdog to lose a few vital parts. We had waited a bit to neuter Kainan to allow him to regain his health after finding him nearly starved to death last August. From his measly 38 pounds then, to his 100+ pounds now, he has grown and thrived.

And he’s been getting just a bit cocky in the process (is that a play on words?).

Actually, 9.5 times out of 10, he really does get along well with our other dogs. He loves to play and he has always been gentle, despite that fact that he easily weighs 40 pounds more than our next largest dog here.

Toby bossHe even bows down to our “big guys.” Toby and Howie are our resident dogs in charge. They are both 60 pound Dalmatians and Kainan submits to them on a daily basis. One look from either of these spotted boys sends Kainan into a slinking, groveling display. He presses his ears back, he lowers his head, he licks his lips, he licks their muzzles in a charmingly submissive display. And then he generally falls over on his back in ultimate surrender.

He could easily kick either dog’s butt if he wanted to, but HE doesn’t pull the “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you line.” He does not. He respects his elders.

Lately, however, he has had a little attitude change toward some of his friends here. Oh, not the girls. He’s still a big Romeo…and some of our littlest girls are his favorite play pals. No, it’s his friends Bernie, the pit bull mix, and Boog, the cattle dog.

In recent play sessions with these boys, I’ve seen Kainan’s attitude shift a bit. He has been a bit rough with this boys at times. And it hasn’t been any serious threat yet, but he will often stiffen his body posture and place his head over their backs with a hardened stare, a tight mouth and erect ears.

These are all little doggy/wolfy postures that suggest our Kainan has decided to assert himself…with dogs that really have no interest in being assertive themselves.

A little less testosterone is part of the cure for this new-found machismo.  And that brings us back to our “this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you” moment yesterday. I was dropping Kainan off at the veterinary hospital to be neutered, microchipped, and to have a a gastropexy, an elective prophylactic procedure to head off the tragic complications that come with a condition known as gastric dilatation and volvulus, commonly called bloat.

Bloat is an unpredictable and almost always catastrophic event in which fermented gas accumulates in a dog’s stomach and causes the entire organ to twist and flip over on its long axis. Left untreated, bloat will kill a dog within a matter of hours. The condition hits hard and fast and requires immediate emergency treatment.

Jim and I know firsthand. In our years of having so many dogs in our lives, we’ve had dogs bloat and Jim even lost his beloved malamute to it. It’s a terrible, terrifying, agonizing illness.

Emergency treatment often consists of a gastropexy, in which the dog’s stomach is sutured to the body wall, preventing it from twisting. Larger dog breeds with deep chests are more prone to bloat, so many people with “at risk” breeds opt to have the gastropexy procedure done proactively when a dog is spayed or neutered.

Gastropexy will not prevent the build up of gas and bloat, but it will prevent the stomach from doing a deadly flip-flop and is a life-saving procedure.

Kainan is a big, deep chested boy and after consulting with our veterinarian, we decided the extra surgical procedure was a good choice for him.

But it did mean more time under general anesthetic. It did mean an abdominal incision in addition to the relatively simple (I know men…I know…) neuter incision. And it may not be apparent to Kainan in the aftermath, but this truly does hurt me more than it hurt him.

My big guy looked pitiful when I returned to the vet hospital to pick him up. He was still a bit groggy. He kept his ears pinned to his skull, his head hanging low, and his tail limply wagging just a bit upon seeing me. Pit-i-ful.

He was confused. He was sore. He wanted the heck out of there.

I’ll admit it. My heart ached for my sweet boy.

I would like to assure all Kaniacs out there (this is the name I have given to Kainan’s fans…and he has them!), that the big guy came through with flying colors and two less testicles.

He is recovering nicely, though I’ll anthropomorphize and say that he is milking it a tad. OH what a sad, sad face. I don’t know if he understands at all what just happened…and realistically I know he doesn’t…but the look on his face when he took a peek between his back legs? Well…priceless.

Kainan and friends

Kainan’s friends checking out his post surgery smells. Notice his “goat ears.”

A little pain now will help keep the peace in the dog pack at Tails You Win Farm and will prevent an unplanned army of little Kainans in the future (yes…they would have been adorable…but still!). And, just as the little microchip implanted between his shoulders is a proactive step to protect him, the gastropexy means that we have taken measures to ensure Kainan’s ongoing health and well being.

It was a good day. It really was. Seriously Kainan, it was a good day. I think it’s going to take me a bit to convince him.

Damn it. This does hurt.

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