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Saturday, October 8, 2011

From a Wolf’s Point of View

It’s hard to imagine my life without the three canine life forces that are almost always milling around me. From time to time, I try to adopt their mindset to shed some light on how they think. For example, while making lunch today I dropped a single shrimp on the floor. Kua, the youngest of my three, swooped in and picked it up in his mouth. He then proceeded to drop it and try to roll in it. (It’s a pretty small shrimp, mind you, and this is a hundred pound wolf hybrid.) When that didn’t seem to work out for him, he simply lay there with the shrimp between his front legs and his head laid atop it. Since he obviously wasn’t going to do anything but guard the shrimp, I decided I’d try to give it to one of the other two. A sharp growl when I went after the prize told me Kua hadn’t given up on it. Sucking it back into his mouth, he tried to eat it again. But it just wasn’t right. This time, when he spit it out, it was in four pieces. Sigh… About an hour later, once he’d moseyed off to greener pastures, I surreptitiously picked up the pieces and tossed them.

Then there was the marmot they ganged up on during one of our long backpack trips this summer. Two of them killed it, then proceeded to play tug of war, growling and snarling at one another seconds after they’d tag teamed on a successful hunt. Go figure. One of the sayings around Mammoth Lakes is there are no friends on powder days, meaning everyone is on their own as we hunt down untracked powder stashes to annihilate. The wolf version of that must be there are no friends when there’s carrion to be eaten. That marmot got a lot of mileage, let me tell you. One of them dragged it the mile or so back to our camp. Another dragged it miles to our next camp. And the third, who’d had no hand at all in anything, simply waited. When the other two were exhausted from carting around what had to be a ten pound marmot, wolf number three closed in, took it and ate over half. The other two circled him the whole time he was eating. The second he made the mistake of getting up to go get a drink from a nearby stream, they took the carcass back and wiped it out down to the toenails. I was ever-so-grateful we didn’t run into anyone that day. Saved a lot of explanations. Like, “What’s that your dog is carrying?” Followed by the inevitable, “Ewwww—“
And then we have the food dish issue. My oldest hybrid is pushing eleven. Over the past couple of years, he’s decided he can’t eat when the kibble dish is next to the wall. So, he noses it till it’s in the middle of the room. Of course, this puts him in a direct line to the second dish and the water. No one can go round him without an unholy fuss. So, when Nikki is eating, the kitchen is off limits for the other two. One of the advantages of hybrids is I can free feed and they self-modulate their intake. But I just know Kua and Naia resent the hell out of Nikki’s progressively-lengthier meals. Sort of like with kids, though, it’s best if they can solve their own problems.

Okay, so my current crew are mildly neurotic. Doesn’t make them one whit less endearing. Someone whose name escapes me once said it's our flaws that make us loveable.

We had German shepherds for many years. And I loved them to tears. But they were a much more high-maintenance breed. Many of them are not fond of any humans outside their immediate family. Remember, they’re bred to be guard dogs. But, they’re also regal and beautiful. People like to pet shepherds they’ve never met before, often with less-than-optimal results. I used to be amazed at the responses I’d get when I’d tell a stranger not to pet my dog. They’d range from, “Why not?” to “Oh, it’ll be fine. Dogs really like me.” I heard this last more than once when the shepherd who was on heel next to me was growling with his hackles at half-mast. Why anyone would persist in wanting to sink their fingers into the ruff of a large, powerful animal that’s growling at them defies credibility.

I had a great German shepherd trainer in the Auburn area and I still remember her telling me this is a breed that has rules. She went on to say that responsible shepherd owners needed to figure out just what those rules were for each particular dog. I suppose at one level, it’s simply the application of psychology to the canine mind. 
Maybe that’s why I’m so tolerant when my dog kids misbehave—because I assume I missed a critical cue somewhere along the way. A saying in our home is, “It’s never the dog’s fault. They’re just being dogs.” Late one night, I watched one of our shepherds in a Montana motel. It was just Bob, McKinley and I and the dog was restless. He circled the small room a couple of times and then lunged for a bagel Bob had sitting on a bakery bag. Once it was in his mouth, McKinley looked immensely pleased with himself, retired to a corner and proceeded to chew on his prize. I took it away from him (the ‘out’ command is useful), but you could see the wheels turning in his little doggie brain before he went for what he wanted. I figure he decided we’d be mad at him, but we wouldn’t kill him or kick him out of the pack, so the risk of displeasing us was worth the gain. He gambled and lost, but he didn’t lose much. He knew we’d still love him, and we did.

If any of you have dog stories, send 'em along! I'm a sucker for anything that's canine-related.




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