Wolfdogs in general love freedom. Only a few are constant attention seekers, the rest is more like cats in a canine world.
As much as it’s important to give them the freedom they need, there are “two types of freedom”; the one towards you and the one within their pack.
The one towards a human allows them to develop into independent, faithful, and loving companions. That is the ultimate goal we aim for when living with wolfdogs. Giving them the liberty of being who they are creates a bond based on a trust. And believe it or not, they do appreciate that. I’m not saying that the trust should be absolute (they are animals in the end) but most people make a mistake of pushing their ego in the relationship process way too much which results into breaking animal’s will in the worst case scenarios. The more people give space for ego, the more difficult relationship with wolfdogs becomes.
Now, the ego is not the same as a discipline we pursue with wolfdogs. Creating a bond where a wolfdog does listen to you can be set when making sure you follow the same discipline you expect from them with one difference from pushing ego instead – it’s done calmly but firmly. No extreme shouting, no physical punishments and no “revenge”. Once they know clearly what and when to expect, they calm down pretty fast and are happy to let you lead the pack. See being a leader is a burden. Not many wolfdogs enjoy being forced to make decisions for the pack and because of not enjoying it they react out of frustration and discomfort.
Positioning yourself as a leader through clear discipline backed with peace in mind will not only leave your dogs relaxed but also gain their trust in you.
The other form of freedom allows them to form themselves within their pack and such freedom needs to be supervised more carefully.
When you need to form a balance between their individual freedom and the one necessary to coexist in a pack, it’s the hardest part. Altai (when he arrived at my home at the age of 8,5 years old) tried to push his position up in the pack order by even trying to “attack” me. Nothing unusual. They simply try how far they can go (same with a puppy growing up in a loving home since day one). The most humane way to correct such behavior is to limit their space for a short period of time. Never use physical punishments to correct behavior. It will turn against you and you’ll end up creating even more serious issue than it was in the first place.
The example that happened to me had a very clear development from the very beginning. I took Altai in on June 21st, 2017 and for the first 10 days big boy was just sleeping and accommodating to the new environment. I remember feeling eternally grateful for the opportunity I could offer him. The thought of him spending the rest of his life in a Rescue Station was unbearable. I gave him all the time and space he needed – I already wrote about it in my previous article When Nature of Freedom Meets Its Beauty – but at the same time I maintained my realistic views on the whole situation.
I made sure he had only a few rules (excluding him from entering my house at the beginning) so that he wouldn’t get too confused and overwhelmed. Apart from that, I made sure I used the same few words for positive as well as negative situations so that he clearly understands what I like and don’t like.
As soon as he got used to me and Maya, he started schooling her here and there, followed by him occasionally growling at me when he disliked something. He was never really trained properly nor he ever truly co-existed in a family before. Even though I schooled him calmly but firmly, his ego was rising due to newly obtained space (the garden is big) and fresh meat in his bowl every day. I knew we were close to establishing final positions. The funny thing about such developments is that you CANNOT avoid it. It happens usually during puppy days so we don’t realize it that clearly. You cannot avoid it especially with an adopted dog, the key is, however, how you embrace the process. Calmness and patience are key elements allowing anyone in such position to observe and truly understand all shades of their wolfdog’s personality.
It peaked when he prevented Maya from approaching me in a garden and tried to attack me when I stepped towards Maya to make sure she comes to me. I clearly expressed my disapproval with his behavior, and right after that moment I went inside, took a leash, put it on him and closed him in his “house” – dog cage 8 sq.m with three walls full, one wall made of bars, a full roof and a dog kennel inside. Gave him fresh water and left him there until the next day. With no emotions what so ever I took him out the next morning on a short leash just around the house for pee and poop and straight back in his kennel. All that while Maya was freely running around and he couldn’t join her. I repeated that in the afternoon and in the evening, leaving him there for the second night.
The morning I came to pick him up for a walk I saw his fur was completely down, ears back and I knew he understood. I took them both out for a longer walk (him still on a short leash) and once we got back I let him off to run freely in the garden.
He never ever repeated anything like that (or anything similar to that)… and the whole situation was solved within 2 days with no voice risen and no harsh manipulation.
As much as we wish all animals were free, dog and wolfdog owners are constantly battled with the same question “How much of freedom is enough?”. All of it with healthy limitations. A human can either lead and set the boundaries so that their own animal won’t terrorize them, or they can misunderstand the essence of co-existence with animals and become their bell-boy.
I’ve been in a number of discussions related to love humans carry for the relationship with their animals. Pure love in its essence is unconditional, however, shouldn’t be equalized to lack of discipline or reluctance in training up an animal.
We love our children but we wouldn’t allow them running into the street without looking left-right. Or…we’d do our best to teach them and guide them not to do it. So why should it be different with animals?
I’m wishing you days filled with peace, understanding, and love – towards your furry friends as well as towards yourselves.