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Wolfdogs: The Next Troubled Fad

Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy drama on HBO. It features many different noble families all vying for a claim to a great throne which rules over all the various smaller kingdoms. There’s a huge following of 10 to 12 million viewers per episode. With this much popularity it should be no wonder that merchandise and other items featured on the show have also become popular. Wondering how all this relates to dog training? Well turns out each of the smaller kingdoms has an animal who represents their country. For one of the popular, key families, the Starks, these animals are known as dire wolves. While dire wolves, in the real world, are now extinct the popularity of the show has had folks seeking out “wolf dogs” or even “dire wolves” to raise as their own.

                                                         Bran and Rob Stark with their “dire wolves”

This isn’t the first time that this has happened. When the movie/s 101 Dalmatians came out, the demand for “those cute little dogs with spots” increased as well. But the difference here is that dalmatians are domesticated creatures. They’ve been bred over the course of centuries to come up with the spotted goof ball we know today. But what a lot of folks don’t realize is that dalmatians, “the firehouse dog” was originally bred to be guard dogs to guard and protect the firehouse equipment from thieves. Other examples were of Finding Nemo resulting in a increase in clown fish sales (to people who have no idea how difficult salt water fish are to raise!) Besides traditional media social media has also affected pet trends. Esther the Wonder Pig a popular social media star sparked a large number of folks seeking out pigs (and even the terrible “micro” pig) to keep as their own!

The key point of all of these stories is that people like to emulate what they see in their media. They see the amazing bond between the Starks in Game of Thrones and their dire wolves and they want to have that same bond with their own dogs. Which on the surface I have no issue with, but beneath that there is a trend for folks to adopt or buy dogs that are well beyond their ability to handle.

Dog breeds all have a specific purpose they were originally bred for. Even though you might not be needing a sled dog, if you buy a purebred Alaskan Malamute or Husky, you will end up getting one. These dogs, especially those who are closer to the true standard of what defines a Malamute or Husky, the more of those original breed tendencies you’ll end up with. For the malamute this means

  • Howling/barking which they use to communicate over long distances,
  • Huge, epic levels of shedding 1-2 times a year and daily brushing to keep their thick warm coat in check
  • Highly intelligent, escape artist who is an expert digger and climber
  • Energy level requiring intense physical and mental exercise every single day for the rest of their lives.

Luckily before walking into a “their so dang cute” trap as a puppy, you can (AND SHOULD!) research the breeds that make up your pup or new adoptive pet. There is a great website called Dogtime which allows you to search by breed to identify common traits that breed likely will exhibit – Of course there are always outliers. Not every Husky will dig, not all Malamutes will howl at night, but for a majority of them they will.

For mixed breeds, like my own two dogs, you can look up both breeds and get an idea of what types of behaviors you might see in your new pet. Esther is a mix of a Jack Russell Terrier and a Shih Tzu – both breeds who rank extremely highly on prey drive and judging from how quickly Esther can chase a rabbit out of the yard, I can attest is a very accurate statement. It’s not a 100% guarantee but it can help you guy your choice for a new pet by what will fix best with your family.

Totally lost as to what pet to get, you can check out dogtime’s pet quiz to attempt to find breeds that fit best with your lifestyle. Answer the questions as best and truthfully as you can and it’ll list a few of the top dog breeds that best fit your lifestyle and needs. Try it out here:

Let me know in the comments what your top dog breed was!

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Dissecting Doggy Body Language

This past weekend I attended the Rescue Me Seminar put on by the Iowa Weim Rescue and hosted by Iowa State. One of the first talks was given by Dr. Suzanne Millman an Associate Professor of Animal Welfare. She talked to us about how to “Maintain Harmony When Adding a Pet to your Home.” Her talk was filled with all sorts of great tips for maintain peace when you introduce a new pet (of any species) to your home, especially if you already have some furry critters living there.

One of the main points she drove home is the planning involved in bringing home a new pet. Even more so than just focusing on the physical things they’ll need like a bowl, food, collar etc, but really look at the reason behind getting another pet in the first place. There are no wrong answers, but think through the following questions and ask yourself.

Before getting a new pet ask yourself:

  1. Why do you want to get a new pet?
  2. Who will be affected by this new pet? (Humans AND Animals)
  3. What risks are involved and to whom?
  4. Create a plan to introduce the new pets and come up with plans for any conflicts.
  5. Ensure YOU have the time to address these conflicts and concerns to allow harmony in your home!

This talk was particularly relevant as last summer I added a new dog to my crew, Luna. Luna is a 2 year old rescue from AHeinz57 in Adel. She was terrified of people, so much so that I would classify her as being a feral (or wild) dog. She would attempt to flee if anyone came within 65 feet of her. When I went for a meet & greet, I spent over an hour with her, as she built up courage to sniff my hand. I knew I would be in for a challenge! (I wasn’t wrong, it took her over 3 days to venture from her crate! Another 2 weeks before she would sit on the couch.)

For those five questions above, I wanted to get Esther a new canine friend. Rufus had passed away about 5 months prior and she was getting lonely (despite going to work every day) without another canine to communicate with. I knew I had a dog, and two cats, already. So I would need to pick out a dog that was calmer and had zero prey drive to chase cats. After meeting Ms. Luna I was fearful of her not ever being able to trust humans again, or worse yet that I had picked out another companion for Esther who wanted to do nothing more than hide. But we persisted. And now Esther has a best buddy. They sleep, play and go to work together. Every day Luna gets a little braver and everyday she sinks deeper into all of our hearts <3

Here is one of their first captured “play” session. This was almost 6 months after I adopted her. I disabled the audio on the video (because who wants to hear me yammer at my dogs) but also because it really illustrates how quietly (and quickly!) dogs communicate with each other. Much like in Dr. Millman’s talk, this is a supervised play session. Without me being there, Luna is too inept at reading dog language and Esther is too intolerant of her crazy play “boxing,” – there would definitely be a dog fight without me supervising. In the video, first we’ll watch the minute long play session, then we’ll break it apart to see the individual signals Esther gives Luna (which Luna ignores) and how I act as an interpreter between them. This helps either from going over their threshold, which you can think of like a tipping point of becoming overwhelmed and reacting to what’s going on around them. Enjoy!