How Wolves Help Us Choose a Pet


Wolf DNA varies from that of a domestic dog by just 0.2 per cent. Few of us will live with wolves, but an awful lot of us live with dogs, so it is useful to understand how the social structure of wolves applies to the dog world.

People think it’s good to have an alpha dog, believing it to be the bold one who comes to say hello when you go to choose your puppy from a litter. That is not the case. Alphas stay at the back of the kennel because they have a strong sense of self-preservation. They never put themselves in jeopardy.

If you take a true alpha puppy home with you, he will be a quick learner, easy to train so that one day, when he sees the time is right, he can take over the pack. And he’ll be looking for that day, for a sign of weakness in you that suggests you are no longer capable of doing the job. Unless you are constantly one step ahead of him, he will turn into a willful rebel who pays no attention to anything you tell him.

The beta, or what we now tend to call the enforcer, is the one who comes boldly over to you when you go to view the litter. He’s the disciplinarian, the bouncer, the bodyguard; he is pure aggression. He doesn’t think; he just weighs in.

If you choose this puppy to take home without being aware of what you have picked, it could be disastrous. You and he may differ in what you view as a perceived threat. It could be another dog in the park, a neighbor or a child.

Then there’s the tester within the pack, the quality controller, a very trying pet who will be pushing your ability daily, making sure you deserve to be the one who makes the decisions.

Mid- to low-ranking individuals make good pets because they have no need to discipline or teach anyone anything. These ranks don’t seek you out when you visit the litter.

Owners have been taught they must take on the role of the alpha dog but, despite the miraculous results in problem dogs seen on television, this doesn’t always work. If you have a nervous, low-ranking animal and you behave like an alpha, or even a beta, you could destroy him.

Many people, of course, don’t get their dogs as pups. Contrary to the saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’; I believe you can, by going back to that time in the dog’s life when he was at his most receptive.

A pup learns basic principles from his mother: he picks up her calming signals, discovers the reward system, and learns his pack value and how to communicate with his own kind. When he stumbles out into the world at five weeks and begins to mix mother’s milk with regurgitated meat, that circle of learning increases.

So to re-educate an adult dog you feed him on the sort of diet he had in his first few months of life: a mixture of milk and minced or finely chopped meat.

After a couple of months on that he should be pliable and ready to listen, whereupon you can train him more or less as you would a puppy, heavy on reward and light on punishment.


An Open Letter To The Fools That Set Me Free

Dear Animal Hater,

I have heard many names in my life such as “animal lover” or “animal activist” but until this past January 1st, I never knew there were such a thing as “animal haters”.  You see, my whole life, I have been surrounded by two-leggeds.  They bring food, they talk to me and my friends, and they look after my health, although that always starts with  a needle shot into my bum and ends with me sleeping off a hangover!  Sometimes other two-leggeds come to see me too. They take pictures of me and my friends, and they also try to talk to us.  We have an understanding with our two-leggeds, we have our space, and they have theirs, and there is a clear and defined boundary separating the two called a fence.

A few weeks ago, very early one winter morning, some two-leggeds came along and made a big hole in our fence.  At first we were scared.  Scared of the two-leggeds and then scared of the hole.  Being the alpha male and female, it was of course Granite and myself who made the first move.  We didn’t realize that Luna and Lonestar would follow us, but follow us they did.  After years of living in a safe and secure place, the world was suddenly open to us.  A world we knew very little about, but were certainly excited to see.  At first, we stayed where the ground was flat and hard.  The walking was easier there than trudging through the heavy snow, but as we were walking, something started chasing us.  It was like nothing I had ever seen; big, shiny, and fast.  Just as we were trying to figure out a way to safety, Luna yelped and fell down, and the big shiny monster moved in beside her, its mouth opening, and stole her away.  When I looked around to see where Granite and Lonestar were hiding, I realized that Granite was also lying down, and she appeared to be bleeding.  I tried to help clean her up, but in the end, she really was not feeling well and chose to lie down until we could figure out what to do.

All I wanted was to be back in the safety of our enclosure, but now I couldn’t leave Granite alone, the monster might come back.  So Lonestar and I stood vigil over her for the next few days and nights.  When hunger would not allow us to ignore it’s pleas anymore, we had to go foraging for food.  We had never had to do this before, and I wish we never had to again.  It is not easy trying to feed yourself, and certainly none of us had any experience with hunting.  Luckily, we all have pretty good noses, and they seemed to lead us to a place with plenty of food.  I think you two-leggeds call it a “dump”.  While everything sure did smell good, none of it was filling.  Certainly not like the yummy beavers that we were used to eating.  In addition to our hunger, Granite was now getting weaker and weaker.  We tried to lead her back to the safety of our enclosure, but there was no way to get back in.  With the passage of a few more days, she didn’t even have the strength to walk, and it was all she could do to take her place among the trees, and find a little privacy.  When I heard the two-leggeds approaching, I got scared.  Too scared to stay by her side, so Lonestar and I took off, and hoped for the best.  When we last visited our family at the wolf center enclosure, we were told she had died.  We found where they buried her and howled our grief to the sky.  I would never see my Granite again.  The mother of my pups, my life mate, my friend.  

Lonestar and I have been on the run since then.  We have been unable to get back into our enclosure, and to be quite honest, we are now more than a little afraid of the two-legged ones.  We have been back a few times to visit our pack, but have also been roaming in wider and wider circles.  There are have been times we have gone without eating for days, and other times that we have been chased away from our food by other wolves, big, shiny, fast monsters, or the two legged ones.  Lonestar is recovering from a bite he got while in a fight with another wolf.  Hopefully he won’t feel the need to “lie down” and leave me on my own.

I don’t know what will become of us.  We would like to re-join our pack, they have been left without an alpha male or female, but I don’t know if we will ever be able to get back into our enclosure.  I wish I had never slipped through that hole in the fence.  Did those two-leggeds mean for Granite and Luna to die?  Did they kill them?  Do they also fear the big shiny monster?  Will I ever have the comfort of a full belly and a safe place to sleep?  Will I ever have a mate again? Is this what you wanted when you cut that hole in the fence?Image Why couldn’t you just leave us alone?