"A female wolf left four or five pups alone in a rendezvous area in the Brooks Range one morning and set off down the trail away from them. When she was well out of sight, she turned around and lay flat in the path, watching her back trail. After a few moments, a pup who had left the rendezvous area trotted briskly over the rise in the trail and came face to face with her. She gave a low bark. He stopped short, looked about as though preoccupied with something else, then, with a dissembling air, began to edge back the way he had come. His mother escorted him to the rendezvous site and departed again. This time she didn't bother watching her back trail. Apparently the lesson had taken for all the pups stayed put until she returned that evening."
Barry Holstun Lopez
Our focus is on the ethical and responsible ownership of wolfdogs; therefore this site deals primarily with wolfdogs. However, the information on this page is NOT limited to wolfdogs, but can and should be applied to all canids. Though this page focuses on training, I must say that a knowledge of canid behavior, as well as training the animal, is a must in the ownership of all canines.
Originally, I had this training page and the behavior page combined as they are interwoven subjects and should be contemplated together. However, the many aspects of behavior began to cloud the training aspects and vice versa; therefore, I was forced to separate the two pages. Because they are so closely linked, however, I did keep some of the information on both pages: "Reading and Understanding a Canid", "Establishing Dominance", and "Socialization". I apologize for the duplication of information, but felt it was of such vital importance in both understanding of behavior and in training that it was crucial for both pages.
This page is by no means a comprehensive guide to training. Rather, it is a stepping stone. For comprehensive training techniques, see the links below. They will direct you to books, other sites, trainers, and videos that you may purchase via the web. If you have any comments or see something on this page that is in error, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Positive Reinforcement as Training
Wolfdogs respond VERY well to positive reinforcement. Use positive methods and praise to teach. Then you will create within your animal a desire to please and to seek positive feedback/attention. Wolfdogs (and dogs) respond poorly to negative reinforcement. Controlling a canine through fear is not being in control of your animal. It is being a tyrant, and people rebel against tyrants. Can any blame a canid for doing the same if given the opportunity? A fair and trustworthy master is necessary for a well behaved, well trained, and well adjusted animal.
Wolfdogs are sensitive to voice and usually require just a loud, in-command voice. If you are seriously reprimanding him, he will probably tuck his tail between his legs or wrap his tail around the side of his rear leg toward his belly. A more serious reprimand may result in your pet rolling over onto his back, exposing his neck and belly. This signals his complete submission to your authority. (You may also see him do this with other dogs until he gets a little bigger.) Lying with his belly exposed is his last resort; STOP reprimanding. If you were to continue, it would only confuse him. He is responding in his language and you must respond to him in kind. Just walk away from him.
After being reprimanded, the wolfdog will probably want to apologize. Let him. He will do this by coming up to you with his tail and his head lowered and with ears flattened somewhat to the side, and he will then begin licking your chin. Let him. This is VERY important. It lets him know that you forgive/love him, making the bonds that much stronger.
Wolves and many dogs tend to be escape artists. A lot depends on how you raise them. A puppy should be taken around the perimeter of your yard (front and back) and taught to stay within the boundaries of the yard. This makes your life much more manageable and the pup's life much safer. Since most people with canines, have fenced back yards, we will focus on the front yard here; but the same principle applies whether it is front or back.
Walk the pup around the perimeter of your front yard, with the pup toward the outside of the yard and you on the inside. Allow only enough slack in the leash so that you are right next to the pup and the pup cannot cross over into the neighbor's yard or into the street. Begin teaching the pup "stay in the yard" command (this should be while you are also teaching the pup the "stay" command). Work up to letting the slack out a little more and more as your progress in your training so that the pup CAN cross over into the neighbor's yard if he chooses, but reel the leash in and reprimand when he does so. Also praise him when he stays in your yard. Then progress to you walking in the neighbors yard and the street and holding the lead over into your yard and pulling him back into your yard with command "stay in the yard" and praise for staying. Then progress to someone else holding the lead loosely while you walk to and from the pup--in and out of the yard, telling him to stay in the yard. Work up to possibly having neighbors help out at this stage and all of the humans sit in the neighbor's yard and you telling the pup to stay in the yard, but all of you reaching into the yard to praise the pup for staying.
Do this for a few weeks and then periodically for the first 6 months to year. Continue doing this to reinforce the "stay in the yard" rule, and praise him for obeying you. Finally reach a point where the pup can go out into the yard and stay in the yard for short periods of time while you are either inside (peeking out) or in your neighbor's yard, keeping your eye on him as you would a child. Watch the whole time that he is obeying the rule of staying in the yard. NOTE: Do NOT leave the pup unsupervised while you are training him to do this, and if you live on a high-traffic street or in a densely populated area, then I suggest that you never leave your pet unattended in the yard.
If you want him to stay in the back yard, teach him with the gate opened. Tell him no when he tries to exit the gate. Keep reinforcing this rule with the gate opened and with praise when your puppy stays inside as he is supposed to. This will eliminate some of the problems you have with an animal who sees an open gate as an avenue of escape and runs you over in an attempt to get out. You won’t have to fight him (and his trying to get out) in order to gain access to your back yard. It will also help to reduce the likelihood of him trying to escape. He knows it is a no-no.
DISCLAIMER: It was pointed out to me (by some who feel that wolfdogs should not be owned, bred or even exist) that they thought I advocated the use of perimeter training as a means of containment; therefore, I am now trying make this section of my site "idiot proof" by advising that perimeter training is NOT to be used as a substitute for proper fencing/containment.
Food Aggression Training
Some canids tend to be pigs over food. This behavior can manifest itself into a food aggressive animal. Many bites occur over someone (especially children) trying to take food or a toy from the canid. As a responsible owner, you MUST deter this behavior while they are puppies.
The following are three techniques that work and also help teach bite inhibition in the process:
Bite Inhibition Training
This was somewhat mentioned above in training a canid not to be food aggressive. This can be taught not only with food, however. When the animal has something in his mouth, reach in and take it away. Then praise the animal when he lets you do it and return the item to the animal. Continue doing this throughout the life of the animal.
When the animal is very small or is teething, he might also decide to chew on the pants, shoes, etc. that you are wearing. Do NOT let him. Remove the object from his mouth and tell him no. This will not work by itself, but it begins teaching the animal "NO". When the pup repeats the chewing act, , wrap your arm over and around pup; take your finger and insert it into the pup's mouth from the rear side, with your finger pointing toward the back of his throat--your arm is coming from around and behind the pup's head and your finger/hand is going into the back side of the mouth. With your finger down the back of his throat, the pup's gag reflex will be triggered. Make sure the animal does not see that it is your finger causing the gag reflex you will be triggering. The theory here is that every time the animal bites something he isn't supposed to, he will (for some reason he can't figure out) begin gagging. After repeatedly doing this every time he attempts to chew what he isn't supposed to, the animal will then begin to associate biting "no-no" items with gagging; therefore, the animal thinks, "If I bite what I am not supposed to, I gag! No fun there!"
With a larger canine, a
different approach is necessary. When the canine mouths you, insert
your thumb into the bottom of his mouth with your thumb pressing down on the
soft part of the mouth under the tongue. At the same time, your fingers
should be curled under the canine's chin, applying slight pressure to the
chin. In other words, your thumb and fingers should be pressing toward
each other, with the canine's chin between your thumb and fingers. While
doing this, follow up on the verbal command of "No Bite!" or "Off" or some
such command that you will use throughout the life of your animal. Most
canines will react by pushing at your thumb with his tongue and trying to
pull his lower jaw out of your grip. After a few times of doing this,
the canine will eventually realize that mouthing people results in this reprimand,
and the animal will then learn to keep its mouth off of people. This
is a painless and highly successful way of teaching bite inhibition to older
canines who haven't been taught it as pups. It is also a way of reinforcing
bite inhibition to pups who have been trained, should such training need
to be reinforced.
PUPPY BITE INHIBITION
By Ann Dresselhaus
Mouthing is a completely normal canine activity that will NOT go away with age, but only become much harder and painful to correct. All puppies mouth, bite, and challenge, some much more so than others. It is up to the owner to define the boundaries of acceptable behavior to the pup as soon as possible. Fully 1/3 of all dogs do not even make it through the first YEAR! with their original owner. The behavior will NOT "wear off" and if one doesn't do something about it BEFORE the adult teeth come in, I predict the dogs will be 'relinquished' to another 'party' - which means they will probably die.
The rules are as follows: No teeth can touch the skin or clothing of a human.
When the pup licks, give it a name like "kisses" and encourage it with high-pitched praise. When the pup uses its teeth on you make a loud abrupt startling sound (which is a mammalian 'interrupt'). He will be SO surprised that he will stop mouthing, momentarily at least. At the instant he is NOT mouthing (i.e,. as SOON as he stops) PRAISE him as you do for licks. Timing is everything. You want to extinguish the mouthing and REPLACE it with licking.
So the rules are as follows: Licking or 'not biting' = lots of gooey praise. Use of any teeth = large, startling sound right in his face. At six weeks this should only take a few days IF all who interact with him practice it. It will NOT work if even ONE person allows him to bite, so restrict access to those who can implement the above method correctly. Children of 9 or younger are probably NOT capable of performing the above procedure effectively and consistently, so caretakers MUST keep the kids and canines separated until the canine has been completely bite-inhibited by adults. Kids efforts will only serve to weaken your own efforts and confuse the dog. Inconsistency builds frustration and avoidance behavior in canines which can lead to aggression.
It would also help if the pup had littermates to help him practice bite inhibition. Other pups are the best teachers of all. They will refuse to play if a pups bite is too hard. Do not use adult dogs for this since they will allow a much harder bite before correcting if they correct at all. Find a kindergarten puppy class. It is worth traveling for a good one. A good one would include off-leash puppy socialization--in an enclosed area of course.
The reason for replacing the mouthing with SOMETHING (licking) is because one cannot usually simply SUPPRESS such strong innate behavior as mouthing. It will keep coming back UNLESS you 'train' an incompatible behavior (i.e., you cannot lick and bite simultaneously without biting your tongue). Sometimes force methods (e.g., squeezing muzzles, etc.) can backfire in that they SUPPRESS behavior for a while and then it comes back full force at unexpected moments. You should use an 'interrupt' to stop the immediate behavior, and then use a reward for the CESSATION of the biting.
If the pup has chewed or teethed on something he shouldn't have, then you need to tell the pup to come to you. Again, do NOT chase the puppy down. Let him come to you. (See the training technique above.) Hold the offending item in your hands and visible to the pup, and place an item that the pup can chew somewhere within reaching distance. Then hold up the chewed item and tell the pup "NO" in a firm voice. (During all this time, you should also have been training the animal what "NO" and "Chew Toy" (or Toy) are.) Tell him this is "NO Chew Toy!" in a strong tone and then pick up his toy and say "<Name of animal> Chew Toy". They will then understand what they can chew as opposed to what they cannot. Unfortunately, it may take a number of "no chew toy" items to successfully accomplish the objective of not having the animal chew up that which is not his to chew. <grin> That is all part of owning a canid, regardless of size or breed. But with PLENTY of chew toys, lots of exercise, and proper training, the number of "no chew toy" items that fall prey to your pup will diminish and then finally end.
With problem chewing, we found one successful and painless method. I will share the story with you in case it may help others who have experienced something similar and don't know what to do about it. We had a one-year-old rescue come to us one day. This animal had not been trained or socialized, so she stayed inside with us so we could work on her socialization and ease her into her new home. We just didn't realize that she would show such a keen interest in leather. She went through two purses, my husband's wallet, and about a dozen shoes. After the fifth or sixth pair of shoes and none of the training methods working with this animal, we were ready to throw our hands up in despair. Instead, I got so disgusted that I finally said to myself, "If she wants them so badly, then she can have them."
So my husband and I decided to spend the weekend at home, working on her "leather" training. Friday evening I strange three pairs of those mangled shoes (six shoes) onto a choke chain, which I then attached to her collar. The shoes were hanging down between her front legs. Every time she walked, the shoes would sway from side to side like a pendulum, knocking her in the knees. She wore these shoes for two days--from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. Every time she made a move to mouth those shoes, my husband or I would reprimand her. Finally she got so disgusted with having to waddle around with these shoes batting against her front legs that she would knock them out of the way with an irritated kick and lay down very quickly before the shoes had time to swing back toward her. She didn't do much but lay around the second 24-hour period. The result is that she now goes out of her way to avoid shoes, easing around them when she can or disgustedly kicking them out of the way when they are left on the bedroom floor and it is time for us to go to bed. Needless to say, we haven't had any more shoe casualties here.
Teaching The "Come" Command
Wolfdogs are pretty good about wanting to stay near their owners (their pack leaders). This is an easy command to teach a puppy. Many dog owners have serious problems with this command, however. And it could arise from two different reasons: the puppy was not trained or the owner played the "chase the animal" game. If the owner refuses to play the game, then the animal is more likely to come when called, even if they know they are in trouble for something.
Begin the training as a small puppy, if possible. Use food as an incentive initially on getting the animal to come. Praise the animal when he comes, and he will then begin learning the "come" command and learning that it pleases you when he comes.
Progress to training the pup while it is on a leash. You can even extend the leash to a rather long lead if you feel it necessary. Keep the animal leashed and do not remove or release the leash during this stage in training. Once this stage has been completed successfully, move to the next stage.
Progress to taking the animal on walks and letting the leash (not a lead) drag periodically. If the animal continues walking farther away from you, then tell him come. If he comes, continue practicing and move to more populated areas where there is more activity. If he ignores you, then turn around telling him "COME" and begin walking in the other direction. The animal will then become a little confused that YOU are leaving HIM and will probably come running after you. If he does not, then begin running away from your pup. The animal will then become a little concerned and will more than likely begin running after you. When he gets to you, pick up the leash and continue walking. Provide neither praise nor reprimand. Just continue the walk.
Once you have successfully conquered this step, move to more populated areas with more activity. Repeat the steps in the previous paragraph, praising the animal when he comes on command and walking away from him when he fails to come.
Chasing a puppy is one of the worst mistakes an owner can make. With the exception of an emergency, do NOT chase after your puppy. You will then begin playing a game of tag that you will probably lose every time. You will also be undoing some of the training you have thus far accomplished.
"Come" Command When Pup Has Done a No-No
One of the most detrimental things to teaching a puppy to come while you are angry is to chastise it immediately upon coming to you. This can also undo much of what you have already accomplished with the "come" command.
When you are going to reprimand your puppy, tell him to come; he may balk at the idea of coming to you initially, but kneel down and repeat the command, being persistent. Repeat "come" as much as is needed. When the pup reaches you, praise him for coming to you. The "come" command should always receive praise. Be nice in the praise, but not lavish. Then use a different tone (mine work with a disappointed tone) to reprimand the undesirable behavior.
Reading & Understanding Canids
Many of the behavior traits and body movements or positionings can be applied universally to all canids. The problems many may encounter when reading a canid are when the specific breed has been genetically or surgically altered to such an extent that the animal can no longer communicate through traditional methods: ear positioning, tail positioning, , raised hackles, etc. For example, the ears may be too long to stand, or the tail may have been cropped, or the coat may be so short that it fails to indicate that hackles are up--all of which can cause problems in humans being able to accurately read the animal.
The body language below specifically targets wolves, but as dogs are descended from wolves--some quite recently--the language applies to all canids. Again, some breeds have been genetically or surgically altered, thus the animals in said breeds are unable to communicate effectively. However, after learning wolf behavior, you may see that many dogs exhibit similar behavior.
Because they are such social animals, wolves have a fairly sophisticated communication system--in both body language and verbal language. They use their whole bodies when communicating. To successfully read a canid, a person must collectively assess the canine's complete body language: head position, tail position, eye contact, ear position, hackles, etc. The figures below illustrate tail positioning (Fig. 1) and facial expressions (Fig. 2). Below the figures is a comprehensive discussion of tail, ear, and body positionings.
Wolf's Expressive Tail Positionings
Adapted from the works of L. David Mech, Barry Lopez, L. Partignani & Ricordi
Wolf's Facial Expressions
Adapted from the works of L. David Mech, Erik Zimen, L. Partignani & Ricordi
The following is a synopsis of some positionings in combination. We have provided these so that you can more easily see how the different placements of ear, lip, tail, etc. are mutually inclusive and must be considered collectively:
2) Ears erect (A, B, or C) & tail is in position B, C, D (raised at the base), E, or H--the animal is becoming increasingly aggressive, respectively.
3) Ears flattened and out to the side (D, G, E, or H) & tail is in position E, J or K--the animal is indicating neutral to increasing submission or fear, respectively. The more submissive/afraid, the more the tail will curl between the legs to the belly and the ears will flatten to the side. The more fear aggression present, the more the ears will tend to lift.
4) Ears flattened and straight back--they are angry, probably afraid and angry. The more afraid, the more the tail will tuck between their legs; the more angry, the higher the tail will be raised--out and away from the body.
5) Raised hackles are also indicative of aggression/anger and can also accompany fear aggression..
Establishing Dominance (Alpha Status)
Have you ever seen a canine that ran from its owners when it got loose? Have you seen owners chasing their pets down the street because the animals won't come to the owners? Have you seen owners give their pets commands, which the pets in turn ignore? And have you seen these same owners do nothing about their pets ignoring their commands? These are owners who failed to establish dominance over their canids. To successfully train your canid, you MUST be dominant over the animal, regardless of what breed of canid it is or how big or small it is.
Your pet may try to be the dominant one. You MUST deter this behavior; you need to be dominant--in fact, the animal needs to be raised thinking that ALL humans are dominant. This will assist in deterring biting and aggression.
The following training tips should prove helpful in asserting dominance over your canid:
3) Be consistent in your rules (what you will and will not tolerate). This is a MUST! If you do not reprimand a behavior you find undesirable, then the animal will more than likely repeat that behavior. If you are consistent in correcting undesirable behavior, then it will deter the animal from continuing to do what you object to. Do not forget to praise behavior that you desire or to praise the animal when it does NOT do what you deem a "No-No".
Socialization can deter biting and make it safer for you to take your animal out in public without worrying over a mishap with your animal that can get you sued or result in your animal losing its life. Socialization is important in the training of a wolfdog (all dogs, actually), but not for the reasons some may think.
Contrary to the myths, wolves and wolfdogs are not aggressive animals. They are generally timid and try to avoid strangers, frequently out of distrust. This is a natural instinct seen in wolves and some higher percentage wolfdogs--though lower percents and average dogs exhibit this behavior according to the individual animal and to the history of it. The wolfdogs trust has to be earned. As a pup moving to a new home, he will probably be extremely skittish for the first week or two, maybe even three weeks because his whole lifestyle has been usurped by another. It is important that you spend a lot of quality time with him during this transition.
Once you, as an owner, have won the trust of your wolfdog puppy, you should then focus on socializing him to others by taking him to various places with you. Take him everywhere you can: to parks, to work (if possible), to the store and the restaurants, to parties (if possible), to schools, etc. When he meets people, let them pet him and love on him. This helps him to realize that people are something good and fun and not something to be afraid of.
Socialization can play a large role in getting the wolfdog to overcome his hesitance and shyness around people. This socialization also helps in eliminating any aggression that he may grow into. Unsocialized large canines (wolfdogs and regular dogs) can be dangerous.
Unfortunately you will likely encounter a few idiots out there while socializing and training your animal: children who throw things at the animal, neighbors who may pick on the animal, children's friends who may frighten or hurt the animal, idiots who just have no clue about proper canid treatment (or even proper human treatment). It is these people you must protect yourself and your animal against. Wolfdogs are HIGHLY intelligent and have memories like elephants (only a slight exaggeration). If a child or adult hurts him, he WILL remember. Do NOT let such a person be alone with your animal ever again!
Wolves and wolfdogs are HIGHLY social. They NEED contact--physical, emotional, and mental. They cannot be raised as back yard dogs who get attention for only 10-20 minutes a day. You must integrate them into your life/pack. This is all part of the socialization and the respect they will have for you as alphas (dominant ones).
Many of the problems with large canids, including wolfdogs, are as a result of owners who neither train nor socialize their animals. These two issues are EXTREMELY important in raising a healthy and controllable canid. The final issue to successfully integrating a large canid into your home is an understanding of the animal. We hope that these pages help to provide instruction to those who wish to incorporate a large canid into their homes--be it a Wolfdog, a Malamute, an Akita, a Husky, a German Shepherd, a Mastiff . . . .
Links to Canid Training Sites:
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